Totalitarian Vivariums

I  was going to put up Sabrina Chase’s post on create space, but she sent it to me on Google document share.  Since my only google email is Goldport Press, I had to ask permission to view it and… argh.


The other post I was going to do (if you get the idea this is one of those “I was going to do this” days you are right was on old friends – old books I read and re-read when I’m too fried for anything else.  (Reading new material requires emotional investment and half the time I just don’t have the spoons.)

But I woke up thinking again of Wombat Socho’s question “Why are so many SF writers on the left?”  He could have expanded it if he moved in my circles to “Why are most writers on the left?” and this could be expanded to “Why are most artists on the left?” and “Why are most professors on the left?” and “why are most soft scientists on the left?” and “Why are most journalists on the left?” and “why are most civil servants on the left?” and “Why are most teachers on the left?”

I’m going to attempt a more comprehensive answer than I gave before.

Part of it is that in SF at least, our “ancestors” were men of the left, at least for a period of time.  This came in early 20th century and was part of a belief in “scientific governance.”  (Avert your eyes, my friends.)

Part of it is that any non hard-scored field in which a vile prog gets a foot in power will become completely vile prog within ten years.  This is because we hire for a lot of things but vile progs hire for only ONE thing, and they will bring in more of them and ONLY more of them.  This is how foundations started by conservatives are to the left of Lenin in three generations.

Part of it – at least in my opinion, and I saw this stuff on three continents – is that the Soviet Union made the “commanding heights of culture” an objective to take over, and paid for it.

All of those are contributing factors, and I’m not denying it.

On the other hand, we might take in account the … essence of the field.  The way you become successful in a field, the way you’re picked for your chance at success.

Something I’ve always been very aware of with my own field is the enormous role “luck” plays in it.  Okay, not always.  When I was a green writer, knee high to a grasshopper, I thought that if I got ANYTHING rejected, it was all because there was something wrong with it.  This leads you down the chute of the “must rewrite” and you might never emerge.

Was something wrong with my early efforts?  Tons.  My first world in and of itself was unpublishable in any sane world (now that the world isn’t sane I’m contemplating an imprint and name JUST for it.  It will probably sell two copies.  OTOH the world being infinitely insane, it might make me a millionaire.  I’d like to be a millionaire.)  Then there was the fact I had to LEARN plotting like babies learn to walk.  Tons of tumbles.  But, of the 13 years till I sold my first short story, I’d say for a good ten years I was doing publishable work, some of it brilliant.  (Well, DST was written in this period, and though re-written before publication, large swathes are the same)  Three other books written at this time have been published, as have about 50 short stories, most of them at pro rates.

So, why couldn’t I get anything but straight out standard rejections?

Well, there were tons of reasons, including the fact that in my day you were more likely to get an acceptance if the editor knew you by sight, and I had no money to go to conventions or workshops for most of that time.  Then a lot of it is that I didn’t get the political slant.  BUT a lot of it was just luck.  Later on, as an established writer, I had two occasions (one a novel series, and one a short story) in which I got rejected then accepted by a publisher who had no memory of having rejected me.

I suppose this is gone, in the era of electronic submissions, but in the times we sent out paper submissions, between the “send back the paper” and the “You may discard this copy” there was a shining moment for serendipity.  Say editor got your story.  Read it, or at least gave it a cursory look.  He already has an evil cow story for his magazine that month.  Toss your story on pile on desk, send back rejection.

Two months later he’s putting together a new issue and starts clearing the old submission pile.  Comes across your story.  Wow, evil cows.  He could totally use that.  Reads it through, sends you an acceptance.

Now, by the times this happened to me, I was a “pro” and those sales were nice, but not make or break.  BUT when you need those essential first sales for the cover letter, luck like that can make the difference between another year spinning your wheels and not.

By the time I broke in, I was very aware of this element of luck.  I had friends who wrote as well as I did or better, but hadn’t sold.  And other people – my husband – sold his first short story to Analog after about a year of writing.  Now, he’s talented – of course – but the luck was also with him.

