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Posts tagged ‘Star Wars’

What is . . . .

Last night, I was talking with Kate and some of our regular MGC readers about what I should write about today. We discussed several different possibilities but we kept coming back to a single topic and I signed off the internet, satisfied that I had my topic for this post. I finished editing the chapter I’d been working on and went to bed, knowing I’d be up early enough this morning to write the post. Then morning rolled around and after having a dearth of ideas last night, I find myself hit over the head with several new ones this morning thanks to a quick look at Facebook.

The first is thanks to our own Brad Torgersen. He linked to this article from Barnes & Noble about books publishers and editors want us to read in 2016. Brad’s question relating to the article had to do with the covers for the books from Tor. Take a look at the covers. Do they signal science fiction or fantasy to you? To me, they don’t. Two of them “read” literary. One reads as possible horror and the third has a simple contemporary fiction feel to it.

What struck me about the article even more than the covers was how different the editors from Tor described their recommendations when compared to the other recommendations on the list. Of the seven books on the list, the Tor editors start three of their blurbs with mentions of the awards the author has been nominated for or has won. One then goes on to talk about the “decorative blurbs” from other authors — before discussing what the book is about. Another starts with “For the discerning speculative reader and mainstream fantasy dabbler”. Huh? Again, this is before discussing the plot of the book in question.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but if someone is recommending a book to me, I want to know what the book is about and what genre it happens to be before knowing if the author is award-winning, etc. When I see things like “discerning speculative reader”, my first inclination is to move past that book unless I’m in the mood for something literary. I have nothing against literary fiction. I enjoy reading it from time to time. But it is only one part of my reading and even it needs to entertain me. This is something so many people seem to have forgotten. Literary doesn’t have to be boring. It can be thought-provoking even as it entertains. It can have a message — heck, any fiction can — without preaching. Most of us read for entertainment and for publishers to continue to survive, they need to remember that and quit thinking that those who are buying they books give one flip for how many awards the author has been nominated for.

Then came this article about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. No, this isn’t another opening salvo in whether Rey is a Mary Sue character or not. We can continue to debate that if you want on Saturday’s post. Actually, the article itself wasn’t so much what drew my attention as some of the comments I saw associated with it. I don’t remember who showed up on my FB feed with a link to the post but what made me follow through to it was their assertion that the problem with the movie was that, while entertaining, it didn’t go far enough to make us think. You see, it’s not enough to cast a female in the lead role or to have a person of color as a secondary lead. It wasn’t deep enough, intellectual enough. Apparently, it isn’t enough to have an entertaining movie any longer. It seems that is “dumbing down” our country.

What strikes me by comments like this is that those making them comes off not only as an intellectual snob (and I don’t doubt that most of us here at MGC have more letters after our names than many of these commenters) but they also suggest entertainment is not a good thing. This has been and still is one of the basic differences between the Sad Puppy supporters (I can’t and won’t talk for Vox and his supporters) and the Puppy-kickers. Despite what has been said by the other side, Sad Puppies are not against fiction having a message. We just want it to entertain us as it makes us think. If we — or any other reader — gets bored, we aren’t going to continue reading (or watching). But entertain us, subtly wrap your message in with your plot and character development and we will think about it, talk about it and enjoy it. And isn’t that what we, as authors, want? Don’t we want people to be entertained by our work, to think about it and talk about it?

Finally, we get to the topic that I was going to focus on when I sent to bed last night.

In one of the groups I belong to, someone posted a link to this article. Even though the headline for the post is “The Main Difference Between Urban Fantasy and Horror”, the actual thrust of the article is about the difference between the protagonist in UF vs Horror. According to the article, the difference is simple. An UF protagonist takes the supernatural in stride while the Horror protagonist doesn’t know how to react.

Urban fantasy characters generally take vampires and zombies in stride and react as competently as the reader would like to think they would do in similar straits.

Horror characters, on the hand, tend to freak out, panic, doubt their sanity, make unwise decisions,, or even descend into gibbering madness—which is probably the more realistic approach!

