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.