Out of the Strong

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.

27 comments

  1. As a heteronormative (possibly the only type of normal, I am) white dude I will look forward to this.

    1. There are plenty of pot-holes, and the current toll-road owners are doing everything they can to sabotage it – and will continue to do this, zombie-like even after the death of their organizations (just like commissars and functionaries who did well in Communist East Germany did). But we have to press on, because the sort of miserable nihilism coming out of the rest cannot be lived through. And I genuinely am hopeful, because the old left rather like the East Germans seem desperately intent on planting the seeds of their own destruction. The next generation of ardent readers will not come from the ranks of client proletariat. The ones with the money to buy books and the inclination to do so will be the ones whose parents nurtured the reading, the education and fed it on good stuff, not those who left it all to the state.

      1. Eventually, we should get a virtuous cycle of democracy out of this. All the people who were turned away by the nihilism will come back when there are alternatives. The readers will voluntarily vote with their dollars for the new works, and the new works will flourish. The folks who like grey goo will be supporting a very expensive infrastructure which won’t be getting even the pathetically hopeful dollars of people who are buying something they hope won’t disgust them. This will take a while to sort out. Unless there’s a bailout.

  2. This post has so much great info and so many great lines, and yet my biggest reaction was “The entire ‘Icerigger’ trilogy is on Kindle now?! Oh, my God! Where do I click?!” I loved those books, and my paperbacks fell apart ages ago.

  3. Heh. Yesterday I was at Large Regional Bookstore and got Baen’s anthology of stories inspired by Burroughs. On the cover are John Carter and Spouse in their native attire. The clerk thought the book looked itneresting but he wasn’t sure about the lack of clothes, so I explained the “Inverse Law of Armor to Power” meaning that the more heroic the character, the less armor they get on the book cover (I believe credit goes to the commentors at Larry Correia’s place for that idea). That led to a discussion of fighting in plate armor. Note that the clerk is also a High School junior taking a dual-credit calculus class. There’s hope, and a market.

    1. Dear TXRed, I’ve been looking at that particular collection (the Baen Burroughs one). Is it any good, or is it all a modern PC ‘re-imagining’ of his work that kills everything from the original stories?

      1. Eric, it’s leaning against the “to be read” basket in my office. I should get time to read into it later this week. Shoot me an e-mail at AlmaTCBoykin at AOL dot com if you want a review. Although I’d guess, going by the cover and the publisher, it will not be PC unless it’s as a joke.

    2. Yes, but _please_ let us encourage those who violently disapprove of those covers to put photographs (to be more realistic) of un-made-up people in shapeless overalls on their covers. I’m sure it will be less exploitative and all those people who feel as they do, will rush to buy it and we’ll all be able to put plain overs on our books, which will be a saving for all of us, if a bit rough on cover artists.

      1. Ah, Dave, wouldn’t that be lack-of-any-cover artists? *Glances at old Boris Vallejo “Conan” poster* 😉

        1. (*pouts*) I like painting pretty people in outrageous outfits.

          Maybe I really have to think of an excuse to put a woman in chainmail bikini on some cover (I’ve been threatening to do that). Would there be any good excuse for a character to wear one?

          Hey, maybe she is an exotic dancer who gets whisked off on an adventure while dressed for her performance? Urban fantasy? Vampire attack… no… maybe, I do have something of a series with a few vampire short stories. Bad vampires. So, maybe a woman in a chainmail bikini and high heels sneaking around a midnight graveyard? 🙂

          1. Actress, LARPer, or model. It’s all about looks, not function… unless of course the function is to cause males to drool.

          2. Some of the belly-dancer’s tops I’ve seen look a great deal like chain mail, or scale mail (if the coins are small enough). As do their belts. Not sure you could do much with that, though . . .

          3. Nathan Long, who is a hilarious and awesome person, put out a book “Jane Carver of Waar” – I got it under “Hey! Nathan got a not-Warhammer book published!”

            …it’s, well, the Galaxy Quest of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I wasn’t that far in when I went “Waitaminute here… low gravity so you get bouncing boobs and stupidly huge swords being swingable, hot so you get not much clothing, and you just came up with a plot-plausible reason for her to end up in a chainmail bikini… Nathan, I don’t know whether to kiss you or kill you, but I’ll finish reading after I can get up from rolling on the floor laughing.”

            1. I’ve been planning to buy that, once I manage to pay off the last of the books I bought during the summer.

              Yes, bad money management tactics, I do buy books on credit and then pay in installments instead of buying little enough that I could pay it all off on my next pay day. I try to keep the debt manageable, for me meaning mostly that I can pay it off in two or three months afterwards. I even succeed about half of the time. But then one occasionally runs into more than one of these ‘have to get’ ones in the same month or couple of months… Especially since my system is that if the debt starts to look bad I stay away from things like book recommendations and online stores until I have paid it off. Which means I am going to be starving next time I start looking at them.

