Currents

It looks idyllic, doesn’t it? I know it well. I can tell you that it is so flat because the current is strong enough to rip the bottom out of the swells. There is turbulent sea breaking in 8 foot swells just outside those islands, and the wind is hiding the current lines.

current

I’ve spent a lot of my life in the sea or on it. It’ll probably kill me in the end, but… well, I guess it’s like the man drawn to a lover that he knows is a capricious, unfaithful and unpredictably moody and sometimes cruel… but he still loves her. It might not be smart, but it is.

Of course, after some years of loving the sea – well, if you’re still around you do learn some degree of caution, some degree of mitigation, and a lot of skill at trying to guess the ‘moods’ right.

Couple of things I’ve learned which apply quite well to the writing world: Firstly – swimming against a strong current is an exercise in futility and exhaustion. You can swim across or go with it, or hang onto a rock if you can find one. Secondly, the wind and the current tend to run in opposite directions. You can use one to survive the other – but it tends to be a very choppy experience, that could just as easily sink you.

My own sense of the mood in the writing world – which is inevitably controlled by readers (not writers, not editors, not publishers, not critics and not reviewers, contrary to their delusions of grandeur) and reflects the wider world to some extent, is that changes are happening. In a way the things we here on MGC write about are change symptoms, not the causes – we write about the self-pub revolution, the disappearing agents, the way the big six became the big five, will probably the medium-sized four, and changes in things like distribution. But if things had stayed the same, continued down the same track, none of this would have happened. The zeitgeist was ‘progressive’ – against the center, the libertarians, the conservatives. Most publishers were left wing, or hard left as a result, and de facto, their authors largely were too or at least put on a good attempt to look that way.

In my opinion the left wing zeitgeist hit apogee in about 2007 with the financial downturn. The media, the politicians, academia, the churches, and publishing continued on with yesterday’s trend – growing further from the ordinary people and how they felt. By 2016 things slipped off the plateau and began going the other way.

What has happened (and all of the symptoms feed back into the causes) is that the readers – whose buying supports the bulk of the writing industry – buying… or not. This is probably best illustrated for us in the collapse of the traditional sf/fantasy sales (I’ve graphed this for you before) or as recently illustrated Marvel admitting their direction – for more ‘diversity’ and ‘social justice’ in comics had failed.

Now the important thing about these sales dives is that… nobody (or, to paraphrase the HH Guide, nobody important) reporting these figures wants to admit the direction is wrong, that there are problems. They liked, approved and supported the direction that sf and fantasy and indeed comics were taking. If there was a way to hide these declines, they would. The fact that this sort of data is creeping out means that financial problems, even bankruptcy, are looming, and there are no other choices. When some Jackass says ‘Oh they’re wrong, I luv Burkawoman, and Miz Marvel and Black Panther have both been nominated for Hugo Awards.’ What that says is that Jackass and the Hugos are out of touch with the buying public. There is a market for this, just as there is a market for the taste of the Hugo voters. It’s just 95 pound supply trying to fit in 5 pound demand bag.

Their idea was they could change demand…

It seems not.

And there are two alternatives here: you either please that buying public enough to earn a living, or… well, you know what vanity publishing is? When you get ‘recognition’ and social status (which includes polishing your resume among the kind of people who also find this important – Arts Departments at Colleges- a transfer from buggy whip manufacture to buggy horse blinker manufacture, IMO) and mickey mouse awards and prizes that no-one outside the tiny clique that award them to each other gives a damn about, or even know exists… instead of pay which you can live on. Any real profit goes to the publisher, who gets de facto free labor, subsidized by the author’s day job, or their spouse, or trust fund. It’s just a question of time before the author is asked to chip in for the ‘prestigious Editor’ (I’ve already seen this ridiculous model happen here in Oz via one of GoFundme type of fundraising – to get a ‘prestigious award winning editor’ –who had crashed three magazines, for an anthology. It’ll spread, mark my words)

Given that the current is running counter to the direction traditional publishing and much of the establishment direction (and I think we’re looking at a 20-50 year trend, as that seems the historical norm) the issue for the working writer particularly those invested in the old system is ‘how best do I survive?’ For the rest of us –it could mean rough water ahead too, because the publishing establishment will not want to drown alone. However, we’re better off, as we haven’t had that support in the past.

