Chardonnay or Beer

 

Now, there are some very posh and expensive wines which remind me of cats wee (at least by smell. I don’t think I have tasted that, unless that was what was in the glass). Not everyone shares my opinion, and quite a lot more people pretend not to. It’s best ‘enjoyed’ with fish, because fish often comes with a piece of lemon, and if you suck the lemon first it does wonders for the taste, if nothing for the smell.  It’s considered really bad manners to plug your nose with pieces of the fish, but sometimes a lack of couth is worth it.

Some of us have beer tastes, on a beer budget, which is a good thing.

When things at home are soft, safe, comfortable, and let’s face it, a little boring – nice (safe) tours of foreign places and their problems are cool. Armchair touring – via a movie or a book – can be fun too, allowing the armchair tourist to vicariously experience things – from horrors, tragedies, deep emotions to a great or a strange sex life – that are way outside of their reality. It’s a pleasant, safe escapism, sometimes with a frisson of illicit (but safe) excitement and sometimes suitably patting the armchair participant on their beliefs and prejudices. The book or movie leaves the reader feeling satisfied with themselves and subconsciously a little grateful for that boredom and comfort.

It’s a market. There are customers looking for books for just that reason. As an author, looking to sell books, judging my customers is not my job. Pleasing them is -or pleasing enough to make a living is.

It is a group I think of as ‘the exclusive country club people’ – reasonably well-off, never gone to bed hungry – quite possibly their parents or grandparents never went to bed hungry, or wondered how to pay the rent. They worry more about the choice of color, make and model of their car, than whether it will break down today or tomorrow. Their problems are first-world, upper/upper-middle class problems. Their sufferings, if any, are largely imaginary and magnified by their context (“that nasty aircon repairman didn’t pay infinite attention to my litany of the agony I have suffered in the half hour it took him to get here. He’s a sexist pig, persecuting me. Patriarchal oppression!!”) and their ‘victimhood’ trivial on the broader scale. They probably went to a top 10%-by-cost college, took a degree quite possibly something non-lucrative (because why not ‘follow your dream’ of English Literature, or Medieval Architecture?) and live in a sought-after suburb – which probably is largely white.

They are well served by country club origin authors, who understand their world and how they think and what they want. They’re well-connected in the arts and publishing world, went to the right schools, right colleges, attended the right workshops, hobnobbed with the right people at the right conventions etc. They probably claim to be victims of sexism and/racism or homophobia etc. which they are… in the same sense as the poor oppressed woman who had put up with having no air conditioner for half an hour is. But then oppression and suffering are relative (A man with dime if all his neighbors have a dollar feels poor, a man with a dime when all his neighbors have a cent feels rich), so they may not see it that way. They really know nothing about the misery they write about, but then, neither do their readers. They share the same illusions about it and are happy believing that.

Of course, while people do turn to escapism out of ennui… there IS another reason. And that, obviously, is escapism from a real world that is not quite as soft or pleasant – maybe also boring, maybe horrible. Where the armchair escape takes the reader to place where things are not so hopeless, where they’re not battling, in debt, or sick, where dinner is not Ramen noodles again, and where Joe (or Jane) Ordinary gets the sexual partner of their dreams (often this is the only element shared by the two extremes). Often as not, the hero starts in a bad situation too – but fights their way up, successfully. This type is why books ALWAYS sold well in economic downturns. That immersive book is besides being an escape also, often as not, a beacon of hope, and a source of uplift, better even than a cross-your-heart bra.

The hothouse flower can also flourish writing for this audience – because they know what the audience aspire to, if not come from. But it is harder for them to do well, because they often fail to grasp how the strugglers feel, and what is important to them.

The division isn’t clean and clear cut of course. Readers cross the spectrum, and although few of us manage to have the exclusive country club upper middle-class to wealthy background, quite a lot of people at least have elements enough of it – life is not that hard. And there is always the element of ‘cousin Worseoff, which people enjoy too (I’m battling but I’m better off than Fred Worseoff, so I feel good), as well as entertaining characters who can appeal or amuse in any kind of book. There are crossovers too – Fifty Shades of Grey – where a dull woman gets a handsome, wealthy ‘scary’ partner for some kinky sex.

