Self-published stories aren’t a terribly new convention. People have been paying to have their works released for a long time. But, with the advent of the internet and the widely available platform for author promotion and creation, self-publishing has become a common way for authors to get their works into readers’ hands.
I won’t lie. I have some pretty mixed feelings about the widespread use of self-publishing, mostly that for me it often becomes overwhelming to even glance in the way of self-published authors. The mountain of works simply is so hard to sift through that I often don’t tread very close.
However, there are some fantastic self-published works available online.
The Martian, Wool, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.
The standouts in self-publishing show that the publishing method isn’t necessarily reflective of the quality of work.
So, how do we accommodate self-publishing in our awards?
The Martian by Andy Weir is very highly regarded. It’s a well loved story with fans coming out its ears. But, to many SFF lovers’ surprise, it wasn’t eligible to be nominated for the Hugo Award in 2014 when it was picked up for publishing by Crown Publishing. The book had previously been self-published and without heavy revisions would not have been eligible. Crown decided to publish the book very much as-is, leaving the work ineligible and retaining its 2011 publication date.
The problem in awards is multifaceted. By and large, I think it comes down to a few issues: exposure, inundation, and gatekeeping.
Self-published authors are often the sole marketers for their books. They are the ones who are responsible for sending out review requests, getting the book available, and making sure the book is in the eyes of buyers, all while having to write, edit, and design the book. This is extremely difficult without the web of connections that many publishing houses have.
On top of all this, many readers continue to go to traditional publishers for their books and for those who may be open to smaller press or self-published works, the lack of in-store browsing ability and the difficulty in making your story available in online suggestion algorithms proves a big barrier.
In the event that a reader does manage to find their way into the self-pubbed section of Amazon, or Kobo, or whatever platform they may be using, there are so many self-published works that standing out may prove difficult. Not impossible, surely, but hard to do, especially without an existing strong following.
So, what do we do with self-published works that are deserving of awards?
This is the part where gatekeeping comes in.
Currently, the big awards in SFF (not to mention the broader literary community) are difficult to break into and not structured well for self-published authors.
Often, awards are either chosen by panel, or through a fan or membership nominating system. This leaves self-published works out of the loop. Nominating systems for panel awards often require submission by a publisher, and membership and fan nominating systems tend to still require the same-year publication date requirement, which often isn’t enough time for a popular self-published work to “break out,” and clumps those books together with traditionally-published novels, which have significantly more budget and reach.
Again, here I feel conflicted.
Something about this seems so unfair, as though the cards are stacked against self-published works. However, extending deadlines makes eligibility for self-published works opens up the door to complaints that the work isn’t being judges with its peers or that the system is unfair in the opposite way.
The Hugos did recently propose extending eligibility for books not originally published in the US. This wasn’t overly controversial, so maybe I’m worrying over nothing. I can’t imagine people denying the difficulties in publishing and promoting a book on your own.
But, maybe the Kitschies have it right, but by thee token, a digitally native category implies that self-pubbed can’t compete with traditionally published works in content quality.
There’s a “Digitally Native” category there that seems to have served well. The Kitchies is a panel award, though, so I wonder how that would play in to a fan or membership system.
Regardless, something has to change in order for the community to recognize the self-published works that can blow us out of the water.
What do you think? What rules changes or category additions would best serve this purpose?
Some days it seems that this mess isn’t going to end. For those of you who were tuned in to the Hugo Awards for the last few years, you probably know all about, or at least have heard about the Sad and Rabid Puppy groups. I know. It’s that time again.
A bit of background: the Sad and Rabid Puppies are two groups of SFF readers with a similar proclaimed agenda: to get rid of “Leftist message fiction” and lessen its prominence in the SFF awards system. To do so, last year they encouraged their followers to vote for slates of works put together by their leadership.
This in and of itself isn’t too new or surprising, though it flies in the face of the Hugos intention and the spirit of the award.. The problem comes in with some of the supplementary behavior that have happened: doxxing, harassment, review bombing, and general displays of homophobia and misogyny.
The Sad and Rabid Puppy slates were successful in placing a large number of their slate picks on the Hugos ballot, resulting in a big uproar among Hugo voters who aren’t part of the groups and a large smattering of “No Awards” being selected.
