I’m not a fan of identity politics. I won’t play that game. When I’m asked to submit work as a ‘woman writer’ I’m more likely to walk away silently. Either I’m a writer, or not. The fact that I’m female has absolutely nothing to do with it, and I refuse to be given a stepstool that metaphorically lifts me up to the level of other, male, writers. No. Which, I imagine, is how some of my friends who are being identified as ‘minorities’ feel about being identified as such coupled with their writing. But I’ve spent enough time hanging out with Sarah Hoyt (who does not consider herself Hispanic, the American government does) and Larry Corriea to know that they have rolled their eyes and made a joke out of it. So it didn’t surprise me when Jason Cordova brought it up, gently mocking himself as the second-best Hispanic author in SFF, that both Sarah and Jason would egg me on to create a list. It’s what I do, after all, I make lists. When I’m not being all womanish, that is. Read more
Posts tagged ‘message fiction’
The First Reader and I share a kindle account. We’ve talked about separating it out, but we do enjoy many of the same books, and so we haven’t made the effort. This has led to a couple of problems, though. He never knows if a book is a library book, a KU read, or what… and he’s been partway through reading a book when it vanished. The other problem is that I’ll buy or borrow books for many reasons, not always because it’s a book I’m looking forward to reading. Sometimes, it’s sheer morbid curiosity. Read more
This is a perennial author concern. Will what I am writing sell? Will lots of people want it? How do I know what the market wants?
One of the fantastic things about writing Indie is that you are freed from strictly writing to Market. In theory, there are readers for everything out there. It’s just… Can you find them? As an independent, you have the freedom to publish and look. To test the market. Traditionally published? Not so much. There you are at the mercy of what the marketing gurus hired by a massive company are telling that company. Or, from a small-press publisher, no research, just riding coat-tails. I’m unkind – there are small presses that set up niche markets. And there is Baen, who carved out a market from the ashes of science fiction after message fiction burned it down.
We here at the Mad Genius Club tend to be a bit insulated from the traditional writing world. Other than the Passive Voice and Kathryn Kristine Rusch’s business blog, I rarely look at other writing advice outlets. For good reason.
Their view of writing is, well…
The author of this article describes what the interior of a magazine written by writers, for writers, looks like. I think the readers here will find it a stark contrast to the general good humor and helpfulness of the MGC. “Whyman said, “I had a lot of questions in my mind about what would happen to fiction and how we would go on working. Does it really matter now?” Luckily we don’t have to wait to find out. Seltzer informs us that Whyman launched a new international online journal “intended to foster artistic expression in the face of political repression and fear.”
Which brings me to the other problem I have with so many writing advice outlets. Their view of writing is:
In the article I linked above, a flood of writing workshops, conferences, retreats, contests (pay to play, natch), and MFA programs are offered. Boy and girls, ladies and gentlemen, ants and squirrels… These are little more than elaborate marketing ploys (autocorrect, ploy is SO a word!). But not to help you market your work – unless of course you intend to sell your work to other writers who are desperately trying to be the next big thing – no, in this case to market TO you, the writer. And can you blame them? Their too-precious lit-fic doesn’t sell, so they have to afford their lattes and avocado toast somehow. But you do not have to buy into their world of desperation.
Here in this blog we bring you daily articles about writing, marketing, nitty-gritty how-to articles about formatting and covers and more. Rather than the magazine he references at 9.95 a year (such a bargain, darling! Oops, let me wipe up that sarcasm I dripped) we’re always free. And we answer comments, we write posts in response to specific questions… Heck, we ask you all what you want help with, we don’t assume you’re angsting over some political polemic and needing encouraging to keep writing. Real writers don’t need coddling. You can’t help writing: it oozes out from every pore. Except on the days you get blocked. We’re not perfect, we Mad Geniuses. In fact, you might say we are insanely optimistic.
I can live with that. My market doesn’t consist of the literary darlings who buy writing magazines anxious for reassurance that the Resistance will go on. Resisting against what, I’m not sure. Lack of sales? Because my market is real people who read real books. So I can afford to take an hour a week writing a free blog post helping other writers out, and more time answering comments.
