The spoil* of the poor is in your houses


Dave couldn’t make the internet work (oh noes, teh webz are busted!) So these are the words of the illustrious Grand Doc Monkey, not mine.


‘The spoil* of the poor is in your houses.’
We’ve talked about super-readers, the small percentage of readers who buy 25% of the books. I am sure the reason we wear our underpants outside our trousers is because we’re reading when we get dressed, and we rush into burning buildings is because we’re late for work and we’re busy reading and don’t notice. (It’s a joke, Joyce.) You can read more about here -– look at William Ockham’s comments.

Now these are very valuable people, can keep the indy e-book sellers afloat, because it takes them 3 or less hours to devour a book, they want at least a book a day, and most authors take a lot longer than 3 hours to produce the next. And at a book + a day, unless they’re super-wealthy as well as a super-reader, the super-reader, is very unlikely to be buying $30 hardbacks (or $30 e-books, heaven help us). Yes, there will be “I just can’t wait” purchases and “I treasure and re-read their books” purchases, but it’s more than likely they’re very price sensitive for a lot of their books.
They’re food-and-drink to the little guy. But they’re also only 25%… which leaves the 75%. Now just as I consider the traditional publishing industry to be — if not barking mad (which is not hard to believe sometimes), at least blinded by complacent stupidity caused by being the only game in town for a long time, and allowing their narrow left-wing PC orthodoxy to say ‘we can ignore demographics and what people want, they’ll read what is good for them, AND pay $30 for the privilege’, I’d consider ignoring the 75% and only focusing on the 25% a short-sighted strategy.

Because, here’s the thing… As long as you have a decent product, and the price reasonable: You have a large chance of getting a share of that 25%. We’re voracious. If desperate enough we’ll read the contents of shampoo bottles or even Hugo award winners. (Do remember the sad puppies). Most of us will re-read favorites, most of us have preferences, be that romance, MilSF, or something telling us how bad men are, or the inverse – if we can find it. There are A Few Good Men out there.

But we’re 3% of the population (the super-readers, not the good men). Which leaves the big unanswered: ‘Where are the rest, and why don’t they read more.

It seems to be that it is heavily skewed – if you get to 15% of the population read 65% of the books (thanks again to William Ockham). Taking that sort of curve, by the time you’ve got to the upper 25% of the population who read, you’ll have 90% of the titles sold. Those who are left, are bestsellers and celebrity garboil – or traditional publisher territory.

So why? Well, obviously some people just don’t read. Some are too dumb, IQ on the wrong side of 90 and there are only so many times you can read Janet and John, and some are put off by what they were made to read and what they found available to read. Now, there’s not a lot one can do about too dumb. But the rest would both useful to quantify and to get.

Secondly, the probability of someone reading is strongly related to one or both parents reading – it’s a genetic disease, which in theory then should
spread. The hard question is: why isn’t it?

Thirdly, reading and education level are strongly correlated. That doesn’t mean that if you never had much schooling you shouldn’t read, it means if you did it should be very probable you will, and if you’re educated and don’t read, questions need to be asked. If a large section of the demographic who could handle more education aren’t getting it, maybe if those who like to campaign for these sort of things would like to have a go. Aha. I hear our dear little friends in SFWA all shouting ‘Yay’ and cheering, yelling for their pet causes… It seems the largest sector of the English first language UK population which is chronically demographically under-represented at university/college, and does badly in secondary education and I suspect the same goes for the US, is poor, (shrieks and more cheering) and white, and male (and almost certainly largely heterosexual). Why the sudden deathly silence? You want people reading don’t you?

Fourthly people read for various reasons –for pleasure, for escapism, for reassurance, for comfort. Each of those has a different segment of the population and of course there is some overlap. All of them require however, that the reader be able to identify with protagonist. If we’re getting such small proportions reading, I think it is pretty clear that we’re doing the latter wrong. Why and how do we change it?

Fifthly – reading is a cheap way to get the above. Competing for the beer money is still what we’re doing… and that unless you’re a very rich hot-house flower, isn’t 30 bucks.