So, here’s what’s going on.
After the Sad and Rabid Puppy events of last year and the subsequent plethora of No Awards in the Hugos, I think everyone was kind of hoping that the problems had died down. It seemed like the entirety of SFF fandom was exhausted, and who could blame any of us?
But, of course, life isn’t too easy and there’s always a round 2.
With the Hugo nominations about to be opened up, the movements are back. It should be noted that the Sad Puppies, the more moderate of the two groups, seems to have backed off of some of the rhetoric and are leaving behind some of the more manipulative tactics of the past year. They have no official slate and their website for the year’s campaign is a list of threads for readers to list suggestions. The suggestions themselves seem to actually take up the majority of the space and are varied (and include Ann Leckie’s works?).
It is the Rabid Puppy group that seems to be the point of contention. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Rabid Puppy group is closely tied to GamerGate and has been known for adoption of some GamerGate tactics.
So, since the 2015 Hugos, two “big” things have happened. First, Vox Day was banned from Goodreads, and, second, some independent bookstores have removed Pupppy-affiliated works from their shelves.
So, what exactly happened?
Vox Day and the Puppies claim that they had set up a Goodreads group with the intention of talking about Hugo-eligible works, which was taken down 36 hours later because of the nature of the ideology in their movement (more or less. A link to Vox’s post about it here.).
Other accounts claim that Vox Day and the Puppies were advocating for review bombing. Review bombing is the practice of giving false or spurious negative reviews to a work with the intention of displacing its placement in suggestion algorithms and of discouraging people to purchase or use the work. This would be explicitly against Goodreads’ terms of service.
Additionally, there are claims that the group had been organizing a way to get its members “librarian” status on the site to take down works they disliked. There are also claims that the group had been harassing persons with this status.
Any of these claims would be reason for Goodreads to take down the group, and depending on the validity of the claims, may be cause to get rid of Vox’s Goodreads account. Both were taken down shortly after the group’s creation.
Vox Day has posted this link with a name of who he thinks is the moderator who got him banned from the site.
The actions have been used as fuel to the fire of “SJWs are against us” claims the group profligates. Puppies have been saying that the policy is inequitably applied and that persons with more left agenda are left alone when behaving the same way.
Let’s be clear: Goodreads was within its rights to take down the group and ban Vox Day. As a privately held company, the behavior was a violation of the terms of service and Goodreads’ enforcement of its TOS is fine. Frankly, I think companies should stick to their TOS.
If there is similar behavior that also violates the TOS on the anti-Puppy side, they should also have their groups taken down.
Is this a vast conspiracy? I doubt it.
The second matter is the issue of bookstores removing Puppy-affiliated works from their stock.
The story popping up has been extremely hard to verify. The rundown looks like this: someone claims that a Jim Hines summary of the Puppies was sent around to Toronto bookstores. The bookstores then took affiliated books of their ordering lists.
It has not been proven.
But, let’s assume it’s true for a minute, which accounts of bookstore stock from people seem to indicate it isn’t.
What constitutes censorship? Should we be concerned?
Censorship is always a complicated topic. We get touchy about the issue and conflate a lot of different things with censorship.
Censorship is when a book or books is systematically made unavailable to the general public, usually with the consent of the government.
A few bookstores refusing to stock a book shouldn’t worry us, especially if those bookstores are independent, which would be the suspected case. Accounts still have Correia and others on the shelf in Indigo stores (the Barnes and Noble equivalent in Toronto), there have been no accounts of libraries removing the books (this is generally against library policies everywhere), and the internet has not ceased to make the books widely available in print and electronic form. So, censorship seems like a particularly unlikely thing to be happening.
No need to fear, Puppy-beloved books are still obtainable.
So, what should we expect over the next Hugos season?
My suggestion would be that, provided we as a community engage with moderates who disagree with us, remain civil, and try hard to rebond with people on the opposite side of the “schism” that is the Puppies, then nothing. We should have a fairly peaceable and engaging Hugos, hopefully with a continued increase in the amount of people voting and becoming active in the community. At least, that’s my best-case scenario. We can make it happen.
