Class of ’49

In my relentless desire to avoid doing any constructive work (I’m up for a lifetime award on this) I happened to see this ‘class calculator’ on the BBC site (part of my South African heritage that refuses to leave. Australians may trust a news source. South Africans learn there is no truth, just lies from different interest groups. So we read and disbelieve all of them. The Beeb and Guardian (who swap a lot of staff) are the UK ‘left’. Neither of them rely on selling their product to survive.)

Now ‘class’ is an interesting social construct, both for society, and writers. It’s like most uniforms, tells people what they think they need to know without having to bother with all that tedious judging on merit. It’s of vast importance to losers, who have little else to commend them. It’s sort of like the ‘aym a New Yawk Taimes Bestseller’ (because my publisher gamed the system and bulk bought) resort of ‘important’ authors who are being out-sold from here to breakfast by some scruffy oik who was turned down by New York publishing. In other words it is very important to people who aren’t very important to society but feel they ought to be. This is quite amusingly visible in the stats on who took the test. I did of course, because that is me, perfectly. I have been working on the constipated look too. It does things for me (last time I was showing people how important I was, I got no less than three offers of a trip to the ER, and one recommendation for Preparation H, and the nick-name of Choo-choo train).

Still, it’s very important to the left because you know class is bad (well, except obviously for them) and the working class are oppressed. I am delighted to report that I am according to their calculator ‘traditional working class’ (typically Lorry drivers, cleaners and electricians) and prob’ly entitled to an official victim card (which they can shove up the place where the sun don’t shine. Sideways. It’ll help them to walk important) and to say ‘wot abaht t’werkas’ on all social occasions, a privilege I intend to revel in. I’m also amused to find my average age is 66. Actually, I suspect going through the average ages and picking one closest to yours is nearly as accurate as the rest of their metrics. But it’s those metrics and their impact on writers and, of course, your target audience that is relevant to us.

What I found interesting was not so much the questions they didn’t ask as the ones they did. For instance they asked about your income after tax – not your disposable income. I know very well the two can be almost wholly unrelated, from successfully wasting my time on another article about what the average Australian spends on what (it’s always vital to find out how much what they use, as we are nearing peak-what. The price of what can only go up, as the what-mines play out, and it’ll take years to bring the deep-what projects on line). Disposable income is a lot more relevant, especially to writers. You can dispose of some of it my way, anytime. As a serious aside, one of the most important things any writer needs to learn is to keep your regular monthly expenses (rent/mortgage, electricity, medical etc.) as far down as possible, because you don’t have a regular paycheck. Likewise the savings need to exist, because sure as death, your publisher will be late, probably a lot more often than your girlfriend is, but with the same sort of unpleasant grimace and “Ooosh…!” Being an indy eases this but doesn’t kill it. They asked about renting – but they didn’t ask about paying rent to the principle owner of your home –AKA the bank. If I’d had to draw a class-line it wouldn’t have been so much about how valuable the house is or whether the occupant lives in Sydney (very expensive) and rents, or ‘Oobroughtthebeeralonga-out-beyond-the-blackstump (much more desirable location, trust me) and owns, as to whether they own it or owe it.

The next part, the social contacts – as a writer, and a resident on a small island, in a bit of Australia which is still savagely egalitarian and meritocratic I found amusing. Writers- being solitary workers and often targeting a broad audience… well, I’m not aware of knowing any office managers or solicitors (does that count ladies of negotiable virtue?), but I have friends and readers who own their own businesses, are cleaners, are scientists, are farmers… many of the preconceived biases of the Beeb’s sociologists show up very clearly. But in the internet era, says very little about people. My primary interest is do you read… or don’t you?

