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Slap your brand on that maverick.

Alas, I am my own proof that the improbable does happen sometimes. My tribal name, out here beyond the black stump is ‘Worrier-with-too-many-bread-machines’ (which I believe you pig-ig’nrant foreigners all mispronounce as ‘Monkey’. You just keep it up. It does my vast self-importance a lot of good to have a good sneer at y’all.) You see, selling bread on the island is a de facto monopoly. A loaf costs more than double what it does on the mainland. People shrug and buy it, because you need bread. They’re quite used to it, as it has been like that for always and always (well, a good few years.) We only have one bakery, and they can charge what they like.

Well, unless you’re like me, mean as cats wee, and perpetually with something higher up the list to spend my money on (yes, of course I’m a rich author. I got 64 cents out of that last paperback you bought.) And with flour – which you can buy in bulk from the farmer’s co-op, yeast and a little oil, I can get away with spending a lot less. It isn’t bakery bread, but it is wholesome and good. I don’t care about the brand.

A while back I found that bread machines – which do all the tedious kneading for you, are cheap to throw-away second-hand items here in Oz. Mostly people scratch the Teflon on the bread pan, and that’s that. Or they get bored with the gadget. They’re well off enough that bought bread has no fear, and even less work. Now, I have a huge, small commercial oven (yes of course that makes sense. It’s huge if compared to a non-commercial oven. I can fit a 10kg roast pig into it, but not a full size pig). I like to cook, and I bought many years ago in a fit of temporary affluence. Being as I said, mean as cats wee, I fill it when I spend money on lighting it. I’ve got four bread machines –all repaired/tossed/ recycled bar one, two of which could still make bread, the others fit for dough, and I bake a big batch about every ten days. Rolls, buns, bread, pizza, everything, (and more) than I can buy, and done to suit my needs and tastes at a fraction of the price.

I get given these unloved machines –and bits of them, and, in my ample spare time, I coax more life out of them. I’ve just been given a fifth… the bread pan looks like someone used a garden fork to take out the last loaf. And lo, the improbable happened. The last bitsa I was given was bread pan in perfect nick… where the machine had been tossed years ago. And the bread pan… fits the new hand-me-down, like it was made for it, which, tah-dah, it was! You see, here brand does matter, does have value. The odds are beaten because both were from a common, popular, good make. If I was ever to buy a bread machine, it would be one of that brand, that type, especially if the design hadn’t changed much, because I have a lot perforce-learned skill at using one machine for parts.

So: what am I waffling on about? Obviously not bread machines. I’m talking about the value of brands. An author’s greatest single enemy is obscurity, not a lack of ability – we’ve all read drivel that makes you wonder just who the author slept with to get published, and some occasions, just how perverted that had to have been. Humans do explore, try new things… but especially if money is a factor, we tend to very wary about big spends on things we don’t know. Ergo: the value of brands and an author’s need for them.

As a writer, in theory, you have three possible brands.

1) Your traditional publisher could be your brand. In practice of course, they weren’t unless you were in Romance, or published by Baen. This part of the reason –as I see it anyway, for the endless attempts to denigrate Baen, often covertly but sometimes – as by Scalzi and recently, the individual kindly* renamed ‘the Dickless Weasel’ posting over in the Guardian last week. They hate that it works, but not for them and their little friendies.
2) You could win an Award – the award is a brand of sorts too.
3) And of course first and foremost YOUR NAME (which I mention third here, because, duh, it’s not really what a skill in writing makes you good at. It’s hard, and we have no tools, or budget for it, most of us. One is forced to do it, by necessity. We make a virtue of it, but really is it what authors should be doing?)

The thing, of course with a brand is that has value in itself. And that value needs to be nurtured, looked after and guarded if it’s going to keep being worth having, let alone grow. Authors need to be aware that they stand or fall by that brand reputation. You’re as good as your last book, or maybe two or three, if you’re an old brand (like the Hugo Awards are, or Larry Niven)

Potentially, that goes a lot further with Publishers, and indeed awards. Nurture should be their first name. Start to disappoint people and there goes many years of hard work -it’s easier to break than make. And it is largely self-inflicted injury: Attempting to diss a brand name may put off those who don’t know it, but it is a balancing act. If the brand was obscure, all you’re doing is making people notice it, and if it is a good product – or at least one that has faithful partisans, this is a stupid technique, because it tends to make those partisans vocal. Trying saying something derogatory about Apple Macs to see this in action.