My mom was a study skills aid when I was a kid. That seems like one of the natural places to start. She helped kids with learning disabilities to improve their time at school, to stay organized, to retain information. But, she was never content to stop there.
My mom was fantastic and she was determined to prepare her children for the best. When I was about three or four, she brought home basic phonics books (Some sadly beaten up knock-offs of Hooked on Phonics).
This was all great, but didn’t make me love reading. It was a favorite activity, but actual love would take a while.
It was only a little while later that I’d moved on to the big bad world of chapter books and very quickly I had outpaced my peers in reading level. My mother was constantly bringing home older classics (sometimes inappropriate in content, if not reading level). Some of these I would love, but for the most part they were not my favorite books.
At about six or seven I found that reading could be really fun, to the point where when I could, I would sneak flashlights into my room to read later.
But at about nine, things got pretty bad for a while at home. A family history of mental illness, my brother’s developmental disability, and just general economic difficulties had made living at home difficult, even for those who were able to leave and get alone time. That’s when I dove deep into reading.
It took quite a few years for things to level out and then we hit another rough spot when I entered high school. My brother was hospitalized for a long time and our recent move to a rural area meant that the only doctors with expertise in his illness were literally hours away by car.
It’s during those two times I realized that I was going to reading as a get-away. Books had always been fun, but they were quickly becoming my safe place in the world. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Books were like my fairy godmother. They were there when I needed my life to be a bit different; they still are.
All I can say to that, really, is “Thank God.”
When reading Six Gun Snow White (Cat Valente) and Poison (Sarah Pinborough), I was left thinking a lot about fairytale retellings, how they are approached, and my feelings about them. My past history with fairytale retellings hasn’t been all rosy cheeks and cuddles. Generally, I finish fairytale retellings with a sense of something left wanting, a general dissatisfaction.
I have come to the conclusion that fairytale retellings are best done in one of two ways: total overhaul or digging deeper into the original. Both Valente and Pinborough are good examples of these two approaches.
Six Gun Snow White is a total overhaul story. It breaks apart the pieces of Snow White and plays with them. It puts them together in a different way. While the story still revolves around the relationship between a girl and her stepmother, Six Gun Snow White varies widely from the original story. Snow White is the daughter of a white minerals prospector and a Native American woman. She’s by and large let free to roam her father’s estate while he travels to new mining opportunities. Snow White has to deal with a physically abusive stepmother who can’t get over the fact that Snow is, in fact, not white. Snow runs away with her six shooter into Crow country. Magic is there, but the mirror doesn’t talk and the dwarves aren’t exactly dwarves.
Valente’s story is a great example of an overhaul done right. She takes the themes and elements of Snow White, but isn’t confined by them. It doesn’t feel like a Snow White story bound by its past iterations. It feels fresh and very freed from convention. It would stand on its own if you had never read or heard the original tale. Valente picks and chooses what she likes and makes the story her own instead of just dressing Snow White up in a cowboy hat.
Poison is a more traditional retelling. Snow White is still a princess whose father remarries a witch. She runs away to be tracked down by a hunter. All the bells and whistles are still there. What Poison does that I liked with the story is taking previously one dimensional characters and digging in.
Pinborough takes the story of Snow White as an opportunity to look at who the Evil Stepmother is, why her relationship with Snow would devolve, and what the characters would be doing, thinking, wanting, etc. Pinborough expands on the story, unlike the more “paying homage” approach Valente takes, and it works. She examines the motivations and repercussions of the characters and successfully builds real people out of a cartoon drawing. She also intertwines some fairytales and gives it a dark ending (Oh, my God, that ending).
I think the real point here is that both can be done well, but it’s the divergence and depth that makes a retelling enjoyable. Retellings that work too hard on keeping the plot and story “pure” while also putting it in a different context are a turnoff to me. It binds the story up and doesn’t add to the story’s life. I like the story, but to hold too true to it while still trying to make it something the original story isn’t doesn’t often pan out.
Thoughts? What do you think about retellings?
It probably comes as no surprise to you that book to movie/TV adaptations are all the rage. After the successes that Hollywood has seen with The Hunger Games, Divergent, Game of Thrones, and The Martian, it seems like every book is getting optioned. Part of this isn’t surprising, but it is a little off-setting to me. In business, you want to go with proven strategies. Successful models will always be more appealing. But I suspect that there are a lot of franchises being set up to go nowhere at best and down the drain at worst.
