The plucky ‘bots
The plucky robot Philae – the comet lander — is back, and has sent a message to Earth!
At first scientists at the European Space Agency were puzzled at the ‘bot’s message that it was deeply affronted by Irene Gallo’s libelous nonsense about it being a racist, sexist neo-Nazi,* and that it was never going to buy another Tor book** until they took action. However, faced with a triumph of mad robotic programming skillz, a senior ESA scientist has been dispatched to Italy to offer one ‘Vox Day’ an Ellie Prizeman shirt, and matching trousers, and shoes and hat, to give up his publishing venture and work for them.
And that’s enough silliness for now. We’ll leave the puppy kickers over in File 770 to go on with their game of Calvinball. They have the mask. Really the single most important thing you need to know about the Hugos is you can vote, and you should. If you’re signed up and paid up for Sasquan, read the books and stories and vote, please. Having said that: Let’s talk about writing, publishing, making money. Let’s talk about the important stuff for writers – and readers.
What I wanted to talk about is faintly peripheral to the fuss, which is the pi… pie. Now the pie is a very important thing to consider, particularly if you’re fond of pie. You’re a writer, and you need to get a piece that’s big enough. You’re a reader, and you want a piece that isn’t Anchovy-caramel-chili-caper-brussel-sprout flavor… or do you (yes, somewhere, someone would want it)?
Now according to semi-reliable sources (Publishers Weekly, drawing data from Bookscan) the pie got smaller. This of course is traditional publishing’s pie (which is historically almost the entire Hugo pie too.) (my apologies for not having the 2014 figures – my internet is being really slow and buggy. I’ve seen them, but couldn’t find them. It’s no change.) It’s shrinking year on year with less readers, less sales, and at this rate, will be a slightly smaller problem than the argument about the last slice of Pavlova at the Flinders Island Country Women’s Association tea in ten years’ time (Okay that’s a pretty serious dispute, but it’s got maybe 12 women eyeing it. Still, it’s only just thermonuclear, and not planet-busting)
Part of the reason the puppy kickers have been so particularly unpleasant, vicious and ready for ad hominem and attacks on the livelihood and reputation of anyone even vaguely associated with the Puppies has been because of that shrinking. Those are their pieces of pie, and they want to keep them, and as much as possible of what is left.
In a way, of course, that true in the award situation. There are a fixed number of final nominees, and only one winner in each category.
So what the Hades is going on here? What is causing this shrinkage? Have shoplifters been stealing all the literate people? Slipping them in their pockets and sneaking out of the world? The numbers should have increased (at least in theory) year after year. And the readers are slowing down in getting around to dying – retirement age to mortality was a couple of years, when book-sales were booming (and those folk have more time to read). And while things are tight… this down-trend is nothing new. Anyway there is good evidence that in the past, when money got tight, book sales, camping gear sales, seed sales and beer sales went UP. Now… all those are true except apparently for book sales.
It’s the hard question you’d think every trad publisher, every trad pub author, everyone in the support industries, from retail to reviewing, from agents to people running fan websites, would be investing in answering. In doing something about. In trying to fix.
Instead they’ve plainly bought shares in Shrug, Inc. If you really lean on people for answers they say ‘oh well. Movies. TV. The internet. Computer games’
And when you push still harder as to WHY they lose readers to these things you get more Shrug. If only I’d bought shares in Shrug back in 2000, I could be rich today. When you press harder they usually do a David Gerrold and block you. If, in the rare cases they can actually bear to talk about it, you will get Ms. Moonbat the Librarian, who told me we needed to cater more for tiny minorities (and the course we were on was dead right, we just needed more of it –like communism, which only failed because there wasn’t enough of it), or the rare honest fellow who will give you some more Shrug and say ‘entertainment’ and ‘price’.
I don’t even know if those are the right answers and, if they are, how much of each is a factor. But, coming down in their favor is the fact that outside of the traditional publishing industry, in the indy world… of e-books, the story is quite different. There, sales are growing. There have been claims these are leveling out – but the truth is they’re still going up. Some of that is being masked by the fact that Indies and indeed tradpub have given up on Bowker (who sell ISBN numbers). There are millions of authors venturing into Kindle who don’t make much money, who barely sell anything. But as Hugh Howey and his data guy have shown so ably, (start here, and work back, if you are interested in self- publishing) a lot of books are being sold and a lot of authors are making a good living out of it.
My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that this is combination of price (they’re cheaper, but the author gets more money per book 70% as opposed to around 20% – so he can afford to be cheaper) and the fact that they’re providing entertainment.
Entertainment for different people is different things. There are people who will swear blind they LOVE the recent Hugo winners. There are people who say the output of Tradpub is just wonderful. That’s just fine. There are people who insist that without a social justice message, books are worth nothing. That’s just fine too.
I’m totally disinterested in killing any of them. They can live or die by their own strength…
There is also very little of it I want to read, and it seems (unless it is the price) that increasing numbers of people share that opinion. But don’t worry, we’re all ‘bots. Or otherwise… they’re selling to a smaller and smaller segment of the market. A market they once controlled almost all access to – except Baen. They don’t any more.
So: I can hear the faithful puppy kickers squee in triumph. “See, see! The divine Irene, and her prophet Moshe, praise be his name, are right. He’s calling for ‘the end of social justice in Science Fiction and Fantasy.’ She told you, she told you. You should have listened, like we, the chosen, did.”
Yeah, reading comprehension. They’re good at it.