Of course when it comes to awards we have a delusion with the partisans It is this ‘The Hugo/Nebula/Clark/Lambda is a great Award it will do wonders for your prestige and sales. You should be trying to win at all costs.’

Well, actually, no. Firstly there is a plainly inverse relationship here. For example Tim Neverheardofhim will benefit from winning any award. Jill Bestseller won’t much, if at all. She may actually lose sales if the award labels her book say literary and she does not sell to a highbrow audience. If it is a niche award appealing to an audience that already knows the author, it also definitely works against her. So a well-known lesbian author writing lesbian centered books getting a Lambda, basically won’t sell extra, and acts to constrain her sales to people who want to explore gay literature. It’s good news for the Lambda, not so good for the author. Of course to an obscure author it’s still a lift in that reading group.

Secondly: the value of an award is directly proportional to the popularity of works which have won the award in previous years. So: for example LotR wins a Hugo, the Hugo gains huge exposure to people in parts of society that wouldn’t know what it was, and the next year ‘Hugo winning’ has a great value. Only the next year it goes to Joe Unknown’s Piece of Drekk, because a bunch of Joe’s friends and rellies get together and push it. Or Joe is an outspoken albino lesbian transvestite, great at raising awareness, just not a great novelist…or Joe is a Neo-Nazi with a loyal blog following, and mediocre books. Joe will sell very well on the year before’s reputation. The year that follows, will sell largely off Joe’s popularity with some effect from the prior years. It’s a complicated calculation, as an award has a certain historical value, which is degraded by poor quality winners, or by winners which exclude a large section of the buying public.

Thirdly, there is a retroactive effect. Let’s say, you, Fred FairlyGood, at the height of your game, won a Hugo just between Jill Bestseller and Mary Alsobestseller. Fred will continue to benefit from the Hugo for many years… as long as the reputation of the award remains for great, broad appeal books. If the award is hijacked by a partisan group that have very limited appeal (regardless of who that group is). Fred’s award value declines, as well as the future value to any winner.

So: it is to everyone’s – except Joe Unknown’s shortsighted self-interest, each year (and even Joe should want it to go to someone reputable and with broad appeal next year and as many years as possible.) to have the award go to as broadly popular authors as possible, and that the competition appears credible, fair and unbiased. Its value its reputation. And, unless it is a niche award -That value is only enhanced by works that have very broad appeal – in other words, by authors with a large following, and are putting up their best work. Otherwise they’re at best coasting on someone else’s tail, and at worst, rapidly degrading the value of the award.

It’s why Baen did so many co-authored books – with rather good co-authors but less well-known ones Flint with Drake for example – not as is typical out there to get a cheap BIGNAME book (with in small print the actual author’s name, below), by using a cheap minor author, which de facto cheats the minor author, cheats readers, and makes a short term profit for the publisher (who places no value on their brand) and the BIGNAME who is either vain enough to think he/she is famous enough to ignore preserving their brand, or just stupid.

Hugos, with a long history have been slowly coasting towards obscurity, with the value and interest dropping, because the nominations and awards overwhelmingly went to a narrow sector of the political spectrum, a sector which sells quite little. While this was disguised and a pretense was made that it just wasn’t so… some credibility was retained, but it seeped away, year after year. Eventually the Hugo award would become a trivial thing, already it is a long way from Dune/Lord of Light. Then first John Ringo IIRC made some public noise about it. Gradually more authors and readers became aware. Larry Correia- who cares more for the genre and the history than it deserves – broke it into the open. And the reaction of the left partisan bloc was predicted, and they did precisely what they were predicted to do, to the enduring shame of all those who participated in the process. You managed to bring the Hugos and the left wing into disrepute. The tactics used in attacking Larry’s character and reputation will stain the award for years.

If it was my brand, I’d be in tears. If I had won in the past or hoped in the future, I’d be devastated.
If it was my brand it wouldn’t have happened. I’d have protected it.

Looking at next year… Those invested in genre and the award, particularly those who have been nominated/won before (or are fans of those who have), and, as this very ideologically biased, have most to lose if the award does not recapture its credibility. It needs establish that it is not ideologically driven. The only way anyone who isn’t hard left and blinkered is going to believe that… is if the noms and awards take a sharp turn away from the left, and have some very popular authors with a large following who are center and right wing — and they’ll have to do it for a good few years. The problem, of course, is twofold. If anyone who is not an outspoken left-winger is going to be attacked by the same creeps as this time, you’ll have repeat of this year, and more damage, and secondly… who are you going to get? There are dozens of outspoken left wing authors in traditional publishing, some with a fair size following – probably most of what there is to have in their niche (which is a small part of whayt is out there). Traditional publishing skews hard left, that’s just about all they’ve done for years. It’s very available, expensive, and made to suit the sellers, not the market. Rather like bakery bread here. Not selling that well, now that people are feeling the pinch. But you can find fifty virtually indistinguishable clones of the current Hugo winners very easily.