Which brings me on to their last determinant of class –‘culture’. I have several in my freezer, for cheese, yoghurt and Salami. And to be honest, they’re more reliable indicators of class than whether I watch sport or go to the theater, watch ballet or dance, or hip-hop (none. I participate in certain field and danger-sports, but I’m a terrible spectator, and theater isn’t a frequent thing on remote islands. We’ve had the oily cart out here of course. And you could call the feller slipping on the result ‘ballet’ in the Spandau sense, I suppose. That was great, I’d pay to watch that again, if he recovers.) But the curious thing for me, as a writer, and a reader… was that reading didn’t come into it. Not how much or what.

Weird! If I was going to reach a snap judgment about whether I was likely to get on with someone – feel at ease with them, feel they were part of my group, whether they listened to Jazz or Classical music or went to gigs is MUCH less important than what they read. Is this only me? And haven’t these pretentious poncy Beeb bastards heard of Irish and Scots folk? Or the pub? But the meme (me… me… meeee… or as Ori explained it) is that classical music is highbrow.

(yes, the picture is a link)

The other thing I found fascinating in all this is that education doesn’t even get touched on. Well, except in the fact they conclude that a lot of the elite went to private schools and elite universities. Odd. I’d have said that was a major determinant and reason why so many people end up with vast debt for degrees which are very valuable if you run out of bum-fodder. I keep mine in the ‘loo with a sign that says: ‘in case of emergencies, break glass.’

So: I hear a great deal about the middle class in the US and how it is being destroyed, but little about how it affects reading. Does it? Does it affect what we write, and who we write it for?

And what will be the situation by ’49?

On another subject entirely: part of being a sf writer is being predictive (and sometimes hoping you’ll get it all wrong) but a while back on this site I said that what publishers needed to do was to harness the advertising power of their authors to send readers to purchase from their site directly. I said the only way to do this was as Amazon Associates does: to pay a percentage on every sale to the referrer – the author. I said I suspected the publishers were too arrogant in their expectation of something for nothing to be prepared to pay for such referrals, that it was their expectation that us serfs would tug our forelocks and continue to try and do more to keep them afloat.

I was wrong. It is worth noting that that’s ‘Of net’ showing they’re still up to their tricks.

Now we await Amazon’s next move in reply.


  1. Competition is ALWAYS good for the consumer. I hope more businesses compete with Amazon.
    Yes, Mr. Freer, we read. Or we would if you would stop puttering with this blog and write a new darned novel. (J/K)

    1. Heh. That either needs to be ignored or have a full reply… Joy Cometh with the mourning is now awaiting its last first reader. All the other edits are in and I have been promised the artwork will be ready real-soon-now. I’d penciled this time in for re-editing the Breaking of the Swords. I’ve been through it and decided it deserves a serious re-write, not just a re-edit (several parts are badly underdone) I’ve been trying to plot it out, but it’s going to take a real focused effort – hard when you’re trying to finish another project. So I worked on Cloud Castles instead. –
      The castle — an ethereal mixture of faerie frailty and an acid fuelled dream of someone madder and more romantic than Mad King Ludwig — floated among the roil of red-lit clouds. The hanging turrets, spires and battlements dangled over the hungry emptiness of the thousand mile void below.
      “Thrymi,” said the second Mate. “The Zell cloudcastles are more solid-looking.”
      “I’ve never seen anything quite as beautiful in all my life,” said the slim young man — all knees, elbows and an eager puppy expression — who clung to the rail of the tiny observation deck, the knuckles of his outsized hands white with hanging on through the buffeting.
      The mate nodded. “They’re pretty. Unlike the Thrymi themselves.” She stood easily, riding the turbulence with confidence and ease. She’d been here, before. Often. The wild ride in was still less dangerous than place they were heading for.
      He shook his head. “They’re just misunderstood. Really. It’s a very different and complex culture…” he said enthusiastically
      “They’re just murdering bastards. Actually, the whole planet is full of murdering, thieving, evil bastards who’d sell their own mothers for half a dollar. It’s a good thing that there isn’t much standing space for them, or there’d be more of them.”