There’s no doubt that at least some parts of traditional publishing will happily continue down the plug-hole and take their authors with them. It’s – historically – been a good bet, turning hard left, killing the company, and the editors failing upward. This – given the shrinking number of places to fail to –may not be viable for them in future. It’s probable that some at least will, in time, learn, just as Marvel appears to be learning (the proof will be in the pudding). It is likely authors and illustrators will get hurt, whatever happens. It’s likely that drowning publishers will become more aggressively demanding that authors swim harder against the current. I expect them to be rewarded in ‘awards’, literary ‘esteem’, ‘critical acclaim’, not cash.

So: how best do you cope with this? Personally I have no desire to see authors go broke, outside a few vicious Puppy-kickers, or for all dissenting opinion to be silenced and crushed. There are people I disagree with who write well, and I am ethically disposed to let the marketplace sort them out. Yes, I am aware that there is a very totalitarian attitude in the modern US Left that wants to silence and de-platform all dissent – but honestly is that not just that they cannot compete? If we become the enemy to beat them, we lose anyway.

No matter how hard you swim against the current – authors won’t push publishers to safety. More likely they’ll stand on you to get some air, and drown you.

The answer to failing appeal is not _more_ failure, any more than the answer to communism’s failure is more communism. Swimming harder against the tide, kicking swimmers going across or down would be futile, exhausting, and make those swimmers ready to drown you.

On the other hand if you are in this situation… you can 1) learn to swim with the current or at least not straight against it. I don’t think that the buying public would be fooled by a sudden change in direction and heart from David Gerrold or John Scalzi or NK Jemison – but for the vast majority of trad authors, this is less obvious. It’s that, or find a rock to cling to. There will be some rocks, or at least one, just as Baen was the rock for centrist and libertarian and right wing authors, when the current was running hard the other way. But the rock or rocks will be small – and the biggest ‘names’ are going to claim most of the space. 3) Swim across the current. Build yourself an independent brand, try not to alienate too many people in the process. 4) Catch the wind – use Patreon and Indigogo and the likes to find like minds and fund you to push you against the current.

Of course we can expect vicious and increasingly shrill attacks from the publishing establishment and their clients. There’s a reasonable chance that they’ll destroy as much as they can rather than accept change. We have had a foretaste with the No Awards at the Hugos. We’ve seen it expressed when Hillary Clinton lost the US election to Donald Trump.

The nastier that they get, the more desperate they are.

Interesting times.

42 Comments

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42 responses to “Currents

  1. paladin3001

    Going to be interesting no matter what happens. Things may change more as well in directions we haven’t forseen.

  2. We’ll swim with and across the current, and carry with us what we need to survive.

    • We’ve got a lot of practice – the snowflakes of the publishing world, not so much.

      • The snowflakes don’t have practice outside of screaming outrage in civilised places where they’ve learned to game the good manners and expectations of society against those who actually uphold such things.

        They like to think they have the tools for survival in any situation, but frankly, they’d die if they got thrown out into the wilderness. It’s a matter of when, not if. Frankly, even the walls of the civilised places are no longer any source of protection; not these days. But they’d rather cling to the illusion that the petty bullshit is the important, and thrash furiously against that, while the patient, patient sea of the metaphor waits for them to sink, their muscles seized by their futile, meaningless flailing against the cold.

        If only they didn’t seek to drag us all down with them…

        • They’ve been sitting in a deck chair all this time that we’ve been swimming. Their ship already hit the iceberg and there’s not enough life boats.

          I think the water is going to come as something of a shock.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          They have habits optimized around exploiting customs of older generations. Younger generations grew up seeing the techniques in use, and have worked to make themselves immune, or have worked to use the techniques for their own ends.

  3. It seems to me that this is the kind of environment (to switch nautical metaphors slightly) where you want oars, sails and an outboard so you can both take advantage of favourable trends but yet be able to still maintain way when the wind fails or the outboard runs out of fuel.

    And eyes out checking for rocks, squalls, whirlpools and other navigational hazards. Said hazards potentially including other boats who are capsizing, sinking or otherwise impeding the course you are trying to set.

