Tortoise Kebab

Here I am still busy with Xeno’s last chapter (which has become at least one more chapter) in trying to finish TOM – the ‘quick’ light fantasy/satire novel about a semi-feral young cat who finds himself transformed into being a curmudgeonly magician’s apprentice – that I was doing as light relief from more complex books.

Laugh, you bastards (my time will come at the end of NaNoWriMo…).

Eventually the tortoise gets skewered on the arrow, and very convenient for rotisserie roasting they are like that. Humor is hard, especially on writers and tortoises. Besides, one man’s joke is another’s elected representative.

My stories evolve toward complexity and I’m a picky fellow who likes to tie off the ends, and of course the ends just don’t co-operate, as these characters have minds of their own (and they know I am pretty weak-minded and so they over-rule me and do their own thing). I have warned my characters in no uncertain terms: any more of this and I shall parcel them up and send them to Kate. Then they will learn the meaning of an iron will, blunt speech and a sharp stake… or is that Jeremy Irons, sharp speech and a blunt stake?

They still pay absolutely no attention to me…

Which, of course, is as it should be.

A story is as long as itself. Without resorting to padding, adding more characters and more dialogue and more show-not-tell can increase markedly increase the word-count, and as traditional publishing had a habit of contracting specific counts (within a range) this was quite important for an author.

Now the only ‘dictat’ is how willing readers are to pay that price for that length. Most of Traditional Publishing still seems of the opinion that that figure is ‘a lot even for e-books’. Which is, quite honestly, wishful thinking. Of course, we humans are pretty good at wishful thinking and fooling ourselves that something is a good idea. Look at half of the fine messes I get myself into… The other half just happen. Really. Like the two-possums-in-my-house-in-one-night evening I enjoyed on Saturday night – which involved me running around the house about beating one with a cake-cooling rack (reality can be much more bizarre than fiction. Fiction needs to be plausible.).

Talking of sales, it has been mildly amusing lately how the Puppy Kickers have been twisting themselves into pretzels. First we had the Puppy Kicker saying how crass we were for always being interested in money. Obviously ahrt and educating the masses in right-think was more important. Well, he or she is welcome to it, just so long as they don’t want the readers to pay for it whether they want to or not.

Oh wait.

Silly me. It is the reader’s fault if they don’t want it, isn’t it? Bad readers. They must be shamed, isolated and intimidated out of this.

Next breath we have John Scalzi saying that those bad readers are wrong to spend their money on classics and that they should give their money to modern authors who need it if they are to keep writing.

Of course, and by that logic… Those bad readers – by the same rules — shouldn’t give it to rich authors like John Scalzi… They should give it to the poor authors.

And that, according to other Puppy Kickers, is the Sad Puppies in general, and Larry Correia in specific. We’re not complaining if John and his fans want to go ahead and do this. They can even do it anonymously… like, you know, readers buying books do. No one need know they took notice of us. We’re all – more Puppy Kicker statements — apparently so useless that we crave any notice at all, because we’re all failed authors. So… in Puppy Kicker pretzel logic we would, naturally, as failed authors, be keen on using money as a measure of success – as I gather we crass Sad Puppies do. Oh and according to twitter twit who calls himself Drave the moonrascal – Larry Correia is a failure because he doesn’t get 500 people at all his book signings… (which will make you laugh a lot if you’re an author. It’s possibly the stupidest thing a Puppy Kicker has come up with, and the competition is stiff.)

To be fair, in sales terms, I think, yes, their attacks on us have certainly done me a lot of good. I found, much to my surprise a couple of weeks ago, that I’d entered that second happy stage of a writer’s career. (I forget now who said it – but one the greats said something like this: ‘there are 3 stages to a writer’s career – 1)where he can’t sell what he can write (assuming ‘sell’ means for enough to live on, and not just ‘at all’) and must write what he can sell 2) where he can sell anything he can write 3)where he can sell far more than he will ever write. I’m still not making a fortune, but yes, living simply and cheaply, we’re seeing a little more come in than go out, and more than last year, or the year before. But it seems I can now choose what I write, and my publisher will consider it – and if not I go to Kindle and it will sell enough copies to keep us going. It’s a long way from fame and fortune, but it lets me do what I love.

