Monday, August 9, 2010

Interesting times and different a-gender

Dorchester (principally Romance publisher, mass market, medium sized) - who have I gather been having something of a torrid time (and not between the sheets - unless it's paper sheets - and then it's probably newspaper on a park bench) - have dropped their mass market print business and will now be only doing POD and e-books. Depending on whose point of veiw you trust, this either smart (their POV) or the the final countdown for publishing (Joe Konrath)or a bit of a kick in the unmentionables to their authors. The last is undoubtably correct - and Dorchester would probably have to offer me Earth, moon and stars and at least 65% of the Amazon retail price (ie five percent for them to do the cover, editorial, proofs and formatting with - call it not very likely) to persaude me that their new terms were anything but a shafting. Still interesting times. I do see how it would have been near impossible for them to have told authors, without being shredded by creditors, but the result is shredded credibility instead. I predict its demise or possibly incarnation as a vanity press. My deepest sympathy for the authors affected by this mess.

On another tack (and I owe Brendan some thanks for bringing this up last week) there's been something of a storm in the female-reader dominated YA mainstream B-cup (B stands for boys, really), with some young upstart daring to point out that boys don't read much of it, and maybe someone should do something about it. Predictably a frothy foment of furious outrage and suitable brat bashing followed from those at the top end of the status quo at the moment (I am sure they didn't intend it like that, but that -- to this neutral outsider -- was how it sounded.) It was singly funny because if you changed genders it read like the 1960 diatribes of a few crusty old... venerable members of the profession defending all-male TOC's in the SF short-story mags of 1960. When you eventually stripped out the outrage and the self-justification and the outright denial, it came down to well, yes there is a problem. But we're happy in the front of the bus, they don't really mind being in the back of the bus, and they've got lots of old busses where we used to have to travel at the back, and anyway we're still not secure and need to be reaffirmed and we're owed several thousand years in the front... yadda yadda yadda rationalisations for not doing anything and trying to stop anyone else doing it. I guess some folk are always happy with status quo, especially when they are it. Me, I'm really not concerned particularly, except thinking the young woman who brought up it is a poster child for actually being liberated (I don't agree with everything she said, but I admire her for saying it) in the broadest sense. Let's face it: a world where the detriment-to-the-enjoyment-of-reading that gets prescribed in schools is the last fiction 4/5 of all young men, and a lot young women, ever read makes for... a Brave New World. One I'm prepared to strive not to leave to my grandchildren. I'm a strong believer in merit and growing the pie rather than taking from some haves (so they become have-nots) to give to the have nots. But the reality of this is: if there is bigger audience, we should be trying to reach it -- preferably without losing our existing audience and not getting the imagined bigger one either. And let's be honest, women on the TOC's of sf mags made sf better and broader (at least for a while. Worrying representivity too much can start eating into merit, and losing an audience without gaining much. For example if Romance tried for 50% it might end up with 0% audience. On the other hand I don't think it would break Romance as a genre to occasionally publish male authors with male names on covers and male POV or even male characters that weren't stereotype female wet-dreams. There is an audience for a little something different. I'm sure there must be readers panting for a book with a hero with a chest like a tubercular pigeon, and flat feet - but a nice bloke anyway) Nothing which is truly exclusive is terribly healthy for society, long term, in my simian opinion. But that's just my five cents. No, I don't want to be a romance writer or YA-for-young-males writer. I wouldn't mind being able to get one of either into a publishing house (assuming Joe Konrath isn't right) without an automatic rejection, just as I'd like any editor to consider a story on merit, with regard to possible audience and effect on the existing audience when they get offered a sf short, and not to base that on gender or quota.

So how do you guys feel? Are there sometimes when a quota makes sense? Does it matter that say hard sf has more male writers than female? And does it matter that fiction is (because of the elephant in the room, Romance - and it seems YA) at least 70% female written and read? (my own take is I don't care who writes it, but I HATE losing an audience. I want all nice boys and girls to read. I want all not nice ones to read too. And I don't want your creed, politics, color, orientation or gender counting you out (one of the reasons I like the idea of e-books - broader spread). It's not good for our future, both as writers and as humans.)

