Monday, July 6, 2009

The best way forward may be back



You know, I've been involved in mountain rescue over the years... and so many disasters happen when bright sparks (like yours monkily) take the wrong trail (because it looks better) and then don't have the common sense - or sometimes the self-confidence, to look at the 75 degree scree-slope with the cliff at the base in the dusk, and the mist swirling in on a freezing gale, to say "Okay, I was a plonker. We're staying RIGHT HERE until morning and then we'll walk back and take the other path. You were right, Fred, Mary and the dog." No, we press on, even as the scree gets steeper and more slippery.

Occasionally it doesn't all end horribly.

Humans (me neither, and I'm only distantly related) are not great at admitting we're wrong. At least not at the time or from close up. I was re-reading SHADOW OF THE LION as homework for the latest book, and I wanted take that Dave Freer outside and give him a good kicking. Because... If I was writing that book now, I'd chop a few bits I wrote (not to mention bits the others wrote) get rid of a few subplots entirely, and write it whole lot better. There are still bits (Benito diving for Kat's grey goods, the scene at the Red Cat, the mess that Marco gets himself into marrying Angelina to pay off an imagined debt of honor etc.) that are pretty well done and memorable. At the time it seemed a good scree slope, with the place we were trying to get to not far off. Now... heh. Well THIS ROUGH MAGIC was better written anyway.


Increasingly, however I have come to suspect that whole of publishing is on a steep, steep scree. It's getting steeper, and darker and wetter ahead. I think the industry is determinedly plunging forward even as it loses parts of the party into the abyss. And, actually, I don't think it's going to get better in that direction. There are a few people (Baen Books to name one) trying other routes but mostly it seems relentlessly the same imagined path.


The big question is, well, which direction SHOULD we be going? Well, in my opinion, toward books that have real appeal to massive numbers of readers. They exit. Harry Potter et al proved it. Just what are the kind of books that would get a lot of people reading? Where did the industry go off track?


My opinion - Based on the surprising success of the re-issue of the James H Schmitz books that there is a huge appetite for good old-fashioned space opera, with clearly defined bad guys and heroes we can identify with. And yes, that does mean alien villains who are not just misunderstood, now that you mention it :-)

So let's have some feedback: what authors style/type of story from the dark ages/golden years do you think would work well now in sf/ fantasy?

57 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Dave, I discovered the James H Schmitz books 30 years ago and loved them.

One of my most popular children's books was inspired by his Witches of Karres.

Dave Freer said...

Funny, my favourite Schmitz is actually DEMON BREED which few people know. But who else Rowena? Heinlein? Herbert?

Dave Freer said...

To extend the comment on Schmitz - When Jim Baen decided re-issue the Schmitz, and got Eric Flint to edit them, they expected a tiny, nostalgia market, and that's why both of them wanted to do it - because THEY'D loved the books. What was totally unexpected was how well the books sold - far beyond the little market of folk who remember Schmitz. People who'd never read a relatively obscure 1960's author who is just good fun really... loved him.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

yes on space opera. Also good old fashioned fantasy and yes, probably good old fashioned urban fantasy too.

I think part of the reason I do so many books based on other authors' work -- besides the fact it keeps me from getting TOO weird, which is always a danger with me -- is that they are my emotional comfort food. Hanging out with the musketeers keeps me sane when life is weird. And if I can get it without the rather odd stilted prose and the appropriate-for-the-time character development so much the better.

I'd like to tell you that you're wrong about the publishing industry. But if I had a dime for everytime I've heard an editor -- NOT Baen, quod avertat deus -- say "Our job is to educate the public" or "We publish books that challenge the public's perception" or "we believe this book will raise consciousness" Bill Gates would be coming to my house for a loan.

And everytime I hear it I cringe, because their job is NONE of the above. Their job is to buy books that will sell and sell to a large audience. If with that they can get in other things like educating the public about a little known subject and/or helping a cause they like, great, but it should be in the background and discrete.

