One of the things that puzzled me when I was a kid (I almost typed kitten. In case this is not obvious by how late I am in posting, it’s already been a day) and reading the Bible (because I wanted to know what was in it) was how adamant the Lord was against counting the people. I kept thinking “what is wrong with that.”
Now that I’m a little older and have experienced census where the “people who don’t want to be counted” get made up and added on, polls, districting, lies, d*mn lies and statistics, it is – with His reluctance to establish a king – one of the most persuasive points for the existence of G-d.
But it is not just in politics or in statistics that counting people is wrong. Pretty much anytime you take people or the works of people and substitute them with numbers, you’re thingifying them. Now, I know in some circumstances this is needed. Say there’s a nation wide epidemic and I need to know how many doses of medicine I need. Or say that I’m expecting people for dinner, and need to know if it’s five or sixteen. (Being me, I cook double. I believe in leftovers.)
And this is not the semi-annual Sarah throws a fit about numbers. Yes, numbers from publishers are wrong. Even the best publishers, who are honest get bizarre numbers from the distributors (and are hurt by them too) because the entire industry runs on guesstimates, for reasons that made sense 100 years ago.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a more fundamental difference between traditional publishing and what indie can do – which reflects a more fundamental change in the way the world was and the way the world is becoming.
It used to be that book publishers had to classify books in categories to sell them, and even the most micro-genre-specific slicing will betray the book, if the book is truly original. As control from the top down increased in publishing (and there’s rumors of a merge between Penguin and Random, which only increases the centralization) this effect became worse.
Truly original things might get published, if they could be broadly pushed into a category, but then they tended to die on the vine because the house didn’t know how to market it and people who read it as it had been marketed “Another L. K. Hamilton” and found it was nothing like would feel betrayed.
This is not a defect of traditional publishing so much, as it was part of how things were, the only way things could be marketed at that stage of industrial and population development. I’m highly amused by Sabrina Chase’s Industrial-entertainment complex dig, but it was in fact that, and it required – as societies do above a certain number – the shoving of product into categories.
This used to stop me cold, because, well… how can I submit a book when they’re asking me whose it is like? Particularly early on, when I was writing from within – like the epic of Horse and Bull – I found myself UTTERLY bewildered.
Even now that I’m published, I tend to find my books are mostly like themselves. Yes, I’m very glad DST got compared to Heinlein. I wanted to do THAT before I died, but “like” is not the same or even close enough, even if I more or less unwittingly stole a ton of his terms.
Editing has made some of my books like other books, but… well, we’ll see when/if I get copyright back.
But here’s the thing – as a reader, yeah, I do have times when I say “I wish I could read some new Agatha Christie, only she’s dead.” (And in my copious spare time, perhaps after the kids leave, I’d like to write mysteries set in England between the wars, that have SORT of that flavor – but they’ll be of course different when I’m done.) However, again as a reader, I have never stumbled on something UTTERLY ORIGINAL and well done, and thrown it aside because I couldn’t read it, since it wasn’t like something I’d read before. However, the categories were so tight that I never sent Witchfinder proposal out. The fact that Nell comes from our world or an analog meant my agent had no clue how to market it. “It’s neither SF nor Fantasy.” Now, of course it’s fantasy. It just has our world as part of its multiverse. But categories were too rigid for that.
This is something that the system just couldn’t support, as it was in traditional. With electronic books and new marketing, the publishers that survive will learn, I think, to act in different ways.
And the societies that survive – in a world where where you live and pay taxes has nothing to do with where you work for most professions (yes, I know, doctors will still need physical presence, and some engineers, though even there remote robots offer possibilities.) – will also have to figure out how to deal with more individualized choices. And individuals used to not having to pick their choice from a block will be different too – less able to fit themselves into the expected pigeon hole.
As a libertarian I look forward to this and to the reaction to it with mingled fear and excitement.
In writing and in the world at large, we’re in for interesting times.