When someone speaks of a neo-Nazi the image that springs to my mind is a large angry skinhead with swastika tattoos, possibly beating up Jews in some inner city. I’m a little confused to find that Irene Gallo, the Creative Director at Tor thinks I am one.
Do you think I need to change my appearance to fit her delusions? Put on weight? Get high heels? Perhaps I’m supposed to ‘self-identify’ as a neo-Nazi woman (of dwarfish origins), and, to account for my being married to woman, as a lesbian. Huh I would have thought they’d be threatening me with multi-million dollar contracts to avoid being thought specieists, not abuse./sarc off.
Well – as her words are as accurate a portrayal as I am of a neo-Nazi… I guess that shows how you can all take any supposed ‘truth’ from from the anti-pups: with a steam-shovel load of salt – and that still won’t be enough.
I predicted this. I hate being right when I make unpleasant predictions. I still hate the idea of a boycott, because – as I will explain in this authors have few and poor choices. Still, this goes too far, breaches their own rules,
the Macmillan code of conduct:
The exercise of good judgment is still expected from employees at all times.
• Could this conduct be viewed as dishonest, unethical or unlawful?
• Could this conduct hurt Macmillan – e.g., could it cause us to lose credibility with customers or business
• Could this conduct hurt other people – e.g., other employees or customers?
• Would I be embarrassed to see this conduct reported in the newspaper?
It goes beyond the bullying we’ve come to expect and mock from them. I have written to firstname.lastname@example.org (Code of Conduct compliance)
asking what steps they’re going to take.
I urge you to do the same if you don’t want the reaction from this hurting your favorite Tor author. I think it fair to give them time to respond, to deal with this sepsis. Let’s see what they do about it. If it is not adequate I am afraid I will have to join the boycott of any Tor author who is not either a Sad Puppy, or who does not speak out publicly against this (which is very hard on authors, and that makes me angry and sad, but eventually you have to stop just hoping they’ll leave you alone.) and encourage my readers to do the same. The company did not make a fortune from me – maybe 50-100 dollars a year. It won’t break them, but I won’t support someone who abuses me and many friends who are better people than I am. As I point out below, publishers get a lot more of a book’s money than the authors. You’d think not badmouthing readers would be common sense.
Anyway – today’s topic – which involves appearances – but hopefully far nicer ones than the grinning monkey above
Er. Well that kind of depends, doesn’t it?
I win, simple, short term because that means
(the price of the book) – (the amount everyone else involved in getting it to you gets)
Now if I’m a trad published author and my book is published in the US and that book is a paperback, I get 6-8% of the cover price (unless I am something very large and special). Let’s take that as 8% of $7.99 = more or less 64 cents. And in Australia, that book would be sold in most bookshops for Aus$22-25 (the exchange rate means this is a hard figure to put in US. Today that’s about US $16.75-$19. A couple of years ago they were at parity, and before that book got selling for US$25 – $27. I still got 64 US cents.
But that’s the short term. There’s a huge amount in it for my traditional publisher. Less their expenses – but what is in it for me, is less my expenses too, which is a fact often conveniently overlooked, hidden in the fact many authors pay their expenses via a second job or a spouse or being a trust fund baby. The retailer also gets a good chunk (so you’d think good behavior towards readers a given). There is a lot more, short term for the guys getting 96% of the money, than there is for the author. They have 24 times as much to gain.
Let’s look beyond that $0.64 in my bank account, nine months after the buyer paid his $19 or if they were in the US, $7.99. The reader bought my book under the impression that it was a soppy romance, and they wanted a soppy romance. If it was exactly what they wanted, they identified with the characters (keep this in mind too please, it is relevant later) and the story drew them in, and provided the entertainment they wanted… they would a) Buy my next book. And probably any others they could find, so long as it didn’t let them down. b) Recommend it to their friends – especially those they know have the same taste. This is of course the ‘perfect match’ end of the scale and it’s rarely that absolutely perfect. But in the case of the reader being pleased with getting precisely what they wanted (or more! – it is possible) to the author that sale is worth $0.64 X (a positive figure, greater than 1).
This is OBVIOUSLY first prize for the author. If they’re Indy of course they get 70% of that cover price (regardless of the currency/country) minus expenses of production. That sale might end being worth thousands of dollars over time, if it keeps multiplying…
But let’s say the reader wanted that soppy romance badly… and he got a gritty war story. Or dystopian disaster in which everyone dies. Now sometimes the reader likes gritty war stories. The reader happens to detest dystopian disasters.
What is the long term effect then?
If the author is lucky and they happen to like the book anyway, it still scores much lower than it would. Yes, the market for romance is bigger than the market for either war stories or dystopias, so the short-term benefit to the publisher and retailer is large. The long term effect on them is non-existent (or so they believe), because authors –especially new ones) are widgets. There is an endless supply and you just find another meat-head, or so they believe. Readers are infinitely tolerant, need books more than food (regardless of what the book is) and never go and play computer games instead. (Keep this belief in mind too. I’ll explain how it all fits in to the numbers and luck game).