The other part of this is that I don't think most publishers -- NYC, insular, mostly white, restricted to contact with people with the same background they have -- have the slightest clue what we "need to be educated about" or "need our consciousness raised" on. Even assuming they had that right (and they don't) of treating adults as children or mentally damaged untermenschen, they would have no clue, because they have no clue about what they charmingly call "flyover country." It's not just that I resent that every book must have a handicapped lesbian character of color (I'm joking. I know that's not true but the spirit is) but that I find it a big yawn. Out here on the trenches, those battles were fought and won (or lost, in the cases of discredited economic philosophies) decades ago. Preaching against racism, drug use, for acceptance, etc, just makes you come out sounding like every other member of the establishment. It would have been refreshing and new... fifty years ago.

There is a commercial here where an older man is talking to someone probably in his thirties and says he's doing something or other to "Stick it to the man" and the younger guy says "But sir, you ARE the man." Publishing could greatly improve with this insight. Also, with moving away from NYC. Also from hiring a broad variety of people, real variety not dictated by the Campaign For Equal Heights.

Hire a retired truck driver who likes to read. A retired nurse. Young mothers who are home with their kids. Why not? Telecommuting allows that! Yes, those people read. Or would, if they got books they want to read.

But like other "Helpful Sarah ideas to run the world better" it is highly unlikely to take place. And it will get worse before it gets better.

My fear is what Pam said "groups of writers banding together to choose who can be in" -- I'm still living up to my kindergarten evaluation "Can do the work, doesn't play well with others." Ah well, c'est la vie. If it comes to pass, there's always competition macrame.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, I started reading sf -- well, reading it again, this time as an "adult" -- after finding an old issue of If magazine (I think that's the one) in a closet filled with books at my grandmother's house. In that issue was the first part of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I sat there in the middle of the floor and devoured it. Then I went diving into the closet to find what other treasures my father, uncles and aunts might have left there. Unfortunately, there wasn't much. But what was there, especially MIAHM, got me wanting more.

Somewhere I came across copies of the Schmitz's Telzey books. I loved the originals. Nothing against Eric, but I liked the originals, quirks and all, better than the re-releases he did.

Any way, in my opinion publishers need to quit worrying about what they THINK we need to read, what lessons we should be taught, and instead publish books we WANT to read. Yes, books with characters we can identify with, who face issues we all face -- whether set now, in the past or on some make-believe planet.

So, stealing from Sarah -- thp, I get to name him since you aren't online yet -- Heinlein is an author I think would do well today. There are others, but my morning brain isn't bringing them to mind right away.

Dave Freer said...

Sarah, preaching to the chior again? ;-). Ok so i agree, except for the part about equal heights. I can't help it, we dwarves are just superior. A sort of uberuntermensch...

A big - hard to deal with problem as I see it is this. Oldfashioned space-opera is probably something most acquisition editors see 5 times a day. It's so boring to them - even if they liked that sort of thing, it makes their eyes glaze over - Of course it's NOT boring to the reader who hasn't seen one for 6 months. In a nutshell - editors don't buy it because they see it all too often, and the reason they see it all to often is people like it... So anything they don''t see too often, people probably don't like...

Anton Gully said...

Not really, adding to this discussion, but what I used to love about the Lensmen books when I read them as a teenager was exactly what made it a difficult path to re-tread, when I tried reading them a few years ago. There was so much back then we didn't know wasn't possible.

matapam said...

I think what publishers need to get back to is a fat and healthy collection of midlist writers. The gateway to get in seems to have shrunk. When you can only get so many titles through the distribution system, you concentrate on the best, not the good.

I think e-publishing is where this will open up again. Possibly open up too far.

Sarah, LOL. Think in terms of so many kindergartens that you can pick the one with all your friends, all the nice kids who may be future friends, and a few obnoxious kids who got let in because they're so smart, and maybe under everyone else's influence even they might mellow.

matapam said...

Oops! Forgot my favorite Space Operas.

Baen's already republished Andre Norton, my all time favorite. Looking at my bookshelves, to see what couldn't possibly be boxed up, I see Edmond G. Hamilton and E.E. Doc Smith. Keith Laumer has been reprinted - Baen again.