I happen to agree with the above explanation. In Urban Fantasy, the fantastic is part of the world and is usually known to the mundanes. Oh, the main character might not realize at the beginning of the story that the next door neighbor turns furry with the full moon or has a dietary need for hemoglobin but, once they get over their feelings of shock or betrayal, they accept it and move on. Why? Because that is the way the world of UF is built. Horror is different. For those characters, the supernatural is not a part of their world. It is something they might have read about or watched in the movies. But it wasn’t real — until it stood up and spat in their face.

(Now, I’m going to be vague here because the discussion took place in a private forum. I am not going to name names nor be specific about what was said. I ask that those who are members of that forum remember the rules and not be specific with your comments. Forum rules still apply.)

Horror strikes people differently. Some readers love it. Others can’t stand it. Some want to read it because it gives them an adrenaline rush. There are those who won’t read it for religious reasons. Others feel it is too depressing while some see it as glorifying the tenacity of the human spirit. Like any other genre, it has its fans and it haters.

However, one thing I will say is that any author writing good horror is anything but lazy. I can think of no other genre that requires more emotional manipulation of the reader than horror. The horror author has to pull the reader in, put his hand on the virtual heart of the reader and tug it, even as the other hand is wrapped around the reader’s throat, squeezing slowly and inexorably. The author has to create characters we want to see survive and win out over the supernatural threat, even as we hope at least one person gets eaten by the big bad.

Is horror depressing? It can be. But beyond that sense of helplessness the characters feel from time to time because they are so out of their depth, good horror includes the need to survive. There are often heroes who are willing to sacrifice themselves to save the others. As with any good fiction, you see the good and bad of humanity in the characters. This isn’t Buffy who suddenly learns she is the Chosen One sent to save the world. These are Everyday Joes and Janes thrust into a situation straight from their worst nightmares. Some will fall and fail. Some will go mad, unable to adapt and deal with what is happening to them. Some will prevail. Just as would happen in real life (at least I hope so).

So, is horror lazy writing? I don’t think so.

Is entertaining in a book or movie a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Is it necessary to make people think when reading your book or watching your movie? No, but if you can slip your message in in such a way that you make them think and still manage to entertain, cool.

Is it important to readers that authors are nominated or have won awards? Nope. Most readers don’t know what the Hugo or any other literary award is.

What is important to readers? In my opinion, a book that draws them in, keeps them entertained (if they are reading for entertainment) or holds their attention (if reading for any other reason) and if it makes them think too, all the better.

So, what do you think?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster-691x1024Yesterday saw a return to a tradition Mom and I hadn’t observed in some several years. No, not Christmas. For years, we would go see a movie after opening presents, having a huge meal and needing time to get out of the house and relax for a bit. Attendance varied from Mom, myself and my son to sometimes include several members of our extended family. For the last few years, real life seemed to keep us from our Christmas Day trek to the theater. Yesterday, that changed. Mom got the two of us tickets to see the new Star Wars movie at our local Movie Tavern and, much to my surprise, in 3-D.

Now, if you don’t want spoilers — and I am going to try to keep them to a bare minimum — don’t read any further. I won’t promise not to spill some of the plot simply because it is difficult to talk about how I felt about the movie without talking a few specifics.

I’ll start with the theater itself. Our local Movie Tavern is in its last throes in its current location. In a month or so, it will move to a newer, more modern location in the same shopping center. So some of the amenities at the theater are, well, a bit run down. But that didn’t take away from the excellent service and comfortable seats. Add to the fact we chose a time to see the movie when most folks were still doing their family Christmas lunch/brunch/whatever, and the theater was probably only 3/4 full. (Note: the line was already starting for the standard def showing an hour and a half after our showing.) Good food and brew was ordered and we settled back to watch the film.

I will admit I was a bit worried about seeing it in 3-D. It’s been years since I’ve been to a 3-D movie and all I remembered were the headaches and fuzzy images, even with the funky glasses. Whether we hit the right position in the theater or technology has improved or both, I left with neither the headache nor grousing about fuzzy images or the inability to focus where the action was. There were a couple of times when objects seemed to come into view from my peripheral vision, there were no real “oh crap!” moments.

