I like pie…
Now my answer to who gets what share of the pie in publishing (actually in most things) is hey, let’s make a bigger pie.
That’s always seemed a sensible answer to me. I’ve spent years talking about ways to make reading more popular with as many people as possible. I can summarize many thousands of words into this: Give as many readers as possible what they enjoy. Help them find it, keep them coming back for more.
A rising tide floats ALL boats.
The key is not so much what an individual is reading (from Das Kapital to Atlas Shrugged), but that as many of them are reading as possible. That all feeds back into the industry, which means an industry big enough to support Feminist Lesbian Vegetarian Urban Goat Breeding Fiction as well as Macramé Flower Baskets Aryan Neo-Nazi fiction, because car-chases, shooting and blowing things up, kiss-an’-cuddle Fiction carries a lot of the costs.
Alas… not a lot of the Traditional publishing establishment and their hangers on agree with me – which should surprise no-one, least of all me. It still does, every time, because getting my head around ‘how can you be that stupid?’ is always hard.
But it doesn’t actually end there because there is a new level of stupid below that: It’s called the ‘you’re putting off your readers if you don’t support our extreme left wing narrative’ stupid. We had our favorite Chinese Bot man trying this one on recently. I thought it had died with the puppy-kicking a few years back – but it seems not. The person attacked tried some kind of reasonable response, but probably because it was just so bizarre didn’t really grasp the nettle. In case you encounter this, let me talk you through it.
Here is the finite pie. Now, it used to be a much bigger pie, but Trad Publishing has, under its brilliant stewardship, managed to make it a lot smaller.
Here is the pie of the demographics of the self-assessed political attitudes of the principle market for English language SF/Fantasy the US – the smallest section is ‘left’ or as Americans call it ‘liberal’. Now, the fractions may differ slightly when it comes to ‘selling books especially in English.’ Some may not read. However it is important – contrary to some assertions – to state that really no section in this pie is potentially not a market. Much effort has gone into trying to prove lower IQ etc. by those who want to claim they have the moral authority to lead despite being smaller numbers. It has failed or you’d hear about on the MSM every 10 minutes.
One of the rallying calls much heard in modern publishing and their hangers on is ‘own-voices’. Now the argument goes that people who are not one-legged midgets from Equatorial Africa, cannot possibly write one one-legged midgets from Equatorial Africa well, and that that their use and culture should be reserved for said OLMFEA and will be embraced by the OLMFEA community and eagerly read as one of their own, and by all those who want to embrace the cultural diversity of OLMFEA people. (In other words a market of 200 on a good day). But there is a tiny element of truth in it all: the author’s background, interests, politics, social status and experience do get reflected in the writing. Research helps, of course. And if most of the audience isn’t from that community, that demographic, it doesn’t matter that much from the sales point of view.
Where of course it DOES matter is when a substantial part of the audience are from those sections of the demographic. Let’s say the author’s book had a Military Veteran as a major character – and they got it all wrong, because the author hasn’t served – and drew all their information from Jane Fonda (very popular in the author’s social circles). You can guarantee it will not sell well to a large part of the demographic, although it will possibly be loved by a small part, just as ignorant as the author.
Now here’s the thing: if you took trad publishers and did their political demographic, it looks like this:
You’d think common sense and wishing to make a profit would see to it that this didn’t matter. They’d still buy the best authors to appeal to as much of the demographic as possible. Two things however come into this: 1) see the Jane Fonda example above – they just don’t know audiences outside their bubble. 2)There is no direct feedback loop rewarding acquiring editors for good choices that make their company money, certainly not all in the new, minimum advance entrant level (it is somewhat different if you come with a pre-existing shoo-in market). So, it becomes about what they enjoy and what they feel would be ‘good’ if it was published. Which, um, amounts to the publisher’s ‘own voices’.
Which means, again, that the choice made by most publishers is… in sf/fantasy anyway — at the most generous. (on the left) compared to the market (on the right).
When it comes down to Awards, recognition, critical acclaim – it is the same or worse. Most of the ‘love’ goes to the extreme end – the 7% far left. None goes to the opposite extreme.
While the similar situation exists in publishing as in fishing – where 10% of the skippers catch 90% of the fish – and those 10% of the skippers or authors are doing well, regardless, among the 90% that are struggling – well, they’re all fighting for a piece of that ‘readership pie’. But let’s for the purpose of keeping it simple, assume that all shares are pretty well equal.
The authors on American left, openly supported by their publishers, are open and vocal about their politics, reflected in public pronouncements and work. Moreover – particularly in the wake of Sad and Rabid Puppies, but well before too – eager to take this to punishing, excluding, badmouthing those that don’t belong to their political section of the demographic. In fact, they attack even authors who fail to show sufficient enthusiasm in doing this. It was career suicide–anywhere but Baen, to admit even in private that actually you were conservative, or even centrist or independent.
But this didn’t only extend to the authors, who they’d de-platform and dis-employ, but even to the public in general. They’d sound off at the audience. They still do. That pleased their acquiring editor. It may well be that those publishers and authors had somehow deluded themselves into believing that those who didn’t agree were a tiny non-customer minority – but the fact is they definitely actually have 26% of the market agreeing with them. Depending on how much they’ve succeeded at alienating the independent/centrist part of the demographic with the ‘if you’re 100% with me or you’re agin’ me’ attitude… that may be all they have left. Personally I suspect it may possibly get to 40-45% -and shrinking – but let’s assume the market is split 50:50.
Which means if out of every ten authors, the nine left wing authors push out the one ‘not left’… and his/her share goes on buying, they’re up from 10% each to 11%. Well… that not bad they all say. I mean that’s an extra 10% onto their income. Onwards! De-platform and banish.
