ARE READERS BEING LET DOWN
Last weekend, I went to Mancunicon, the Eastercon for 2016. This is one of the big events in the UK science fiction and fantasy calendar, an annual convention that happens – surprise, surprise, over the Easter weekend.
I was excited on a number of levels – to meet some of the Guests of Honour, to catch up with other writers, to take part in a couple of panels, and to geek-out for a weekend unsupervised. But I was also excited to meet a couple of best-selling novellists who I knew from Facebook and who’d been a great support to me over my first year as a published author and, true enough, we sat down over a pint late on the first night.
You’ll know the names, I’m sure, if you’re into science fiction, especially military science fiction. Tim C Taylor, author of the Human Legion series, and P P Corcoran, of the Saiph series. Or, rather, you might know the names. If you’re a kindle reader and follow the best-seller charts, you will. But the chances are you won’t if you come from any other part of the genre’s fandom.
But should you?
Well, let’s see. Tim and Paul were two of the authors of a rather lovely hard-back book for sale over at the NewCon Press stand (also a kindle box set). Included in the book were Christopher Nuttall and Phillip Richards and the hugely talented Andy Bigwood provided illustrations for it.
In all, the four authors have over 19,000 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. For those into their maths, Mark Lawrence reckons 7.7 sales are indicated by a single Goodreads review. Tim C Taylor’s books alone sold 70,000 copies last year. Those are write-for-a-living (and he does) numbers.
Yet, these writers weren’t on panels discussing writing (well, there was a self-publishing panel, which I very much enjoyed, moderated by Corcoran), or how to twist a story. They weren’t discussing what makes a good story, or how to fulfill readers’ expectations. They weren’t interviewed about their experiences and what writers and fans could take from them. In fact, as far as I could see, most of the panellists came from the traditional publishing world, in one way or another. (I’m sure there are exceptions, I’m just looking at the general trend.)
At the same time as I started to think about writing this blog, this thread came to my attention. https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/563794/#post-2012836. It tells us that of the top 100 selling Amazon (genre) authors most aren’t known to people on the UK’s largest sff forum.
Frankly, a year ago, I would have known few of them. That was before I was published by a small press whose sales come mostly from Amazon and, also, self-published my own title. Which means I’m in both worlds: the trad and the self, and doing well in both.
Of my two books, one is not better told than the other. One is not more polished than the other. I am happy to have my name on both of them. But one is seen as a ‘properly’ published book and the other not, despite that book having a rating of 4.9 on Amazon and many, many great reviews.
It’s as if readers’ opinions don’t matter: that decisions made by literary agents and publishers matter more than what the readers feel.
I wanted to ask if this is a good set-up for readers? To not be able to access best selling authors through bookshops? Jodi Taylor’s The Chronicles of St Mary’s series is one of the most popular in its category on Kindle. It sounds like it’s absolutely up my street, and is on my always-too-long ToBeRead list. Is it fair that it’s easy to find her books on Amazon, but not in Waterstones?
Indeed, is that good for the genre as a whole? We talk about Amazon gaining too much of an monopoly but, as a reader, the hottest books in genre may be only on the e-platforms – where Amazon does hold a monopoly.
It’s easy to dismiss the argument in this blog with the old ‘quantity vs quality’, and say that self-published books lack the critical polish of tradition pulishing. That sales mean nothing, and indicate nothing of quality. I’m a bit more respectful of sff readers than that. Especially if nearly 20,000 genre readers are shouting out for me to read something.
This blog is about choice. Reader choice that isn’t dictated by a narrow gate-kept entry. It’s about giving fans their place in our genre – and that’s all fans, not just the ones who go to conventions, or buy the latest Big6 author assuming that quality is guaranteed, but those who trawl the kindle listings for their preferred genre, because that’s where the choice is, and where reader recommendations can be found.
I don’t want conventions to only celebrate those marketable enough to have a traditional contract. I want to read what the voracious fans in my genre are reading and enjoying. I want to talk to the authors who are killing it in terms of sales (and 70,000 sales is killing it compared to most writers on any platform) and learn how to do that. I want to celebrate success, not hide it just because the method doesn’t follow the path some feel it should.
In short, I think the sff fan-base would be richer if it embraced what’s going on in the indie-market. They need to get with the time, bring the wider voices of the genre in and truly service the breadth of current genre writing and reading.