This is a grab-bag post of things I’ve been mulling over.
Goldsmith Prize: My favorite fiction prize was awarded to a very deserving book. Yes, Lucy Ellmann won for Ducks, Newburyport. There were other novels that I would have been happy to see win, e.g. Deborah Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything, but Ellman’s work is such an amazing accomplishment. I’ve only read 50 of the 1000+ pages so far but even that short section made it clear to me that something important was going on. This doesn’t change my general attitude to prizes, but I’m very glad that both Ellmann and her publisher, Galley Beggar, will reap the financial rewards that come with a major prize.
Also, reading Ellmann’s interviews as she did her Booker publicity tour has been a hoot. She is completely unapologetic about her dedication to Literature with a capital L and to her belief (one I share) that too many men fail to take women’s work seriously. A man writing a 1000-page book about whatever is brilliant. A woman writing a 1000-page book about a middle-aged married woman in suburban Ohio who bakes pies and thinks about the world around her is doing something weird and unnecessary. Some of the more prize-obsessed readers I follow online were distressed by her answers to questions. She was insufficiently respectful of readers, etc. My reaction: You go, Lucy. You write what you want and you treat the publicity tour crap however you want. It deserves very little respect, frankly, and if writers of literary fiction can’t write what they want and expect readers to come to them, we are truly doomed as a civilization. Which we probably are anyway.
Jeannie Lin has a new book out! It’s a collection of short stories set in the same world as the Gunpowder Alchemy series. It’s her first publication in quite some time, and she made the difficult decision to keep the ebook off Amazon. Lin talks about it at AAR and more extensively at her blog (buy links are at the bottom of her post). This is a major instance of putting your money where your mouth is, given how thoroughly Amazon dominates the book market, especially in the US. Kudos to AAR for hosting her explanation, although of course they don’t miss the opportunity to point out that they make all their money from Amazon (as most blogs with referral links do) and will continue to keep that relationship. And of course there’s that one commenter who spends many, many words explaining how important and wonderful Amazon is for self-published authors. Great place to make that pitch, author-person.
But that shouldn’t take away from what Lin is doing and I’ve already bought her book on Kobo, which is my main ebook platform. I’ve moved away from Amazon almost completely for ebooks, and now that TheH has a Kobo he has too. We gave up Amazon Prime this fall, after using it from the time it was introduced, and so far we haven’t seen much of a difference. A couple of books I ordered took a few days longer to arrive, but planning ahead is rarely that much of a handicap for me, and we don’t order groceries or other everyday stuff from Amazon. I like Kobo readers better than Kindles and Kobo price matches so that’s not a big deal. And I use the library a lot, which I find much easier on Kobo that I did on the Kindle. For TV and movie streaming we use library subscriptions to Hoopla and Kanopy (the latter has the Criterion Collection, which is wonderful), and we can always buy movies on Amazon without Prime when we want to. I’d rather read a book than watch most TV series anyway, so it hasn’t been a sacrifice. It’s been years since I was competent to talk about the New New TV Thing and I haven’t missed it. 😉
The Fandomization of Everything Continues. Exhibit 1: A YA author who used to write well-received original-fiction books published (through a major press) a Harry Potter fanfiction book in 2015 and everyone thought it was great. That book was a followup to an original-fiction novel in which the main character wrote fanfic. Apparently readers clamored for the fanfic itself, so voilà, she wrote it up. Now she’s written a sequel to the fanfic book, which is of course also fanfic. For reasons I haven’t bothered to investigate the titles of both are phrases from the biggest hit by a mediocre 1970s classic-rock band. Apparently even young people today are forced to relive the 1970s by Boomers and Gen-Xers. But more to the point, why write original work when you can tap into an already existing fanbase, one of the biggest around? It’s a win-win for everyone, right? Vox certainly thought so:
In some ways, Carry On didn’t do anything that really good fanfiction hasn’t done a thousand times before it, except change a few names and details and get published as a conventional book instead of online at Archive of Our Own.
But in other ways, just the fact that Carry On was published as a conventional book and not a fic gave it a unique power. Reading Carry On feels like watching fanfiction acquire the heft and force of canon before your very eyes.
It feels like watching fanfiction acquire the financial heft and force of canon before my very eyes. Commodification, it’s the greatest.
Exhibit 2: A popular m/m author is publishing a novel with a Big 5 publisher and it has an ebook list price of $13.99. Yes, you read that correctly. A niche writer in a niche subgenre is expected to be able to sell their novel at trade pub, general fiction prices. And they probably will. Never mind that much of the author’s previous work is derivative, bloated, and in dire need of both originality and editing in equal proportions. Given Big 5 publishing’s track record, who knows if they actually did any research to figure out whether they’ll make money. But they do know they have a built-in audience, so I guess that makes it worth the throw of the dice.
Macmillan v. Libraries. Macmillan has pulled all its new releases out of Overdrive for the first 8 weeks in order to maximize the number of readers who will purchase ebooks rather than wait for a library copy to become available. Macmillan CEO John Sargent mumbled some words to support/defend this decision but provided no evidence worthy of the name to back it up. He clearly has no idea how many readers are used to waiting more than 8 weeks for a new book in Overdrive to become available. Or, more likely, he doesn’t care. He just hates ebooks and libraries.