As for the movie itself, I went in with little in the way of expectations. I hated the prequels. Anakin Skywalker was, in my opinion, a spoiled, whiny brat. Then there was the stiff acting and even stiffer dialog. The fun of the original trilogy had been lost. With it, a generation of possible fans were left with a big “meh” because they saw the prequels in the theater but the original trilogy only on their home TVs where much of the awe was lost.

All I wanted was for The Force Awakens to be better than the prequels. After all, that shouldn’t have been that difficult. I doubted it would come close to the original movies. I even told myself to act as though I had never seen any Star Wars movie, read any of the books or seen any of the other related media.

Maybe I was helped by the fact that I haven’t read a great deal in the Expanded Universe. So I wasn’t as invested in what came before, especially once Disney announced that the EU would no longer be canon. Maybe, as a writer, I realize that what is written often bears little resemblance to what winds up on screen. Still, I had stood in line to see Star Wars on its opening day. I did the same with Empire Strikes Back and with Return of the Jedi. So there is a bit of a fangirl in there that can’t be denied.

J. J. Abrams drew me in with the familiar. When the scroll started across the screen and the fanfare began, I settled back and waited, hoping not to be disappointed. I smiled when the first few scenes brought memories of the first movie. Oh, it’s not a remake but there are echoes there to be seen. That is part of what I liked. It gave it a sense of familiarity.

I loved seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca back together again, wise-cracking and growling and howling. Han was older and grayer and even more worn — as he should be. You know there is a backstory to the two of them, especially when it comes to the Millennium Falcon, and you want to know what it is (don’t fret. You’ll get at least part of it during the course of the movie.) Princess Leia, now General Leia Organa, wears her years and her worries on her face and in her posture. I have to give it to Carrie Fisher for not having major work done and the studio for not doing major Photoshopping to make her look 20 years younger. She looks the appropriate age for the time that has passed since Return of the Jedi.

It was interesting to know that not all stormtroopers are created the same. Finn’s backstory, as it unfolds and you have to listen carefully for it, gives some hints into the changes between what we last saw with Return of the Jedi and (gag) Revenge of the Sith. I’m curious to find out what else will be revealed in the subsequent movies.

Odd little things I noted as I watched the movie was that I saw more female pilots for the Resistance that I remember seeing before. There is one notable female stormtrooper — Captain Phasma. I have a feeling we may be seeing her again and our heroes will rue that day, should it come. She didn’t strike me as someone you’d want to piss off and, well, they did. Now, I’ll admit that I don’t sit in a movie trying to figure out if the casting director got the right proportion of sexes and races and whatever. However, it was nice to see a more representative mixture in some of the scenes because crowds should not be one-dimensional, especially in a future where we have so many different species and races, etc.

My one disappointment was, to be honest, the villian. Kylo Ren in a lot of ways reminded me of Anakin (yes, yes, I know. There is a reason — maybe, kind of, sort of. Nope, not going there.) He pitches fits any pouty, spoiled 13 year old would be proud of. That weakened him, in my opinion, especially since there were times when he could have given us more evil and didn’t. Of course, I know why some of this is (it’s revealed in the movie) and can guess other reasons. Still, that sense of evil we had from Darth Vader and the Emperor wasn’t quite there in the new movie.

My pleasant surprise was Rey. I’ll admit to being worried about her. From what I’d read, Rey is Daisy Ridley’s first major role. That is always something to worry me. How will a relative unknown handle the leading role in a movie such as this. I am pleased to say she didn’t disappoint. Is she a great actress? No. But she was much better at conveying her character than either of the leads in the prequels were. At least I felt that way.