Both groups, oddly, like their stereotype and standard tropes and plots – often more than something unique. As one of my writer acquaintances said readers claim to be looking for ‘new’ but what they really want is ‘new old’.

But to the people on either extreme… well, the reader who loves the book about the sufferings of the oppressed victims of the patriarchy succumbing eventually to their evil and having the world destroyed because all men are racists and bad, is obviously going to hate one of my books – and vice versa.

Which is not to say either is a ‘good’ book. They’re good for specific readers, from specific backgrounds looking for entirely different things.

The question you as an author need to ask is: which kind can I write? And can I reach that audience? And why am I doing this? For social kudos and status among my peer group? To preach? (if so, to whom? The converted or the ‘heathen’? – because either way, they not going to read it unless it appeals.) To sell books and make a living?

Now, for me, it’s the latter. And I am reading ‘economic downturn’ in my tea-leaves (no, I don’t just drink zero hedge brand tea).

So what do you think?

Who do you write for?

What do you want to read?

Where is the biggest, hungriest market?

64 Comments

Filed under DAVE FREER, Uncategorized, WRITING, WRITING: ART, WRITING: CRAFT

64 responses to “Chardonnay or Beer

  1. I’m very much in the “the exclusive country club people” camp. Even when I was in the IDF, I had a cushy desk job telling computers what to do. But I never understood the point of books about how somebody else’s life sucks. I want my heroes to be heroes, not victims.

    • Me too. I read fiction to be inspired and amused. Miserable suffering is neither.

    • Ori, you’re a complex fellow (as indeed are many of us, but you remind me when I oversimplify things). Even just living in Israel must have given the idea that a peaceful life was not to be disdained – and that it could be anything but even for the most ‘country club people’. In countries not surrounded by enemies the Zeitgeist is different perhaps?

      I’m one of those people who has a foot in both camps – my father’s family were ‘old money’ – most of which was long gone by the time Dad grew up – but the patterns were established… Mum’s family had been powerful and wealthy before the Boer war -and lost most of it as a result, but she still went to university which was very unusual for women of that time. But they both lived through the depression, and some financial hard times… so despite sending me to an elite boarding school (my father’s old school) I assumed we were poor. Dad paid for it by working two jobs – his weekends he worked on an old commercial fishing boat – I grew up around fishermen and fishing boats. His other job took him – and me – into the black townships. I got to see and talk and play with black kids and see their homes – which not many urban White South Africans did. And yet… i went to school – and Uni, with some of the 1%. And oddly, they’re all human, and you have asses and saints in either camp. 😉

      • Of course I’m complex, parts of me are imaginary 😉 .

        Growing up in Israel also means having the Holocaust thrust in your face repeatedly. Plus, I’ve read enough history and anthropology. History is mostly a record of how badly things used to suck.

        I suspect the number of people who suffer from ennui and want to relieve it by watching suffering isn’t nearly as high. It’s just that they’re very noisy. In other words, an overserved market.

      • In America, until ~the 1980s, the people living the Country Club life were mostly just 30- to 50- years older than the folks who struggled. We had incredible social mobility (downward too).

        Your post is incredibly depressing because it reads as probably true for America now.

  2. I have to examine your second question without reference to the third. If I write what I want to read then I am not going to be writing to the biggest market, since I am not part of the biggest market myself. And I don’t think it’s as simple as “beer or wine” since there are cheap wines (yes, there are cheap drinkable Chardonnays) and also hard cider and stouts and bitters and all manner of beerish abominations.

    I write what I want to read, which also happens to be what very few people are writing today.