Perhaps Jim Hines in his inept PC White Knight defense of the poor put upon non-binary gender ‘sheit’ (or is that itshe?) was accidentally right. We could get more readers if modern sf ventured out of its comfort zone, stopped being so lazy and stereotypical in its characters, and looked at the non-stereotypical ones that most of the establishment don’t ever write (perhaps because they don’t know any, and they’re far happier believing their wildly inaccurate and inevitably derogatory stereotypes), and took aim at those we’re losing or have lost. They’re a large group, a lot rarer in modern sf than bizarre sexuality (where we’ve had hundreds of examples going back 70 years cited in the last week or so), or odd ethnicity, or strange religions and much, much rarer than atheists. These are all present in larger-than-demographic proportions… No, we need something that establishment sf is plainly afraid of writing… In fact, the last one I can think of was Billy Danger in Keith Laumer’s Galactic Odyssey.
(Update: Retrorockets points out that actually character was black. So what. His color is irrelevant to the story, what is, is that he was an honorable man, a hero, who never stopped trying to do what he set out to do. And he started as poor to the edge of desperation. And yep, definitely heterosexual.)
When last did you read a poor, decent, hard-working, honest, white, male heterosexual conservative Christian hero from a SFWA member? I can’t wait to see Jim Hines lead by example.
It would be kind of fun watching their heads explode…

32 thoughts on “The spoil* of the poor is in your houses

  1. I want to read that book. It would be nice if there was a main character I could identify with that hadn’t been written umpteen years ago

    1. Ditto.

      Yes, I have an easier time empathizing with male than “female” characters….

      I’d offer Bahzel BloodyHand as a pretty close example, though!

      1. I like David Weber – both as a person and as an author. I do skim parts of the techno-weapon stuff, (although I know that appeals to some people, and that is a good reason to do it. I’m an odd bod. I probably use a rifle — I hunt 1-3 times a week for food — more than most, but not really interested in reading about gun calibers etc etc.) but I enjoy his characters.

        1. I confess to skimming some of the techno-babble in the HH books myself. I am somewhat of a gun nut, but that translates to current weapons, if you have a 45 ACP traveling at twice the speed of sound the book is laible to hit the wall. But imaginary weapons in the far distant future, especially huge ship to ship missiles that I have no chance of owning, or any possible use for if I could obtain them? Yeah, they are big, fast, and explosive, blah, blah, greater range than their opponents, blah, blah.

  2. Education doesn’t necessarily cause wanting to read for fun. I’ve known a student of engineering who, I think inside of the last year, said that they don’t read stuff, except for school books. They may well have fit the other demographics you mention.

    1. I remember being brain-fried during parts of my college career, and my aviation career as well. After spending all day working on operations manual revisions and updates because of new FAA regulations, I just wanted to go home, listen to music, and let the “little grey cells” snooze.

      1. As you say, in fairness, a solid engineering program will have tendencies that way. I thought the discussion I had ruled that out, that it probably went back before college.

    2. I think it may be a side effect, but none-the-less real — My theory: education tends to force an increase reading speed. And increased reading speed does make novels more fun in general. (If it is taking you 3 months to finish a book, it’s likely to lose you on the slow page. If it’s taking 3 hours a slow chapter vanishes.

      1. Fynbos Press does this by design! Granted, that’s because we’re a one-author shop and that’s what Calmer Half likes to write, but… by design! 😛

  3. Hold on Dave. You _CANNOT_ possibly mean that it might be ok to write a story about a white guy who doesn’t have the world by the balls and just has to struggle to get through. That would be _TOTALLY_ unbelievable. I mean, after all, I’m a white guy and look at all of the advantages I have. Not just one but TWO jobs. Heck, I can even afford a bus _PASS_ instead of paying for the bus everyday _AND_ I can afford the discounted meals I get for working at a restaurant. Granted, I don’t have a car and I haven’t been in a restaurant I don’t work in for months, but hey, look at all of the _PRIVILEGE_.

    1. 🙂 Jim, I get the sarcasm. Scalzi’s ‘easiest game setting’ irritated me almost beyond rationality, simply because it isn’t your skin color or what sex you are that determines how you have to struggle to make a living — there might be – for example – black polyamorous women having a comfortable tenured life at some college, the product of well- off well-educated parents, and a private school. Is she really having a harder game of life than a white heterosexual man who had none of her advantages, is holding down a couple of jobs to make ends meet and support his children? The generalization infuriates me. It also just fails to give credit where I really feel it is due – I’ve a lot more respect for a man who working his butt off for his family, than the person who isn’t.

      It’s not about sex or skin color. It’s about each individual case. And constant disrespect for that white male battler – many of whom keep the world going and produce the next generation of good citizens who actually will be worth having – gets up my wick.

