Episode Three: Skinner Selfies

How social are we, really? Is this real life, or is this just curation? I catch up with Heather Clancy, tastemaker deluxe, to talk smack about the psychology of social media, whether selfies are feminist, why ad-blockers rock and squatty potties. We also take some time to skim past the Oscars, why Treehouse is the future of work and rape culture in Game of Thrones. A jam-packed podcast with lots of swearing and general fun times.

You can find Heather on Twitter and Instagram, as well as Contently. You can email us at theluckypacketpodcast@gmail.com or tweet us at @luckypacketpod.

Footnotes!

Music credit goes to Jewel Beat.

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A Bunch of White Guys, or The Hugo Awards

It isn’t a surprise to anyone that I am not the biggest fan of that literary ghetto of a genre, science fiction/fantasy. Despite publisher attempts to rescue books from that dreaded pit by re-labeling them speculative fiction, it remains a genre that has become a shorthand for basement-dwelling, mouth-breathing virgins.

The SFWA Magazine cover, Winter 2013

The SFWA Magazine cover, Winter 2013

Not that all readers of SFF are such – I know some lovely people who read it, and no doubt it produces outstanding literature, when it is careful about book jackets and avoiding the cliches that so haunt it as a genre. Some of my favourite books are technically SFF, but only because its such a broadly-defined genre. I didn’t start reading Pratchett for the dragons, but for his cop stories. But I still feel that this is a genre more haunted by outright racism and misogyny than it should be in 2015.

Then this year’s Hugo Awards nominations were released, and I feel like SFF took five steps back.

In summary: the internet’s bored white boys got annoyed that, gosh darn, women and people of colour were winning awards for SFF writing, and by their pointy white masks, this could not stand. So this group, called the Sad Puppies (I fucking kid you not) petitioned their followers to vote with their $40 dollar membership, and influenced the slate enough to make it nearly entirely white straight guys. They say that the Hugos were too leftist, that ‘serious works’ were shortchanging more popular ones.

Are these assholes serious? Apparently.

...are they serious about this design?

…are they serious about this design?

Now I normally wouldn’t care, because literary awards are bullshit and nearly always go to tedious books or tedious people. Just because the Hugo is the oldest, it doesn’t make it the most important or meaningful. And like io9 points out, now the Hugos are entirely political. But the reason I do care is because its a sign of a trend, and I don’t like that trend. I don’t like the trolls of the internet having enough power to hustle an old award into their agenda. Maybe the Booker prize is given to undeserving novels, but at least it doesn’t get awarded based on whose fans have $40 to spend on a vote. To quote the inimitable Chuck Wendig of Terrible Minds:

The easy answer is, “Buy a supporting membership and get voting,” but sometimes this is formed as criticism and it’s worth noting that plenty of folks (fans, authors, whoever) may not be comfortable to (or able to) spend forty bucks just to vote on a science-fiction award. Forty bucks is cheap to a lot of people. And expensive to a lot of others. There’s an argument to be made, too, that if SFF is to represent marginalized or under-served voices, then we may also want to recognize that those voices are often in possession of less filthy lucre than more privileged segments. And further, this argument somewhat explicitly turns the Hugo Awards into a capitalist pissing match rather than a popular vote — have your voice be heard and your vote counted is lovely to say as long as you don’t add to it, but it’ll cost you forty bucks, so write a fucking check.

No one should stand for this state of affairs, and I”m glad that authors are withdrawing their nominations. But you’d think that SFF would just grow up already as a genreits readers, its publishers, its authors. I feel like we’re dragging this damn genre as a whole kicking and screaming into the 1950s, never mind 2015. Given the inexplicable success of Game of Tits and Ender’s Game despite its hideous author’s homophobic and racist rants, the endemic sexism in this genre since its inception, and the ongoing racism, I wonder if this year’s Hugo furore wasn’t inevitable.