    • I don’t think you need worry about ‘what people are reading today.’ It’s what they read tomorrow that is relevant. 🙂

    • My experience with beer and wine perhaps is not universal. The best wines can be great, beers – the best I’ve drunk, good. But a cheap commercial beer is still drinkable. not great, but whole quantum better than cheap wine. In fact better than some horrendously expensive German Reisling 🙂

      • I guess my point is there will always be variations in taste, and some tastes will always be more popular than others. I think that there is a temptation to follow tastes in an effort to be popular, which results in people making third-rate lager when they could be making an outstanding mango liquor. I suspect (and hope) that self-publishing will free up more writers to write what they want to read and reach a smaller audience with a better product rather than try to compete in an over-saturated market because that’s the only way to get published.

      • If you can get Chardonnay from a steel vat that’s never been “oaked” it tastes decent: like I had always imagined “Benden white”

        Here in the U.S. it can be easier to get a decent, inexpensive wine (Trader Joe’s FTW) than an equivalent beer.

        Unless you consider Budweiser “decent” that is (it’s fine for slug bait)

  3. Laura M

    I’m with qbzzt. I want to read about heroes, not endless victims, so that’s what I write.

    When I was about 9 and reading lots of books with heroes, I fretted about how hard it was to show how heroic you were unless something bad happened to you, and even at 9 I knew I didn’t want that. But how could you show how strong you were if you didn’t have adversity? I had a very nice childhood.

    But heroes do need real adversity. For my space opera, adversity comes in the form of a bad king, a crushing feudal state, and a harsh environment. For my legal science fiction, which deals with middle-class engineers and lawyers trying to get to space, adversity comes in the form of competition, cronyism, and a crushing administrative state. Hmm. Suddenly, I detect a theme.

    • The main character of my space opera starts off as a victim (dunno how else you’d describe being attacked out of the blue, nearly killed, and left somewhat disabled. Admittedly if he hadn’t been shirking his hereditary responsibilities, it wouldn’t have happened.) Discontent with this status, he strives to depart into normalcy. I punish his ambition by, as he puts it, impaling him on the nearest throne. 😀

      My one character who tends to hide from adversity and wallow in her angst… comes to a bad end in part because of it. Well, that’ll teach you!

      The moral of my story seems to be that if you won’t change your ways for the better, some evil wicked author will change them for you, in ways you won’t like. 😀

      • Terry Sanders

        What space opera? If finished, where? This guy sounds like he could be as much fun as a crippled Barrayaran genius con-man noble.

  4. *chuckle* I’m not a beer drinker myself; I prefer fruity, sweet wines and what my husband calls Lemon Russkies (and mudslides.)

    There are different kinds of adversity; and largely how a person deals with trauma or the problems in their life is what builds his or her strength. Sometimes it’s a big thing that everyone can understand; sometimes, the reasons for a character’s actions will be elusive to some, but understandable to others.

  5. To be fair, there’s a big difference between purposefully cheap wines (ie, ones with bad ingredients) and purposefully inexpensive wines (made with good ingredients). I guess the American market in my lifetime has been so competitive as to kill off most cheap wines, other than the brands aiming at winos and the wine sodas (aka “wine coolers”). Even wine box wines are usually pretty good, these days.

    • I think they can probably thank the Australians for that. It was the Australian winemakers who
      1) figured out how to make a consistent reliably similar tasting wine year after year
      2) figured how to do that profitably for a range of fixed end-user price points.

      Although I don’t think those pioneering winemakers were influenced by brewers the way they make those wines is remarkably similar to how the big brewers make their beers and most of the techniques seem to boil down to fanatical hygiene end to end and an intimate knowledge of the cost of everything used in the process

    • Some Dollar Stores carry wine. Happened to see some for $3.50 a bottle. And no Thunderbird or Ripple in the bunch.

    • Worst way to preserve a good wine: traditional cork. Better way: screw top. Best way: vacuum sealed with a spigot.

  6. Teetotaler here (medical reasons), so while I can appreciate the scents and flavors of wines and beers, and I can cook with wine (boil alcohol off first), I end up being the person with everyone else’s car keys (and wallets, and incriminating evidence, and . . .)