The other side is hard to find. They make their own bread, mostly. It’s generally cheaper, more varied. While there are actally quite a lot of center/right authors doing very well as indies, the list in ordinary traditional publishing of people selling 100k + copies is tiny anyway, and those who aren’t outspoken left wing is miniscule. Larry Correia was literally the Hugos best bet.

So to those who wish to retain some value for the award. I suggest you start looking for suitable bestselling nominations… that have no trace of left wing about them. Good luck trying. Most of those mavericks are more likely to kick you than go along quietly to wear your brand and add value to it.

If it happened tome (yes, I know, more chance of falling pregnant. I’m a hack, and contented with that label), well my brand is too valuable to me to let that on be put on it. I’ll settle for home baked, at least I know I can trust it.
And there is a fair amount of home-baked bread to suit all tastes available here.

*I would have called him God’s gift to Coprophagia

23 Comments
  1. Christopher M. Chupik #

    What’s funny to me is how the other side keeps acting like the worst kind of sore losers. Their side “won” (the Hugos, anyhow) but they keep taking potshots at the “losers”. This is not healthy behavior. More importantly, this is not confident behavior. They keep telling everything, as loudly and as often as they can, that their side are the future of the field, that we’re nothing but a tiny, dying micro-minority who can’t stand other people in “our” genre. But the reality looks very much the opposite.

    September 1, 2014
    • I recall a peanuts cartoon done about ‘Sore Losers’ many years ago.

      September 1, 2014
      • Ugh, I meant ‘Sore Winners’. This is what happens when I stay up too late 😛

        September 1, 2014
    • Yeah, the level of delusion required to keep up the ‘we are the new world’ and you are a tiny old bunch of dying off has beens is high and getting higher. I think I’ll post on this next week. Just where is the market?

      September 1, 2014
    • It’s like telling everyone that you are a lady, or respectable, or famous or whatever … if you have to keep telling people that you are, it’s very likely that you aren’t, in the least bit.

      September 1, 2014
      • How _very_ perceptive!

        September 1, 2014
        • Thanks, Dave – but not original with me – I’ve picked it up from a number of different sources.

          September 1, 2014
      • Um. Of course that is completely inaccurate when it comes to me telling people I am a monkey. Got that? 😉

        September 1, 2014
        • It only applies when you’re not responding to a question or implied question.

          September 1, 2014
  2. Pat Patterson #

    Frankly, science fiction is OUR park. And as long as the lefties were content with setting up a table and handing out pamphlets to those interested, it was okay. Big park, lots of things to do. But then they started with the chanting and yelling at the other people in the park; so, after warnings which were not heeded , Larry flipped their table over.
    And it’s still our park. Yes, they are permitted to play in it, but play nice. Next time we bring Bubba.

    September 1, 2014
    • No Pat, I think you’re kind into their narrative now, which is BS. They want to claim we USED to own the park, keep them out, and therefore their discrimination is just redressing the imbalance. Which I call bulls!t on. Certainly going back as far as the late 40’s they’ve been welcomed and even supported. The opposite, I’ve never seen happen. Trouble is the park is kept mowed and the bathrooms functioning and clean, so people want to come there by a entry small charge (people buying books). What these jackasses are doing is being so obnoxious that a lot of folk don’t come to the park at all – which means the toilets are overflowing and the grass is knee high, so people don’t want to come there…

      September 1, 2014
      • Pat Patterson #

        That makes me think about the leftie comment more. Can’t really remembering caring about the politics of Asimov or Clarke, or ANYBODY for that matter, and I learned to read around 1959 and almost immediately discovered that the science fiction park is where I mostly wanted to play.

        September 1, 2014
  3. Uncle Lar #

    No publisher or author seems immune to the lure of leveraging the brand for a quick profit. Not even Baen. One of their best had a popular series that he was bored with so farmed it out to a supposedly competent writer who apparently was channeling the ghost of Clive Cussler’s ghost writer at the time. The fan response, “That’s one!” directed at both Baen and the name author. So, as they say, one is happenstance, but Baen being a smart and well run house knows better than to chance turning a mistake into coincidence let alone enemy action.
    Some exceptions do exist. After the passing of Robert Parker two writers with permission from his estate have carried on two of his most popular series with good results, but obviously due to them having worked closely with Mr. Parker and being deeply immersed in the minutia of each series. As for most such collaborations in popular fiction, a few gems, but mostly meh. Yet another move by traditional publishing to cash in on a brand, take the money, and run like hell.