In the past year or so, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Wes Chu’s Time Salvager, and Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. Have all been optioned for various movie, tv, and video game productions (sources hyperlinked).
Let’s start by talking about what this means.
According to legal-dictionary.com, an option means:
A right, which operates as a continuing offer, given in exchange for consideration—something of value—to purchase or lease property at an agreed price and terms within a specified time.
In a way, all of the buzz over this is a bit misleading. Being “optioned” means that a company has bought the rights to produce an adaptation of the story. The company can then take the story and start developing scripts, production ideas, and testing the story on potential markets. What “optioned” doesn’t mean is that those adaptations will necessarily be made or that they will be made any time soon.
An option is a way for a company to test the waters. There may be contract terms which require certain things like script development or production, but this isn’t inherent to the term. To boot, an option is like a lease, after a certain time, you’re done. The copyright holder can move on to the next offer.
What’s more important is (1) what company has optioned a story, (2) if they have anyone on contract for the story, (3) the popularity of the story, and (4) if the story allows the company to tap into a new or a wide audience.
For instance, saying that a small company has optioned a story, but has no one on board to adapt it, it’s only a fairly popular story, and it’s not going to tap into or expand the audience they already have, means less than a large company optioning a story with an enthusiastic and popular team on board for a story that has broken the NYT bestseller list.
Optioning doesn’t mean so much in and of itself, but there has been a slew of optioning, by fairly established companies. Many of these optioning deals have teams to help the potential production on board and are picking up niche, but well received books. Wes Chu’s novel Time Salvager , for instance, was optioned by Paramount with Michael Bay lined up to direct and Chu set to be the executive producer. That’s a serious deal. Considering the works that have been announcing optioning, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that in the next 5 or so years we will get a large number of movie adaptations of hit works.
Optioning: Good? Bad? Meh?
Part of me is ridiculously excited to see so many SFF adaptations (potentially) in the works. It’s been so long since we got an SFF adaptation that was truly energizing. Afterall, there’s so much potential in SFF that hasn’t been tapped into. Star Wars and Star Trek reboots will only get you so far and Scyfy hasn’t made a tv show worthy of weekly watching for quite some time. Lately more shows like Game of Thrones and Orphan Black have been on the rise. The idea of a new, gritty scifi show, or an engaging fantasy show sans-Starks is exciting. But, I’m hesitant about the swath of adaptations for a few reasons.
Choosing stories for the medium
Popular stories are the first place a company is going to look for a potential adaptation. There’s a built in market and the story has been (at least somewhat) vetted. This has the potential to be fantastic, but also means that there is a far more limited field of what’s being considered. And, frankly, plenty of popular science fiction and fantasy stories don’t lend themselves well to visual medium.
Take, for example, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Justice won a Hugo for best novel, an impressive feat made more impactful because it was a debut novel. The story truly pushes the limits of science fiction storytelling and is absolutely captivating. But, a lot of the story is not immediately appealable and the storytelling is extremely complex. It’s difficult to see immediately how a television show will convey the inability of Justice One Esk (the main character) to see gender. The descriptions of how One Esk describes the politics is extremely detailed with a long backstory that may be difficult to build on a visual platform where there is limited time and information. This is not to say it cannot be done or cannot be done well, simply that it will require alterations and reworking.
As a more stark example, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear have been optioned by Lionsgate for production as a movie. The King Killer Chronicles has been optioned before. In 2013, Fox –the same company optioning Leckie’s novel– attempted to develop the books into a TV show. It didn’t wind up happening. Much of Rothfuss’ story may simply be hard to explain visually or be less compelling when turned into a script. Without the insight into Kvothe’s mind and the magic system, the story may lose affect. Similarly the story has a non-traditional subject matter. It’s hard to make a high fantasy story work on screen. The struggle in the book to articulate magical words that you learn suddenly as opposed to through rote practice, the story’s slow pace, the 200 pages of fairy sex, may just not really work for the screen, big or small.
