There are reasonable grounds to suspect I keep a vast anti-computer in my head, which devours diverse inputs and then reconstitutes them them all as unified garbage. There are reasonable grounds in in coffee-pots too.
Still, in a bizarre way that’s what I do. Occasionally out of the vastly disparate gunk I pour into my head, an interesting if not very plausible idea or story can emerge. This week’s pour in included an article about a Ghost writer’s agent, a rant from Chuck Wendig – one of darlings (at least I think he is. He’s published and associated with the other darlings of Literary left sf/fantasy) on finally making a revolutionary breakthrough and discovering what those nasty reactionaries like Jim Baen said oh, fifteen years ago, that DRM isn’t clever, and whole lot of other stunning new discoveries, which many (perhaps not in not in those circles) (me too, and often on this site) have talked about for about the last ten years. It’s a great breakthrough (and I’m only being marginally sarcastic.). It would nice, honest, and indeed admirable if he gave credit where it was due, but fair chance he didn’t know about the opinions of the ‘wrong’ people. I’ve always been a one for reading what everyone thinks, and trying to extract the meat out of that – a product of growing up in South Africa, where 4 different radio stations could report the same incident and not one of them get it all right, on a couple of occasions when I’d actually been there (I once, completely accidentally, broke up a protest, by unwittingly driving into the thought-to-be-inaccessible and safe back end of it with my two dogs – a bull terrier and a Old English Sheepdog. I was coming back from early morning fish sampling, and had got there long before the protestors. This created a panic and people ran away, and the police – who hadn’t got there yet, got congratulated by one set of media, castigated by another for their brutal use of savage dogs (which, um, did bark a lot from my truck – which they did when they knew it was beach time, and dad had finished working. No one was bitten.) But I do realize that blinkers come with a lot mindsets, and some folk, like Ms. Atwood, don’t want to read too widely in case they discover their delusion that sf is squids in space is actually a load of fetid dingoes kidneys, and thereby ruin a perfectly good sneer. Anyway, the important thing is that it’s being said even by traditional publishing’s loyalists and darlings.
Then there was this piece in the NYT on the need for likeable characters. And then there was KJA’s post on e-books, a rant in the Guardian about the pornification of the high street The best line of that was that author’s ‘feminist muscle wastage’ which did make me laugh a lot, and finally my older son’s comment that he was busy re-reading all the old Alan Dean Foster books on his kindle, and how easy it was, and how much more he was reading, now he could get books he enjoyed, and was recommending to his friends… The Icerigger trilogy at the moment, which I can highly recommend myself.
Which all went into the anti-computer, jumbled about, took bits most of them hardly noticed they said and came out as quite a positive indication of the future, particularly for independent e-books. Our Ghost-writing agent, who sounds like the master of carpe diem, brought up several things, Firstly the African-American literature – when to quote “in the days when everybody was falling over themselves to be PC—but none of the books came close to earning out their advances, because the money that was paid out was so off the charts. When that market disappeared—and it did -” says that, much as I’d suspected, the poor ‘under-included’ actually have had a lot of money and effort thrown at that section of the audience for a fair amount of time. And it didn’t work. The audience they had weren’t that interested, and the audience they thought to get obviously didn’t add up to a very large hill of beans either. Which brings me around to Chuck Wendig’s “SFF right now is going through a lot of growing pains in terms of straining its white dude diapers and trying to figure out how to accommodate, well, Those Who Aren’t Heteronormative White Dudes. This is a good thing. We’re starting to see that there exists a whole audience who maybe isn’t being talked to — this is good for society but also makes financial sense, too, because untapped audience is an audience who isn’t yet spending money with you.”
Wendig is in part right – an untapped audience is an audience that isn’t yet spending money with you, and is important… but I think the previous quote may indicate that what he is wrong about is what that untapped audience is. And there is no point in losing a large audience to possibly catch a tiny one. And no, the large audience won’t just put up with being minor characters or villains so you can get new diapers. Sounds like publishers tried the PC line quite some time ago, when there was a lot more money sloshing around in the system. It could even be why there is much less now. Of course those who do feel the envelope deserves pushing that way, well, you should lead by example. If you’re a white male who feels strongly feminist, well, then plainly benefiting by selling books is just morally wrong. Give your next publishing contract to a deserving woman (Or if you feel the Earth is overpopulated you kill yourself first- and so on. It’s amazing how popular it is to get others to make sacrifices to make things right. But not you, personally.). If you’re convinced that’s where the market is undeservedly under-served – self-publish if publishers won’t, and hire help from those you feel are unrepresented. Put your money where your mouth is, not my money for your cause.