In fact, one thing we quickly become aware of is that talent is sort of pre-requisite, but from there one…

Well, we’ll put it this way, you have to be COMPETENT to have a career (though not to publish) but how much success you have from there is dependent on other factors.  In our field, other than luck breaking in, you needed luck with covers and with a publisher who REALLY would push you.  The last often had more to do with your physical appearance, whether you’d gone to college with the editor, and your political color.

Add all those factors in, and what it meant is that the difference between a mega bestseller and someone with ten novels under the bed and no credits was… luck.

This is a corrosive state of affairs.

Yes, I’m aware that the world isn’t fair.  BUT humans feel a need to believe it is.  This makes us very uncomfortable in any situation in which we have it rubbed in our nose that the world is very far from fair.

And because we are “fair” we NEED to believe that other’s success – and ours too – is all the result of merit.  Even when this is OBVIOUSLY, PATENTLY false.

(Hell, even when it’s true.  I recognize “voice” when I see it.  As in “this work has a very strong voice.”  And voice hides a multitude of sins, including silly plotting.  BUT I can’t tell you how to get “voice” or really what “voice” is.  All I can tell you is “this has it” and “this doesn’t.”  THAT fails to explain much of anything.)

Go back and look at those fields.  What are those fields?  Fields where gatekeepers determine your success.  The decision might be made on some element you just don’t see.  Or it might be made on your political views, on the fact you’re cute, on the fact the gatekeeper owes you a favor, or sheer luck.

Throw all those factors in and “random” is the best description for those who make it.

So… so… Humans being wired for fairness, under the old model most struggling and mid-list writers were sufferers of Stockholm syndrome.  We convinced ourselves the gatekeepers were right, and we piled on behind their decisions.  (Sometimes I still catch myself doing that.  No, seriously.)  Add to that that kissing upward might be the only way to help your career, and you have a caldron of hypocrisy and dissimulation, part of which involved lying to yourself.

The other side of this was envy and resentment.  Because you can only lie to yourself so far, if you’re even halfway good, you’re going to resent everyone who gets bigger and who is worse than you.  (And there will be a lot of those.)  But you can’t say anything – gatekeepers, remember? – so you seethe in silence.  There were writers I simply couldn’t read because it was like having my face rubbed in their oh so obviously inferior craft (and yes, voice.  I know it when I see it) but they were getting pushed and outselling me by a thousand.  And everytime I came across their pap political correctness that earned them the push, the book would get thrown hard enough to dent the walls.  We only have so many walls.

This has changed.  It is still this way for the Prisoners-of-Traditional and over the next couple of years, as the system crumbles, there will be some interesting episodes of hysteria.  I suspect stuff like “you will not call us ladies” is an effort to distinguish oneself in the “lefter than you” category and get some push or – the state the field is in – some sales, under any circumstances.

But for those of us in Indie…

I’m not saying luck doesn’t have a place.  Yes, it does.  But luck is understandable.  And most of the time it’s not exactly luck.  I can look, say, at a mil sf novel selling better than anything I have out indie and go “Well, there’s huge hunger.”  And what is keeping me from writing one?  Well, I don’t want to.  I don’t think I can do it competently.  BUT that doesn’t mean I can’t write space opera with military overtones.  It just goes on the back burner.  As does writing romance.  And I collect data on what does well and try to reason why, which satisfies my feeling that my fate is in my hands.

That’s the huge difference.  In traditional publishing, the gatekeepers had all the power.  To succeed you had to surrender.

I know it’s the same in the soft sciences, in education, in journalism.  The difference between a superstar and a competent practitioner is… How do hit the gatekeepers?  Do they like you?

That system breeds the sort of double think last seen in the soviet union, where even the victims of it pretend to support it.

Fortunately most writers who want to take the opportunity are now free.  Which means we can support and help each other, and this is enough.  We can also take control of our own fate.

I look forward with interest as innovation sets the other fields free.

The totalitarian mentality will remain for a while, out of habit (as I said, even I have to fight the reflex, now and then.)  But in the end it will be individual ability and responsibility that will win out.  And I think that will change the type of work and the type of mind in those fields.  (Except maybe federal bureaucrats, unless our system REALLY changes.)

For now, knowing the lock is approaching the key is enough.

89 thoughts on “Totalitarian Vivariums

    1. Try using Thunderbird for your client. It will interface with your gmail account using IMAP and puts you in control of what is sent and how.