Now, in case you’ve read the reviews and posts saying she is a Mary Sue, I can say this. Yes and no. Yes because things do happen that make it so she can prevail, in a way, at the end. But then, if you look at that sort of plot manipulation as Mary Sue-ing it, so was Luke Skywalker. However, a lot of the criticism falls short when you really look at the specifics. I’ve seen reviewers and bloggers complain because Rey knew how to pilot a certain ship when all she was was a junk collector. First, we have already seen her piloting a skimmer-type of vehicle. Second, when she and Finn are racing to a ship to make their escape, she says she is a pilot and then, when they get to the second ship you can see her fumbling and making guesses as to what to do. And, hey, if the world is blowing up around me, I’d find myself a ship and try my best to get off, even if I’d never flown anything like it before.

Then there is the criticism about how she was suddenly able to fight with a light saber. Those complaints claimed she was “proficient” with it and was, again, being a Mary Sue. Well, if you have ever trained with sword or staff, you would see how wrong their complaints were. Yes, she activated a light saber — but so had another character earlier, also someone who had not been trained in its use. Yes, she fought with the light saber and she did eventually win. However — and this is a big however — if you looked at her fighting style and compared it to earlier scenes in the movie where she was fighting with her staff, you would see that she fought with the light saber in much the same way as she had the staff. No proficiency and a lot of blundering and stumbling as she figured it out.

One last criticism that I’d seen before going to the movie was about the culmination of the fight between Rey and Kylo Ren. It ends in what is basically a draw (although one was winning by that time) when a fissure in the ground opens between them. Oh, the cries of Mary Sue again by some bloggers. Nope. Not really. We had already seen fissures opening up and the reason for it. Sure, J. J. Abrams could have insisted the fight come to an end but, had he done that, there wouldn’t really be any need for future movies.

As for the denunciation of the Expanded Universe as canon, that was Disney’s call when it bought the rights to Star Wars. However, if you pay attention, you can see the movie tipping its hat to the EU in several places. I won’t say where, not yet because I’ve already come too close to spoilers as is. But if I, someone who didn’t follow the EU after the first few years, could see them, the real fans of the EU should be able to as well.

Over all verdict, a fun movie that kept me entertained for the duration. I didn’t look at my watch once and even my mother, who isn’t a real fan of the series, loved it. The Force Awakens is definitely much better than the prequels, in my opinion, even if it doesn’t quite rise to the level of A New Hope and definitely not to Empire Strikes Back. If you can suspend memory of the prequels and go in not expecting too much, you should enjoy it. I did and I will be going back later this week with a friend. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, I missed the first time through.

(Reposted from Nocturnal Lives.)

New Old

New lumps for old… or ‘they’re really not that into you’

There is some reference to yesterday’s post by Cedar – The Dog’s Breakfast – but this principally about what most readers actually want. This is important to us writers. It should be important to Award Committees and Con Coms too.

The funniest thing about this Star Wars tie in novel brouhaha has to be The Grauniad screaming ‘homophobia’ about the fans giving the book 1 or 2 star reviews. What’s funny is not the screeching ‘homophobia’ which Damian and friends do at 10 second intervals in between shrieks of ‘racist’, yowls of sexist and bellows of misogynist – but the fact that the vastly litewarwee pretentious Guardian is praising a Star Wars novel. That has to be a first. Worth a good laugh. Purely defending Chuck Wendig on literary merit, I’m sure. It’s like the No Award voting in the 2015 Hugos.

One of the mistakes people make –- particularly those in power, which in publishing at the moment is the far left of politics (which, like all things will change, and change again) — is the assumption “everyone is like me, and if they’re not, then they are not just different, (or indifferent) they’re WRONG, stupid, evil and should be re-educated, punished until they behave or stamped out.” It’s actually, if you come down to basic motivation, at the core of the Puppy/Puppy Kicker situation, with the Puppy Kickers saying “your taste is shit, is wrong, is worthless”* (of Jim Butcher? At least we have company in our taste), as opposed to the Puppies saying ‘we don’t like the books and stories you do – we’re happy for you to like them. Just don’t claim — in a reader popularity contest – that because you like it or message in it, it is the ‘best’.’ You see it in the “Nobody _I_ know voted for him!” (I laughed the other day to see in a Tony Abbott bashing about the limited number and type of migrant he said we should accept to Australia, just exactly those words, with just exactly the same implication. And the utter inability to accept that a different viewpoint might actually have more support — let alone the possibility that it might be better — than the writer’s personal one.)