A large part of this is, no doubt, due to better folk than me, and the Puppy Kickers loud attempts to denigrate and suppress us and our work. It doesn’t take a genius (not even a mad one) to look at the well documented declining traditional book sales, particularly in sf/fantasy, and the demographics of the market place, to realize that all those readers were going elsewhere for their entertainment. Enough of them came my way to make a lot of difference to my bottom line, had obviously left buying sf/fantasy because they didn’t like what was on offer, publicized to the wazoo, and in every brick-and-mortar bookstore. It seems we’re catching a lot of those – I have had a lot of ‘I’d given up on sf until…’

The Puppy Kickers of course have the problem that not only has most of traditional publishing been obedient to their dictates and narrowed their offering down to ‘extremely PC, Correct Message before story, and let’s denigrate anyone who doesn’t fit our chosen ‘progressive’ philosophy.’ There is certainly a space for this – but it is probably 5% of the market who love it, and 20% who will put up with it, at best. The same would be true of the opposite extreme… but there really isn’t a major Trad publisher pushing that line. Where the Puppy Kickers went wrong of course was that the readers – no matter if they were in the 5%, 25% or 75% — had had the very existence of anything else – or of people who liked anything else, quite effectively drummed out. There were a nucleus of Baen readers and that was it, and a lot possible customers didn’t know about Baen let alone many Indies.

So in attacking us to protect the writers of the 5%… – and the reaction to those attacks, they told many of the other 95% of readers that there are alternatives. Of course awful… I forget now Irene Gallo’s exact foolish words ‘poor to terrible’ or something. But for many readers that was the first time they knew anything else was being published.

That 5% is not just saturated with that 5%, it’s supersaturated, and yes, a lot of the smaller trad darlings are crystalizing out and falling to the bottom. I gather things are fairly dire. On the other hand the other 95% are under-saturated, and all we needed was for people to know we existed. There are many less of us in Trad publishing than the 5%.

SF/Fantasy was always ahead of the curve with giving space to the ‘odd’ people of the demographic (and yeah, I’m odd.). But the reality is that a book designed to appeal – at the expense of a large section of your populace — to say 0.25% of your population is not going to do very well, very often. I hope trad published sf opens up again, as it seems to be with Indy – not so much for my sake but because there are some great writers not made for Indy. I just hope we can let reality and reader choice sort out how much of what is being bought. I’m quite happy seeing Vox Day _AND_ Nora Jemisin offered to the public. They will appeal to different parts of that public, and some people might even enjoy both (or neither). In the end it might be about people reading more, and reading more sf/fantasy. If you’re a good writer, and entertaining you might even win some people over to the dark side (This depends on your point of view, but I am assured they have cookies).

I have to wonder what people who wish to exclude ‘badthink’ from being available think of readers. Do they assume all readers are stupid and terribly easily led?

(Looks at politicians they support…) Don’t answer that question!

Anyway, back to Tortoise Kebabs for me. Thank you for the extra sales, Puppy Kickers. If you feel in need of giving yourselves apoplexy this novella is bound to do it for you.

37 thoughts on “Tortoise Kebab

  1. I remember when I did my time in the navy (submarines), and we pulled in to a port (not home port, foreign or not). it was required to sit in meeting given by locals, to tell us which parts of town we were not to go in to (red light, high crime, etc.) and I would go on liberty knowing which parts of town to visit (after all they told me this is where to go). so there I would be, in the bad part of town. with half the crew. usually including the captain, XO, and, or the chief of the boat. basic psyic 101—- people will go to where they are told not to. will do what they are told not to do. will read what they are told not t read. and if an author can get his book banned … sales will skyrocket.

    1. “so there I would be, in the bad part of town. with half the crew. usually including the captain, XO, and, or the chief of the boat.”