Of course, that rests on the assumption that their customers will simply replace them with one of the nine.
Which I think we all know isn’t happening. “Oh, I can’t buy Kratman. I’ll just try this Hurley.” I’m SURE…
What has of course begun to happen is that some of those they’ve attacked and marginalized… have gone on the counter-attack. Done exactly what the left has done. Become open about their politics, and attacked the left. Think about it.
The nine left wing authors HAD 10% each. They thought they’d get rid of the one out of ten who was not left wing – which might have given them 11%.
The one they ostracized is not going to get ANY of the 26% of left wing part of the demographic. Oh woe is him. He should have been silent! Which is what ChinaMike (TM) was lecturing him about: his folly.
And even ten years ago, that would have been folly. Like or loathe John Norman, he was a massive success: until the Traditional Publishing industry decided that he had to go. They killed his career. He was far from the only one. If your politics or even other views disagreed with your publisher and his coterie of hangers on… you shut up. Not for fear of losing your share of audience, but for fear of losing access, losing your career, losing everything.
Well, we all know that changed with Indy, or at least partially. The same group still effectively control access to brick-and-mortar display space and most of the influential sf review sites and most awards. They can’t stop you being available to be read. At most they can limit your visibility. And a lack visibility is of course the single largest obstacle to an author’s success – even before this practice came along.
So would shutting up have helped there?
Um. No. Not unless you were prepared to go a lot further than ‘shutting up’ – You’d need to kiss up so hard you could bite off their tonsils from the inside… because there are nine out of ten other trad authors fighting for that same spot. Playing as many victim-group cards (why someone in an apparently heterosexual ‘housewife’ situation raising a child is loudly ‘gender-queer’ – think about how that plays out with any child’s schooling and growing up) as possible, seeing who can condemn their publisher’s foes and political dislikes fastest and loudest… If you’re up for that, despite not actually sharing these positions, you could be the darling of the month to their shrinking share of the pie. Of course, you’d be pretty well anathema to anyone outside their 26% – and lose that too if the mask slipped.
Take our one out of ten ‘non-left’ author. He had a 10% share… if he was lucky… in practice, he probably wasn’t. But as an Indy there’s the 36% of the demographic that are right wing readers and 37% Independents. They just need to know he exists – and the established channels aren’t going to support or promote him.
So what is the author in this circumstance to do? Logically… vocally hew into the Left. After the relentless kicking they’ve had for years, Many of the right LIKE hearing him hew into the Left, and a fair amount of the Center… don’t mind. After all, these are people that attacked them. And, quite frankly, if the Left responds with their normal vitriolic invective and attempts to smother and destroy… That’s the best advertising and endorsement he’ll ever get – because these people have been obnoxious jack-asses (cue the entire puppykicker brigade) there are a lot of people who will support anyone these people attack. A lot MORE than the 10% share he might have had.
Meanwhile, the other nine out of ten authors get very angry and vocal attacking not just him but everyone who doesn’t identify with their politics.
And, as a result, the other nine out every ten… stand to lose access to at least 50% of the market.
If they’re lucky their share goes like this.
5.5% of the market each. If they really push hard… and alienate everyone but their sector of the political demographic… they’re down to 2.8%.
And the other one in ten is left with no competition for 36-74% of the market. So potentially up nearly 30 times the income of any one of the remaining ‘left’ authors. I can see good reason for any non-left author to encourage the most rabid and abusive behavior possible from the establishment, and they’re obliging him eagerly.
I imagine he’ll rapidly find many joining him, but it’s a much better share of that pie than he had. On the other hand for a loud left wing author – IF you are reliant on this income (not, as many of them are supported by a trust fund, or second job or a partner earning a viable income, or begging on Patreon (as so many of the noisy and aggressive ones are)) – you stand to lose between half and three quarters of your income, by dividing the market and alienating readers of different politics. Because the traditional publishing market skews so hard left that most of the entrants fit there, the share of the pie in a politically divisive arena will destroy many of their careers.
More than that, it will seriously damage a lot of publishers’ income, and their ability to publish books which are politically close to their hearts.
So: in fact the sensible advice goes in the inverse of that being given. Being silent will not give you access to the 26%’s market share, that’s already being squabbled over by a huge group, trying to prove themselves more woke than thou.
Yes, if you reveal yourself to be in the slightest out of line of the established US left wing doctrine, in fact don’t cheer-lead loudly enough, Traditional Publishing and their friends and camp-followers will attack and belittle you, and do their level best to deny you an audience. The good news is that is fairly limited to their remaining – and shrinking — audience. Some of those, of course, are still people who haven’t worked out what is going on, and would enjoy your book. The other good news is their hatred-spew is more likely to actually find you some audience – potentially a very large one, bigger than theirs.
On the other hand if you’re a left-leaning author trying to make a living at this (and there are still some good ones, despite the effect of playing the game on the easiest setting for a few decades not weeding the field well) and you’re doing Indy books… Now is the time to button your lip. Yes, that will effectively exclude you from about a quarter of the market who share your views. Yes, it’s not something you have ever had to do. But you have a simple choice: Either ¼ of the demographic pie, competing with almost all of the traditional authors, or ¾ competing with a handful. There are probably a fair number of individuals and sites you would be wise to distance yourself from. Your decision, and yes, it would be nice if we’d go back to judging writers’ work on its merit, not the person or their politics.
But I don’t see that happening. The genie is not going back in the bottle much as the US Left longs for things to go back to their ‘good old days’. Funny isn’t it? They’re very ‘conservative’ and really loathe this ‘progress’.