Write to your market: readers. Don’t abuse them, and they will come back for more. Amuse them, delight them, make them connect with your characters and cry. Arrest their attention with your cover, hook them into opening the book with your blurb, and they will read. Further, they will tell friends and family and even strangers about your book… That’s marketing of the finest kind.
First off, I have to give a hat tip to Jason Cordova for this topic. On his FB page today, he commented that he was tired of all the stories where “the US is a fractured dystopia. You know what I want to see? A fractured dystopian world in which the last guardians of the gate is the US.” This started a discussion where another poster commented that his daughter had complained not long ago about YA novels where the protagonist is a teen girl whose parents are either dead or abusive. According to the commenter, his daughter wanted to read stories where the parents were normal and supportive. All that got me to thinking about what I want to read — not to mention write — and what I heard from my son when he was in school about the books he’d been required to read.
Which brings it all around to the issue of whether our kids read more or less than we do and why.
Let me start by saying I agree completely with Jason about wanting to see something than the US in ruins. All you have to do is look at who the gatekeepers are in traditional publishing (mainly the Big 5) right now to understand why they love this sort of book. Hell, all you have to do is look at their social media accounts to see that they believe the US is already on an irreversible course to total destruction. They scream and yell and cry at the mere mention of Trump’s name. You can wander over to the Tor site and find a post about how they simply don’t know what to imagine now because, you guessed it, Trump.
These are the same gatekeepers who have made it almost impossible to be published by the Big 5 and the smaller publishers following their lead if you don’t have the appropriate checklist of character traits in your novel. These are the ones, especially in science fiction and fantasy, who have taken the fun out of reading. And, no, this is not a screed against message fiction. You can have a message and still make it entertaining. You can have literary fiction and have it be engaging and entertaining. It doesn’t have to preach to the point of becoming boring and abrasive.
There is a reason if you look at the best seller lists on Amazon for e-books, you see as many, if not more, indie books there as you do trad published.
So, what do I want to read? I want t read a story that engages my imagination. I want to be entertained. Sure, I read more than my fair share of non-fiction and I enjoy it. But, for fiction, I’m not reading to be depressed or lectured to. I’m reading to be entertained, to escape the pressures of every day life. I want to see characters who are challenged and who do everything they can to overcome that challenge. No, they don’t have to always prevail. Life isn’t like that. Very little will turn me off of an author quicker than every protagonist turning into a Mary Sue.
Every character doesn’t have to agree with my personal religious or political beliefs. Life doesn’t work that way and neither should fiction. I want to see boundaries pushed, but not in a way that it breaks the world or throws me out of the book. If I’m reading alternate history, I expect the author to have a working knowledge of the historical era and location he is writing about. Alternate doesn’t mean throwing everything out and starting over. It means taking something that happened and changing it. The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, is a prime example. The Axis won World War II and he goes from there. As you read the story, however, you know he had a feel for the real historical events behind his new world.
Getting back to the original comment that prompted this post, I believe we see so many books coming from traditional publishers where the US has fallen because that is what they want. That is especially true right now. Don’t believe me? Go check out the social media accounts of some of those sitting in the ivory towers of publishing and see what they are posting. I don’t know about your feed, but mine shows more political posts coming from them than news about books or the authors they work with. It’s sad really and, were I one of the authors they worked with, it would piss me off . Why? Because they are turning away readers, not necessarily because of their politics (although that is open for debate) but because they aren’t promoting my work.
As for the daughter’s comment that she would like to see a YA book with a female protagonist with normal, supportive parents, I remember my son saying much the same when he was in junior high and high school. Teachers wondered why students in his class didn’t finish their summer reading list when the books on it were about drug and sex abuse, mental illness, homelessness, poverty and the like. I can’t remember a single summer reading list where there was a book on it that could even remotely be termed entertaining. Instead, the books were chosen by committee to make sure the students learned about all the bad things in society.
Oh, and the books had to meet a vocabulary requirement as well. On the surface, that might look good but it wasn’t. This wasn’t so much an attempt to challenge students by giving them vocabulary that would expand their linguistic skills. Instead, they wanted to make sure the books weren’t too “challenging”. After all, they mustn’t have little Susie or Johnny running to Mom or Dad to ask what a word meant or, worse, looking it up for themselves.