On a third tack I read Janet Evanovich left her last publisher because they wouldn't give her 50 million advance for the next three books. Holy smoke. I've read a couple and they're not bad, rather formulaically predictable mysteries IMO. I've no gripe with her earning 50 million for that... if people want that, that's what they want, but I'd like know why our Sarah isn't earning 100 million dollars then? 'cause she's a lot better.


Ori Pomerantz said...

I think that too many people in publishing suffer from a lack of greed, or an excess of politics. This shouldn't be about "men vs. women". It should be about "these boys have money, we want it". Quotas might be useful if boys read books written by men, and girls read books written by women. That is clearly not the case.

I suspect, though, that part of the higher percentage of women writers is that men are more likely to choose a yucky, higher paying job. Women are more likely to choose a saner, more self-fulfilling, job that does not pay well. Writing fiction is self-fulfilling. It is not, in most cases, a well paid job.

Anonymous said...

"These boys have money, we want it."

An excelent point, Ori. I think romance will continue to be a female bastion, what we need is to build upon what young men do read.

Judging from my own two - admitedly eccentrict boys - that's manga, and graphic novels that fit into the "Dark Urban Fantasy" genre. I wonder if a mixed form might not appeal? Say 10% of the story in graphics interspersed among the mostly written material?

And speaking of Janet Evanovich - her latest release _Troublemaler_ is the third in a series and a graphic novel. The first two were _not_ graphic. So even the Best Sellers are experimenting.

With e-books we would also have the option of a brief Youtube style interspersions of action.

Just as phones, cameras and computers are merging into single devices, we may find that something that is only a reading book becoming rare in the future.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Ori in that the publishing should be courting the people with money, in that example, them being boys. I could be perfectly content with girls' money, too, though. If I could hit a niche with them, you bet I'd take it. The percentages wouldn't bother me a bit.

As for Evanovich, she had a healthy following in the romance department before she started the Stephanie Plum series which is comedy/suspense and some romance. It was a natural switchover (taking her audience with her), though I see she's gone back to romance in the last few years as well. I think she's even co-authored with her daughter some recently.

But yes, Sarah deserves MORE money!

I've come to believe that successful popularity of an author is something like a perfect storm, where all factors line up just perfectly. Hard work, talent, good publisher, effective promotion, and last but not least, finding your audience, hopefully the audience with money to spend on you. None of this will happen if you don't put yourself out there, but if you do, you might get something close. And just because you don't, it doesn't mean that YOU didn't do something right. There are a lot of factors that are out of your control. That would come under the "good publisher" part. It's just not much comforts when your books aren't selling because of something that someone else didn't do. It's a high risk profession, indeed.


Ori Pomerantz said...

Linda, I didn't mean that boys have more money than girls (for the YA audience, I doubt that is true). Just that the publishers should be interested in adding that money to their revenue pile.

MataPam, I like your idea of a blended experience. It already happens with TV and movie series that get tie in books, and could be gotten from the other direction. The problem is that producing video, while a lot cheaper than it used to be, is still expensive.

Synova said...

Re: Janet Evanovich

The publisher was right not to pay that much. I could be wrong, but I can only go by my own experience with her books... the Stephanie Plum ones... and they were absolutely wonderful (and ought to be TV or movies, natch) but eventually they do wear out. This is simply unavoidable. Eventually the confusion about which of the hunky guys she loves or not wanting to settle down or generally being a dingbat... it gets old. The sexual tension is gone because no one really cares anymore.

Synova said...

Boys and YA:

I'm afraid that I don't *get* what is YA. At that point any person ought to be reading at an adult level so it's not simplified vocabulary. And at that point the subject matter ought to be "adult". The only thing that I can see driving this new creation of age-specific literature is that we force young people to be something other than adult for far too long.

Middle school books... the Percy Jacksons and Harry Potters and Gaia Girls and Warriors (cat books)... there seems to be a lot for girls and for boys at that age, and a lot for both.