      Yep, checks with chart. 🙂

      1. He he he, I used the “Well . . . I suppose you can read this, but it’s got some bad language in it and I’d better not hear you using it!” Worked like a charm on a kid who’d learned in school that fiction equaled horrible thing I’m forced to read. Really, they ought to use that “Rats Bats, and Vats” book and teach kids that reading is fantastic.

        Sad thing is, I see so many adults who’ve either lost the love of reading, or never found it in the first place.

  2. That 5% is not just saturated with that 5%, it’s supersaturated, and yes, a lot of the smaller trad darlings are crystalizing out and falling to the bottom. I gather things are fairly dire. On the other hand the other 95% are under-saturated, and all we needed was for people to know we existed. There are many less of us in Trad publishing than the 5%.

    Yes indeed. For most authors the biggest problem by far is getting potential readers to know that your work exists and is available for purchase. The great thing about SP and friends is that it has brought SF to parts of the internet that it hadn’t previously reached and thus enlarged the potential market. I’ve no doubt that any number of gamers, “conservatives”* and others who had been driven away from SF by the trad pub concentration on boring message fic decided to take another look at the SP slate and related sites once they heard why SP existed.

  3. It is difficult to talk about popularity without indirectly equating it to quality, either positively (“This is better because it sells more”) or negatively (“That must be crap because it’s so popular”).

    However, it’s a lot more complicated than that. When I was complaining about my book sales to a professor at the university where I work he stopped me and said, “You know, in poetry that would make you a best seller.” He was exaggerating slightly, but he brought up a valid point–the best poet on the planet is not going to sell as many books as a bottom of the barrel romance writer.

    In the same way a truly brilliant jazz musician isn’t going to be able to fill the same venue that a mid-list rock or country act is going to sell out. In most neighborhoods in the US a great sushi bar isn’t going to get the kind of receipts that an average burger joint will pull in.

    It’s not a matter of quality, it’s a question of the distribution of audience preferences. Some kinds of stories inherently have a bigger audience than others. It’s hard not to be bitter about it, but being bitter in non-productive.

    What is productive is finding the audience for your particular style and then serving them the best you can. There are advantages to writing to a particular niche–your customers tend to be a lot more active in word of mouth advertising and you have less competition, for example.

    The problem comes when a small niche becomes popular with an influential clique that decides that everybody should like what they like. You can’t change somebody’s tastes, not for any length of time. You can make something trendy for a while, and plug something hard enough to give it a bump in sales, but in the end people who like hamburgers are going to go back to hamburgers and all of those sushi places that sprung up to cash in on the trend are going to close their doors.

    1. This accounts for Lena Dunham’s show “Girls” still being on the air.
      As well as a lot of other supposedly entertaining movies and TV shows …

  4. “It’s possibly the stupidest thing a Puppy Kicker has come up with, and the competition is stiff.”

    Oh, I have a real contender:

    Separately: do male supremacist groups exist, and cause trouble? The “sad puppies” who helped poison the Hugo Awards last year are an example.

    I await the responses from Sarah, Kate, and Amanda to the news they are running a “male supremacist group” with a great deal of amused anticipation.

    1. We aren’t about male supremacism, we are about male separatism. Hence all the books about men doing fine without ever having any contact with a woman.

      We did perfectly fine during the ancient Hellenic Golden Age before women came from Mu Muspha usurped the production of men.

      *Grins, Ducks, and Runs Away.*

    2. But we are going up. We only helped. Normally we’re entirely responsible, even for the heat-death of the universe. And one moment we’re stupid and the next microsecond we’ve engineered things that would take a million geniuses working for a thousand years to achieve…

  5. > three stages

    I’m pretty sure Robert Silverberg touched on that in one of his anthologies. When he edited some new reprints a few years back he added a considerable amount of anecdotal information as to who/where he wrote the story for, any problems with selling it, the kinds of rewrites editors wanted, etc. I found it very educational.

    There is also a fourth stage; “I am so big I can bypass the entire editorial process, as no lowly editor will dare question my greatness.”