    I know some people, mostly women, who devour “mommy-lit” because for them, reading about how another woman kept her sanity while raising a family and helping advance her husband’s career IS reading a heroic role model. As Shadowdancer says, adversity varies. I suspect many of those ladies would also be able to rise to the occasion in harder times, they just don’t realize it, never having been pushed that way. When I was a teenager I daydreamed about a mecha or one of the Voltron lions swooping down into the school yard to whisk me away, because getting shot at in space had to be better than being the target for every flippin’ b-stard in the school. Yeah, teenager. Now that I’ve been in real danger, self induced and otherwise, I know better. But I still read about heroics, and write about fighting the odds, and about trying to make a home and family.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Medical and cultural for me. It is how I was raised, and how my parents were raised, and I never had the spoons budget to waste on such. (My parents once told me a story of a guy they knew, very smart, who fried his brain on drugs.)

      Golion (which was rebranded as lion Voltron), is totally a mecha.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Medical and cultural for me. It is how I was raised, and how my parents were raised, and I never had the spoons budget to waste on such. (My parents once told me a story of a guy they knew, very smart, who fried his brain on drugs.)

      Golion (which was rebranded as lion Voltron) is totally a mecha. A combiner mecha. I think mecha are a better fit for the anime format, where they can best relay emotional truths about the will to battle.

      • Agreed on the anime format. Reading descriptions of mecha doesn’t always get things across, and it is far too easy to wind up in the “gee whiz tech” weeds instead of moving the plot.

    • “As Shadowdancer says, adversity varies.” This is true. But the mommy-lit is something they can identify with. The ardent Nora Jemison or Margaret Atwood fan almost certainly has never encountered anything remotely like those author posit. That was what I referred to.

    • To be fair, the idea of being able to shoot back and/or have control is probably the attractive bit. Also, a kid in daily, deadly danger of suicide might be safer getting shot at in space. War includes more periods of safety and boredom than junior high.

  7. I want to sell books and make a living. Still haven’t figured out why I’m not writing romances–other than that I’d probably keep losing track of the romance plot line and going off to do something more important.

    Actually right now I’m writing a story where the Heroes crawl from the wreckage in a badly battered state having managed something along the lines of not-a-complete-failure. Just because the Bad Guys are in even worse shape didn’t make it any more fun to write. I’ll see what the beta readers have to say shortly . . .

  8. I want to tell stories, stories that encourage readers in the face of adversity, stories that teach people about our history … but above all that – to entertain and divert.
    My daughter and I started off writing a continuing series which is intended purely as an amusing diversion, a window into an eccentric small town (The Luna City Chronicles) which is a change from the historical fiction – and seems to have become at least as popular in the last year as my previous stuff. Nothing preachy, no heavy-handed SJW messages … just amusing and interesting people in a small, South Texas town. At this present moment, I believe readers need that refuge ,,, in the same way that people who went through the Depression craved fluffy escapist musical comedies with a happy ending. Reality outside is grim enough for most of us.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      One thing that works as escapism for me here and now. Horrible wars that one can kill one’s way out of.

    • “At this present moment, I believe readers need that refuge”
      I share your opinion. And I think it’s a growing, under-served market.

      • Heck, PG Wodehouse served that market for sixty years; Light, fluffy diversions in troubling times and how many times has his output been the basis for movies and television series? (checks bank account balance) Nope, not there yet … but I have ambitions and hopes.

  9. My father was middle-middle class, if a bit of a wiseass and a rebel. He loathed the elites of his day, and I regret that I never asked him why. (He died when I was 26, and was in bad shape for nine years before that.) My mother grew up in the butt end of Wisconsin in a farmhouse that didn’t have glass in all its windows. Her parents had been Polish peasants. We were never hungry (though I’ve had quite enough Campbell’s Tomato Soup, thank you very much) but I listened to my mother’s stories. And I think by now I loathe our elites far more than my father ever did. I like sweet wine at least in part because the elites hate it. But I drink dry wine with the best of them.

    As a writer I’m still calibrating myself…and still getting my head around the indie phenomenon. Too many years working in tradpub cut too many well-worn paths in my professional brain, and it was an unholy pain in the ass getting out of those ruts. The notion that I can decide for myself exactly what to write and publish is still a little, er, novel. (Sarah pushed me over the edge, God lover her. Is there anything that woman can’t do?)