Edgar Rice Burroughs - do you know, I think Space Opera is about the only thing he didn't write. Not a spaceship in sight, although the Martian books might sneak into the category.

Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are favs, still in print, and being mined for movies.

RJ_CruzeJr said...

matapam, I think you hit the nail on the head about bulking up the midlist. That's the problem today -- no middle ground. Nowadays, all you see are either the industry heavyweights or the "one-hit wonders" on the shelf (wow, how about that for a parallel with the music industry). But nothing in between. Which is sad because several Really Good authors are firmly in the midlist.

One good example: John Dalmas (I'd use Dave as the example, but I don't want him getting too swelled a head -- his kinfolk might mistake it for a coconut). Now, in my opinion, John Dalmas is an excellent author. If you're not familiar with him, he writes some damn good MilSF, but he also has a variety of other work. In terms of quality, I'd rank his MilSF right up there with David Drake's and John Ringo's. But, you don't see too much of him because he's down there in the midlist.

I know the biggest problem there was the implosion of the paperback market (which Eric waxed philosophical about on Baen's Bar on several occasions), with the final nail in the coffin being driven in by the large "chain" stores. And that's where e-books come in. If other publishers handled e-books the way Baen does, e-books could eventually supplant the paperback market and rebuild the midlist.

Also, another thing with e-books is that, since you have only one copy that you can sell over and over and over again, you don't have to worry about that abomination of marketing idiocy -- and the bane of the midlist author -- known as "buying to the net."

Dave Freer said...

Anton, the key question I have to ask WHAT was it aboutthe lensman book that attracted you. Yes, the science is a bit dodge, these days, but the answer isn't science is it?

Dave Freer said...

Matapam -I am half with you on the midlist - and speaking myself as a midlist writer - that says I see something seriously wrong with the idea. And it's just this: If publishers are going to buy more midlist writers - and treat them de facto like sink-or-swim newbies (more or less what midlist gets now) it's not going to work. In the equation as things stand many publishers look to of 10 books, 6 lose money, 2 break even, 2 make money. Fixed costs - including debt servicing (ie. paying those huge advances) is split equally. Expenditure and push isn't. If you apportioned the debt according to where it was accrued, and ensured that midlist got a fair bite at the cherry with distribution, display, advertising (for eg, I read of an author being sent on a meet the booksellers and distributors tour of the US and EU. Her book WILL be on every bookshelf, will be in storefront displays, will be reordered on sale, will get into every newspaper and radio, and possibly even TV. This costs a fortune. The publishers are doing it because they spent a fortune on the advance.) it might be different. Now, they can't do that for the midlist. Midlisters suffer appalling disribution, poor retail display and lousy re-order. Almost all promo is done by themselves. They're not going to sell anything like the numbers of most publishers bestsellers. So either publishers work out just how much good push does and factor that in to future buying calculations (Terry Pratchett for eg languished for many years for the same reasons - and if he could be ignored, heaven help the rest of us)and push the distribution on those that have promise, or put less into the expensive books and just get the whole midlist out prorperly distributed and re-ordered (very expensive option) to win on reader 'vote' or it won't work. If you could hide Pratchett in the midlist it's not a great way to sell what people want.

Dave Freer said...

Bob, I'd agree about John Dalmas. I HOPE e-pub will help - but I am not convinced it will, just because of the exposure/browse factor.

Dave Freer said...

The list so far
Schmitz, Heinlein, Doc EE Smith, Andre Norton (sargasso of space remains a big fave of mine), Edmund Hamilon, Keith Laumer. Edgar Rice Burroughs.
And I'll add Poul Anderson...

My, what an unreconstructed bunch of adventure and fun readers you are ;-) Harlan Ellison and Ursula Le Guin will be upset.

matapam said...

Are you saying we have low tastes in literature? ;) Guilty!

So, as we move toward e-books, how do we push the wares? That's why I think today's best sellers, or at least Known Names, will form the nucleus of E-book "clubs".

You like Steven King? Go see what authors and books he hosts.