Worse, the subject matter wasn’t always appropriate to the age group. Yes, rape exists and victims come in all ages. However, to assign a book to a kid going into the fifth grade that includes a graphic attempted rape scene is not acceptable. Yet they did and the teacher couldn’t understand why I had an issue with it. After all, no other parent complained. Which wasn’t exactly the truth. I just happened to have been the first because I was at the school waiting to complain the moment the teachers reported before school started for the new year.
And they wondered why kids weren’t reading.
They weren’t reading because the books didn’t speak to them. They didn’t grab their attention and entertain. It is all too easy to put a book down and walk away from it if you aren’t pulled in by the story. If the story bores you or turns you off, it is more than tempting to simply never return to the book. THAT is why our kids don’t read what so many public schools want them to. When school administrations — and, more importantly, the politicians who think they know more about education than the professionals (and yes, I know that’s an oxymoron) — realize a kid can learn more from reading Pratchett than he can from being forced to read a book that is torture to get through, they will see an increase in the number of books read, in reading levels and in vocabulary.
There is nothing wrong with reading for information or to learn. Non-fiction is necessary, at least for my reading needs. But not everyone loves, or even likes, literary fiction. Not everyone wants to read to be depressed. There are other ways of getting those lessons across. It is time we as parents, as adults, as educators and writers, understood one simple truth: if we don’t keep our readers’ attention, if we don’t make them want to continue reading, they will put the book down and walk away. So instead of asking what “lesson” we want to teach with a book and then figuring out a bare minimum plot to go around the sermon, we need to figure out how to build a rich and engaging plot where the “lesson” can be woven in subtly and in such a way we get the point across without resorting to the literary equivalent of a 2X4.
There’s a tightrope every author walks these days, whether they admit it or not. It’s not new. It is probably as old as that first storyteller sitting around the fire entertaining the family or tribe. It is that line between entertainment and message and how much of one spoils the other. It is an issue that has taken on a life of its own of late as some people tell us we have to have a checklist of characters in our work so that everyone who might read it feels included. Others tell us that if you aren’t of the same sex/race/gender identification/whatever as your main characters, you can’t write the story. Then some tell us we shouldn’t read an entire group of authors — for a year or forever — because they are male or for some other reason.
But, as I said, that’s nothing new. It has just taken on a life of its own in this day of instant communication. The internet has given us all a voice and some are more circumspect about what they say, where they say it and how it might impact not only those they are attacking but others as well.
The result of this is that the balance pole writers used to have as they crossed the crevice on the tightrope has been removed. We are being forced to do our best Wallenda Family imitation and, I’ll tell you here and now, it isn’t easy and there are times when you ask yourself if it is worth it. Fortunately, for myself at least, when I get to that point, someone shows up with a PM on Facebook or through email to ask when my next book is coming out because they enjoy my work.
And yet the uncertainty lingers.
I ran into this tightrope without knowing it when I wrote Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1). I found some of those who read the book, a very small minority, had issues with it because the main character. Not because Ashlyn Shaw was a Marine. Not even because she was female but because she was a female Marine in battle. These readers’ concerns would have had merit if the book was set today and on this planet. But the novel is set far away from Earth and at a time in the distant future. Powered battle armor assists every Marine, as do implants that enhance the Marines. But all they saw was a woman in combat and they instantly thought I was trying to signal some sort of message.
I wasn’t. Far from it, in fact. I was simply writing the story that had come to me. Fortunately, when I spoke with those who had the issue about the differences between combat now and in the book, most admitted they had not thought about the differences between combat now and combat in the future. With that in mind, they reconsidered their objections to the book.
This isn’t the fault of readers. At least not as far as I’m concerned. It is the fault of certain publishers and authors who have decided it is their job to educate the reading public by hitting them over the head with message instead of subtly weaving their message into the story. As an author, we shouldn’t have to worry about successfully completing the checklist of characters and issues covered in our books for those books to be considered readable. Yes, we can do all that and make certain people in our industry happy but, if the book doesn’t entertain, what’s the point? A boring book, a book that makes readers feel they are being lectured to, won’t sell. As an indie author, that is the curse of death. As a traditionally published author, it might take a bit longer but, sooner or later, the publisher will cut you loose because you aren’t making them money.