    I learned SF by imitating the pulpers. I wanted action and ideas and explosions and lots and lots of rivets. Much of my short fiction was precisely that, as was my first novel. There is a market for this, especially provided in the form of inexpensive ebooks. The $28 hardcover of my first novel sold about 600 copies in its first ten years. The $3 ebook sold that many in its first three weeks.

    People want immersive fiction, and they want page turners. My readers have told me that, and my sales figures suggest that it’s true. There is probably an audience for every variation on that theme, be it high fantasy, milSF, zombie novels, or the sorts of “hard fantasy” that Larry Correia has pioneered. The trick is finding the people who want to read what you’re writing. This notion that “people aren’t reading anymore” is BS. I got on a Chicago commuter train a year or two ago. It was after dark, and as I got into the car I saw bright rectangles in practically every set of hands in every seat. As I walked through the car I took note of what rectangles were games, and what were pure text. The text outnumbered the games probably ten to one. I know an older woman who reads a romance novel or mystery every single night. After she stripped her local library clean, I taught her how to use the Kindle store on her tablet, which she bought for games and Web surfing. She’s our audience, she and countless other people with interests up and down the full breadth of the fiction spectrum.

    Find those people, write what they like, be prolific, and you’re set for life.

    Me, I read what I like to write, and vise versa. I also read nonfiction in quantity, because fiction is made of nonfiction. Science, technology, psychology, history, and theology are the bulk of it. And humor. Humor is a little magical. I’m still trying to figure out how it works. My second novel was humorous fantasy. It worked. I’m not sure how, but it worked.

    Also, I build things. Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m at the bench soldering or doing metalwork, ideas and sometimes whole scenes come to me. I’m guessing that knitting or painting or almost anything else hands-intensive works the same way. I’d be interested in hearing from others who’ve had that experience.

    And now…back to work. If I’m ever going to be famous, I can’t take thirty years to finish a novel.

    • Yeah, and anyone who thinks farmers and other flyover-country types don’t read, voraciously and every damn thing they can get their hands on, in any topic … has never been to a small-town library book sale. Lordy, our little burg’s offerings could have shamed some university libraries, in breadth if not mass.

      […must…resist….library….booksale…]

    • aacid14

      I got the scene that started one of the stories I am cleaning up while I was driving too and from my internship. Was on a Metallica kick and song have me an idea. Recently had another come out of middle of nowhere.

      I’ve done the wake up, write down work solution on pad next to bed and pass out again as well. Brains are screwy things.

      • Certain types of music give me ideas, or at least images that could be worked into scenes. Interestingly, a lot of it is soundtrack music. I don’t know if it was designed to trigger scenes in the imagination, or if I’ve just seen enough movies in 60-odd years to be conditioned to get scenes in response to music. All I know is that it works. I got an entire chapter of berserk nano out of a single cut from the Prince of Egypt soundtrack: “The Plagues.” The creepy is strong in that one:

        • I have got/ to find the moonscape I drew while listening to John Philip Sousa. New Mexico goes through my mind whenever I think about that one.

          I wrote The Graveyard Blues while listening to that song and the others mentioned in the story. Wrote Relics, which is unpublished, while listening to Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain. The rest were a mix.

    • I’m an older woman (well, I’m 59) and since I’m not feeling well enough to do much ‘real’ stuff, I’ve been reading several books a day (thank goodness for KU). Actually, I started doing that when I was a kid, as much as my mother would let me get away with. We’d go to the library, I’d check out an arm-load of books, and read until three in the morning (unless Mom caught me!), usually finishing most of the stack.

    • Things Sarah can’t do: Fit into a British size 2 dress. Because no human female over age 8 can fit into a British size 2. [insert rant about British vs European vs US sizes here]

    • 🙂 That’s worthy and inspiring enough to be a post on its own, Jeff. I work in my veggie garden and workshop as thinking time.