  1. A story for another time but the secular change of shrinking markets empowered gate-keepers and encouraged content providers to seek patrons. The process is much like rent seeking when what’s left of the pie is in the gift of an establishment. Shrinking the pie is good for the gate-keepers for a good long time – then change or collapse.

  2. One factor, which should not be underestimated, is that writers (artists) in step with the zeitgeist (fancy word that, in this instance, means the editors’ prejudices) do not have to be as good. They get away with crap others won’t.

    For example. make your antagonist an evil corporation and — BOOM — no further explanation needed!!! Make the head of that corporation an emotionally stunted white man whose childhood sled got taken from him, thus providing motivation for his indifference to AGW and you’re genius, Babe!

    OTOH, make your antagonist a Vile Prog envirowhacko who thinks the human race needs to be reduced to wearing skins (of animals who died of old age), eating nuts and berries and spending their lives communing with Gaea — you d-well better be on heckuva writer to get the editorial buy-in.

    Just as once upon a time any book had to have a white male protagonist and the black man was obviously villainous (unless the story had yellow people.)

    Higher gate for writers/artists not in step with The Man, even if nowadays The Man wears a skirt. It is always easier to cater to your audience prejudices, especially when what you are actually doing is catering to your gatekeeper’s prejudices about the audience’s prejudices … and far far easier when it is your agent’s prejudices about editors’ prejudices about audience prejudices.

    1. I once made the antagonist a generic evil corporation and Ric Locke explained my error and how the motivation didn’t work since I didn’t have a motivation at all. “Well, just because” doesn’t work. I kept the file somewhere. The thing is that I did know better, I really did. But there’s the rule, you know, that the “bigness” of the protagonist is limited by the power of the antagonist and without thinking about it too much a large organization supplies a lot of power as an easy sort of default.

      1. I once was in a group where someone had a corporate assassin chasing her protagonist, and she was VERY offended when I asked her WHY. I mean corporate=evil, right?

        1. The funny thing is that corporations hire lawyers to the kind of work that the old Machievilean Italians used assasins for. Lawyers are cheaper and it’s easier to win when the consequences aren’t final.

          1. Depending on how many people you wish to inhume, where the deed is to take place and how quiet you want it to be, it’s probably not cheaper to hire lawyers today. At least not for the first round of promotions.

            It is safer, however, since your opposition is likely to respond in kind.

        2. “corporate=evil, right?”

          Well, I worked for one privately owned company where that was true–we even have a survivors’ group for ex-employees where we help each other readjust to the real world.

      2. There is the alternative of a corporation which perhaps has grown big enough that right hand can no longer really keep track of what the left is doing, and the personal ambitions and rivalries of people on different levels win over good business practices. But that makes for kind of difficult antagonist, a hydra with no obvious single head your hero could defeat. Unless you go for the byzantine, and the plot spends a lot of time with the takeover by the good guys, maybe. Those can be interesting.

        1. Shipstone – an effective monopoly leading to a form of X-inefficiency – as though taking down the Beanstalk would be good for the economy and so good for Shipstone (hat tip Engine Charley Wilson)

      3. Joe Gores – who had some success and I’d say deserved more – describes having to reverse the McGuffin midstream – from what he had assumed true (and he got around some) about labor unions and fraud – to match reality.

        Some currently prominent writers, e.g. T. Jefferson Parker: Iron River, don’t let the truth stand in the way of meeting reader’s expectations of headline based gun toting depravity.

      1. Ace is always excellent.

        And I don’t think that it’s that a corporation can’t be evil or that it can’t function as the antagonist opposite your hero, just that there has to be a better reason than that besides “Oooo… unobtanium! Let’s blow up a tree!”

  3. One of the best examples of how this works, to my mind, is seeing the rise and fall of J T Leroy. When it was believed that J T Leroy was a poor young gay man, no praise was high enough. After Leroy was revealed to be the pen name of a straight middle class woman named Laura Albert, no condemnation was harsh enough.

    The work in question was fiction, and the books were the same before and after the reveal. The issue wasn’t the quality of the writing (I liked the stories, but then I have a taste for the depraved) the issue was the identity of the author.