    • Which means having a look out, and a deck-hand or two, be they an informal group like MGC or a more formal network of professional associates, both of whom can say, “Hey, have you seen this?” or “I just heard that X advertising technique no longer works,” or “Stay away from [editor]. He/She/Whatever just made Editors & Predators Bottom Ten list for the fourth year in a row.”

  4. Participating in the 2015/16 Hugos was quite an eye-opener. Usually with affairs like that, the opposing viewpoint never makes it to the awards nomination, so the awards dinner and presentation can go forward with lovely placidity. All the correct names are on The List, there is no argument or strife.

    The vituperative response that we got from our participation at Sasquan was revealing. No longer content to ignore the puppies snuffling at the door, no longer able to sneer at the one or two things that managed to scrape their way onto the ballot, they displayed the most egregious lack of sportsmanship I’ve seen outside a kid’s hockey game. (The parents brawl in the stands.)

    For all this time, WorldCon has been portraying itself as an all-embracing, international, fan-driven constituency. A Big Tent where all the SF/F lovers from all over the world can come together and geek out over the wonders of the universe. The Hugos are meant to represent The Best, capital T capital B, the ultimate tippy top of SF/F for the previous year.

    Well, after the two-year freakout and weekly ten-minute-hate from the Internets, we know what WorldCon actually is. Politically doctrinaire and really quite hateful toward any opinion outside their little sphere.

    This year’s nominations are informative to say the least. The very comics that Marvel’s VP of Sales told us were not selling have been nominated as The Best!! on offer.

    I would venture to say that they are the most politically Left on offer, the most #Blacklivesmatter on offer. But the best? As in most enjoyable, exciting, I want to run out and get the next one right now?

    I think Marvel can do better.

    What does this mean to me, as a guy writing things supposedly for publication? It means I look at what won the Hugos, and I do -anything- but that.

    Personally, I think in a world where guys are driving trucks into crowds of people over religion, we could use some HAPPY stories. We could use some good people doing great things and winning, beating the forces of evil. We could use some heroic heroes, some dastardly bad guys, some cool space ships, and a story line other than Frankenstein. Mary Shelley did that one already.

    • I know I’m personally getting tired of anti-heroes. Real heroes would almost be novel at this point.

      • When every hero has feet of clay, and “Everybody Does It,” the one guy who doesn’t has a pretty big opportunity to make a splash.

        • Feet of clay is one thing, but today’s “heroes” never seem to rise above.

          In high school history, the teacher described three world leaders and asked us to pick the one we thought sounded the best. I can’t remember the complete descriptions, but it boiled down to a drunk, a man who cheated on his wife, and a vegetarian. We all picked the vegetarian, who turned out to be Hitler. The drunk was Churchill, and the cheater was FDR

          • Freddie: That’s what happens when you cherry pick biographies.

            Susannah: I think a good part of it is that they neither understand nor want to understand the concept of or need for redemption. About the only place the Anti-hero really works, consistently, is the redemption story. Where someone not so easily distinguished from the bad guys discovers there are differences, there is right and wrong, and there are things better, which usually means facing down their own evil and choosing differently even (or perhaps ESPECIALLY) at great cost to themselves. The modern anti-heroes never rise above. Never atone. Never become more than what they began as.

      • Zsuzsa

        Heck, I’d settle for the classic anti-hero, the guy who isn’t a hero in the typical mold of someone like Hercules or Theseus or Lancelot or Robin Hood who could outfight or outsmart anyone in his path. He’s just a regular guy doing his best in the face of circumstances.

        It’s worth remembering now and then that that is what the term “anti-hero” was supposed to mean, not a guy for whom it’s a struggle to find the reason he’s better than the villains.

        • What’s interesting is that the pre-movie information I’m seeing about the new King Arthur movie* seems to be along those lines—a guy who’s a bit of punk, who discovers that he’s the rightful King of England, and has to now live up to that.

          *I am married to an Arthurian nut, and my take on the subject is that if you’re going to mess with the source material in a big way, DO IT big. The trailer has a dragon. Oh yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Go true to the time OR go big on the crazy.