  4. yep I have been known to read shampoo bottles and such as a distraction in the porcelain throne room from time to time.
    If I had the space I’d have a bookshelf in my bathroom for when on the throne. I generally just take what I’m reading in with me though. be it the kindle or a dead tree.

  5. What is usually lacking in the PC crowd is subtlety. They are generally about a subtle as a strategic nuke at a tea party.
    Keith Laumer who was usually know for action was especially subtle in Galactic Odysseys. For instance, toward the end of the book when Billy Danger confronts the Lady Raire’s erstwhile husband, he describes himself thus in a throwaway line.

    “But nobody, even someone who had only talked to me for five minutes three years before, could pretend to have forgotten my face: black-skinned, scarred, one-eyed.”

    In other words, Billy Danger was BLACK. (Negro, African American, Afro-American, Melanin Blessed, or whatever euphemism de jour that is going around today.)

    The PC crowds are racist hacks. Keith Laumer didn’t mention what color he was because it wasn’t important. He treated Billy Danger just like any other hero. Because that’s what he is. A Hero.

    1. Excellent! Thank you for bringing that up. I’ll modify accordingly. It just shows how much I cared about the skin color of the hero — it wasn’t part of the story, and I would agree shouldn’t be. I liked and identified with the character, regardless. But in modern sf it would be a center-point to harped on. :-/

  6. Poor dears (SFWA authors, generally) – how can they write about the sort of people they neither know nor want to know? Surely, even becoming (relatively) wealthy isn’t worth doing THAT!

  7. I was talking to a local author (briefly, so I’m sure I don’t have the whole scoop) who’s had some success direct marketing self-published niche stories. Normally I’d cringe and warn “don’t do it!” because it seems to me that sitting at a table trying to sell your books never works.

    But I think that there are a couple of reasons that it worked for him. What he did was write three short stories in three different genres set in the past, present, and future, (with different pen names!) that had a unifying theme, bundle them together in a thin little paperback with a Texas flag on the cover and then sold them for $10 at an event that had nothing to do with writing.

    I’m reminded of this now because the theme and the huge convention/event were what might be considered likely to attract white, male, uncultured (by some levels of stereotype), non-readers… not necessarily poor because most big hobbies take a good deal of money. In this case it was the “cowboy poetry” demographic. (And each of the pen names for each genre has a back list.)

    It would be the equivalent of putting together a book for NASCAR fans, or people who travel all over the country for amateur rocket competitions, or writing up a book of light-reading shorts aimed at the demographic likely to go to a big gun show.

    1. There’s a regional kids’-book author who sells her books at ag shows. She writes about kids and farms, and makes a respectable sum. As you say, targeted marketing.

  8. I offer for beta readers, a book that would NEVER see publication in the “mainstream Press.” A male, who’s handicapped, becomes a Santa Claus, and does great good, including powerfully effecting a little girl and her future children. Contact me at g-r-a-f-x-a-m-a-n-u-s at yahoo dot com, to be one (remove dashes).

  9. I had a friend in my local writers group who was as far to the left as I am to the right. So, I got so tired of him writing sterotypic straw men villains–who happened to be Republicans, that I challenged him to a duel: I’d write a flaming liberal character and fairly represent that character’s political position, and he’d do the same for a Conservative/Libertarian/center-right character.

    My challenge went unanswered, because he was just unable to get his mind around the alien mindset.

    I do not think this is an isolated event. People with unpopular opinions have to defend their own positions, and to successfully do that you need to understand the other sides positions better than they do. And since such opinions are unpopular, one gets a lot of practice. ERGO, you may be asking something of the SFWA swells that they are incapable of.

    1. Oh I hope so, Steve. I hope so. I think trying would make their heads explode, which would be amusing. Looking at the SFWA demographic, from what I have seen of it (and there are outliers) they tend to come from privilege, they tend to come from the left ‘upper class’ or have adopted it and done their best to blend in. They’re often in sheltered employment situations – working at state or large institutions, if not supported by well-off partner, or an approving industry that loves their world view. I noticed among my own uni peers how real life outside the hot-house changed them, especially the ones who found themselves doing manual labor, or employing manual laborers, or small /self-employed business evolved from the far side of Marx to being fairly pragmatic and usually quite conservative in their outlooks, and always became much broader in outlook and tolerance. The ones who remained protected – either by wealth or their hothouse stayed the same. That’s been NY publishing. But I think it is dying.

    1. Oh yeah, waaay too plausible. I got to the missing reviewers and had to quit because my blood pressure started soaring. BTDT.

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