      And that just wasn’t rolling – so I wrote some more Bolg –
      So there I was peacefully sipping coffee in Mario’s place, being scowled at by Mario. Which was nice, normal, the way things should be, unlike my bank balance. It was a better pastime than going down to the mailbox and collecting another lot of window envelopes from a guy called Final Demand. He likes me. He writes to me all the time.
      Yeah. Things had been slow in the private investigating trade. And then, just when things were going badly I got a call. About money. No one likes calls about money. Trust me on this, they’re never from your bank saying they overcharged you, and have decided black was more your color than red.
      And this one was worse than most of those calls.
      I slapped at the manifestation above the coffee stains. Of course that did me no good. My hand just passed straight through the ethereal smoke. “Dammit, Fintan! Can’t you use a telephone like anyone else? People will notice.”
      “Nonsense boyo. They’ll just treat it as they always do, and refuse to believe what they’re seeing. Now, what I was calling you about was a little issue of money.”
      “It’s no use asking me,” I said glumly. “I haven’t got any. There’s been a grave shortage of clients.”
      “I thought you were investigating, not running an undertaker’s trade. Mind you, it can be very profitable, I gather. Especially with the undead. Lots of return business.”
      “I am still in the private investigating trade. And most of the few clients I seem to get are in the undead category. And the unpaying category.”
      “Ah well then, these are perfect, as they haven’t any money and haven’t got around to dying yet,” said Fintan, in the tones of man who is glad to have been able to oblige.
      And then I got stuck on that so I started working on Space Gypsies – which I am about a third through – and I decided the problem was it needs a whole book beforehand. So today I was researching that, and starting on the outline… and writing this blog.

        1. Objection! Some of us have to stretch up to reach the lowest of low brows, so “lowbrow” must be something of a misnomer. *grin*

          Keep writing. There’s rumors of a paycheck, of the black-not-red-ink kind, in the coming days. If I can fend off the teeming horde of Williams long enough, I’ll need authors (to supply books, not blood) to feed my addiction. You have been warned.

  2. Had to translate from Dollars to Pounds Sterling, but ended up as “Elite”.

    Then again, given British standards, from experience of visitors who called a generic American Townhome “huge”, and would likely find my current fairly-generic Surburban House a “mansion”, it says more about standards of living in Britain, than that of America (in which I’m admittedly well-off, but nowhere close to “Elite” or “1%er” status. . . )

    1. You read my work. Of course you’re elite!!!!! Intellectually and socially as well in having a suitable sense of humor.

      The money, and the value of property in different places – and, as I said the amount the bank owns really make a lot more difference than they factored in. Having known a fair number of the so called ‘elite’ (or as we called them, the U. one of the few real markers was outright (not mortgage) ownership of a reasonably large piece of land for that area, from a fairly young age. It, 5 private schools, and the country’s top 3 colleges would probably do a better job of guessing the top 1% earning and in their own opinion, socially.

  3. I took the test as well – came up traditional working class, but I think that might have been due to not enough options listed … and I pretty much picked all of the “people you know – in professions” – because I do know all sorts, some of them casually, or through business.
    The other day my daughter and I were talking about how we both seemed to get on with all sorts, along a wide social spectrum, and chalked it down to having been in the military. I believe that experience conditions one to accept and be comfortable with an extraordinarily wide range – everyone from grocery store clerks to mechanics, all the way through small business owners, college instructors and heads of mufti-million dollar foundations.

    1. A curious thing I noted is that, while “culture” (blue areas) and “social” (pink ones) seem to go all over the place, the real indicator seems to be income. Change income and savings only, keep all your other choices the same and see how that changes your “class.”

      1. Which sense half of that score seems to be savings also serves to split you on age lines.

      2. Same. I rent, have very low income and right now I don’t have any savings. My culture and social indicators were somewhere between elite and established middle class. I got “Precariat: the poorest and most deprived class group”.

    2. (chuckle) we can do a chorus of ‘Wot abaht t’ werkas’ then. I think that was the factor probably pushes me out of ‘precariat’.