    • I think in a world where guys are driving trucks into crowds of people over religion, we could use some HAPPY stories. We could use some good people doing great things and winning, beating the forces of evil.

      We could use Superman getting in the way of those trucks, and hauling their asses off to jail or military tribunals. Green Arrow stopping terrorists. Wonder Woman stopping the Muslim men about to rape a woman in front of her boyfriend with the machete at her throat. Starfire helping save a would-be honor killing victim. Jean Grey, Storm and Shadowcat getting between a horde of Islamics screaming ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ and ‘we’ll rape you because you’re not covered up’ at normally dressed Western women. Wolverine and Colossus and X-23 ripping to shreds the Islamics who just kidnapped a little boy, or girl, because they’re going to rape them, citing ‘sexual emergency.’

      Heroes being actual freaking heroes.

  5. I like the idea of swimming out of the current. Forget trying to follow it or go against it. The current will change, but if you’re not in it, then you don’t have to change yourself.

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  7. Well, I’m not particularly a sea person (uh, well, not at all – one round trip to Catalina Island on the ferry and a couple of days on the Connecticut beaches over 57+ years does not count), so here’s my analogy…

    All those people on the beach, cheering on the various swimmers? Not a single solitary one of them is a lifeguard, people. When and if you go under, they’ll blink, maybe wipe a tear or two – and find someone else to cheer that’s still above water.

    • Heh. I can get seasick on a small rowing boat in calm weather…

      And so far I haven’t even gotten deep enough that I’d need to think whether I would be willing to swim or not. More of a wade in perhaps ankle deep water. We’ll see what happens if I manage to get deeper, as it is I’m not particularly trying (writing mostly for my own amusement, although I have published on Amazon I just left them there, not trying to advertise or promote in any way beyond some free promo days from time to time, I haven’t even changed the crappy covers yet).

      Scary, that deep water. I’ll probably try to wade a bit deeper anyway, but whether I’d be willing to get so deep that I’d risk losing contact with the bottom (day job)… probably never.

      Unless perhaps it looks like a yacht close enough to reach. One not named “Titanic II”. Who knows if I’d try even then. I have failed so many times with so many things that I have gotten really scared of taking that kind of risks which would leave me without a safety net.

  8. I like the analogies. Water and wind.

    OT .. I just got my paper copy of Changeling Island (took a while for those Amazon people to ship it). I’m giving it to my 7th grade grandson so I have been going through it to make sure it’s appropriate for him (from my point of view). It’s very good. I think I’ll read it before I pass it on.

    Regards

  9. And you didn’t even bring in rogue waves.

    Never turn your back on the ocean, folks.

  10. MarkM

    And for these purposes, the Great Lakes count as the ocean. When in doubt, from personal experience in dealing with Lake Michigan, I also recommend a wet suit. It’s amazing how cold it can get without going too far out from shore.

  11. adventuresfantastic

    C4c

  12. Joe in PNG

    I’m reminded about Mark Twain’s memoirs regarding his training to become a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi. He literally had to learn the river backwards and forwards, every sandbar and reef, bend and point, in day and darkness, flood or dry, with a river that was constantly shifting and changing. And learn it he did.

  13. Draven

    And in similar news, in an effort to get their lost ad money back, YouTube has implemented a new algorithm that is supposed to remove ads from all the hatey hate speech… and it is going around demonetizing most of the right-of-center political channels and especially anything firearms and/or second amendment related.

  14. Considering how weary readers have become with politicized fiction, the next few years in the ongoing tradpub v. indie wars are likely to be very interesting. Tradpub is already on the ropes; lassoing the various awards hasn’t done it any good. Meanwhile, indie is steadily turning up some first-rate storytellers, even if the typical example thereof could use some line-editing help. There are good times ahead.

    • TRX

      Tradpub will always have “product” to sell. Back in the Midlist Cleansing of the ’90s a writer of my acquaintance told me the big problem was that he was no longer competing with other writers; now he was competing with everyone who would sell his work for a box of author copies and the label “published writer.” He’d had the same publisher for decades; they cut his percentage and offered a sad joke for his next advance; he gave them the upraised middle finger and found another that seemed happy to acquire an author with a track record of steady sales and being able to deliver a manuscript on time.

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