Various & Sundry, 2/14/10
Hope your Valentine’s Day is full of love & chocolates, in the proportions most pleasing to you. Here’s some stuff I’m thinking about today, mostly not relating to love and/or chocolates:
* Jay Lake explains why you shouldn’t listen to him (and by extension any established author) if you’re a new author, as relates to breaking into the science fiction publishing field. His line of reasoning here is that his experience of breaking into the field is a decade old now, and what worked for him then isn’t necessarily going to be what’s going to work now, just as the advice that he heard about breaking in from old pros wasn’t necessarily applicable when he was the new kid on the block.
I think Jay’s got it about half right here. He’s entirely correct that the field is changing — and that the field has always been changing — and that the experience of breaking into the field is different at different times, and that aspiring authors should factor that in while listening to the old farts go on about how to break into the field, based on their own now outdated experience. On the other hand, while certain specifics change, there’s lots of general advice that’s applicable year in and year out, much of it relating to learning how to value your time and your work, and avoiding the type of folks who prey on aspiring writers’ lack of knowledge of the field. Newer writers put themselves at a disadvantage if they discount advice on that simply because the person offering it debuted a decade or two (or three) previous.
In short (and I think this is what Jay was aiming to say), filter the advice you get about the science fiction market with your own knowledge and experience. Also — this is me, not Jay — recognize that the person whose specific advice on the market may be shaky may yet still give you good general advice on selling you work (or vice versa). No one person is a 100% accurate font of advice. As an aside, I do think it’s more useful to get advice from the people who realize this fact, than the people who don’t.
* Related to this, this bit has been going around the Internets recently (I was pointed to it by Toby Buckell): No One Knows What the F*** They’re Doing, which is an examination of why even (and especially) competent people feel like impostors who are just faking it. The irony of this is of course while competent people feel like this, there are piles of totally incompetent bastards who wander about the landscape alleging to know what they’re doing, and completely screwing things up as they do so.
I find what this fellow has to say relatively non-controversial and also within my own experience of things, although I am personally a little less neurotic about the phenomenon than he is; while I still more than occasionally have the “who thought it would be a good idea to let me do this?” thought, I also see the fact that I have it as a positive sign that I haven’t in fact crawled up my own asshole in terms of ego and self-regard. Also, at age 40, I’m finally comfortable with the fact in most situations someone has to be the grown-up, and sometimes it will have to be me. Fair enough.
What I think the smartest thing this fellow has to say, however, is on the subject of education, and how it serves not only to expand the category of Things You Know, but also serves to expand your awareness of the vastly larger category of Things You Don’t Know, and with the expansion of that awareness comes a commensurate drop in the chance you’ll do something dangerous (or stupid), because you’re not aware that you don’t know what you don’t know. I think this is exactly right, and it’s something I also see in my own experience — the older I get the more I realize a) just how much I don’t know and b) how much better my life is when there are competent people around who can handle “a)” for me so I can do the things I do know and am competent to do.
This not coincidentally goes back to earlier conversations here as to why publishers will not go away anytime soon, and why so many of us who are actual working writers eventually get exasperated and irritated with people who blithely vomit gouts of nonsense about publishers being inessential middlemen and aren’t we lucky that in the future we’ll be able to do all those silly publishing tasks ourselves. “Lucky” isn’t the word most of us would use for that.
* On the subject of author exasperation, Seanan McGuire has it, as regards people (primarily those with eBook readers) who in the wake of the Amazon/Macmillan thing are up in arms about “greedy authors,” as apparently all us authors are unspeakably rich jerks who like nothing better than to take money from the sort of people who will pay hundreds of dollars for an eBook reader but are then outraged if the cost of an eBook exceeds an arbitrary but low price point. McGuire reminds all and sundry that in fact the vast majority of authors aren’t rich (or even making a living off their writing), and that to many of us on the writing side of the equation, the hissy fits certain readers are having at the moment, much of it based on ignorance of the author’s role in publishing and pricing, are just plain frustrating.
To which, of course, those particular readers are perfectly entitled not to care, since at the end of the day their concerns aren’t the concerns of the authors’ — they want something to read at a price they’re willing to part with, and they don’t want to have to wait until the publisher drops the price to that level. It’s the difference between being a producer and a consumer. I think one of the really interesting things about the Amazon/Macmillan scuffle is that it exposed to the public not only the tensions between those two corporations, but also between authors and (at least some) readers.