    The liberal press loved the books, not as books, but as proof of their social ideas. Once it turned out that the author wasn’t didn’t fit their agenda, they got mad at her.

    In my opinion that not to matter at all. I think that Dandelion Wine would still be a great book if it was revealed that Ray Bradbury really grew up in Brooklyn. Fiction should stand or fall on its own, as a story. But that is not how the left plays the game.

    1. This is why for years agents refused to submit closed pen names. The publishers had to know who you were, and what you were like. (Rolls eyes.) It wasn’t the BOOKS.

      1. So, you are saying that the reason my submissions, authored by a hairless cat with severe allergies to religious symbols and garlic, with a Roman patrician heritage, aren’t selling is …. what?

            1. Shakespeare himself said it best “Great Caesar, dead and turned into vampire cat thing….. ahaaaaaaaaaaaah Stay away from me. I have crosses and garlic.” It’s considered his least euphonious verse.

  4. Oh well– I am talking a rest from story and working on poetry forms because I have been extremely discouraged for awhile about how my stories are doing *sigh. Once I get my poetry out again, I’ll start writing stories— I used to be a good storyteller of other people’s stories. Plus, of course, my medical issues the last six months have not been helpful– but I am starting over again– still–

    1. Cyn — I guarantee your stories are doing better than my translation! Heh!

      OTOH, there’s nothing wrong with exercising your brain muscles in different ways. Good luck with your poetry! 🙂

      1. You should go take a look. It is on this account btw. I write tanka, haiku, sestinas, pantoums, free verse, and am working on a few sonnets.

          1. A panoum started out as a Malay folk verse form (pantun). The form is four lines abab, and 2nd and 4th lines are the first and third lines of the next verse. It continues until you get to the end (of the story– etc) and then the 1st and third lines of the first verse are 2nd and 4th of the last verse. It can get crazy if the poem gets away from you. 😉

            1. One of my anthro professors often claimed to have invented the pantoum. I see that this would seem to be right up there with many of the other colorful claims made by the other colorful anthro professors. *I was not, thank God, an anthro major. All anthro professors are nuts.

              1. Did he have wrinkles on his wrinkles? Did he say it as a metaphor? (A lot of anthro professors believe that if one human invented something, all humans invented it– yep nuts)… *snort

  5. Have any of the authors here considered getting around the gatekeepers by funding the writing of a book with a Kickstarter campaign? If there is enough interest by the reading public, you get money to live on and produce the book. If not, you get nothing and have no obligation to anyone. To me it is sort of indie on steroids with the advantage of an advance to help write the book. What do the professional authors think?

    1. Tons of people do that. But Kickstarter requires a “campaign” and posts to run the campaign and… I got more than my minimal advance for Witchfinder by putting up a chapter a week, which is something I can do. I’m not sure I have the time/mind space for kickstarter. but I know three authors making a living that way.

  6. With all the change going on, I’m frankly confused as to how the submission process goes now.
    When I started writing in the ’80’s, you could send SS’s direct to a magazine, but expect to have an agent for novels and novellas.
    Never got published, but did finally start getting personal rejections. Then, one was accepted – and the house promptly closed. (And I thought my writing friends were JOKING!)
    Spent the following years a)moving across country, b) raising a family of young children, c) trying for other types of income that paid faster, and d) getting a few write for hires. They paid well, but were as satisfying as kissing your sister. I mean – yuck!
    Now, in my later years (I will thrash anyone using the term “declining!”), I’m trying to get back into the game.
    I have lots of ideas that were valid 20 years ago. Some that may still play well. And a few that frankly I have no idea on. A couple I’ve started developing – one to the point that I am getting coverart done.
    BUT — where do I go from here? Go Indie? I have no idea of any Indie publishers. Head for Amazon? Tempting – I like their pay structure – but what resources are available to develop a following? I’m willing to place stories up for grabs at first, before charging money for them. But is this a sound practice? And when do you stop?

    Anyone with words of help. Since everyone here denies exceptional wisdom, I won’t ask for that. But the benefit of your experience would be appreciated, especially recent experiences.

    Meanwhile, I continue to write. And eventually I’ll have something worth rewriting, revising and offering up.

    1. BTW, I’m willing to consolidate advice and strategies as a sort of chap book for later users, so long as the information remains pertinent. We all know how that shelf life works.