Quality of production
It’s hard to imagine that many start up stories are going to get the money to invest in special effects necessary to really pull-off some of the stories being optioned. The investment in creating a believable version of a magical or science fiction world is large. Even larger the more detailed it gets. Game of Thrones costs HBO almost $6 million per episode to make. This may be lessened by going with a British series model (6-12 episodes per season), but doing so disrupts much of the current television model in the US. Disruption and a major budget investment may simply be less appealing than going for a more traditional story with a greater chance of conventional success.
Flooding the Market
Perhaps this is unwarranted, but I worry about the ability of the current television market to handle a mass influx of SFF stories. It may be popular to contract those stories for a while, but competition combined with the high cost of special effects will likely force many of these stories out of production. I worry that it will stigmatize optioning SFF in the future. This is probably overthinking, because SFF isn’t always seen as a good bet to begin with, but I can’t help taking it into account.
I really am excited to see SFF getting optioned. I just am a worry wart. I want it done well and I want to spread the SFF love. Hopefully that goal is about to be achieved.
I’ve been increasingly frustrated by the state of the SFF world. It seems like it’s been one thing after another for so long. Constant low-level hostility and tension has been at best worrisome and at worse disturbing. I’ve mostly tried ignoring the chaos, especially considering that much of the disruptions have come from a very small number of people.
I still hold by much of what was said in my earlier post.
Unfortunately, the chaos has continued. Most recently, a false police report was filed by a Hugo nominee against another, leading to a full WorldCon investigation and the nominee’s work being rejected from a magazine. In the fall out, death threats and harassment ensued. We’ll be talking a little bit about this. For the full background on the story, you can see some of the posts I’ll link below.
While the “victim” of the false police report has accepted Lou Antonelli’s apologies, the actions of Antonelli haven’t ceased to have consequences. Antonelli’s actions in particular aren’t really what I want to talk about. I’m going to be addressing the actions we have seen in our community more broadly. It feels a bit ridiculous that I should even have to do this; these behaviors are far from common. Unfortunately, they’ve insinuated themselves into our world.
I’m approaching much of this from a more libertarian perspective. This is for a few reasons (1) I think that a libertarian discourse about rights and the role of the state is fitting for the behaviors we have seen in this community; and (2) I think that a discourse about positive and negative rights is a broadly applicable approach for the rhetoric that accompanies the behaviors we have seen recently.
When we talk about rights we do so in two terms: positive and negative. In short, positive rights are rights that obligate action and negative rights are rights that impede action. For example, the right to a public education obligates the State to provide schooling, thus it is a positive right. The right to free speech prohibits censorship, and thus is a negative right.
Below, I am going to use this framework to talk about specific action we’ve seen in SFF fandom lately and why it is unacceptable.
I’ll also be talking about the difference between “public” and “private.” One of the trickier aspects of this conversation is that I am going to be using two sets of public and private. In normal discussions, we talk about public and private in terms of who views an action and who is effected by it. If I am walking in the mall, I am in public. If I am in my home, I am in private. This is complicated by the role of the State (by which I mean your governing body). For the State, there is the private individual and the public one. For instance, you are still a public individual when you make a phone call to the police. You are a private individual when you are in the store, purchasing an item. I’ll try to be as clear as possible when using these different approaches to public and private.
Before we start
I want to make sure that we’re on the same page, here. If you are an adult, you have the right to make your own decisions. That includes decisions you make for your self, your dependents, and your property. I’m pretty generous about the application of this. Where your decision-making ends, by necessity, is where that decision impacts another person (person’s property or dependents included) about whom you do not get to make decisions.
This may be more recognizable as “You can swing a cat until it hits someone.” Your cat, your space, fine. If your cat hits someone in the face, not fine. Obviously, in a modern society, this isn’t something we can roll with carte blanche, but you get the point.
Why you don’t get to make threats on the internet
I’m a big believer in the right to free speech. Want to say something ridiculous? dumb? mean? racist? Go for it. You have the right to say just about whatever you want in public.
Remember that you get to do whatever you want until it affects someone else. Threats to another inherently change the state of another person. The threat of bodily harm (or emotional, personal, or other) changes the ability of another person to make decisions. If you mean it or not, if you can carry it out or not, they must account for your reaction. Therefore, a threat is an impediment to them.