You like Sarah Hoyt? (You twisted sick . . . ;)) You go to her site and sample the other authors. (Actually Sarah, you are so sane compared to SK it's shocking)

Sort of like shopping at the Science Fiction Book Club and never walking into a brick and mortar store again. Or the Mystery Club, or . . .

I think the main problem will be finding someone whose tastes and judgment of books is sound, and who is tough enough to turn away the almost good enough, and brave enough pick on the members to keep up the typo and grammar and homonym checks. In the end, the writers may just recreate the publishing house, sans presses.

warpcordova said...

Being as young as I am *cough cough*, my exposure to SF was actually very limited up until only a few years ago. My first SF book was actually a John Ringo book.

However, I've been reading fantasy and alt history since I was 10. Those I read are still popular today, actually, so if pressed I would spout of popular fantasy genre writers.

Though I still think Poul Anderson is good stuff.

Dave Freer said...

Any trouble from you Mr Cordova (grumble young wippersapper) and I shall hit you with my zimmer frame! ;-). (I have a climbing Zimmer frame. Very interesting. It has hooks and straps.)
I'll settle for some fantasy authors then. Give :-)

RJ_CruzeJr said...

One other to add to the list: Eric Frank Russell. I dare anyone -- SF or non-SF reader -- to read "I Am Nothing" and walk away without a lump in the throat. And if they did, I'd have serious doubts about the condition of their soul...

Dave Freer said...

Matapam, I have some fairly strong ideas about this, about display about how to catch new readers. I do think de facto co-ops of established 'scoulos' of types of writer will form (rather like rennaisance artists). I'm not sure it'll be better.

RJ_CruzeJr said...

I agree Dave -- right now it's kind of a "hope-for-the-best-prepare-for-the-worst" situation. One thing that would definitely help it along is the Inexpensive Book Reader you mentioned under Amanda's "Sleepy Sunday" post.

I too think it's very doable. Look at the iPhone: when it debuted, it was $599. Now that it's really caught on, just less than two years later, you can get one for $99 -- an 84% price drop. Take today's $300-350 book reader and have it go through a similar price drop and you're definitely in the ballpark of the "two hardcover" price. Mind you, I don't see that rapid a drop happening with either the Kindle or the Sony eReader, yet. However, once the technology matures a little more, and the market expands, anything's possible.

Even if the price dropped to $200, things could really take off if other publishers took a cue from the "Baen Model" -- reasonably priced e-books, unencumbered by DRM. Imagine, make a $200 initial purchase, and from that point on, your book purchases are now in the range of $4-6 -- that's a pretty strong selling point for some people. Over time, the savings would eventually pay for the reader. Not so strong a selling point if you have to pay $200 and then pay $10 a book; even less so if you still have to pay the full hardcover price.

However, even if the hardware price did come down, the e-book pricing and PITA DRM would still be the stumbling block.

I think that's the biggest problem with the content providers; for the most part, they're living in the past and cannot understand just how much technology has changed the market, and will continue changing that market. The music industry is stuck in the 1980s; the publishing industry is stuck in the 1890s.

warpcordova said...

Dr. Monkey:

Piers Anthony, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Katherine Kurtz.

Curse my youth and lack of "classic" status knowledge quotums...

Anton Gully said...

The music industry is stuck in the 1980s; the publishing industry is stuck in the 1890s.

Excellent....

Dave, re Lensmen, sorry to say but it was exactly that dodgy technology that I remembered so fondly. The Lensmen series is legendary for the escalating technological advances that take place as the two sides vie for control of the universe.

Anybody mentioned Asimov yet? Way back when I read anything of his I could find, SF or Mystery. I re-read the Foundation trilogy last year and it still stands up, IMO.

The thing about your Harry Potters, and classic Space Opera, and Tarzan, and the classic Western, and their good vs evil, is that I'm not, personally, that interested in that so much anymore.

Is the original Foundation trilogy a story of good versus evil? How about Alfred Bester's two classics, "The Demolished Man" and "The Stars My Destination"? The majority of Moorcock's Multiverse is shades of gray. Conan? Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser? Karl Edward Wagner's Kane? Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun?

I like my anti-heroes troubled and conflicted.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Anton mentioned Fritz Lieber. I think I've read everything he's written, in novel length anyway.