It’s quite understandable – we are the center of our own universe. Unless you’re bright enough to work out otherwise, people tend to assume they’re the norm (or at least, they should be). Especially if your social circle share your point of view, and you share theirs, it’s easy to believe there are very few people who disagree with you (and they’re wrong, stupid, evil and should be re-educated, punished until they behave or stamped out.) It is not made any clearer for the folk deluding themselves, by suppression of dissent. There’s a sort of mythical ostrich-head-in-the-sand belief that if you stop dissent, silence opposition, label what there is as bad etc… it goes away. Actually, it’s more like sewing closed a wound which still has foreign bodies in it. You’re making the problem worse, long term, for a short term appearance of ‘better’.

Where this really, truly comes unstuck is, for example, in our field, writing. Readers will rarely come out and say something which is un-PC, or for which they will be attacked. Seriously, let’s say the black or gay or feminist character in your book gets up the nose of the reader. Very few of the readers will put their name to slating your book for that reason (Wendig may be right, that might be behind some of the 1 star reviews that don’t even mention homosexuality). But they will vote with their purchasing power, because that is safely anonymous. One of the messages being studiously ignored by Traditional Publishing is falling sales numbers. If they’re forced to admit it exists, they claim it is ‘other factors’ like TV or the internet. But, despite those other factors SOME authors continue to grow their audiences.

You could be writing your book to make a statement about your pet cause. You could be writing it for catharsis about your experiences as a homosexual hooker, or as a soldier (RBV is my ‘catharsis’ book. The pictures are links)

– but there is no reason to expect the arbitrary reader to buy it for that reason. Yes, if they believe in your pet cause, or also find the story cathartic, it might work for that reader. If that is a big enough audience, it can be a success, financially. Otherwise it needs to be more than that (Which is why I tried to make RBV funny, fast-moving, and with layers of other things.)

To be a financial popular success, that keeps readers who aren’t enjoying a sermon about their rightness, or have no interest in the issues of being a hooker, or being a soldier, it has to generate that care, be enough beside that to make them enjoy it, to make them come back again, to make the genre flourish. When a book which doesn’t have that appeal is promoted and pushed for the sake of its ‘issue’, it isn’t just a failure to itself, it fails all of us. It hurts all of us. A book that transcends that is wonderful. It’s also very, very rare.

Mostly success – in terms of returning customers, in terms of a growing audience, is achieved by giving your audiences character they can accept, identify with, and believe in. This doesn’t always mean the truth. If you want to give them something that they don’t find palatable or probable you have to do a good job of selling it. When I wrote PYRAMID SCHEME I’d spent a whole 10 days in the US. I was born, bred and raised in South Africa. I knew a few male Americans – The JLB Smith Institute was the Southern Hemisphere’s best-rated Ichthyology center at the time I was there, which meant we got folk from all over the world – four Americans among them — all unequivocally male. There was a Canadian woman, but I gather that’s a different country (yes. It’s a joke. I make them). It was a relatively small research institute and three of those guys were good friends of mine, people I spent a lot of time with. I imagined I knew a bit about how Americans thought and what they knew. What I forgot is that these were expats in my country.

So when I got a generally good review for Pyramid Scheme…

the reviewer slated me for the female South African Zoologist I wrote into it. She was just too American, with American female attitudes and outlook. Not a ‘real’ South African, I was… um… puzzled (yeah, that’s a better, more polite way of putting it than gob-smacked, laughing like a hyena). I actually wrote to the critic explaining this – politely, not a la Chuck Wendig, which was really stupid of me. You can’t explain.

I was at fault. I didn’t know my audience (mostly American) well enough to know their pre-conceptions about how ‘different’ people were in South Africa. Now… well, I’d explain better. People are remarkably similar, even if they come from a different country, but share a similar background. Middle-class South Africa, is very like middle class America in very many ways. There are differences, but obviously not the size of the difference that reader expected.