Maybe someone could explain what I'm missing in the concept.

Synova said...

The blending of Manga and text, adding illustrations, that sort of thing seems to me to be something that ought to be easy to do with the technology we have now.

My girls very much like Manga so it's not exactly a boy thing. My 16 year old would like books that are at a more middle school level for vocabulary but older otherwise and probably novella up to 50K words.

She reads a lot of fan fiction on the internet.

Anonymous said...

No, Ori, I knew you didn't mean that boys had more money. I just meant that I understood the market they wanted, the one they didn't have

Synova, the way I see YA is that it should reflect the current culture of young adults, say up to 25 years of age. I have an 18 year old (and I know you have teenagers, too), so we understand that they, as young adults (that term taken literally), don't generally yet have the same concerns that full-blown adults do (mortgages, etc.), and they therefore have time to focus on trendy and "in" things. Young adults have a hard time conceiving of their life past the next couple of years, and I've always thought an author should remember that when writing specifically for young adults. That's not to say that they don't enjoy stories written for full-blown adults, but I do think they relate better if the story speaks to "their" world, the one where mature adults don't exist. What do they talk about when their alone? That sort of thing. Anyway, I hope I've made some sense here. Not say that it's the "right" definition of YA, but it's my definition of YA.


Anonymous said...

Whoops! Please ignore the incorrect use of "their" above when it should be "they're." ::horrified::


Synova said...

Ha ha!

Finger macros... gotta love 'em.

Anonymous said...

Synova, in an effort to also clarify, when I write young adult, I try to focus on their problem of becoming an adult. A lot of what I write is coming-of-age stuff, a problem generally unique to YA.


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I teach kids in their late teen and early 20s. (To me they're kids).

I teach interactive story. (But it more about traditional story). Half of these have not seen the movies I reference to talk about story. Let alone the books and authors I mention. One said to me that he had never read a book.

There are probably people out there who feel no need to read. There is no world in their heads. Only an interface with the 'real' world.

What a scary thought!

Dave Freer said...

Ori, I think you are at least in part right. I think there is often an excess of agenda (which may be politics or something else. Social engineering maybe). There is however what I call short-term greed (as opposed to Adam Smith's enlightened self-interest.) which say romance books by female authors with a female POV sell. YA shaped for female readership sells. It's conservative in investment terms and guarantees a fairly known return, quite a good one. To take the steps to explore other areas is risky and requires a longer and wider view. Yep the possible returns are much greater - but so is the risk and losses. I am not a business strategist but I suspect that most medium-large companies set aside a small proportion of their budget for venture capital. That would make sense in genre publishing too.

Dave Freer said...

Matapam, to be driven by my own agenda - I don't care what they read, as long as they read :-). The curious thing about Romance for example is that RWA research (and the data is not available so I have no idea if this thumbsuck BS or not) is they claim to have a 20% male audience anyway. Well, I am about as typical as your sons but I've read and enjoyed Georgette Heyer, Doris Sutcliffe Adams (and if you enjoyed Bujold or Weber, you'd probably enjoy her Red Adam's Lady. It's undoubably a romantic story, but it is also a red-blooded historical adventure story. I've yet to come across a reader who didn't enjoy it.) and to a lesser extent various others that classify as romance. I must admit the average bodice-ripper makes my eyes glaze in 30 seconds. There is a real available niche they seem unwilling to exploit.

Dave Freer said...

So Linda: let me ask the awkward question (I have no problem with your rationale about exploiting any niche you can get - that makes sense) You're the editor of a collection of YA short stories with an open sub. You have space for 20 stories. You get 2000 subs. To be frank 10 are golden 190 are more-or-less OK and the rest are not good enough. You have 10 places and 190 subs. 5 of those 190 have male-interest protagnists. Do you: put one in (very few males will read the collection anyway, admittedly) or play it safe and choose 10 which fit the standard mould? Play this again as you are a publisher with 20 slots (which is a little more high risk.)

Dave Freer said...