The fallout is that now readers flinch at the first sign of what might be a message, whether it is or not. That is a shame because they see what looks like a signal from the author and quit reading right there. How many good books are missed as a result?
Is such a response reasonable? I don’t know. I know I’ve been guilty of it and have realized it only after others I respect and who share a similar taste in reading to me have said I really needed to give a book a second chance. When I have, I’ve realized I did the author a disservice by not reading further to see if what I thought was a trigger was merely a plot device or, in one particular case, a red herring.
In another, I initially put the book down because I did think it was pushing a Feminist agenda. Then others I know read it and started talking about it in ways that made me wonder if I had misjudged. So I went back day before yesterday and started reading it again. When I did, I fully expected to react exactly as I had the first time. To my surprise, I didn’t. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe I was in a different head space than I had been the first time I tried. Maybe it was because I wasn’t in the middle of trying to write a book. Whatever it was, as I read, I knew I had been wrong.
The book wasn’t promoting some Feminist agenda. It wasn’t a “sisters, we must unite against the evil men” sort of book. It was, in fact, a Regency in space.
Oh, I can see how some people could think differently because, at first glance, I did as well. But all this book actually did was take the same basic plot elements we have seen time and time again — and there is nothing wrong with that because there are no new plots. What is new is how the author deals with those point — and switched the sexes out. It isn’t the first time it has been done, nor will it be the last.
If the book at been about the male spacer who had been estranged from his family for years being called home by the dowager mother to do his duty and rescue the ditzy younger sister who had wound up getting herself kidnapped, I wouldn’t have blinked twice the first time I tried to read the book. After all, I’ve read that sort of plot time and time and time again. But this time, it was the daughter who was the spacer and estranged from her family. Her proud father — is he sexist? Probably, but he read more as someone used to being in control and now isn’t and he is reacting badly to his new situation. — calls her home and has to admit, much to his chagrin, that her brother is not only a fool but has managed to get himself kidnapped and now daddy dearest needs the renegade daughter to do her duty to her family and try to rescue her brother.
Same plot, just different genders.
And, again, not new.
It is just that, in this day and age when we are being hit over the head with message fiction and being told we need it so we will learn to be better people, a lot of readers are gun shy. They see something that might not be there simply because they have been hit in the head too many times. As I said, I’ve been guilty of it. Now I need to remember what that feels like as a writer and try to give the author a chance, especially if that author is being published by a house I trust.
I’ve been thinking about this a great deal the last 24 hours or so. How do we avoid this pitfall some in traditional publishing have put in our path? I’m not sure. All I do know is I have to remember that it is a tightrope but there is solid land on the other side of crevice and I can and will make it there. So, too, will I as a reader. I just have to step carefully, keep my eyes and ears open and remember not to close my mind.
And hope a great big gust of wind doesn’t come along and blow me off.
To help anchor against that wind, I will keep writing and, sigh, keep promoting my work. Yes, sigh. I suck at the self-promotion bit. But Sarah and the others tell me I have to do it so, here it is.
Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) is currently available for pre-order. Publication date is April 18th.
War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.
Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.
The one thing Lt. Mackenzie Santos had always been able to count on was the law. But that was before she started turning furry. Now she finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy to keep the truth from the public-at-large. She knows they aren’t ready to learn that monsters are real and they might be living next door.
If that isn’t enough, trouble is brewing among the shapeshifters. The power struggle has already resulted in the kidnapping and near fatal injury of several of Mac’s closest friends. She is now in the middle of what could quickly turn into a civil war, one that would be disastrous for all of them.
What she wouldn’t give to have a simple murder case to investigate and a life that didn’t include people who wanted nothing more than to add her death to the many they were already responsible for.
For a change of pace, if you enjoy a little bit of romance with your suspense, or a little bit of suspense with your romance, check it outSlay Bells Ring.
Fifteen years ago, Juliana Grissom left Mossy Creek in her rear view mirror. She swore then she would never return for more than a day or two at a time. But even the best laid plans can go awry, something she knew all too well, especially when her family was involved.
Now she’s back and her family expects her to find some way to clear her mother of murder charges. Complicating her life even further is Sam Caldwell, the man she never got over. Now it seems everyone in town is determined to find a way to keep her there, whether she wants to stay or not.