Still, there’s hope yet – this is just one year’s awards, and maybe 20 years ago no one would have blinked at a slate like this. The resultant Twitter firestorm, while as predictable as a sunset, is still a good sign that maybe that the status is not quo, and that many authors and readers are horrified by what’s happening in their genre. Look at the 50-author strong backlash against the SFWA magazine cover I put up a few paragraphs ago. Even I, someone who probably wouldn’t pick up SFF unless I was tricked into it, give a shit about this state of affairs. I look forward to seeing it swing back to an interesting, diverse pool of authors next year. Perhaps someone should run a parallel set of awards?

Publisher on Author Crime

Because I’m almost permanently wired into the world of books, publishing and writing, I am coming across more and more stories of writers being malaligned by their publishers. More writers being strong-armed into ridiculous contracts and made to feel grateful for it. It is ridiculously competitive and based less on quality as marketability. As Sarah A. Hoyt mentions on her blog here,

In fact, if your book had been completely blank, or a compilation of nursery rhymes, it would have got exactly the same distribution and sales as it got with your words in it. You didn’t choose the cover. You didn’t choose the price. You didn’t choose the push. You didn’t choose the distribution.

More importantly and more than likely, the person who chose these things chose them NOT based on the book – which they might or might not have read – but on YOU and their perceived marketability of YOU. (And let me tell you, as a reader, that’s many shades of wrong.)

Most people don’t know your book even exists, and therefore they can’t ask for it. And if they do, they might get told it can’t be ordered.

(The whole post is fascinating, and an excellent shorthand for what’s wrong with publishing in general.)

Then there are the authors I spoke about in my post on the opening Amazon’s publishing branch. Add to this the story of Doranna Durgin, who is being forced to buy ALL of her books in the warehouse if she wants the rights back.

What’s going on here? Without authors there is NO publishing industry, and yet most of them end up languishing in the mid-lists forever despite being brilliant. This attitude seems a little self-defeating in the face of what might be the death spiral of publishing as we know it. I usually read mid-list titles as those are the ones that proof copies are provided for, and more often than not it is far superior to the majority of the top-list crap. I mean, credit due where it is, but James Patterson, Stephanie Meyer and Danielle Steel don’t produce great literature. (See their ranking on Forbes in my post here.) I’ve beaten that poor horse to death in the previously mentioned post, so for now I’d like to deal with how authors are being conned and guilted.

The best examples of the pitfalls of the publishing industry are made clear on the Writers Beware page. There are impossible clauses buried in the contracts offered by the major houses, more commonly in the littler houses trying to entrap good authors. So many people are desperate to get published that there are numerous vultures waiting to feed on their desire without giving them the credit they deserve. People who ask for a small ‘consulting’ or ‘reading’ fee and who promise to get the book published. Agents who swear they know the right people and charge either a consulting fee or demand 30 printed manuscripts. Usually the author pays the fee rather than the printing cost. Luckily my fingers were saved from some burning thanks to published author sisters and dear friends, Molly and Joely Burkhart, who warned me that no author pays upfront to get their book published. Agents and publishers take the fee off sales, never off the author directly.

Which is why book piracy makes me sad. The author is already making so little (3-8% of the cover price), it just seems cruel to snatch even that from them after all their hard work. I once read a pirated copy and felt so terrible that I have long since stopped the habit. (Also, the quality is just so bloody awful.) The only free books I take now are proof copies from book reps and from Project Gutenberg. And the more I read about how publishers treat any author that isn’t a mega-star, the less enamoured I grow of the industry. So, follow the buzz (right here, of course) and support the authors that write fresh, bright fiction so that one day the Forbes Top Ten doesn’t read like a litany of mediocrity.

For further insights into publishing from a self-proclaimed Penmonkey who made it and writes about it, visit these posts from Chuck Wendig at Terribleminds.com

Toxic Tempers and Fevered Egos in Publishing

Writers are the 99%

(His site is truly a treasure trove of insight and coffee-snorting humour, and he deserves his success as a writer.)