In this case, you have a negative right to censorship, but the other person’s negative right to bodily and personal safety takes priority. This isn’t because your right to say what you want isn’t important. It’s because the violation of theirs is (1) more serious, and (2) has a wider implication for their rights overall. The violation of the right to bodily and personal safety is the cornerstone upon which all our other rights are founded. You cannot speak freely if you aren’t physically safe. You cannot practice religion if you are not physically safe. See where I’m going with this?
Hence, that person would justifiably call the police.
When we talk about the role of the State, there are very few commonly agreed upon duties that we assign it. Government is tricky and should be limited. One of the almost universally agreed upon roles we attribute to the government is the protection of property against legitimate threats to its injury. This includes one’s person. You own your body.
The internet can be tricky. It sure feels like a private interaction when you send a comment or a message to someone over the computer. After all, you may only intend for them to read it. Here’s the kicker: the internet isn’t actually private and it wouldn’t matter if it were.
The internet is actually a public forum. Legally, we treat comment and message boards as though you were shouting in the park. This makes sense because by and large our internet usage is widely visible. When it isn’t, your data and message is constantly accessible by a large group of people and companies: your internet provider, the website you use, the website’s hosts, your recipients’ internet provider, the website they’re using, the website’s host, etc. Luckily, the same rules apply to the internet as if you were in a park. You can basically say whatever you want, with the understanding that, like in a park, you may be overheard even when it seems private.
Regardless, it wouldn’t matter even if a threat via the internet were privately sent. A threat to one’s person is still a threat. Even if you say you didn’t mean it. Even if it was just to scare them. Even if it was just out of rage. Any threat to one’s body, property, or dependents can legitimately be brought to the police. No matter who makes it or where it was said. The State’s involvement here is 100% legitimate.
Why you don’t get to call the police and make a false report
The police force is, at least in theory, a public good (note: I use public good here to mean public resource). Often, we think of the police as a way to keep people from breaking the law. Their role, however, is more fundamental.
The police force is a problematic presence at best. They must balance between protecting our fundamental rights (most notably property right) and enforcing the will of the State. If you’re suspicious of the police, you have good reason to be. The expansion of police duties necessarily comes at the expense of liberty.
So, how do you, oh suspicious one, keep the police force limited? You don’t invite them where they aren’t needed.
We tell our three-year-olds only to call 9-1-1 when there is an emergency. This is vital when we consider the police as a public good. The police has limited personnel. They cannot be everywhere at once and by calling them when you don’t need them, you limit the ability of the police to deal with real threats.
Moreover, when you call the police when they are not needed, you invite the expansion of the police force, further legislation, more government. If you are interested in limiting the size and scope of government — the amount of interference that the government can run in the individual’s life– you should not call in false threats. It’s the surest way to expand that which you want less of.
Why you don’t get to give out someone’s personal information to people
Private information. Private information. Private information.
We talked earlier about the difference between private and public. Remember?
There is a right to privacy. It protects your ability to make your own choices. You cannot be autonomous if you don’t have the right to keep other people from sticking their noses in your business.
So, when you go dig through the deep dark depths of the world to get someone’s personal information, like their real name, where they live, their cell phone number, you are violating their right to privacy (again a negative right).
When you do this, knowing that people are asking for that information, knowing that people will be using it for harmful and malicious purposes, you are culpable for the harm that results. You have violated a right, thus enabling harm. Don’t do it.
This is far from an exhaustive list of things that are happening. Regardless, I think if we respect one another’s rights, we cut a lot of the bad off at the head. Basically, just think WWHD? What would Heinlein do?
WorldCon Statement on Lou Antonelli and David Gerrold: https://www.facebook.com/sasquan/posts/880154438687988
Pattern Matching: Lou Antonelli and the Sad Puppy Slate: http://www.pretty-terrible.com/2015/08/10/pattern-matching-lou-antonelli-and-the-sad-puppies/
File 770 on Antonelli’s apology: http://file770.com/?p=24262
Another File 770: http://file770.com/?p=24256
Editor Carrie Cuinn on the reaction to her pulling Antonelli’s work: http://carriecuinn.com/2015/08/10/a-statement-about-lou-antonelli-lakeside-circus-harassment-and-safety/