    September 1, 2014
    • Eamon J. Cole #

      Just rambling off the top here, but:

      I think it’s a consequence of a business model that forgets the purpose of publishing. It’s not about selling books. Not in truth. It’s about selling stories. The customers are not buying a simple commodity, they are investing time in an idea.

      The monetary outlay is transient (moreso in healthier economic times, but still.), however the brainspace — that’s of real importance to the readership.

      Cashing in on an author’s brand is short-term and it’s cheating a way into someone’s brainspace. I can certainly attest, it has ended my reading enjoyment on more than one occasion and soured me on the associated author. With the Baen author (if I understand your reference) it pissed me off for the sheer stupidity of picking a complex storyline and handing it to anyone else. Better there be no more stories in that line than somebody take my money and soil my experience with such drek.

      If I was spending money on books rather than stories, I’d invest in the rare and valuable and keep them on mahogany shelves in a fine library with leather chairs. Or a temperature controlled vault.

      I’m buying stories, and giving the author a piece of mental real estate. I prefer no one cheat me in the process.

      September 1, 2014
      • The customers are not buying a simple commodity, they are investing time in an idea.

        Oooh, nicely said.

        September 1, 2014
        • Eamon J. Cole #

          🙂

          Thanks!

          September 1, 2014
  4. @DaveFreer…No fair. The bread-baking analogy has me drooling for homemade bread. Specifically, my sister’s Paska bread, which turned out even when I made it. I usually do cookies and candy. (Recipe can be found here: http://scotianrealm.com/?p=603) So now maybe the church bake sale gets a loaf of bread instead of brownies. I still have a jar of my other sister’s homemade strawberry jam. (Yes, I am blessed in my sisters.)

    @Eamon J. Cole…what Foxfier said!

    September 2, 2014
    • Eamon J. Cole #

      🙂

      September 2, 2014
  5. Ummm…

    With respect to: davefreer: “Brad – there are 10s of thousands of better stories than either that never get nominated. The point was bait was put out. You were told it was bait. You could choose what to. You still swallowed it. Not much use saying ‘oh if it been a different flavor’ is there?” me: “I don’t get your point: what is it?” davefreer: “Sigh. Brad -Take your fingers out of your ears, stop singing la la la, and re-read what I said about a Pyrrhic victory. Everyone else, bar David Whatsisname, here and on the repeat of the same point on MHI (it was quoted there) seems to get it. So that’s 2 of about 2500 (here alone – many times that on MHI) who miss the point- which says it is not exactly obscure or difficult to understand. But for your benefit I will explain in more detail on Monday.”

    Well, I still don’t get your point. *I* did not swallow any bait. I got my Hugo nominee list and started reading those things on it I hadn’t. “Neptune’s Brood” by Charlie Stross–wonderful, I had read it, my vote. “Parasite” by Mira Grant–ok, I had read it, had kept me gripped and eager to read more until the last page, but I was expecting some big surprise at the end rather than just things that had been obvious for 200 pages. “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie was gripping and great–but I preferred NB. “Wheel of Time”–really surprised to see it on the list as I had given up after book 3, when it was clear it wasn’t going much of anywhere, and I wasn’t going to read it. “Warbound” by Larry Correia–lost interest 1/4 of the way through as the characters didn’t seem to be acting like 1930s-era Americans, and alternate history needs to be done very well if it is to be done successfully, and in my view this wasn’t. So I voted. How is that “taking the bait”?

    On to the novellas. “Equoid” I had read and loved (yes, I am a stross fan). “Six-Gun Snow White” I found meh. I hadn’t read “Wakulla Springs”, “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, or “The Butcher of Khardov”, but I enjoyed them all–so I ranked them: Equoid, Butcher, Chaplain, Wakulla, Six-Gun. How is that “taking the bait”?

    On to the Novelettes. Hadn’t read any of them. Liked The Waiting Stars a lot. Voted: Waiting Stars, Truth of Fact, Lady Astronaut, and then NO AWARD. Because my reaction to “Exchange Officers” and “Opera Vita Aeterna” was: WTF?! OVA starts with a title that makes no grammatical Latin sense, and then never grabbed me at all. Exchange was just weird in the laziness of its worldbuilding–a future with colonels who make fun of their subordinates’ slavic-sounding last names, and Chinese officials wearing Mao suits?