Bodies are dropping. Gossip is flying and Juliana knows time is running out. After all, holidays can be murder in Mossy Creek.
That’s the way I have started to think all too many in the publishing world look at what’s going on around them. I’m not talking about only those who work for the Big 5 Publishers. I have to include a number of authors, agents and members of fandom with a capital F. From e-book pricing to indie publishing to who is a “real” fan and what does that mean, the publishing industry is starting to remind me of those family reunions that always, ALWAYS ended with Uncle Billy trying to punch out Cousin David while someone else was trying to put the moves on someone definitely not the one they come with, if you get what I mean.
Frankly, if it weren’t so funny, it would be embarrassing. No, let me rephrase that. As a writer looking at what is going on, it’s funny because anyone with an ounce of business sense and common sense can see that what the Big 5 Publishers are doing with e-book prices is costing them and their authors money. We can look at what they say about declining e-book sales and know they are not giving us the whole picture. They still think authors are naive enough to believe that BookScan numbers are accurate representations of their sales figures. They still think authors are foolish enough to believe that most of their sales come from bookstores. Now, some authors do still believe that but even they are slowly coming to the realization that something smells and it isn’t Cousin Billy fresh in from the pig pen.
You have folks like Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin Random House UK , saying things like, “One of the biggest challenges in 2016 will be e-book pricing: how do we maintain the value perception of our quality content and maximise revenues across all formats for both authors and publishers?”
Gee, do you think they are finally starting to realize that most readers are not going to pay hard cover prices for an e-book that the publisher says they don’t own? Yep, you read that right. Publishers do not want you to own that e-book you just paid $13.99 for. You are buying a license. (Oh, and the Amazon haters have put out yet another article about how Amazon says you don’t own those e-books you buy from it. Guess what, boys and girls, Amazon doesn’t decide whether you do or not. The publisher does.) But guess what else? Digital licensing isn’t anything new. Software developers have been using that basic business model for years. It is couched in slightly different terms but it is still there. You buy a license for that software or digital game, no the software or game itself.
And folks wonder why we hate DRM and so many people find ways to crack it.
Charlie Redmayne, CEO for HarperCollins UK, had this to say, “We should expect business models and publishing mind-sets to further adapt and change in 2016. Amazon’s growth into new business models such as Kindle Unlimited will continue apace and it will push even harder to put its publishing and new businesses front and centre, often to the exclusion of traditional publishers’ books.”
Gee, I hope the publishers are going to further adapt and change in 2016. If so, they might actually make it into the 1990s mindset. Let’s face it, the Big 5 has been operating on an outmoded business model for years, decades even. It has failed to adapt not only to the digital age but to the adopt technology that would better serve authors and publishers alike. There is absolutely no reason the industry should still be relying on a company that counts sales the same way it counts TV viewership. You count what happens in certain percentage of stores (or homes) and then use handwavium to determine the amount of books sold. In this day and age of inventory control, RFID technology, etc., that is inexcusable.
Funny thing is, I have yet to see any sort of push back from agents marketing their clients’ work to publishers to get away from this way of thinking. Instead of demanding accounting of sales by their clients, they do their best to convince their clients not to rock the boat. It is almost as if those agents who do so have forgotten who they work for.
Then there are those who want to tell authors what to write. Yes, yes, this could quickly become a Sad Puppy post and, in a way, I guess it is. But let me start from the reader’s point of view. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a book in my hand (not literally but you get my meaning). My parents were avid readers and made sure they instilled a love of reading in me as well. Even though they both worked full-time jobs, they made sure every night that there was time for us to read together. It wasn’t just bedtime stories. They would read me other books during the evening and, more importantly, they talked with me about what they were reading for their own enjoyment or education.
When I was old enough to read on my own, we would still have that time in the evening where everyone sat in the den reading and discussing. I was encouraged to stretch my reading, not just my reading skills but my areas of interest. We went to the library and we bought books. Reading was a way of life for us and one I still cherish to this day.
As a reader, I read for entertainment most often these days but there are times when I read to either research something for a project I’m working on or for education because even though my school days were a long time ago, I still love to learn. I will admit there are a few authors whose books I read simply because of who the author is. Yep, I’ll admit it. I have some favorite authors. Unfortunately, thanks to the way the Big 5 have mishandled their mid-list authors, that number isn’t nearly as large as it used to be.
