Literature – it’s a real thing!
Could it be that all the kerfuffle that has rocked SFWA over the last year has nothing to do with politics? Could the fight between racist misogynist neo-Nazis and pin-headed liberal elitist fem-Nazis have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with art?
Well, maybe not everything. Politics comes into everything and, in America (and increasingly in the rest of the western world), everything seems polarized between left and right. Conversations — especially on-line — soon degenerate into shouting matches and name calling.
Mostly there aren’t any conversations as social media algorithms make sure we only see ourselves reflected back to us. And, of course, conspiracy theories abound about how one group or another is dominating awards programs or controlling publishing to the exclusion of the other group(s). I’m reminded a bit of the old Proclaimers’ song, What Do you Do? The rotation of Pareto’s Foxes and Lions also comes to mind. A First World Problem.
Be that as it may, I was struck recently by a tweet wherein it was reported that an Amazon reviewer had criticized a book by saying, essentially, ‘we don’t need no stinkin’ literature — we want galactic empires.’
So there you have it. The real enemy is Literature. We don’t want human feelings, realism, social criticism, cultural cross-breeding — we want Big Ideas that mess with our heads and more fun (usually defined in ways only some people find fun).
Don’t get me wrong. I, too, have often railed against the insertion of MFA lessons into my fiction. (Or as Danny Kaye put it so brilliantly, choreography into my dance routines.) I want good stories more than anything else. But good literature is always about good stories. And fun and big ideas can go hand in hand with emotional richness and character development.
It’s true that wasn’t what the good old days focused on — but then the good old days weren’t good for everyone. The world has changed — but the good news is, you don’t have to change with it! You can stay mired in your own particular enclave of galactic empires and wooden dialogue. Or whatever.
So here’s what I suggest. Read the things you like and don’t read the things you don’t. There’s plenty of variety to go around. But quit whining that the stuff you like isn’t dominating the publishing or awards scene. Cause, as the Proclaimers said, sometimes ‘minority means you.’ And all the bellyaching and vicious attacks in the world aren’t going to change that.
It’s all about the Dopamine
I’ve been working hard to try to figure out social media. I’m sure we all have. When does it work and why? The biggest mistake people make, I suspect, is that they focus on the media and not on the social. Twitter becomes like broadcast advertising — ‘Buy my book!’ or more recently, ‘This person here thinks you should Buy My Book!’ or, if you’re really sophisticated, “I’m interested in astronomy — see this neat link — and my book has astronomy in it so you should Buy My Book!”
This message, I increasingly think, fails. I mean, who buys things because a random stranger calls you on the phone and asks you to buy something. Actually about 4-6% of the population will do that at any given time — that’s why telemarketing exists. The other 95% of us have to put up with the noise. So tweeting Bye My Book! is nothing but noise to 95% of your followers.
Which, of course, is why people are desperate to have a 100K followers. 5% of that gets you 5000 people who might Buy your Book. And 95000 who simply ignore the noise.
But maybe it would be a lot more effective if we focused on the social and ignored the media (or, I would argue, the medium). My friend, Robert J. Sawyer, advised that you should never sit on a panel at an SF convention with your book propped in front of you. It gets between you and your audience and, what’s more, tells people that you aren’t interested in them; you only want them to ‘Buy Your Book!” The key is to build a personal relationship — be ‘social’ — and if people find you interesting and pleasant, they might well DECIDE to buy your book. This article explains it pretty well — it’s all about the social process of self-reward.
Places and People and other self-promotion
Speaking of Robert J. Sawyer, we will be appearing together this June at the NorthWords Festival in Yellowknife (along with another of Bundoran’s partners, Elizabeth Westbrook-Trenholm). We will be wearing our writing hats more than our publishing ones.
Even sooner you can see all three of us, as well as our third partner, Mike Rimar, at Ad Astra in Toronto where we will be launching Breakpoint:Nereis by Alison Sinclair and Strange Bedfellows edited by Hayden Trenholm. I’ve provided links so you can “Buy My Book!”
Finally another great article from Kristine Katherine Rusch that sounds an awful lot like my life at Bundoran Press.