It’s a real book, and not just files on my laptop!
The fiction I’m working on at the moment involves werewolves. I hadn’t revisited the premise in a while (this is a reworking of a very old piece), and I knew that I needed to look up modern views on wolf pack hierarchy because the “alpha wolf” notion has been discredited. It wasn’t a huge part of my plot — and had no bearing at all on the romantic aspect — but it was there in the subplot, and I wanted to fix it. Five minutes on Google gave me a wealth of information, which I’ve incorporated, and I think it improved the story quite a bit. Yay for research!
So I’m sort of amused that not one, but two blogs I follow published articles on this topic last weekend.
First, Foz Meadows wrote The Truth of Wolves, or: The Alpha Problem. It’s fantastic. She takes down urban fantasy authors not for perpetuating the old science — that part is, in her view, entirely forgiveable — but for using the alpha/beta/omega structure as an excuse to write romantic heroes who are sexist assholes.
More specifically, we get the Alpha Problem: endless tracts of sexism, misogyny, female exceptionalism, rigid social hierarchies maintained through a combination of violence and biological determinism, inescapable mating bonds, and a carte blanche excuse for male characters to behave like cavemen (and for female characters to accept it) on the slender justification that, as alphas, it’s both in their nature and what’s expected of them. And the thing is, I love urban fantasy, and I also really love shapeshifters. But it’s not often these days that I get to love the two things in combination, because apart from not being able to deal with the sheer profligacy of the aforementioned problems, I also can’t get past the fact that the logic on which they’re predicated – the logic of wolves – is overwhelmingly inaccurate.
A day later, io9 published a similar piece, Why everything you know about wolf packs is wrong. This digs into the literature a little more and focuses entirely on the wolf packs, leaving it to the commenters to draw the connections to current urban fantasy.
The sheer alpha-ness of the alpha heroes is starting to overshadow my enjoyment of Patricia Briggs’s work. I adore the Alpha and Omega novella especially… but yeah, very much predicated on some discredited science. I’m amused to see via the io9 comments that Kelley Armstrong (whose series I haven’t kept up with recently) handled this by saying, more or less, “Yeah, but werewolves are different,” and moving on with the story. That’s an awesome retcon.
The question remains… was everyone else Googling wolf pack structure the same day I was?
This kind of crap went on and on. It was exhausting. Exhausting to figure out how to respond to the relentless misogyny from men who are otherwise kind and educated, who would never think of themselves as chauvinist assholes. … A big pile of reasonably aware and well-intentioned people doing thoughtless shit creates a solid set of stairs for unreasonable, ignorant assholes to say and do what most of us (men and women alike) would deem shockingly destructive.
Not surprisingly, seeing as writers lie for money, we lie to ourselves all the damn time. You start off pretending a project doesn’t mean that much to you, or that you’re writing it to learn, or that you’re writing it for art, or that you need to do something during your lunch break. You tell yourself that your book is genius, that you’re a genius, that if not this book, then the next one. You send stories or novels out and start getting in rejections, and that’s the icing on the lie-cake — maybe my protagonist looked like that editor’s ex-wife, maybe I formatted it wrong, maybe space opera isn’t in (again) this year.
Because on some level the self-denial does protect you, and you need it to survive.
Charlaine Harris is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in the publishing world, and I feel terrible for her right now.
Aside from the death threats, threats of self-harm, and scathing one-star reviews she’s receiving from fans who are upset either that the series is ending at all, or that its romance thread doesn’t play out the way they wanted it to, there’s this bit at the end of the Wall Street Journal’s article on the last book:
Ms. Harris’s editor, Ginjer Buchanan, got choked up while discussing the end of the franchise. “We would like it to have gone on forever,” she said. “I don’t think anything is going to be as popular as Sookie.”
What a godawful thing to say to an author! Nothing else you do will ever be this good. We’d rather have you do the same thing forever than grow as an artist and try new things.
I gave up on the series several books ago; her creative fatigue has been apparent for some time now, and I actually enjoyed her non-vampire mysteries more than the Sookie books. So I went over to Goodreads to find out the cause of all the readers’ ire. And… am I nuts? The romantic endgame was obvious to me from the second book onward (precisely where Harris says, in this article, she figured out where to end the series). It was not pulled out of her ass, as a few reviews so charmingly accused. The groundwork was neatly laid, and very clearly foreshadowed in the sixth book. I suspect readers got so wrapped up in their preferred ships that they overlooked all the big flashing signs that pointed elsewhere.
(Or maybe I’m just good at predicting Harris’s moves? I figured out how the romance and the missing-sister plots were going to play out at the end of the first book in the Harper series, and it turned out almost exactly as I’d guessed.)
At any rate, authors are not readers’ dancing monkeys. Or, as Neil Gaiman put it in another context, Charlaine Harris is not your bitch. Nor is she her editors’ bitch, and I’m glad she’s moving on to other projects. I look forward to reading them.
Cory Doctorow has written a smart piece for Locus on improving PR in the publishing industry.
Most contemporary sales, marketing, and PR organizations outside of publishing use some kind of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to coordinate their activities. Fundamentally, these are just databases that record all the different interactions that the company has with the people with whom it does business. [...] Right now, this stuff all lives in separate word-processing files and spreadsheets in different departments’ hands, which results in all sorts of bizarre occurrences that I see firsthand.
Accounting is pretty awful, too, but PR is the most visibly antiquated part of the industry.
This is the part I have a hard time explaining to well-meaning people who ask how my book is doing:
But a few lucky times, I was able to score a few free minutes for a meal or a conversation with friends, and the number-one-champion frequently-asked-question they asked me was, “How is the book doing?”
The honest answer to this is, “We’ll know in two to six months.”
That’s because bookstore sales are not reported to the publisher in real time. The reports are quarterly, which means the author sees the numbers the quarter after that, when the royalty statement shows up. Amazon’s Author Central provides some insight via BookScan, but even that is pretty vague, and delayed a week.
I remember Tobias Buckell and Teresa Nielsen Hayden discussing this on Twitter a couple of months ago; he pointed out that while many publishers are now asking authors to do a lot of their own publicity, the authors have so little data to work with (and none of it in real time) that they are the least well-equipped people in the publishing chain to evaluate which of their PR efforts are effective.
Back to Cory:
Even e-book reporting is frustratingly opaque: e-book retailers know which sites refer customers to their purchase pages, know those readers’ demographics and other purchases, understand which search terms direct the most traffic, and which subset of those terms generates the most sales. Publishers get little to none of this data. If I was negotiating with Amazon, Apple, Google, and Kobo, my top request would be realtime access to anonymized aggregate data from these services.
Yep. Access to live sales data from the ebook retailers (though not all the other analytics they have) is yet another thing that’s making self-publishing so attractive to marketing-savvy writers.