However, and this will surprise a lot of the other side, most of the time I pick up a book to read based on the blurb and the preview. Yes, I’m one of those infidels who read primarily e-books these days. But more on that later, probably in another post. Anyway, back to the blurb and sample. That means you, the author, have a very short amount of space to grab my attention and convince me to read your book. What I’m looking for is the hook, writing style, formatting and whether or not there is enough there to give me a feel for what the book is going to be about. No, you don’t need to give me the entire plot in a few thousand words. But you do need to let me know its genre, basic conflict, etc.
If, on the other hand, you spend all that time world-building or preaching, your prose had better be damned good, good enough that you have painted a verbal picture I want to see more of. If it is a chore to read, I will pass on the book and look for something else. If the writing style is so stilted that it becomes hard to read, I will pass on the book. If I am reading fiction, I am reading to be entertained. Authors, you need to understand that most readers are as well.
Does that mean you can’t have a message in your work? Hell, no. Frankly, fiction with a subtle message woven through it is best, in my opinion. I want something that will make me think when I finish the book. Those are the books that will make me likely to recommend them to a friend. Why? Because I remember them. I read enough bubble gum fiction where the characters are interchangeable from one book to the next by that author and nothing really stands out. So put that message in but make it subtle. Your readers — and your pocketbook — will thank you.
Oh, I know there will be those at a certain site who will tear me apart for what I said. Not only because I suggested that the message be subtle but also because I dared to mention the bottom line. I won’t apologize for being a realist. I’m a working writer. I write because I enjoy it but also because it is my job. I have to make money or I can’t write. I would have to go out and get a job. Unlike a certain self-anointed critic who is supposedly writing his magnum opus on the government’s dime, I am doing my best to put out work the reading public wants to read. That means I have to pay attention to what sells and what doesn’t and why.
But guess what? Just because a book makes money, that doesn’t mean it isn’t “good”. That’s something a vocal few seem to forget. They think the author needs to suffer for his art. Sorry, I’m not a masochist. I like to eat and have a roof over my head. Of course, that capitalistic streak in me also puts me on the wrong side of the political spectrum as far as some folks are concerned.
So, I’ve made the transition from what I want as a reader to what I want as a writer. Funny how those two seem to dovetail with one another. Anyway. . . .
I am going to write what the story calls for. It is that simple. Will there be a message in my work? Probably. There almost always is. I simply try not to hit the reader over the head with it. I want the reader to enjoy my work first and foremost. Why? Because they will recommend it to their friends and family and be more likely to buy my next book. Then I want them to think about what I wrote. Again, if they do, they will remember it and talk about it and recommend it. Do I care if it fits the message du jour? Nope. In fact, I don’t want it to dovetail with the current message, whatever it might be. Why? Because the current social, economic or political trend will change with the wind. If I am going to spend months writing a book, I want it to be read for more than a few months or a year or two. Were I to make the message too pointed and pin it too tightly to whatever the current “cause” happens to be, I am going to artificially age the book even before it is published.
As for being a fan, well, I’ve been told — as have so many of my friends and fellow authors — that we aren’t real fans. At least we aren’t fans with a capital F because we don’t go to the right cons or serve on the right committees. How sad. I guess all those books I’ve read over the years, all the movies I’ve watched and all the times I’ve promoted science fiction and fantasy don’t really count. It doesn’t matter that I’ve gone to other cons — those not deemed as important as others — or that I’ve pointed so many others to the genre. I am still standing on the outside looking in because I haven’t been one of the cool kids.
Well guess what? The cool kids proved at the Hugos this past year that they were the mean kids. They all thought they were being so funny and subtle with their asterisks. They continue to slap themselves on their backs and congratulate one another for keeping the riffraff out of the awards. Not once, to the best of my knowledge, have they stopped and looked at what they really did. I’m not talking about Vox. I’m not talking about the slander and libel committed against Larry and Brad. I’m talking about the impression they made on the readers. Readers who didn’t realize they could nominate and vote for Hugos as long as they paid the money to do so. Readers who suddenly felt themselves attacked because they nominated books they enjoyed. Way to go, folks. Good business sense there.