    2. Write. Write fast. The more stuff out, the more it sells. Write and put it up. I follow a strategy of putting things on Prime for three months, so I can take them free for five days — because it gooses everything else. But then put it in ALL outlets.

    3. Well, yes, kickstarter can be an option. I’m currently super late on a short-story for a friend’s anthology that he’s funding through indiegogo (put down 1400 words on that today. Will have to put down more tonight).
      But Indie is more about doing it yourself. It’s pretty easy to put together an Amazon-compatible file nowadays, depending on what word processor you’re using. But most all of the advice I’ve heard lately boils down to what our illustrious hostess said.
      Write. Write as well as you can, as fast as you can.
      In a way, it’s almost a re-hash of Heinlein’s writing rules, isn’t it?
      1. Write
      2. Finish
      3. Avoid over-editing
      4. Submit
      5. Keep submitting until it sells. Except we sort of lose this one, because Submit goes straight to a marketplace.
      6. Repeat

  7. I know you mention mil sf as a sub-genre that does well in indie. I believe survival fiction is definitely another. Any other genres that we indies have an advantage on?

    1. Sweet Romance. I SUSPECT — but don’t know anyone doing it — cozy mystery.
      I think space opera will do well, but am considering using my initials. I think a lot of guys have reasons to feel burned by females writing sf.

        1. which is why — follow the pointing finger: there is enormous HUNGER out there for the kind that isn’t. I intend to mine that as soon as I have a free month.

    2. It’s a toss, since I have a name of sorts in space opera. It’s a “what to do, what to do” moment. For Baen of course I continue writing under Sarah A. Hoyt. (DUH)

      1. Guys have been burned by women scifi authors, yes, but those women also didn’t have rocketship-dragon award of good fun fiction to their writing. (What? Newbury, Hugo, Nebula, Baen – they’re all branding. The last just has a lot more viability and cachet for readers who want fun and plot and Humanity is not eveeeeel than the others.)

  8. Take a look at and other Print On Demand companies. They are NOT vanity publishers (ack, Ptui). You pay a basic fee, and anyone can then buy the books. _If_ you get your own ISBN, fees are lower. Of course, you still have to promote your book, but you have to do that anyway. As far as editing, Christian Publishing does it for $0.01 to 0.02/word. You choose the level of editing, (minimal to full). I’m sure that there others as well. Authors Paradise has a lot of resource posts.
    I’m looking at a Kindle rant to pay for further indie publishing. (I’m on a <$900/month SSDI income.) I have a "rant" about the difficulties of being handicapped/disabled first. After that cookbook(s), advertising, marketing and sales books. Eventually, books on a _lot_ of other subjects.

  9. I know it’s the same in the soft sciences, in education, in journalism. The difference between a superstar and a competent practitioner is… How do hit the gatekeepers? Do they like you?

    Some articles from prestigious institutions were published in prestigious psychology journals. Then those very same articles were resubmitted to the very same journals, except with fictitious authors at fictitious (nonprestigious) institutions. A cynic’s guess about what happened would be correct. (HT: Instapundit.)

    1. Someone on my FB page is — sweartagad — claiming there is no left domination in any of these fields. It’s all in my mind because I have “misidentified center”. (Hits head on desk repeatedly.)

      1. How did we communicate about such before the rise of the Overton Window terminology? Then again is an instance of Aesopian language or willful ignorance in missing the point?

      2. Don’t hit your head on the desk. It only gives you a headache and bemuses the cats. Hit their head on the desk. That way there’s at least the chance that the shock will knock some neurons together.

        Percussive maintenance: Keeping navies operating since the Phoenicians.

        1. For a moment I thought you meant bang the cats’ heads on the table.

          1. No, that produces aches in other places (primarily wherever the cat can reach) and the only thoughts it is likely to produce are along the lines of, ‘well, THAT was a bad idea.’

            1. Besides, beating Havelock would be like beating an infant. He never sees it coming and all he does is “Ow. Why?” I mean you trip on him, he hides under the sofa for six hours, because you might be wishing to kick him or something…

      3. Not only need you not swear to be believed, that is the central tenet of leftism. That they are the “center” and everyone who does not share their beliefs are the minority and “extreme”. Its a very old tactic.