    So when I finished it seemed to me that four things had gotten onto the Hugo ballot that really nobody sane could have thought was the best of the year in its class in science fiction and fantasy–The Wheel of Time, Warbound, Exchange Officers, and Opera Vita Aeterna. The voters for The Wheel of Time we excuse, for we know that they are not quite sane. But the others?

    So I started reading around. And it appears that the people who nominated Waiting Stars, Truth of Fact, Lady Astronaut, Neptune’s Brood, Parasite, and Ancillary Justice did so because they genuinely thought the works were best of the year in their class. And it appears that Larry Correia and Brad Torgenson and company who nominated OVA did so not because they genuinely thought it was the best thing written in 2013 in its class but because they are assholes.

    As somebody in the middle, that’s going to shape my views going forward.

    So what is your point? That Larry Correia, Brad Torgenson, and company are not in fact assholes for trolling the Hugo awards and nominating something they did not think was best-in-cads? That in voting what I think I was somehow “taking the bait” and shouldn’t have–that I should have pretended that Larry Correia’s characters struck me as Americans of the 1930s when they did not, and ignored the lazy world building of having Chinese government officials in the future wearing Mao suits?

    Yours,

    Brad DeLong
    Brad DeLong

    September 2, 2014
    • Pat Patterson #

      Brad,

      Hope you enjoyed your reading.
      Sorry you don’t get the point.

      September 2, 2014
    • Brad. Sigh. Let me run this past you really really slowly.
      Q:1)Is the claim that the Hugo award is not ideologically biased true or false?
      Answer:On the basis of overwhelming evidence: false.
      Q: 2) Is this situation beneficial to the reputation and value a)Hugo winners or Noms, past, present and future, b)sf genre c)WorldCon. d)The Hugo Award itself?
      Answer. It is extremely detrimental. This is painfully obvious without the 2000 word explanation above.
      Q: If it is detrimental, and obvious and known to be so, and you know that aggressively displaying the award to be biased (ergo having 5 outspoken lefties win) will hurt your favorite author (Stross in your case), sf genre. WorldCon, and the Hugos, what does someone with the ability to think do?

      I would guess you don’t play chess. Sometimes you sacrifice a pawn to protect your king. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a lot more. You kept the pawns, because you thought of the pawns, not the game. Next game – to win you’d have to start with accepting you probably need to lose – at least a lot of pawns. And all the pawns and their friends are squealing, ‘not me, not me, that other pawn is not worthy of winning.’

      That was the Pyrrhic victory. Now… next year is coming. I doubt that many right of center authors or their fans will have much interest in WorldCon, or the Hugos – or the reputation of the award you’re so so proud of your ‘deserving’ author winning. To rehabilitate the award is going to be LOT harder. Don’t expect – after the behavior this year, any support from anyone who isn’t left of Lenin. Yet, to acquire credibility again, which it just pissed down the wind, the award needs to show it has NO ideological bias, and the only way it can do that is to outspoken right wingers win, with lots of vocal support from the left and center. How are you going to do it? Who do think you’ll get? Pyrrhus. They had the chance of claiming a credible nom, which in certain cicles people would have said they should have won. Now they have a tainted and damaging label. Yeah, that’s a win. Not.

      The other thing you just don’t seem to get is that your personal taste is NOT representative. You might like Stross. NOT my cup of tea, thank you. Tastes differ, and that is fine. BUT you can’t make a reasonable claim that just because YOU like the book it was good for anyone else, or that your taste is representative, or the taste of the people who did the noms was representative, because if it was it would have to represent the entire political spectrum, even without the sad puppies. It doesn’t. Get over it, your opinion and taste are relevant… to you.

      But sure, if you’re confident I am wrong and that there is ABSOLUTELY no bias you’ll be happy to put your money where your mouth is. The odds against 2 outspoken lefties getting noms in any one writing category in an unbiased system is around 50:1. I’ll offer you 25:1 A sure win for you if you are that confident. What could go wrong for you? I’ll put up $100 – which you get if there are no writing categories with more than 1 outspoken lefty (still a 7:1 chance) and you put up $2500 – which I get if that 1/50 ‘fluke’ (at least 2) comes good (in an unbiased system). To be fair I’d have won every year for the last 20. But you firmly believe it is true. That $100 is nearly as good as yours. Put up your $2500.

      September 3, 2014

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