Now the same applies to a straight guy who doesn’t have a lot to do with gay people, or white reader who barely knows any black guys, outside of TV, or vice versa, of course. They’ve got their ideas, which are possibly wildly wrong. But here’s the thing: unless that character shows traits they care about, identify with and can believe plausible in that character (just as my critic though my South African Zoologist too American to be real)… no matter how important you consider that minority or the point you’re making about them, it’s worthless if your reader doesn’t care that deeply about them, can’t believe in them.

You may be deeply invested in the problems faced by 0.1% or 4% or 13% of the population. But a lot of people aren’t. It’s not necessarily true that they’re homophobic or racist if they don’t like your book. You can call them that, as Wendig has. It may get you some sympathy sales from people who share your views – and alienate a lot more people who don’t like being insulted. The truth, in many cases I suspect, is more mundane, and hurts a lot more. Ask anyone who really fancied so-and-so, put out their best lures, only to have a friend tell you ‘They’re really not that into you.’

That’s the reality of being a writer. Mine as much as Chuck Wendig’s. It’s not a captive audience. They don’t have to buy your books. They can just walk away, and they will. You have to please your target audience or you’re a waste of shelf-space. It’s not about you, or your pet cause, unless that is what your target audience wants.

It’s true at a genre scale, and specifically when you’re writing in someone else’s universe, one which has a loyal following.

They don’t want new. Or you, if you’re new and different.

No matter how often they tell you they want ‘new’, most of your audience don’t want ‘new’. If you’re going to give them ‘new’ you’re going to have to be utterly, absolutely brilliant. Most of us are not.

What the audience want is ‘new old’. You can push the boat a little bit, but the audience has expectations (just as my critic had about South African women). You can change those, but you have to do so gently and skillfully, until that change feels ‘just like old (but new)’. There is a small percentage of readers who want the new (something novel!) but seriously, if you’re following footsteps (and we all are) you will never be ‘as good’ for some readers – and if you go off at a tangent, they’ll mostly hate you.

That of course is a worse thing than them not being into you. There always are worse things – and most of them happen at sea (just speaking from experience here.) There are two (at least) levels of this. On file 770 – on the only time I have bothered to comment there — the charming crowd there were engaged in having fun kicking my terrible prose around and saying what an awful writer I was (It is true that they had a problem with what I was saying, but that was harder to attack, and saying what a useless writer I was, was a nice easy target.) Shrug. Blog posts are not something I get paid for. I am not a particularly brilliant writer, and my efforts go into my novels, which I don’t do in a hurry, which makes me money. I work hard at that, get it edited, take advice on that. I probably still stuff up, but it’s not for lack of effort. It is not so with blog posts or comments. Snowcrash – who sometimes comments here, made a comment back then about never bothering to buy my books because I was such a bad writer. I was supposed to be offended and hurt. I wasn’t.

Instead I thanked Snowcrash very much for that, and I meant it, absolutely. Because, as Chuck Wendig is going to discover, and I hope you will avoid discovering, someone who wanted “new old” or product A, expected “new old”, PAID for “new old”… and then got product B which wasn’t ‘new old’, or similar, but which was something they didn’t want, or expect or like is the worst possible outcome. Firstly, they’re not going to buy another, and secondly will associate, and blame that author for a lot more value than $17, let alone the pittance the author got. As an author you’d rather they hated you unread, than paid money and then hated you, especially if those people are a major part and influence on buyers who will buy your work, now and in future. Those people may be ‘suckaz’ as Wendig put it, but they’re going to piss all over your future – and that’s without you insulting them. Curiously, Chuck Wendig may just have become the Puppies biggest recruiter. All one has to say to the irritated Star Wars fan is: “Oh, him. Yes, he thinks we’re awful and wants to eliminate us from the awards process.”

