Signals across the void –awards and other signs.
There is a lot signaling in a writer’s trade.
By signaling I mean the kinds of sign which says to someone who might read your book ‘pick me up’ (probably based on the cover) and the next signal (based on the blurb) ‘I’m your kind of book’. Or ‘I am not your kind of book’. There’s probably nearly as much unappreciated value in ‘I am not your kind of book’ as there is in opposite, although it takes slightly longer term thinking to see this. Heh. Go to a divorce court, or read about the bitterness, the expense, and the damage it can do to kids sometime, and you’ll see what I mean by ‘better if we’d chosen better in first place’. The short term gratification probably doesn’t outweigh the long term damage.
It’s no less true for an author: selling a book to someone ill-suited to your writing (or even ‘meh’ about it) is great for that 64 cents (the royalty a paperback pays), but not so wonderful, as the reader who feels was ripped off is going to take it out on your reputation (because most readers have no idea how little of that cover price goes to the author. This is an ignorance that publishers and retailers do their best to maintain).
The value of a signal does depend, heavily, on it almost always being right. Short term thinking says “If I can signal something desirable, I get an immediate pay off, it doesn’t matter if that signal is false.” And indeed, the immediate payoff (whether it was sex with someone or selling a book) is there… the first and maybe a few times after that. But… word gets around. The signal’s value is degraded, and in time it changes meaning completely.
Of course people can argue about what the signal meant in the first place. Take the various ‘literary’ awards. What were they intended to do?
1) A recognition of excellence by one’s peers?
2) A recognition of excellence by the public?
3) Promote such excellence – signal to others that that is excellent and they should look?
4) A pat on the back for one of the ‘in’ literary clique’s chums?
Different awards have different purposes, and different values. As a reader and writer only (3) ‘Promote such excellence – signal to others that that is excellent and they should look at the work’ is worth much. Most awards, without careful custodianship, head for (4). At which point they lose their historical value and gradually vanish. They have less and less value as (3), and really (1) and (4) are something only the insecure want, unless they feed (3) – which (4) never does and (1) does badly. To put it brutally, if you need and support an award being (1) or (4) you’re a loser, not big enough for what is a tough profession.
(2) is a different kettle of tea. In real terms you could only get there by systematic polling. It does have a lot of (3) value too, because, true enough, we’re not that different. A book which is really the most popular book around, is worth a look-in. The nearest approximation in sf-fantasy is the Hugos. And it isn’t a great approximation (the sample of readers, by who attends/supports Worldcon is obviously inaccurate, and various problems in the nomination have been exposed by the Puppies. (they’re game-able, they’re not demographically representative of the sf readership) – but it’s the best we’ve got right now. As such it could do a good job for sf. It used to.
It had largely devolved into (4) A pat on the back for one of the ‘in’ literary clique’s chums – with rapidly declining signal value. And of course the chums, not known for their wider vision or long term thinking were very happy with that, which is why they’re absolutely livid with the Pups. They’ve been running around firstly trying to down-value our signal, and secondly frantically turning to their usual ally, ‘the rules’. We’ve had ‘think tanks’ and endless pontification about how to turn the clock back, how to retain control how to go on with making the Hugo awards a rapidly dying valueless pat on the back for the ‘in’ literary clique.
If they can do it, so can I. I’d like to re-inforce (2) and (3)
Firstly: Publishers, their employees and beneficiaries, and authors, their employees and beneficiaries are not the ‘disinterested’ public. They have an interest in the outcome, and should never vote. They should certainly never ever nominate. That would be the ethical thing to do, but as ethics are few and far between, making it a rule would not be a bad thing. The anti-puppies could cheer, because that would stop Vox Day from nominating books published by his own publisher, which they tell us is his purpose in all this.
I would cheer because it would remove a huge, unfair inequity in the process. Big publishers – like Tor for example, would no longer have 40 or 50 ‘captive’ votes, (enough for a nomination, even if no other person voted for the work) putting them on an even footing with Jenny’s-One-Woman-Publisher. So: a win for all of us, for fairness, for making the process more ‘the public’ and less log-rolling. I look forward to the eager support of Torlings who would of course want things to be fair with the same rules for big and little players. (ha ha ha.)
Secondly: Ever watched the same advert on TV… again. And again. And again. Makes you buy that product after the 43rd repeat… does it? Or makes you go and clean the cat’s litterbox rather than see it again? Advertising either works PDQ or not at all. And, as one of ‘geniuses’ on File 770 put it (it’s a bit like ‘America’s funniest home videos’.) that tragically nasty puppies like me were depriving the poor writers we excluded from having a chance of financial gain from the Hugos. Once I got over the vast guilt… (I have had no rewards, expect none. Yes I know some woman parlayed her Fan Hugo into extra advances from a PC publisher. Oh how will I live knowing I stopped a new one doing that… except it would not have been a new one – it would have been the same ones.). The same. Again. And again.