I’m doing no such thing.
I’m yelling for a bigger pie. Hell, maybe a dozen pies. Huge ones. Pies people love. (Which yes, is what the Sad Puppies are calling for with the Hugos. More people, bigger choice, more involvement.)
And not all anchovy-caramel-chili-caper-brussel-sprout flavor, (pure poison, and mingy pieces of it too). I’m sure there’ll still be a little plate of anchovy-caramel-chili-caper-brussel-sprout flavor. I’m sure there will be many that weave social issues into their stories. Mine do (which is why I just have to laugh at Irene Gallo. If ignorance is bliss she must be supremely happy). As, philosophically, I am the kind of guy who uses Robert Burns “A Man’s A Man For A’ That”*** as a touchstone (it’s been on website as part of my biography since I set up – about 15 years back), – “The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor, Is king o’ men for a’ that.” And “The man o’ independent mind, He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.” I stand for exactly the same thing I always have, it runs like a thread through all my writing – that we are individuals. We choose our path. We are not stereotypes. We are measured by our deeds and thoughts. It means I have little or no time for ideas of ‘group entitlement’ or punishment. It makes me less of a racist or sexist than she is. As for her homophobe libel – I do suggests she reads Slow Train to Arcturus.
I should think she’d hate it, but I think if she had any courage she’d eat her words… anyway, moving on.
We need to compete with that other entertainment. We need to compete on price, on quality, and matching up to the readers own ideals, their own desire and wish-fulfilments. It’s barking insanity to assume that in the end the authors (the English writing ones) for that will NOT be more-or-less representative of modern America (it’s the biggest English first language market – with a few authors that fit better in the UK or NZ or Australia and thither scattered lesser markets.). Which means, if you’re a writer, looking at what you could write (have at least some experience/knowledge/ ability to learn about and write well enough for people to not TBAR your book) and what is badly served, and write that. If Tradpub had any common sense they’d do the same with their buying. Instead… they’re doubling down getting narrower and narrower. It’s fairly obvious that from the political spectrum there are less conservative – moderate outlook lead-character books trad-published (a point of view that nearly 80% of US consider themselves to hold) than for example gay ones. (no, I have no problem with them being published, and I don’t hate them. Or fear them. But it isn’t a major interest for 90% of the population).
Will there be less ‘social justice’ interwoven in those?
Well, IMO it will be more story first and less preaching, or they will fail.
But in real terms –as displayed by the fact that actually those conservatives (and moderates, but less so I gather – but liberals are lowest) give far, far more time and money to charity… and spend more actually doing voluntary community service (and not protests for their pet cause, but work, help, tangible things, often for people most unlike themselves) I just think it’ll be different targets.
Me, I hope it’ll be giving people a fair go, no matter who they are. And giving someone a hand up who needs it, not because they’re from a designated ‘victim’ group (possibly pampered from birth, given the finest education, the best perks – I think of one of the darlings of the puppy-kickers – who went to a very expensive – top 20 US College, could afford to be a stay-at-home mum, could afford/was a given a chance to attend Clarion West (meaning having 6 weeks free, and being able to afford it. It’s not cheap) and then making contacts on the inside of the publishing cliques to help smooth your way… as opposed to the female puppy nominees – who are more like proof of what women can achieve, despite every obstacle, despite having no breaks, perks or special advantage.)
The important thing for writers and readers to take away from this is that the pie is not shrinking outside of traditional publishing. It’s possibly not even true in traditional publishing. It is true in the little, ever-shrinking cell that most of the traditional publishers are choosing to stay in, despite the fact that the door is wide open, there is a whole planet outside. Yes, out there they will eventually run out of space and sales, but that point is very far from where they are now. But the larger publishers in cell-sf have been in control of the place, divided out the pie, year on year. They’re happy being the bosses of this small cell. They will try their level best to destroy anyone who goes out of the cell.
Stuff them. And their anchovy-caramel-chili-caper-brussel-sprout pizza-pie, with no cheese. They can eat it. I want something tasty.
Oh on another subject – just a heads up – I had an attempt to hijack my twitter account – someone sent me a link to what looked like twitter –apparently to something someone was saying about me. It asked me to log into twitter, so I did… and it said file not available, try later… but my e-mail popped up a warning from Twitter that someone had tried to access my twitter account from elsewhere (like, not remote Tasmania.) I changed my password, and up to then there seemed no suspicious activity. But as I barely use twitter If there is suddenly a stream of stuff confirming the puppy-kickers accusations… you know what has happened. I’m inclined to suspect the anti-gamergater involved in sf who was bust faking attacks on herself, but it could be some other jackass. But just be warned. This is their latest trick.
*Some ‘bright spark’ on File 770 believes the thousands of complaints about Irene Gallo and the attitude to customers of some Tor staffers is due to ‘bots.
**For which the US postal service is devoutly grateful, and is thinking of begging other puppy kickers to try and initiate boycotts of other publishers.
***A Man’s A Man For A’ That
by Robert Burns
Is there for honesty poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave–we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.
What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.
Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.
A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that,
But an honest man’s aboon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that,
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.
Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that,
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brithers be for a’ that.
Notes for the Sasunnach and other strange folks:
aboon — above
birkie — a lively, young, forward fellow
coof — fool, ninny
fa’ — have as one’s lot
gree — prize
gowd — gold
hame — home
hing — hang
hoddin — coarse, woollen cloth
maunna — must not