I like my heroes tortured and twisted too. My favourite of the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series would have to be Isek of the Jug.

Anyone read that? It is a spoof on religion.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Hey, Dave, let's start one! :) Co-op. I'm SO serious about this. I don't have unsold stuff right now, but give me six months. We've been kicking an MGC website, anyway!

Meanwhile, I'd like to add Clifford D. Simak -- City, They Walked Like Men (total boondoogle economic theory but I love the aliens), Way Station, etc. were my first loves. I still re-read him regularly.

And Phillip Jose Farmer -- forget the river thing (bleah) but give me world of tiers.

Also Anne McCaffrey.

matapam said...

Dave, it's Economic Darwinism. What works will survive. Better or worse.

And eventually better, I think. There is a market; some way to get the produce to it will be developed.

Kate said...

I have to admit I can't pick out a space opera that caught me, mostly because I don't remember the names, just the sense of adventure, discovery, and the sense that there was this whole wonderful universe out there to explore.

What caught me and dragged me in, in no particular order: Doctor Who and novelizations (which got me looking for "more stuff like that"), McCaffrey, Heinlein and Asimov juveniles and a whole lot more I don't remember. I gradually moved "up" to the grown up SF section, at a rate that disturbed librarians who weren't sure I should be reading those grownup books.

matapam said...

You punks make me feel so old! The first SF TV show I can recall was Lost in Space. If you've ever seen the movie . . . the series was even worse.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I read and enjoyed Wizard of Karres and then tracked down Witches of Karres (I'm assuming the old edition with what looked like a '70s era chalk drawing on the cover) and liked it, though not as much as the more recent Wizard. For the most part, I have a hard time reading SF written before I was born, which is to say the mid-80s. (I can't get through Heinlein for example and I've tried Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Have Space Suit, Will Travel). Fantasy is a bit better for the older stuff or SF with a very strong overtone of fantasy like MZB's Darkover, but for the most part between the dated technology and the writing style I've tried reading the classic SF and it doesn't make my re-read list.

As far as the way forward goes, I think more books that are less Depressing need to be published, especially in the YA market. Teens are unhappy enough, no need to publish only sad/loaded issues stories, they need their escapism too.

I'm sure I have more to say later.
"Lady" Dawn

Kate said...

Matapam,

Lost in Space took a little longer to get to Oz. We got the BBC stuff straight away, but US depended on a whole lot of things - and some US "standards" never made it over the pond at all.

That said, my first moderately coherent experience was the pairing of The Goodies at 5pm (for those who don't know it, think a kind of mad cross between Monty Python and the Goon Show, but suitable for kids because the adult jokes went *right* over kiddie heads) and Doctor Who at 5-30. Black and white, at least initially. I'm not sure if Oz didn't get color TV until the mid 70s or it was just my family that didn't.

matapam said...

For some reason US stations just didn't pick up Dr Who, or put it on so late that I wouldn't have been allowed to stay up and watch it.

I think the Serial Hero is attractive in books as well. Sort of a combination of a good story while seeing what your old friend is up to this week. LMB's Vorkosigan books for instance. You've got the immediate problem and it's solution, along with the background story of what's going on back home.

Dave Freer said...

Bob, I thought I was only EFR fan left alive.

Dave Freer said...

Bob, DRM - I've met darn few _authors_ and no readers who buy into that stupidity. And - here's the kicker - the authors who DO buy in are usually either... tail-end of my career or no ever heard of you and no one will (but that's because THEY -my enemies the readers - steal my work. Otherwise I'd be rich and famous... the logic disconnect is and denial is amazing). Shrug. There are a fair number of these, but who notices and who cares? I have for many years said publishing and industry are using authors interests as a stalking horse to build in propriety value and redundancy - not protect authors at all. As the only people who like DRM are a few shall we kindly say dinosaurs, losers, and publishers... they could find themselves outside the loop.

Dave Freer said...

Warpcordova, those are good enough for me. And youth like virgity is one of those curable conditions;-). It's quite a long treatment though ;-)

Dave Freer said...