The key thing is that that one group of people you don’t mess with are your major group of customers, whoever they are. If you’re Kameron Hurley, you don’t peeve radical feminists. If you’re Larry Correia you don’t peeve gun owners (neither of these are very likely. Both identify strongly with their set, and sell to them). If you’re writing in the universe of a popular franchise, you don’t peeve the normal customers of it. They may not be your personal core group, but they’re a huge group, and the franchise’s core.

There is no point in pleasing a group of POSSIBLE customers at the cost of that core group.

It’s like a butcher stopping selling meat to please possible vegan customers. (Which is not unlike the situation many of puppies found themselves with the puppy kickers. People like Snowcrash and friends had never bought my books, wouldn’t like my books if they did – and threatened not to read me? Oh, be still my beating heart!) It’s a very different kettle of fish, when it’s my regulars, my fans, my customers.

For them, I will have the new old that they want. Shifting things slowly, if at all, keeping them happy. If you want to make a success of this, I suggest you do too.

*Irene Gallo – ‘bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.’. We can find hundreds more quotes, all boiling down to ‘your taste is shit, we know what is good for you.’

Putting things into perspective

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last, oh, ten years, there’s a war going on in publishing. No, not the war over the Hugos. That is, at best, nothing more than the publishing world’s version of a military campaign. Yes, it is part of the overall war in publishing but it is only one part. The publishing world is changing, like it or not, and it is impacting not just publishers and their employees but also agents and authors. There have already been casualties and there will be more. The only group that will win in all this are is the readers. Why? Because there is a greater selection of reading material out there than ever before. Sure, some is dreck and should never have found its way out of the author’s computer. But there is also a plethora of new material out there that never would have gotten past the gatekeepers and yet is not only well-written but in high demand.

I’m not going to spend a great deal of time explaining why publishing has come to the state it now finds itself in. There are any number of posts about that, not only here on MGC but elsewhere. However, what we are continuing to see is that this war is playing out in ways that continue to hurt the industry and the authors who are at the heart of it. Business practices that should have been amended and adapted years ago. Attitudes by editors, agents and authors that have alienated one time friends and has now extended to the fan base.

The attitude, or at least one of them, that continues to act contrary to current demands is that there needs to be a gatekeeper to decide what books should or should not be released into the wild for people to read. The critics of indie published books continue to throw out the premise that there are just too many badly written books being written and self-published. They tell us Amazon or B&N or whichever platform an indie publishes on should have some sort of minimum bar that must be reached before these dastardly upstarts are allowed to pollute the literary pool.

Now, the problem with this stance is multi-fold. First, the gatekeepers used to be the publishers. Then, as profits started decreasing and publishers started cutting costs, they turned much of that role over to agents. Okay, that might be well and good but there is one problem., no matter who is the gatekeeper there is more demand for books than there are traditional publishing slots per month. Add into that the fact that what people want to read isn’t necessarily what the publishers are putting out there and, well, you have the beginnings of the perfect storm for the publishing industry.

But it goes further than that. The Big Five in publishing have been involved in a long running battle with Amazon for years. This battle mainly focuses on the e-book market and it is perhaps the best example of just how out of touch with the buying public too many traditional publishers happen to be.

The first indication of this is this article from Digital Book World. Overall sales dropped more than 5% January through May. Add to that the information from this article in the Wall Street Journal and it is easy to see that publishers are not doing themselves and their stockholders any good by continuing to try to hold onto the old business model.  A little modern background. In the latest round of contract negotiations between Amazon and major publishers, those publishers got what they wanted. They have the right under the contract to set the price of their e-books on Amazon. No more discounts that the publishers hated. All should be good, right?


According to the WSJ, “Three big publishers that signed new pacts with Amazon— Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Book Group, News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers and CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster—reported declining e-book revenue in their latest reporting periods.”

Hmm. They get to set the price. They raised the price. E-book revenue down. Who would have predicted that?

Me and a bunch of others, that who.

Looking deeper into the article, you get this nugget of information: “A recent snapshot of e-book prices found that titles in the Kindle bookstore from the five biggest publishers cost, on average, $10.81, while all other 2015 e-books on the site had an average price of $4.95.”