I’m all for the collective action efforts, but I doubt they will have much effect, because (a) boycotts and petitions mostly don’t, and (b) if Sargent were attuned to consumer behavior he wouldn’t have done this. There are a lot of Macmillan imprints, some of which publish books I want to read, but my TBR list is long and my library hold and wish lists are full even without Macmillan. Mostly I feel bad for librarians who have to deal with questions about where the books are, on top of everything else they have to deal with these days. As usual, SuperWendy has a great post on this.
I am looking forward to the holidays and lots of reading time.
I was just thinking that I haven’t been moved to blog about my reading recently but had a bookish thought I might write a short post about, and then I saw this. I’m inspired to follow through! It’s like you’ve been brewing all these posts while busy with work and now a dam has burst.
Ducks is sitting by my bed, taunting me. Maybe a Christmas break project.
I have very mixed feelings about my Amazon use (I got a Kindle last Christmas and it’s much more functional than my older Kobo, which I also still use sometimes); we have Prime in part because there are many fewer streaming options here than in the US. No Hoopla—and no Kindle library books, either. I have mostly been reading paper from the library, and I just read their ebooks on Overdrive on my phone or tablet, because I’m too lazy to sideload. (Now that I’ve replaced my work laptop with one I own and can put right software on, maybe I’ll set myself up for Kobo sideloading again).
That’s exactly what happened! It’s not that I haven’t wanted to blog, I’ve just been so busy that my brain hasn’t had a lot of extra space in it for blog writing. I’ve missed a lot of online stuff too, but I’ve thought about the issues that have crossed my radar, so you get them. 😉
You should definitely write short posts when they occur to you, although I totally understand not being up for posting.
I really like the new Kobo readers. I had to replace my Aura H20 2, and TheH had recently acquired the new LIbra and really liked it, so I got that. We already had a Clara, which I love for the small footprint. The software has improved and they’re lighter. But I totally understand the decision to use Kindles and Amazon more generally. It’s so annoying that the library stuff is US only. Canada and US should be the same on this!
Well you know that I agree about fandomization of everything :). Do you think I may enjoy ducks? You are my door in the world of lit fic and thank you 🙂
It’s good to see you blogging again. 🙂
I was so excited to see Jeannie Lin come out with a book, even though, based on the handful of Lin books I’ve read, I prefer her historical worldbuilding to her steampunkish stuff. And her post was brave and empathetic as well as filled with commitment and integrity.
That commenter…. I cringed when I read that comment.
Does Kobo allow for returns? One of the perks of the kindle back when I got it was that you could return an ebook within seven days of purchase. At the time it was the only option for that.
(I would like to wean myself away from Amazon though I don’t know if I have the self-discipline. Jeannie Lin’s post has got me thinking about it, anyway.)
I did not know that about Rowell and hadn’t heard about the m/m author. The latter surprised me less than the former (neither of them should).
I think of Rowell as an established author with enough of her own fans that she doesn’t need to go after other people’s, but I guess that’s not true. I’ve never read her books but they do have a lot of establishment cred. I am surprised, honestly, that JK Rowling isn’t suing. Hasn’t she been anti-fanfic in the past, or a I confusing her with someone else? Has anyone ever sued over fanfic and won? I’m curious.
W’r/t the m/m author (I don’t know who it is), it’s not surprising to me because LGBTQ books have been becoming less and less niche and more and more mainstream. I notice it most with F/F, which used to have the girl cooties as far as many readers were concerned but is getting more attention now. I see it more in SFF than in the romance genre but it’s happening in both.
As for the price point and mediocrity—yes, but look at Red, White and Royal Blue. Need I say more?
Janine, I had exactly the same thought about Rowling suing Rowell, but I clicked through to Sunita’s link and I guess she (and her publishers) think that enough of the numbers have been filed off to make a plausible claim that the fanfiction isn’t actually Harry Potter based.
@Cheburashka: I think you might. It’s either fingernails-on-a-blackboard or you get swept into the rhythm, so you might hate it too. 😉 I would try the sample and see how it works for you.
@Janine: Kobo does have returns but they’re not as easy as Amazon. I haven’t had any returns that I remember, but I’ve had issues with various ebook purchases over the years and the customer service has been good.
You’re right that LGBTQ per se isn’t niche, I think I was thinking about m/m as a subgenre in particular. A lot of it hews to a set of styles and tropes which think of as particular (not unlike Regency trads are). But you are also right that books that fail on the good writing scale can still get picked up and published and they sell well. So who knows.
@Janine and @Ros: I think Ros’s point is right, but it’s so clearly HP’s characters and settings (although can anyone who knows anything about Watford imagine a Hogwarts there?). I think that given the extent to which fanfic has entered mainstream publishing, it’s just not worth going after work that could be seen as sufficiently transformative. The canon author would get a ton of bad publicity. And Rowling, if I remember correctly, has never been anti-fic. She went after something that was not particularly transformative and also money-making, but that was the only case.
The fragmentation of the reading/watching/listening market has made existing properties a safer bet than original stuff, and so we just get more and more of the former. Our arguments over monetizing fanfic seem so quaint and dated now.
HAH! Watford would not be my top choice of setting for Hogwarts, no, although it IS where the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour is, so maybe that’s why Rowell picked it?
Oh, that makes total sense. Maybe they can draft Elton John to cameo in the inevitable movie version. 🙂