  10. aacid14

    Right now I’m not sure what I want to read. Ive always been partial to thrillers but right now my trust and belief in things so shaken from the train wreck, fire, and hazmat leak that is real life that I get forced out. I’ve been sticking to some of the classics, going thru Stranger in a Strange Land right now.

    I wonder if part of the cause for nihilist writing is only seeing the evil in man. Where the hero has to have some dark ulterior motive to blunder into doing the right thing.

  11. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    It’s interesting that the worse things get the better the stories and books get. At least from the beer money writers. The Chardonnay set keep putting the same dreck about hopelessness and misery whatever the times are like.

  12. Bob

    I’ve got a love for some types of fiction that could be classified as ‘literature,’ but that I’d consider surrealist puzzle-books, where questions are raised and not necessarily answered, or definitively answers, or with answers that are open to interpretation, both within the text itself and when you question who’s writing it and why.

    Love Gene Wolfe of course, and also those Series of Unfortunate Events/All the Wrong Questions books.

    But the thing is: the characters have to be characters and not unknowable ciphers, and the puzzles have to be solve-able, or at least have some internal consistency and logic that the reader can grasp.

  13. mrsizer

    Speaking of beer, I had Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout with lunch. Yes, really.

    This April Fools joke turned reality foreign-style stout is made with roasted barley, seven specialty grains, “steerian” golding hops, and roasted bull testicles.

    It was pretty good.

  14. I suppose I am just a bit slow here, but concrete examples of these country club and beer taste SF authors might help me understand this post. Perhaps I am just reading it late at night when I should go to bed. Not, mind you, that I have much time for reading SF. I managed to pass off main edit of the next issue of Tightbeam (26 pages, lots of reviews) but I am doing a line edit of a friend’s polymer theory book, reading fiction for my writer’s group tomorrow evening, and considering rewrite on my main novel in progress. (Alas, I am up to a bunch of these.) I am also not done resurrecting my computer, though I am buying a new one (Lenovo P910, 2 x 4 Tb disk drives, Nvidia K40 math accelerator, Nvidia Quatro graphics, loads of RAM, superquiet 750+ W power supply, native windows 10 install).

  15. I suppose I am just a bit slow here, but concrete examples of these country club and beer taste SF authors might help me understand this post. Perhaps I am just reading it late at night when I should go to bed. Not, mind you, that I have much time for reading SF. I managed to pass off main edit of the next issue of Tightbeam (26 pages, lots of reviews) but I am doing a line edit of a friend’s polymer theory book, reading fiction for my writer’s group tomorrow evening, and considering rewrite on my main novel in progress. (Alas, I am up to a bunch of these.) I am also not done resurrecting my computer, though I am buying a new one (Lenovo P910, 2 x 4 Tb disk drives, Nvidia K40 math accelerator, Nvidia Quatro graphics, loads of RAM, superquiet 750+ W power supply, native windows 10 install).

  16. Thanks to the genius of software, my post just showed up again. Sorry for the duplicate.

  17. There is a difference between poor, middle, upper class, but a good story is universal and should appeal to all. I’ve been abjectly poor and now consider myself well off (I can spend $20 without excessively considering/fretting over the expenditure); my reading interests haven’t changed with affluence. I still want to see admirable people overcome diversity; good withstand and overcome evil; and evil spanked hard.

    I would posit that the differences between the financial classes is less than one would believe. Yes, the wealthy don’t have the soul-sucking task of daily survival to deal with, but I have to imagine their lives are not easy ones simply from the wreckage I’ve observed over the years. They may have impossible expectations of intelligence, appearance, talent, and achievements that don’t weigh heavily on hoi polloi. I don’t believe life is unmitigated joy and sunshine for any group–rain falls on us all. All classes can enjoy an escape into a book with heroes battling against the odds to save the day.

    Beer tastes like carbonated gasoline to me, and wine is just flat champagne. I’ll take milk, bourbon, or a dry champagne. 🙂

    • The difference isn’t so much a matter of current wealth, but upbringing and education. Most people prefer heroes that are heroic, the sub-group that prefers misery porn is probably an aberration.