Who should we be worried about impressing?
No, this isn’t a Hugo post, not really. Although I will admit that the Hugos, and every other award, played a hand in its creation. Frankly, I first started thinking about it 10 days or so ago when I saw a story about a pro football player who had taken away his children’s participation trophies. I was one of those parents who didn’t go ballistic over what he did because I understood his reasoning. He wanted to make sure his kids understood that it wasn’t enough to just participate. That was important but the truly important thing was putting in the work, trying your best and making the sacrifices necessary. It wasn’t all about winning but about doing your best and understanding that you aren’t always going to win.
So I can see folks already starting to think, “yeah, yeah, another sour grapes Hugo post.” Sorry, but no. I never expected to win the award. I was honored to be nominated. I thank everyone who voted for me. But winning the Hugo wasn’t on my list of things I want to do before I die. Why? Because winning the award has little to do with proving to me and to my peers that I am a success. At least it shouldn’t have much to do with it and certainly not in its current iteration.
This was driving home yesterday when I saw a comment from someone on Facebook. I don’t know what side of the Hugo controversy the commenter falls on. It frankly doesn’t matter. Why? Because he really hits the nail on the head when it comes to who we, as writers, should be worried about.
This gentleman asked a very simple question. I’m going to paraphrase. He wanted to know why all the comments about what the Hugos are and who should be voting for them were addressed to writers and a small clique of aging con goers. What about those people who aren’t writers or who have been going to WorldCon for years? Don’t they matter?
The simple answer, at least to me, is that they matter more than the writers who have been so busy drawing lines in the sand (and, yes, I have been one of those) or the Fans (big “f” as opposed to little “f”) who have been telling everyone else that they don’t belong to Fandom and have no right to voice their choices for the Hugos because they haven’t paid their figurative dues or whatever. The little “f” fans are the ones who still go to the bookstores or who frequent Amazon to buy our books. They are the ones who go to the movies and watch the TV shows. They are the ones we have to keep engaged in the genre or, frankly, the genre will die.
These are also the fans who will sometime tilt their heads to one side and wonder what the carp ‘SpecFic” is. After all, isn’t all fiction speculative? Doesn’t writing fiction mean and author is speculating about how a character or characters will react in a given situation? Call science fiction that — science fiction. They aren’t scared by it, especially not with all the sub-genres that have come out. Don’t insult them by thinking the word “science” will send them running off to the hills. It won’t.
These are the fans who want to be entertained. They don’t care if there is a message in the story — as long as the story entertains and keeps their interest. They don’t keep a scorecard to make sure there is a certain number of whatever type of character. Frankly, you could hit every “required” character set in your work but if you don’t grab the reader’s attention and keep it, they won’t keep reading and they sure as hell won’t buy your next work.
These fans with a little “f” are the backbone of our genre. For the most part they don’t know about the Hugo or, if they do, they avoid like the plague any book or story that has Hugo Winner stamped on the front. Why? Because they don’t like those stories. Does that mean every one of these fans hates those stories? Not at all. but when you look at the declining sales numbers over the years of traditionally published science fiction novels, when you look at how few science fiction magazines still exist, you have to realize there is something wrong. Once you realize that, you have to ask yourself what and when you see the numbers fail to pick up, you have to wonder if traditional publishing is doing something wrong.
The best thing that has happened to the genre has been the rise of indie publishing. That allowed authors like Christopher Nuttall and Mackey Chandler — and even myself — to write the sort of stories we enjoy and to put them out for the reading public to judge. And the readers have judged that they like what many of us are doing. Chris Nuttall makes more than a good living off his writing now. While I don’t know how much Mackey makes — and I don’t want to know — looking at his rankings and seeing so many folks talking about his books on social media and demanding to know when his next one comes out, my guess is that he does as well. I do know what I make and it is far more than I would get for an advance as a “new” author from most publishing houses. So we, and so many others, must be doing something right.
We’ve been told, as recently as Monday, by those who think awards are more important than readers (or at least that seems to be their stance) that we should write better stories. Well, my award is seeing my royalty statement at the end of each month. It is getting the fan letters from those who have read my books. It is waking in the morning to find a PM on Facebook from someone who just discovered my science fiction or fantasy and wanted to let me know how much they liked my work. So you tell me. Who or what should I be more worried about? The readers who pay out their hard earned money to buy my work and who tell their friends and family about it if they liked it or an award that does nothing really to help advance my career or help pay my bills.
To me, the only ones I need to be impressing are the readers. As I said earlier, it is clear from looking at the different genre and sub-genre lists on Amazon and elsewhere that there are more readers out there who want entertaining books than there are those who want books that put message first and story comes somewhere below that. No, I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a message in fiction. Let me repeat that for those who tend to skim until insulted: It is fine to have a message in your fiction as long as you remember that your message won’t be heard if you don’t write a story that entertains and holds the readers’ interest.
So quit whinging and whining over the decline of the field. Quit whinging and whining over the decline of literary numbers. Instead, ask yourself why? Do a bit of market analysis and realize that readers — just like folks who go to the movies — want to be entertained. That is what I strive to do. That is what so many other authors strive to do. So, to all the fans, thank you for your support. To the Fans and authors who want to keep their little cliques, go ahead. Keep doing what you’re doing. I’m not going to try to convince you to do otherwise. For me, I’m going to do my best to remember that it is the fans who really count.