Anton - what I was getting at was that it was about ideas, about where technology could take us.

I'm fond of Lieber's original but found my eyes started to glaze over by book 14 ;-)

Dave Freer said...

Sarah, lets. And who is gonna be mister nasty? (cause we need one).

Simak, James White (philosophically I am not with James White any more than I was with Mack Reynolds- but I loved Pioneer Planet, and I loved Sector General)
Phillip Jose Farmer ranged from brilliant to eugh too. I liked the concept of riverworld, but not the execution, and I liked the execution of Tiers but not the concept so much. OK, I liked Kickhaha... but he was just too superhero.

Dave Freer said...

Matapam (I hope you realise I am being devil's advoccate) Economic darwinism works when you don't have 'conservationists' protecting the non-viable, breeding them up in captive breeding programmes, and declaring opens season on the upstarts. Still, I believe it can be done.

Dave Freer said...

Lady Dawn, you've hit on one of the intrinsic issues here. Language and writing style, not to mention attitudes to say women and the science make many of those books a bit dated and hard to read now. But the point with nearly all of those mentioned is that yes they are 'positive'. The characters may be conflicted and in strife, but they build strongly toward a good resolution. I'm not suggesting that we go back to the language or social set-up of 1960 or 1930 ;-), but that we go back to the style and attitude thereof -which is what I was trying to do in Wizard of Karres. And do I ever _agree_ about the YA books!

Dave Freer said...

Matapam... the downside with the serial hero is writing the 9th update ;-)

Kate said...

Dave,

Re: serial heroes,

I'm reminded of a comment by Spielberg about Raiders of the Lost Ark, that he was aiming for the feel of the old movie serials. Apparently they were team-written. Person A would script an episode and deliberately leave it at a cliffhanger. Person B had to get the hero out of danger, then leave at another cliffhanger at the end of their episode.

I suspect something similar could be massive amounts of fun for readers and writers.

matapam said...

Dave,

How true, those wretched breeders of tumor prone Boxers and German Shepherds with bad hips and backs will have their equivalents in e-publishing. The whole trick is going to be keeping them from controlling the national registry. Or in this case, getting legislation passed that favors them and hampers others.

Do you have any other ideas about how to filter out the 90% dross? I'd druther writers grab control of that process and not let the government, or some panel of reps from the big publishers decide. Not that real control will work with the internet, but they could make getting paid a real struggle if they wanted.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I vote for Dan for bad guy. He was born to be an editor. (Ooooh. Wonder if he'll read this. Comfy living room sofa!)

White -- second Dave on that. Also, I forgot, and also I disagree with the politics, but the book is great: Lloyd Biggle Jr -- The Still Small Voice of Trumpets.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Pam
weirdly, as a reader of fan fic, I can tell you that READERS are damn good at filtering the 90% dross.

The catch is that what tends to florish is the very good and the utterly wretched. There IS a market for purple prose or what my dad used to call "knife and buckets of blood" prose.

But the indifferent and the so so? They just get passed over. Readers, like slush readers, read two sentences and go "ew"

as a fan writer/reader in a totally unfiltered side -- austen.com, under DWG -- I learned very quickly which authors to watch and which to ignore, and giving a new author a chance was not that hard -- you just read a page or a snippet, and decided.

To a certain extent this makes me doubt the need for gate keepers. OTOH that's ALL in one site, which makes the search easy. I imagine what having to go to a million sites to find a book would do to people and how tired you'd get.

Also, I'll admit I'm not the average reader. And also, the austen fanfic reduces the level of NEEDED filtering. You know it's a set piece, to an extent. You're not subjected to the most wobbly part of a beginner writers' attempts -- the plot -- or at least not in a way you can't ignore.

RJ_CruzeJr said...

On writing style: one difference I've noticed between classic and contemporary SF is that the SF today is at a much higher level of technical quality. Two things that really stand out for me are that the PoV is "locked down" a lot better, the prose has a much better "flow" to it, and there's a lot more "show -- don't tell," particularly when it comes to the dialog. What I mean is that I've noticed in some of the older stories is a tendency to describe what was said instead of just having the characters say it.