Not that they care any more than the Big 5 care about finding a real solution to their e-book problem. They will continue to look at the world through their fog-colored glasses, chanting that they are right and we are wrong and lalalalala. Maybe if they do it long enough, they will really come to believe it. Oh, wait, they do believe it and that is what’s really sad. For me, I’m going back to writing books that I hope entertain my readers and I will smile all the way to the bank, evil capitalist that I am.
Hear, O fellow authors, and consider this. Writing is not a competition. There is not a scarcity of readers, and although there has been for lo, these many years an artificial scarcity of of reading material, that drought is coming to an end with the Age of Indie. So why do we hear fearsome cries from certain throats, proclaiming that those who are elders in the field should step aside and let them in?
The young person who has been most noticed for this recently (although it is not a new lament), has apologized. “Shepherd apologised for upsetting writers and readers alike, explaining that she had “only ever meant to raise the issue of how hard it is for new writers to get noticed and how publishing is much more of a zero sum game than people often think” However, it remains that she thinks publishing is a zero sum game.
I had to look that up. I’d heard it before, of course, and from context knew more or less what it meant, but for the writing of this article, I needed to research, to make certain that what I was saying was accurate. So, here: “The theory of von Neumann and Morgenstern is most complete for the class of games called two-person zero-sum games, i.e. games with only two players in which one player wins what the other player loses.” However, this is palpably inaccurate when it comes to writing. There are far more than two players involved, and the success of one writer does not predicate the loss of another.
By the success of JK Rowling, there are more readers, rather, for us the authorial sort to lure into reading of our books. What we must do to win is not to shove aside those who have succeeded, demanding our turn in the game, but to write engaging books readers will not only read themselves, but recommend enthusiastically to others. You will note I have removed the publisher from this equation. At one time, there was a bottleneck, for the publisher can only afford to publish so many titles, and to promote so many (a fraction of those they do publish) authors. That bottleneck is breaking open, and as independent authors our reach is spreading. My books, published by the very small imprint that they are, can be ordered from any bookstore, and when I look online, they are available at least in webstores of the largest book retailers.
In order to win this game we play, it’s not the other writers we need to defeat, it is ourselves. For fear of rejection, for laziness in not wanting to promote and market one’s own book, for lack of confidence in getting the best cover and editing we can, we shoot ourselves in the foot, and do not succeed. I venture to say that the Shepherd person has not succeeded because of Rowling’s success, but her own shortcomings. Like a child in a game, she has pitched aside the board, and now pouts petulantly, blaming her loss not on her own lack of skill, but her opponent.
The readers are out there, I say again. Writers, if you can offer them a good product in the form of a story with meat on its bones, with engaging characters, well-constructed plot, and emotional appeal, you will win. If your story is not selling, or selling too slowly for your tastes, inspect the product you are offering, and ask yourself questions.
The oft-discussed post demanding “I want an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories.” is an excellent example of another writer who feels that it is failing in a field do to discrimination against itself. In this case, not by another writer, although certainly it seems to feel it is hard-done by those who view its views as odd. No, it wants more stories with its viewpoint in them. Lovely, dear. Go write them. If they sell, wonderful! If not, do not go around moaning that you are being discriminated against because you are an it/she/alienbeing. Again, that is not how the game is played. Appeal to the readers, and you have won. Make them yawn, or repel them, and you lose.
When I started mulling this post over in my head, waiting for it to gel and be ready, someone mentioned the calls for Stephen King to retire. I went to look as part of my research, and found that rather than calling for him to step aside and let other writers in, the cry seemed to be that his writing had gone downhill, and he should stop. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to have made a dent in Mr. King’s presence, as this took place over a decade ago, and I believe (I don’t personally read him, but as a librarian was very aware of how much shelf space he occupied, and how many requests we had for his books) that he has another book coming out this year. You see, no matter what the critics think, it is the readers who matter. They are the ones who buy the books, and that is what wins the game.
Readers win, with good books they want to read, and authors win, with sales. Publishers who care about giving the readers what they want (coffBaencoff) win, and publishers who care only about pushing their agenda (see blog address for ‘it’ above) lose. Zero sum? No, more like exponential growth, and I don’t see a limiting factor, yet… Want to feel like you are winning? write more!