It came to me that we really need to stop this. No, not the moonbats. Shrug. If people want moonbats, let them have them… But the not SAME moonbats, or even the same nominees, over and over and over again. Let’s give FRESH moonbats a chance! Here’s the thing. Once you’ve got a Hugo, you’ve got a Hugo. If there is any value in putting Hugo Award Winner/nominee on your cover… it’s not something that improves because you’ve got two or five or ninety-three.
Let’s take some of the people who have loudly demanded the Puppies be destroyed, who have told us how bad they are. (these are quick manual counts, I make no guarantees of not missing a few or overcounting one or two.)
Patrick Nielsen Hayden – ten nominations, three wins.
Charles Stross – Thirteen noms, three wins.
John Scalzi – 6 noms, one win.
(Because I have been told the Sad Puppies – none of whom have prior slews of noms, are all white hetero Mormon men (even the women) I chose this racially and orientationally diverse group to show how the multiple noms helped the Hugos be more diverse. But it’s actually a broad pattern. If you’re in the clique, you’re in.)
Now here’s my proposal. Let’s have three strikes (noms) or a win, and you’re out. Not eligible again for say ten years if ever.
Just look at the above – even just taking 3 strikes… Another twenty nominations that could have gone to… diversity! (well, it would be hard to be less ‘diverse’) And they want that! They’ve all told us. Lead by example, please! And think, it would eliminate your bête noire John Wright and Vox Day! Ok so 95% of the leading angry CHORFS would also go, but surely they would glad to do this for (capital F) Fandom. Seanan McGuire would be very, very sad, but we all have to make sacrifices. I think I might survive that.
Of course, while these rule changes might help, they’re not going to change the fact that, sooner or later, we need to accept that IF the Hugo Awards are a populist choice among readers in general they’ll need to align roughly with the socio-political demographics of the readers. The only way to do that is to get more people from across the spectrum involved in nomination. We need to stop ignoring this. Trust me, the worm always turns. Those who ignore it willfully now, can be sure will be done to you and yours.
And now we can wait to see what the anti-puppies over on File 770 can do to prove my points for me. They’re really talented at it over there. Last week I wrote about attacking Sad Puppies writers by badmouthing their means of making a living (which is writing)… and lo: Martin Wisse “I pity his poor editors” obliges and others follow suit. Well, I am sure you’re punishing us. Or would you do that? (Pyrrhus again anyone?).
So do I pity my editors. But thank you for proving my point for me.
And I said how this could backfire… and lo: Glenn Hauman starts whinging about how his books got down-starring on Amazon treatment – oddly just after just after he recommended it for the Pup books. Tch. That’s what I still advocate against anyone doing, Glenn. More than you have done.
Mind you, it’s a very ‘creative’ reading set of commenters there. Their ‘proof’ that Patrick Nielsen Hayden is a poor maligned fellow involved proving Brad’s nick-name of CHORF painfully accurate… and completely failing to show ‘how he knew’. They floundered around well, though. The best they could do was Williamson breaking the embargo… is not ‘well I know three puppies were nominated for _Novels_ because of that’. 1) that’s a separate category, one which receives few noms at best. 2) Williamson a regular Con-goer, with a large personal fan base. Why would his win be predictive? 3) There were _four_ pup novel recommendations (all got in, Correia withdrew. So knowing three was more… interesting. 4) How did COULD he know the only other people possible were puppies? 5) No it did not come out of SMOF. “All that made it to SMOFs before the announcement was oblique discussion of a couple of nominees that broke the embargo, with no names attached. To this day I still have no idea who one of the two was.” — Petrea Mitchell.
And you’re missing the point – it is not that Patrick broke the embargo (an embargo is a general limitation, as well as on specific nominees, intended in this case to focus attention on the Hugos and WorldCon –which you claim to support.) (I assume you’re happy he merely betrayed two authors he’d been told in confidence – which of course is better. Not) It’s that he was able to know at all, especially about the puppies.
Anyway, you’re welcome to come and discuss it, 770 people – here. On Mondays. I try to keep Monday as reply and blog time.
And someone sent me this, for your amusement.
“• Blackadder says:
May 31, 2015 at 11:02 AM
This is why I have always felt this whole puppy thing is no big deal. It is time for repercussions. First, yes they stole the nominees but we’ll see how many wins they rack up. Second their little stunt is a one time deal now the fans will join in the nominee process they they will never control it again. Third, not only will they be locked out of the nominee process, they won’t even be published soon. Say goodbye to the puppies, they’re going to disappear.”
Is there a Baldrick in the house? If ever there was a man in need of a cunning plan it has to be this ‘Blackadder’.
Anyway, it is up to you guys –your votes, and whether you buy books and stories by the pups. If you do, it says we’ve got our signal across the void.
If not, it is lost in that void. That’s the gamble we take.
And now once more to work. I was going to write about dialogue and the need to introduce someone as a speaking-part foil for your lead character, but it’ll have to wait.