Synova - IIRC that was for Sephanie Plums - and that what i was saying, you've read 3, enjoyed them... you've read them all. But some readers are happy with that obviously as the point being made is she's earning about 16 mill some change per book in royalties (Ok I'll bet her royalty share makes our eyes water). What they're bickering about is her capacity to keep that audience, and 'small change' of about an extra 500 thousand a book.

Dave Freer said...

Synova -particularly with mainstream YA (having tried some) the focus seems to be on being in current fashion and speech pattern, and reflective of the interests, morality and aspirations of that age group - which as many of writers are decades older and appear to have little contact tends toward the use of stereotyped 'safe' acceptable material. Sf/fantasy is a bit better as it doesn't have to try to match today's designer labels.

Dave Freer said...

Rowena - "There are probably people out there who feel no need to read. There is no world in their heads. Only an interface with the 'real' world."

If i ever read a great reason to get more books readers will enjoy out there, this is it.

Anonymous said...

I kind of skipped the YA thing after having read everything that interested me in the children's room at the library at 14 and wandered up stairs to the adult section where I stumbled across Lackey's Valdemar series and started reading SF-F. BUT, I kind of went and back filled a little of what might be called YA within the next few years, Zahn's Dragon and Thief series was pretty decent for the young adult age group in my opinion.

Overall, I think YA can and should fill a niche for readers who have outgrown the vocabulary and to an extent the shelter of children's books but are not quite ready for dealing with a lot of adult issues, i.e. sex. Forex, I read _1632_ for the first time in my late teens and was still embarrassed by Gretchen and Jeff's wedding night scene for a few more years.

The one thing YA needs to STOP doing immediately is publishing so many books that are just plan depressing. Teens are on wild and crazy hormonal roller-coasters to start with, lets not add to the misery.


Chris McMahon said...

I think it's a problem if you've got something you know damn well will sell, but it will not pass the Gatekeepers who are still looking for the same formulas and PoVs - who tend to fit your description, Dave.

Dave Freer said...

Dawn, I don't do misery-in-print well either. But some people (a small percentage who maybe are touring something they don't know?) do like depressing stuff. I really don't need it, and I'm not a teen anymore :-)

Dave Freer said...

At the moment, Chris, it's definitely a gatekeeper issue.

Anonymous said...

Dave, I'm a little late in getting back to you...just checked back with this post!

I happen to fall in the camp that says publish what you think fits. If it brings criticism because of say, all-female protagonist stories, then the chips must fall where they will. I believe (and I say this because I've never edited an anthology though it is a huge goal of mine) that the stories I chose would be chosen on other factors. I guess it would depend really on how attached I was to the stories I had chosen to include.

In your example, I seriously doubt that the gender of the protagonist would be a big deal to me. Just like the sex of the author wouldn't be a big deal to me. I know that some editors of late have taken crap because of having few to no female authors for science fiction. I don't know that those authors aren't sexist, but neither do I know they are. I would try very hard to choose the stories that I thought fit best, period, and they may have done that also. If it just so happened that the authors were mostly male or female, so be it.

I'm quite the story whore. I'll write pretty much what an editor wants if he/she expresses a desire. If they want a one-legged gnome story, that's what they'll get. At my level right now, unless it's an anthology, it doesn't matter, so I write what I want. I should also say that I love writing for anthologies because they give me a direction to go with a story. Anyway, not to ramble...


Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Your Sarah would like to know why she isn't earning 100 million dollars too... and instead is sitting here worrying self sick over two boys (effectively) in college next year.
The answer to why has to do with "Sarah never got that massive wave of promotion and has no name recognition." And yeah, in the dark night of the soul I DO wonder if I'm really better.

As for romance with male protags, Madeline Hunter does those. She also has flawed-to-hero arcs. No puny guys, though.

Dave Freer said...

"And yeah, in the dark night of the soul I DO wonder if I'm really better."

Well, I think so. But I would love a decent measure of these things myself, not skewed by all the arbitary and subjective factors.

We understand the college thing....