  4. I almost wrote a response to that Wendig piece. I loved it right up to the point where he made the Required Ritual Poking Of Heteronormative White Males In The Eye.
    I didn’t, in the end, because I’m tired of responding and reacting. I don’t want Wendig or anyone else trying to make me feel guilty for what’s in my shelves or on my e-reader. It’s not any of their business. And I don’t need to spend the time or energy trying to poke Wendig in the eye. He’s a good writer, and I love a good portion of what he does. When he’s not poking me in the eye, anyway.

    And a quick word re: Alan Dean Foster. I got to cross something off my bucket list when I interviewed him back when I was podcasting regularly. Got to talk to him for over an hour. He was pushing a self-pubbed book on his travels and interesting animals he’d run into in interesting places (Predators I Have Known), but we wound up talking Humanx Commonwealth books, Novelizations, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, all kinds of stuff, for over an hour. It was AWESOME. Love that guy. The produced episode (and the group I was associated with at the time) is no longer around, but I still have the original audio of the interview, and if anyone is interested and has about an hour to listen to me try really hard to not totally go gushing fanboy, I’m putting the audio up at – https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1177388/ADFInterview.mp3. (give it ten minutes from when this posts for Dropbox to finish syncing).

    1. Other than that little tribal call-out, he sounded a whole lot like Dr. Freer. 😉

      It was like reading a Mad Genius Club industry rant… “Give us the info! And our sales numbers and royalties, darnit!”

      1. yep, and that it has spread to there, gives me hope for some changes (or extinction -either is better than the current cave-blocker behavior) in Traditional publishing. When their loyalists start to desert and demand changes, they have less support to continue their obstructionism. And if they do the job properly, I’d be delighted.

    2. Yep. He’s – until that point – making sense from a camp that’s been in deep denial of it for many years. And even there his point that publishers ought to lead the way if they want it done is fair enough. What I don’t think he’s done is to think about the actual reading (and future reading) demographics – partly because these just aren’t easily available, and partly because that’s still a la la la area. Tomorrow’s sf readers are going to come out of those nurtured in reading books they enjoy, and earning enough to pay for them, with a lifestyle and interests that foster reading. That’s going to be a lot of young women reading twilight (some of whom will have spare cash) and a male audience who are more inclined to read John Carter than current PC pabulum. And it’s ones whose parents are working on their education, and pushing them into serious subjects -and feeding them on books they loved – who will have the cash to buy.

      And I am delighted to hear Alan Dean Foster lives up to my image of him. 🙂

  5. I understand that African-American romance novels sell pretty well, which is why you see them in Walmart. I don’t know if the market is self-segregating or not, but I assume that most contemporary romance readers are equally voracious with contemporary African-American romance. I’ve not seen a lot of historical African-American romance (well, there is a lot of depressing history), but it could probably be done well and interestingly. I think there was one Regency one, based on some historical lady, but I never saw it and don’t recall the title.

    The thing that’s interesting about African-American romance novels is that most of them seem to be doing the kind of Lifetime Movie Channel saga of being done wrong that was so popular in regular romance in the Seventies and Eighties. Maybe it’s like those family saga movies by the Big Mama guy?

    Of course, I’m more curious than willing to spend money for any book these days, so take my Walmart browsing comments for what they’re worth. Romance is a huge complicated field these days, and I just read a couple a year; so I’m not a good judge of the trends.

    1. Depressing history never stopped Scottish Highlander romance. 😉

      I’ve noticed that there are black romance categories (Kimani?) but there are also authors (one in particular that I can think of) who is black and who writes romances with black heroes and black heroines and who publishes in the regular category lines with everyone else, and other authors who have written about inter-racial couples for years in those same category lines.

      I pick those up without a second thought over what the heroine looks like, but I’ll admit that I’ve never picked up the specifically black category books any more than I’ve picked up the spanish language ones.

      Now I’m curious, too.

    2. It’s still very interesting, given the huge single parent, no support rates in that community (of course there is still a large chunk that isn’t in that category, and they might be buyers). I ought to read one, to see what those readers find attractive both as a portrayal of the future for the ‘appy couple’ and a society they live in.

      1. I flipped through one, as far as I could see it was the same as regular romance (rich, important, womanizer jerk falls head over heels for plain hard working gal) except they used descriptors such as dusky and cocoa instead of alabaster and lily

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