        And it persists in the face of overwhelming evidence of its falsity.

          1. Challenge the twit to provide an irrefutable definition of “center” — and show his work. If he cannot demonstrate “center” he has no basis to claim you are off center.

            1. I AM off center. If everyone were like me, society would not work. HOWEVER that does not make “socialism” (pink communism, instead of red) the center.

          2. I think that one problem is that I live in the NYC area, have been going to Lunacon for over 20 years and have seen what sits in the editorial chairs first hand. In a way it’s sad because I would like to write and have been too scared to submit because i’m afraid that my politics would come through, too busy at trying to make a go at my day job and have too many other hobbies to want to use the time that I could for use for railroads or modelbuilding or just reading to write something that could never pass the gatekeppers anyway.

            1. Is Stuart Hellinger still around? I did the restaurant guide when the con was held in the Escher Hilton (Rye-Port Chester area).

              1. There’s a Portuguese restaurant there — last time we were up we took all our friends and held the place about an hour after clothing. They almost had to throw us out.

              2. It’s back at the Escher. I’m not sure about Stuart. Lunacon almost dies last year and it’s tillon life support. The membership is getting older and there’s not much happening to attract a younger crowd.

                1. When I attended it was the Escher. The Portuguese restaurant was called something like “the aquarium.” and was not in the hotel.
                  Um… now compare that senescence with Liberty Con’s infusion of young…

      1. Nauseated … you woke up nauseated. You could never be nauseous. 🙂

    2. Haven’t there been at least a couple attempts to submit some acknowledged classic novels, under made-up names, as a test? And at least some got rejected while the person signing the rejection letter obviously had not recognized the work, just rejected it as something new by an unknown author?

      1. There is always the possibility that the person is just being neutral to try to stay away from an obvious lunatic.

        1. Likely the writing style has “evolved” sufficiently to render the classic novels no longer marketable. Today’s readers demand a punchier, less leisurely narrative.

          With more sex, more graphically described.

          Which does not excuse the editors’ failure to recognize the works.

  10. Oddly, I can connect this with yesterday’s entry.

    The reason I identify as atheist (note lack of capital) is, simply put: I had two choices as to what I could believe, based on the evidence provided me:

    1) There is no god[s].

    2) There is a god[s] — and that god[s] is the deity equivalent of the kid who spends all day long in the basement torturing rats with a hacksaw and pulling the wings off of flies, who has conceived a particular burning Hate (note capital) for me.

    So, given those options, my choice was clear.

    “Fair” is just a place other folks go to have fun (and I get dragged to in order to be bored out of my fucking skull). And there’s no point in trying to do anything, since the only relevant factor in life is being Lucky (hitting the Pick-Six in the Genetics Lottery; having the right family; knowing the right friends; being in the right place at the right time; etc.).

    And for those who are reveling in the Novus Ordo Seclorum: Does the phrase “too little, too late” ring any bells?

    1. Your complaint is that God allows us free will?

      Because that is what your objection to alternative #2 amounts to. Or do you hold that your comprehension of the Universe is the righteous measure of a consciousness undefined in Space or Time.

      Reject or accept His existence as you will, but doing so on the basis you cite strikes me as highly adolescent.

        1. Oddly enough, I do not find the sarcasm of pretentious art-rock bands a compelling argument for the existence or non-existence of G-d. They are a stronger argument for the jejunity of those who do think such songs a rational exposition of a fundamental thesis.

  11. Re the “ladies”, and their objection at so being deemed…
    Actually, that’s a bit of a compliment, more positive than any accurate designation is likely to be in, oh, SWAG here, about 99.5% of cases. Most such females are likely to be common women. Multiply divorced? Sexually active outside marriage? Public drinker/smoker? Speaks or writes profanity? Has worked in a field traditionally that of men’s domain? Short hair as an adult before age 40? Favors feminist causes such as female… clergy i clergy

  12. (cont) clergy, the homosexual agenda, or socialism? Not a lady at all, but a common woman.

  13. The best fiction, IMO, deals with issues of the heart rather than who I should vote for. I wish more writers, and editors, would look for that. 😦

Comments are closed.