If they hated it… that sale becomes – for the author, that sale become anything from the swimming equivalent of a weight-belt to concrete socks. A reader who spent $25 on something they thought would please them… is like lover spurned. They’re not gonna be nice, even if all you got was 64 cents. And they won’t take it out on the publisher, or the retailer. They’ll take it out on the author (who usually has no control over the cover). So that sale – to the author is $0.64 X (a figure less than 1, and possibly less than zero). Keep in mind this punishment doesn’t affect the publisher or retailer (or at least not as obviously or proximally).
Which is why when one the CHORFs over at File 770 said he hated my writing and wasn’t going to buy my books… I was very pleased. The reason he hated my writing – when you really got down to it, was that he profoundly disagreed with my worldview, and that meant if I said that coal was black, he’d have promptly said it was not ever black.
We have a commenter from there, here, last week – Mark, who takes that whole new level. If I say coal is black, Mark will tell you I am a racist and I just said so. If you counter this he will demand you prove it. Proving to Mark that you said nothing of the kind will take you five hundred words and several detailed explanations in which you will quote the relevant science, and mention that yes, you see it as black, so does everyone else you have ever been able to ask. He will dismiss all of it as “Oh, personal anecdotes.” If you have the patience to deal with that, he will not say, ‘Okay, you’re right’, but start on the next strawman. The goalposts have so far circumnavigated the globe 15 times. If I could only attach a zeppelin to them, we could have cheap fast intercontinental transport.
Anyway, Mark desperately wants me to say which authors should not have won Hugos. He is of course the hall-Mark of what is Hugo-worthy, and intends to use MGC as a forum to tell us what is wrong with the Sad Puppies selection and that coal is white. I am telling you so that you’re all braced.
So I said that I would explain why my explanation of to how the Hugos were biased by using the term ‘red ball’ to symbolize far left author was not (as it is by Mark’s you said coal is black you’re a racist logic) actually saying that Author x was not ‘Hugo-worthy’.
You see, Mark operates under the illusion that even the nominees are something special.
In fact… it’s more about luck and subjective tastes than perfect pick. For every nominee there are probably 50 other books which could have been better choices.
To understand this you have to understand something of Traditional publishing, some math and some of those points I asked you to remember earlier.
The first thing to establish is ‘worthy’ is generally a _subjective_ term.
Now this is kind of important to writers, so it’s worth thinking about. We like books based not on relatively easy to measure metrics like ‘how good is the grammar?’ or ‘does this collect all the right PC tokens?’…
We like books on how they relate to us. It’s a one-on-one thing. Somewhere, there is a person to whom “The Eye of Argon” spoke to the heart. Mark may well have resonated perfectly to ‘If you were a dinosaur my love’ despite the fact that it’s a rabid attack on working-class men. That’s his subjective choice.
As a writer – if what you want to do is sell books – getting your book to resonate with as many people as possible is crucial. Mostly, that is done via the characters. That IMO always comes first. How much did I care about that character? Now, sometimes a character can simply be fascinating or appeal to a broad spectrum of people (Which is what I am trying to do with TOM – a wizard’s famulus who was once a cat. The story centers around Tom’s problems in adjusting to life as a human, and has character features that all who know cats, and pass as human should be amused by.) There are lots of ways to skin that cat – Sometimes there is a character we dislike so much we just want to see them die. However, generally it is a character that we care about, identify with, and often who provides some wish fulfillment.
A childless cubicle jockey who works in IT and whose sole ‘outside’ work interest is gaming, who will read a book if he runs out of games, and an ex-army guy landscape gardens for a living, who likes outdoor life and has a slew of kids and will read a book if the kids are asleep, and the weather is too miserable to be out… are rarely going to find the same character (and thus books) appealing. Now, if you’re the former, you’ll tell us the ex-IT cubicle jockey Stross is way, way, way better than Kratman. If you’re the latter the inverse will be true.
If you’re someone like Mark of course you will rationalize a myriad reasons why Kratman is terrible and Stross wonderful. And you will let these rationalizations mislead you into saying the one deserves an award and the other is just bad. However that is really subjective taste, and for the likes of Mark to be right, his taste would have to provably ‘superior’. Now, one of the long-stated problems causing the entire Sad Puppies saga, is that the CHORFs do think they are superior to us common riff-raff. They are Fans. Not just fans or readers, and this Capital F somehow magically confers taste we should be grateful to be guided by.
For an award (of general nature, not for example an award for Military sf or LGBT fantasy) to be working well, the awarded books need to be popular, and remain that way. That way we know the subjective tastes of a bunch of people who voted for them in Hugo awards is representative of fandom produces a reasonably objective result. If you had the patience and foresight you track a number of books over a number of years on Amazon and work out the ‘decay’ rate.
I didn’t. But what I did do was to pick on three bellwethers. I took the paperback rank this evening.