Like this:

John told the Captain that the repairs would be done in a half-hour.

As opposed to:

John looked up. "Skipper, we should have this fixed in about half an hour."

Ori Pomerantz said...

Sarah A. Hoyt: Hire a retired truck driver who likes to read. A retired nurse.

Ori: Given the relative track record, I'd hire a retired machinist. Baen did rather well with one of those as an editor ;-) .

It's the same problem as education, people who specialize in something tend to develop different attitudes from their customers who are not so specialized.

matapam said...

Some e-sites will inevitably be slush pile equivalents. Let people read and rank them and you'll have a popular clique like Authoronomy seemed to be developing (I haven't checked lately) with people boosting their friend's books, or the book of people who ranked theirs high.

It's the kindergarten you fear.

I don't think complete open sites will work (well), either.

Anton Gully said...

Matapam - if Authoronomy isn't working because of cliques, it's because there aren't enough people using it. When a majority of readers are filtering the slush pile it'll work better. But I don't have the energy left to pursue that discussion. I've served my time in that foxhole.

matapam said...

Slush Reader burnout. Something you don't want to do to potential purchasers.

Authonomy sort of works, in as much as the really bad sink slowly out of sight. If it were split by genre it might be better, if the competition wasn't for "Top Five Will get Ten Pages read by multiple Editors" every month which sets up some cut throat competition. ::Shrug::

A site that ranked manuscripts by "X# of people have read it, X# recommend it" with no limit as to how many books get on the "75% of readers liked it list" might work for an open e-book site. Until it's tried, we won't know if enough people will browse to make it work.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Pam,

I think part of the reason austen fanfic works is that it is... austen fanfic. People come there to read. There's NO prize at the end of the rainbow, except for certain "most comments" bragging rights (and Sofie and I got that cornered for the end of A Touch Of Night.) But people have already bought into the austen fanfic comment when they come there. Which does a certain amount of pre-filtering.

To translate to a general fic site it WOULD need to be established by genre and "no prize at end of rainbow" except tip jar hits or whatever.

I still don't know if it would work. I mean, even in fanfic, I literally give these people the same opportunity I give slash. Uh... ten words. don't have me. Sayonara.

Dave Freer said...

Kate - because at near 50 comments this is getting fricking confusing I quote:"Re: serial heroes,

I'm reminded of a comment by Spielberg about Raiders of the Lost Ark, that he was aiming for the feel of the old movie serials. Apparently they were team-written. Person A would script an episode and deliberately leave it at a cliffhanger. Person B had to get the hero out of danger, then leave at another cliffhanger at the end of their episode.

I suspect something similar could be massive amounts of fun for readers and writers."

I can tell you what is wrong with the idea, and how to make it work I think. I've worked with other authors using my characters. And they don't get them right, and irritate the hades out of me. So what could work is changing POV. I'm fine with Eric writing Crocell. I destest his writing of Erik.

Dave Freer said...

Matapam - "Do you have any other ideas about how to filter out the 90% dross?"

Well, several ideas. For starters you need an existing professional core. And then unlike SFWA you have to have a policy that keeps your core active and selling. ie. If an author stops writing and/or doesn't sell the minimum volume, they either drop out or drop a tier. They're not pulling for the team, the team can't afford to keep them there.
For a second thing work it like professional team sports. You have tiers (leagues) of co-op membership. The top tier displays their latest work on a single page. 12 covers - which are clickable buttons on the page. 8 of these are the best selling 8 - 4 are cycling through 'guests' from the next tier. If an author gets enough sales, you promote them. if you get more than 8 well selling pros - you categorise the books and have 2 (or 3 or) pages of 8 linked off your first dispaly page, which has bestselling of those authors on it. At the lower tiers - to get in at all you need to have sold something - a short, whatever. You get a trial period, if you can sell well enough, you get the full sell-or-leave status.

You can put a slush corner in this lot if you like as an even lower free/donate tier. Enough donations and you get 'sold a short' tryout.

You'll need good covers (authors will have to cough) and i suggest pay a royalty per sale to the artist. I have used some first rate artists who have done work for JBU for $100 and would jump at that + royalty. The best ones are going to ask more as time goes on, but it's a start.