Now, the publishers will and do blame this on Amazon. No surprise there. After all, Amazon is the source of all evil according to some in the industry. But the truth is, yes, Amazon did let us get used to the $9.99 price point for traditionally published e-books. However, it is more than that. Readers are not nearly as dumb as some publishers seem to think. We know that there isn’t nearly as much money needed to produce an e-book as there is a print book. For one, unlike what a certain publisher said years ago, you don’t have to re-edit a book for digital release. Then there is the whole fact it is nothing but data as compared to a physical entity. That means you don’t have to buy the raw materials, pay to have them put together, shipped, stored, etc. All you need is someone to convert to the proper format and a server to store it all on — oh, and internet access. Big difference in the financial end. So most readers do not and will not pay more for an e-book than they will for a paperback.

Now, here is where the industry and its double-talk about e-books and e-book pricing comes back to bite it in the rear. As the WSJ article notes, there is debate about whether the decline in sales/profits for the traditional publishers is because of the increase in e-book prices under the new contracts or because of a crop of lackluster titles. Hmmm. Is that an admission that the gatekeepers aren’t doing their jobs? Or maybe it’s an admission that the gatekeepers did but that the editors have lost touch with what readers really want to read. No matter which it is, it is clear that traditional publishing, at least among the Big Five, is out of date with what the buying public wants.

In case you need another example of how the industry is losing touch with the buying public — and this is also an indication that the same thing is happening in the entertainment industry — is the new “official” Star Wars book. I’m not going to rehash the disbelief, angst and anger Star Wars fans had when, after buying up the Star Wars franchise, Disney tossed out the Expanded Universe. Fortunately, those books — especially the ones by Timothy Zahn — are still available for purchase. But years of plots and characters are gone from the official storyline.

This month, as an intro to the new “official” timeline and to promote the upcoming new movie, Aftermath: Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been released. Written by Chuck Wendig and published by Random House, it is priced at a whopping $13.99 for the e-book. 400 pages for basically $14.00. Hmm. No.

But it isn’t even the price that draws the eye of the potential buyer. It is the review rating for the book. As of right now, there are 287 reviews on Amazon for a cumulative rating of 2.5 stars. Yep, you read that right. I couldn’t believe it either when I first saw it. So, I did what any informed reader would do. I looked at the free preview and couldn’t believe it. My eyes glazed by the end of the first page. I honestly thought I was reading a comic book without the drawings. I kept expecting the next line to have a “ZAM!” or “BAM!”

It wasn’t the present tense of the writing. It was the quality of the writing. So I went and checked to see if this was recommended for young children (hard to believe at the length but . . . ) and no.

So, I turned to the reviews and picked a couple at random. The very first one, one of those voted most helpful, begins with this quote, “The TIE wibbles and wobbles through the air, careening drunkenly across the Myrrann rooftops – it zigzags herkily-jerkily out of sight.”

After I quit laughing, I started again, this time with the old jingle “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” sounding in my brain.

And this is what Random House and Disney have chosen to introduce their new Star Wars Universe.

In trying to make the universe its own, Disney — and by contract, Random House and Wendig — have alienated a huge number of fans, fans who would have been introducing their children and grandchildren to the new movies and books. Poor decisions, bean counters, poor decisions.

I could go on, but I think it’s pretty clear. The Big Five are still trying to cling to old ways while ignoring what their customers, the readers, want and are willing to pay. If they don’t start listening to the public and start paying attention to more than just the oh-so-inaccurate BookScan numbers, things will only continue getting worse for them. But that doesn’t mean books, printed or digital, will disappear. The small press and indie revolution has shown that books are here to stay and I and thrilled. I’m even more thrilled to know that I can find books that I want to read now and not have to wait and wait and wait.

Readers win. Big Five loses.

Edited to add: Don’t forget that you can list your suggestions for the 2016 Hugos here. Simply choose which category you want to make a suggestion in, then note the title, author, and a short description of why you think it should be considered.