Dune (1966 Hugo winner). 649
Left Hand of Darkness (1970 Hugo winner) 5344
Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone (1999 – not even nominated) 128
Let’s agree these are great books, which were well chosen and have endured well (you can argue, but it’s pointless)
Let’s accept that there is a slow decline in ranking of even the best. I have no real idea what a fair figure could be. But in the 3000’s from 2014 with a sequel just out isn’t going to make it to under a book of 50 years ago, if it isn’t there now. I think we can probably safely say the only ones of these, by the objective measure of general sales, are 2005 and 2009, which have some chance of showing as well over time.
I think we can safely say that the voting on nominees at Worldcons is subjective, and, for the last 10 years (it may be true for earlier years) is not actually a great predictor of long-term popularity.
I didn’t invest the time in all of the nominees, but I did do 2005 seeing as it was 10 years ago
Interestingly the bestselling remains the winner.
But 2006 is different (Martin’ book is currently on TV so I think that’s difficult to compare)
Wilson (winner) 114698
McLeod appears OOP
So I think we can say, even within a year, it is not necessarily a great predictor.
In practice there are books in every year which would endure better. (Someday one of them might be yours. It is not even necessary to be there to be successful, to have a great career, writing.)
You see, subjectivity affects books – particularly in the Trad pub from the very start. It’s become very obvious to me that some of the rabid anti-puppies really have no idea how traditional publishing works, and what is going on. There are a few among them who do know, but it would not serve their narrative explain. It’s useful stuff to know, even if all it does is make you avoid Trad pub.
You see, to get to the Hugo stage, a trad book has to make it through a sequence of filters. The CHORFs say these mean the books are better.
Which sounds good… but is pure drivel. You see, those filters are subjective filters with limited qualitative value. Many books fall – and it doesn’t mean some of them aren’t way better than anything that gets onto the nomination list or even wins. Guaranteed there is a better book than Dune or Harry Potter, sitting in a drawer or rotting on a hard drive.
This is how it works. Agents – your first stage filter effectively work for the publishers, but are paid for by the authors–to be ‘Slush’ filters. Most publishers outsourced slush reading to agents long, long ago. And they let you pay for them, because except for the very successful authors, the deal you get is no different to the boilerplate deal I got, submitting to the slush back when there were less people trying…
Now let’s explain slush – perhaps Pam wants to put in a word (she used to read slush for Baen). In theory (according to an interview I read way back) the reader should read 10 pages. In practice the decision is reached fast, possibly a paragraph or two, maybe ‘do I turn this page’?
There is a reason for this. The volume is HIGH – Baen got 3000 slush subs the year I submitted. They bought… one. And the decision is taken by someone with no training, no metrics, just ‘did I bind to the story’? (That is a subjective decision, and relies, naturally on the reader identifying with and caring about the character). Of course IF you have contacts (let’s say you went to Clarion West and made friends and got a powerful and influential mentor) you can skip this and land straight on a senior editor’s desk, and he WILL read more than those 10 pages. But for the rest of the hoi polloi we either ended in the top 20 or so (many agents will farm first reads out to their assistants) or got rejected.
Now, those top twenty do not include many great stories that just needed a bit of editorial on the first page. And great stories that arrived on a bad day. And great stories that had an IT geek lead character when the first filter is an outdoor girl (or vice versa).
Then – depending on the agent’s status, the story gets handed on yet another subjective filter. And yes, they also have no real hard metrics, outside their experience (and that can be very deceptive) That subjective filter is possibly an editor or an associate, or maybe even a senior editor… some stories make it through 4 or 5 subjective filters… and then generally face an editorial board, where that editor will pitch for your book. And making an offer depends on that. I got two books to this stage, (I got personal, lengthy hand-written rejections from the managing editor, and from one of the three senior editors and sold the third – which suggests I’m either very lucky or can appeal to quite a range of subjective filters.) I did get about 15 novel rejections, including some in which the manuscript second page (under the title page) had not been touched. It was hard, as that postage represented a month’s disposable income.
So, before we even get to the subjective tastes – and the substantial block votes of large publishers (enough to ensure nominations in some categories), nominating, the book has been through many subjective filters. And then it becomes something which is in the hands of luck and marketing. Sir Terry Pratchett is a vast seller, broadly popular. But his first books, sold to a micro-publisher… just did not get to enough readers. Many great books have fallen at distribution, let alone voting. And of course… some people were in the right place at the right time. There is always an inside track everywhere. Whether it is that you knew the right people, or fitted the right profile to play a diversity card, or had a huge audience outside of what they could do for you – the playing field has never been level, and it’s about as flat as the Himalayas right now. The idea that the 5 books that made it through nomination are somehow objectively the ‘best’ – with the widest appeal and most enduring sales — is self-delusion, and not one I’d ever entertain if it were my book.
The process could not be more different for independent books. Yes. There are badly edited, badly written books that never sell much. Yes, readers’ tastes are subjective, but at least it is many readers, with many different subjective points of view, not a narrow little clique. And you have less ‘luck’, and less ‘being well connected’. We’re in shakedown now, but the future does look better to me.