  4. In the US “class” seems to be a function of income. Given the current glut of college graduates and the shortage of skilled laborers, it wouldn’t surprise me if in the next generation a skilled laborer would outclass the average office worker.

    In the UK I think it isn’t just about money but also the environment you were raised in.

    1. In any society it depends to some extent on the circle you’re in. I’ve lived in a few farming districts, where all the money in the world made no difference, you had to be one of the first families, or at least related to them. (It was quite funny as in one area we weren’t, and when we moved closer to my sons’ school, we were. Nothing else changed… bar our social status.) I can imagine the same applies in NY publishing or in US Academia – they’ll have their core determinants. Money tend to get used to buy those determinants – whether by marrying into the ‘right’ family or going to the ‘right’ college.

  5. BTW, thank you for the link. It’s my attempt to spread liberal education by bypassing the traditional (and extremely expensive and somewhat ideological) routes.

      1. Would you accept “Classical Liberal”? Used to mean things like, oh, freedom from tyranny, limited government, fiscal conservatism, strong military, and so on.

        Oh, wait. It’s the Beeb.

        Still and all, it’s good to learn things. One still gain some edification by looking at something and saying “yup, that’s a bass ackwards way of looking at it.” There comes a point when we have to challenge our beliefs to see if they hold true.

        Of course, sometimes the challenge ain’t all that great. *chuckle*

  6. I don’t see Amazon worrying too much. Personally I’d like to see a response on the lines of ‘we wish you well, if you want tips, ask, we’ll tell you what worked for us.’. Style response. Mostly to see who is confused and who outraged.

    1. Harper Collins have a major disadvantage in their corporate culture (which comes across in the screwing authors -again, in the referral fee. – 10% of net, will probably equal 4-6% of gross if the author is lucky). HC authors will be ex-authors if they don’t sell HC only — and that will make them a lot less money than authors selling through Amazon (volume and choice, and reliability). The ‘real’ floor is around 76% of gross for e-books. That’s as much as an indy can make – and yes, they have to pay editing, proofs, cover – but these can be very small costs, and that is also true at HC. So to make up for the loss of market share from cross-reference in Amazon, HC probably needs to pay around 80% of gross. At the moment they’re still at around 23% at best.

  7. I came in as precariat, which means I think I broke the test. I’d call myself middle class, I’ve been called an intellectual. I’ve been a blue-collar pilot as well as a university lecturer. I suspect the test keyed off my knowing tradesmen socially and renting my place (from relatives, but it’s still rent). *shrug* Back to work.

    1. It’s wishful thinking by the losers at the Beeb. In statistical terms it makes as much sense as an emu on acid, and as I have a son and daughter-in-law in the UK (daughter finishing her second post grad at Cambridge) it is very much determined by the circle you move in. Education (private School, Russel group Uni, and type of degree) and antecedents (and where they went to school or Uni) are vastly more important than money, or whether you rent or share ownership with the bank, are relevant there.

      In my own experience people worth knowing have a breadth of experience, and ‘class’ is another bullshit pigeonhole.

      1. Um, I don’t think I want to be around an emu on acid. There’s strange, and then there’s terminally strange, and I thing a wierded out emu would come under the second category.

  8. Didn’t take the test, but agree with Wyrdbard. Amazon can afford to be classy here. It will still have the lion’s share of the market while Harper Collins works out all its kinks. Don’t expect them to be perfect first time out, and the reader wants the book now!

    1. Amazon’s response to these things is… variable. My own opinion on the extreme differences is that sometimes it is Jeff Bezos, and he’s capable of thinking several moves ahead, and out-clevering the opponent. And sometimes its one of his under-hench and they all carbon copies of the average CEO types (not bright, but powerful, Look good while they’re winning). For the sake of the future of the company, I worry about these ones.

  9. The problem is the “MBA” mindset. Some actually _do_ learn proper thinking, but most don’t. I think that it involves a “fossilization” process. 🙂 That’s why “tragic 5 publishing” is in such deep trouble.

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