Tying in to this I found the Gaurdianista’s antiporn rave amusing. Yes, we want to normalize all sorts of sex… except male hetero, which is porn… Look at the pictures. If there is anything your three year old can’t see on the beach, or which isn’t aimed at advertizing to women, I must have missed it. Of course the men with bull-whips and cattle prods all forcing women into bikinis and evening dresses and even skimpy underwear are never shown. I will say all those poor victims must really be terrified of their persecutors, they do such a convincing job of looking happy at the beach and really imitate enjoying male attention well. It’s so hard to force them to spend on fashionable clothes when they’d rather buy overalls or burkas. I’m not big on the sex sells everything, obligatory bonk every 5 pages, but seems a fair number of people still choose to read that. I don’t think their neo-Victorianism is going to sit too well with with the vast majority these dull ‘heteronormative’ folk of both sexes, but please, let’s encourage the flabby feminist muscle to lead by example. Their covers shouldn’t show women in these skimpy outfits and implausible poses. As the majority of buyers are female, I’m sure they’ll outsell these evul things, and handsomely prove their point.
Of course Wendig is right, publishers ought to lead the way in hiring people at all strata from a variety of social norms – by common sense a representative hiring of that carefully researched English reading market (and the same any other language you publish in). Only, I have a feeling, that (like my feminist friend who felt this way about University funding in the UK… until she found out poor white boys are least likely to go to college. Then they had to be sacrificed to correct historical injustice, even if they hadn’t committed the injustice.) those Hetronormative White Dudes and Dudesess (in Bikinis) from flyover country who go to church and vote Republican weren’t quite what he meant. But I could be doing him an injustice.
My feeling is our Ghost-writer agent is a remarkable bellwether, and the fact that even Ghost-writing rates have fallen dramatically, the traditional industry can continue to take the PC course… if they want to commit suicide. And that too is good thing, either way. Wendig is quite correct (and we’ve been saying this for years out of mind) that keeping data secret and in fact not doing what Amazon does… is just stupid. Kill-yourself-slowly-painfully-and-messily-in-a-way-that-everyone-hates-you-forever stupid. Your mantra, not should be, but HAS to be ‘If Amazon does it, we will do it as well (at least) or BETTER (mostly). If Amazon lets you look up data, we’ll send you day by-day sales figures, with analysis and areas and angles we think we can work on. If Amazon pays 70% for sales off their website, we will pay you 71% for sales off ours. If they pay by the month, so will we. If they pay an associate referral of x%, we will pay x+1%. And we’ll do stuff that Amazon can’t -like build a brand and store that will guarantee eyeballs on your book, with a shoo-in of a certain number of sales. Baen are trying. Like the DRM story, give the others 10-15 years (if they survive that long) and suddenly they’ll have this blinding revolutionary vision (wot never got thought of before).
And our Ghost-writer agent is pointing to the other area that leaves me hopeful. She’s seeing the growth of e-books, and the support services for doing it well. She has a history of guessing it right. And when I add this into KJA post about his backlist and my son’s comments about how much more he’s reading, and how easy he’s finding it to get the books he loved… Now, Pads has, as many of those ‘heteronormative white dudes’ from South Africa are, grown up a little faster and harder than most folk from more protected environments. He’s, in maturity, closer to your 35 year old-settling down, and stop pretending I’m a spoiled 15 year-old who the world owes a living, than his 10 years younger than that age (when not a lot of reading is really being done by your average Western male… and female). He’s educated, married, holding down a tough science R&D job… and finding a lot to enjoy reading… in the strong work of yesteryear. He’s where most of the able, book-wanting, and with the income and ability- to-buy cohort of the next 20 years will be, just a few years ahead. And the good news is: 1) He’s finding books – those backlists on e-books make up for the drekk-show in book shops that he didn’t enjoy much 2)Peer-to-peer is working 3)That will feed into more books– partly by those authors, and partly by new ones.
So,yes. I feel hopeful. Out of that strong will come the sweet.
Hard work ahead, but I believe there is a future for books – all sorts – from the ones for Latvian lesbian vegan Yogis in diapers to books with great stories for ‘Heteronomative White Dudes’ – in proportion to what readers are buying, not what is command-economy dictated, and that will work far better (with, um, probably a lot more books for Heteronormative White Dudes. With bikini clad women in weird poses on the cover, probably, if that is what sells). But what the two NYT posters missed is that the ones that succeed won’t be books with likeable characters… They’ll be be books where readers CARE what happens to those characters. Some we won’t like, but we will care.