    1. Had an interesting conversation with Orson Scott Card last month at a con where he alluded to that fourth stage being the main reason for the extended length of at least the last few Harry Potter novels.
      Subject of the panel was books to movies from an author’s perspective. Quite informative session.

      1. Yeah, I had noticed that with theHarry Potter books as well … and even more with Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries. The first half dozen or so were pretty brisk reads … and then editorial elephantiasis rook over …

      2. Yes, stage four is one of the reasons I stopped reading formerly-beloved authors from my childhood, such as Anne McCaffrey and RA Salvatore…

        In truth, though, I didn’t mind the larger sizes of the last few Potter books. Some other authors, though, the story is not only bloated, but ends up terrible besides…

        1. It may not just be protection from editors. It may be decline of writing skills with age, or running out of inspiration.

        2. When I was younger, I did wonder why I just wasn’t picking up the new Salvatore anymore. McCaffrey wasn’t as big on my horizon at that time, but that middle/late nineties (I thinks, fuzzily) was when I was casting about for something to read, and coming up with bupkis.

          Well, not complete bupkis. I still had a backlog of the classics to catch up on, and membership in the Honorable Society of Teenage Males taking up otherwise potential reading time (and getting some of it back, after surviving said membership activities).

          Thank goodness for Amazon, and indie. It’s a lot easier to carry my library around now, so I don’t have to worry when I get close to the end of the book and need something to read when I’m out and about.

        1. I stopped reading David Weber’s Honor Harrington series when it started reading more like the collected minutes of various staff meetings than actual novel.

  6. “had obviously left buying sf/fantasy because they didn’t like what was on offer … It seems we’re catching a lot of those – I have had a lot of ‘I’d given up on sf until…’ ”

    Puppies brought me back to SFF. After wandering in the desert for ~10 years, I’ve been buying books like a fiend, my TBR list keeps growing, and I’ve got a running list of authors I *must* check out due to mentions here and in other Puppy-related fora. So, yes: fie on the Puppy kickers for bringing me back to SFF … don’t throw me into the briar patch!

  7. I’m more likely to encounter SFF on the screen or in games than books now days. The genre isn’t what it used to be when I started reading the ’70s, it’s expanded for better and worse.

    Since I have a limited amount of time/money for recreational reading, the stories needed to be damn good or very entertaining, if not both. The best thing about the SJW/Puppies war is that it confirmed the decline in the “In Crowd” that many readers had suspected all these years. It also revealed many alternatives to their ilk.

    Like programmers, gamers and voters, SFF readers will see through most of the PC/SJW nonsense and find the projects, works and stories that interest them.

  8. “It’s possibly the stupidest thing a Puppy Kicker has come up with, and the competition is stiff.”

    Odds are it won’t even be the stupidest thing they come up with this month.

          1. Depends on the age. Back in the late 80s, early ’90s, Sun Tzu was really popular for business leaders, kinda like Stephen R. Covey a few years earlier. There were a lot of “Applying the Lessons of Sun Tzu” books foisted upon MBA and executive-wanna-bes for a while.

            But in general, yeah. They might have a copy of him and the Book of the Five Rings on a shelf, but read and understand? Eh, not so likely.

            1. And understood? There are things in it I still can’t say I fully understand, ten years on. I get the same “huh. That’s a something I didn’t see…” in C.S. Lewis, too.

              Basic understanding? Very simple, blocks and letters stuff? Well, that I get. *chuckle*

  9. I note with annoyance that the SJW faction has now banished Lovecraft’s visage from the World Fantasy Awards; this year will be the last time he will appear on the statue.

    And Lovecraft will still be read long after all the nominees for this years awards have been forgotten….

  10. I went to a Barnes and Noble in San Antonio this week. As with most chain bookstores, the SF/F section has been slowly shrinking. But the store was holding an event. As I made my way back through the tables of books they couldn’t sell at the publisher’s prices, and toys, and graphic novels, and manga, and discs, teenaged kids were running around the store piloting their homebuilt robots in some kind of competition.

    Kids are building their own robots but Barnes & Noble can’t sell them science fiction. I don’t think the “real” publishers are doing it right…

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