Dave Freer said...

Bob - "and there's a lot more "show -- don't tell," particularly when it comes to the dialog."

yes. That's what I mean by capture the feel of those books, but take some of the good things we've learned since along.

Dave Freer said...

Ori - "It's the same problem as education, people who specialize in something tend to develop different attitudes from their customers who are not so specialized."

Actually I'd put Paula Goodlet as about the best thinking editor I've come across. Eric is a FINE structural editor - probably the best in the business. Paula - I LIKE her picks. Now - on specialisation - that's why you need a broad sample of non-professionals that you don't overuse. It'd be v. interesting to see how a range of say 10 different non-editors rated 4 books a month. For a large publisher to get say 200 people, and use them every few months (so they don't get stale) and reward them with... a pack of signed books or whatever, would take a bit of clever admin, and give you a real handle on what new books readers loved.

Dave Freer said...

Pam, Anton, Sarah. (sorry, too much) Look, 'get into slush' needs a 10 word decision (and a typo/grammo spill chucker limit somehow. I still say - tiers - bottom tier, slush no sales. If you can sell say 50 books in donations (of which say new authors would get say ?1/4 and the co-op the rest, moving to 1/3 for 'try out' and up to normal rate once they graduated.)

Anonymous said...

Quoting:
Blogger Dave Freer said...

Lady Dawn, you've hit on one of the intrinsic issues here. Language and writing style, not to mention attitudes to say women and the science make many of those books a bit dated and hard to read now. But the point with nearly all of those mentioned is that yes they are 'positive'. The characters may be conflicted and in strife, but they build strongly toward a good resolution. I'm not suggesting that we go back to the language or social set-up of 1960 or 1930 ;-), but that we go back to the style and attitude thereof -which is what I was trying to do in Wizard of Karres. And do I ever _agree_ about the YA books!

End Quote

Furthermore, one of the things that I like about more recent SF-F is the character depth. Tolkien can be forgiven, he invented several of the current stereotypes and Lord of the Rings reads like the great epics i.e. Odyssey or Gilgamesh- the characters are almost puppets moving through a play- but most stories aren't written in the style of heroic epic poetry and as such, need characters that are people. I don't insist on clearly delineated good and evil characters if the author has good control of his writing- Jim Butcher's Dresden Files comes to mind. His main character verges on an anti-hero more than once and some of the coolest supporting characters are morally ambiguous at best (Thomas & Kincaid), though many of the outright villains are truly evil. But when you can sit and give characters a rating from 1 to 10 as far as interesting goes and not have a single character in the series is over 5, there's a problem with the series (cough, cough, a Dungeons and Dragons spin-off). Moral of this long winded post- give the characters some depth (without making them spend FOREVER moping).
"Lady" Dawn

Ori Pomerantz said...

Dave Freer: Actually I'd put Paula Goodlet as about the best thinking editor I've come across. Eric is a FINE structural editor - probably the best in the business. Paula - I LIKE her picks. Now - on specialisation - that's why you need a broad sample of non-professionals that you don't overuse.

Ori: You're right - it's a tendency to specialize and lose touch, not an absolute.

I like the idea of a board sample of non-professionals, similar to the Baen volunteer slush readers. Unfortunately, most professional editors would fight tooth and nail against it.

It might be worth suggesting it to one of the MBA types that manage editors. Anybody here knows any?

Dave Freer said...

Lady Dawn, I gave my heroine in Diving Belle (a 1632 universe story I did with my friend Gunnar Dahlin) 40 feet of depth! Isn't that enough?! Grin. Yes, there was a stage of sf particularly when the characters were secondary to the setting/science/action. That was a mistake too, and a wrong trail.

Dave Freer said...

Ori
"Unfortunately, most professional editors would fight tooth and nail against it."

Some of them would, you are quite right. The wage in publishing is not great I think we all know. And sadly there are always some who draw great compensation from the power-game. That would detract from it. If there was ever a reason for paying sales related bonuses to editors and staff this might be it :-)