From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
Laura Anne Gilman [mentions book-shaming]. . . . [S]he defines book-shaming better than I could. She writes about discovering books science fiction and fantasy books as a teenager, and the response she got from the adults around her:
I didn’t want Martian princess or philosophical musings under an alien sky, Le Guin’s elegant questioning, Donaldson’s cynicism, or Tolkien’s gorgeous language. I didn’t even want dragons, per se. I wanted books that weren’t afraid – or ashamed – to lead with their emotion.
But trying to explain this to people, especially as a female teenager… even from the most well-meaning people, I got a significant amount of book-shaming, as though an emotion-led book somehow wasn’t as acceptable, that it was lowbrow, downmarket, teenaged female.
Oh, I remember those days. I read everything I could find, much to my parents’ chagrin. (And they were big readers.) They wouldn’t tell me not to read a book—although my dad’s remaining three hairs stood on end when he found me reading his Harold Robbins novel—but my folks would often look down their noses at me and say things like, “You’ll understand that better when you’re an adult.”
Which was like a red flag in front of a bull, let me tell you. In those days, I was a lot more polite than I am now, but just as stubborn. So I would often take the books offered instead of what I was reading, read those as well and continue reading what I want. I remember reading All The President’s Men in my junior high school English class, my parents’ hardcover volume tucked inside my English literature text. My teacher caught me, and told me I wouldn’t understand that book.
. . . .
Book-shaming. I’ll be so happy if that term disappears because we no longer need it.
Right now, however, I think it has moved to another part of the industry. Writers are suffering a lot of book-shaming right now. Or should I say publishing-shaming.
Once upon a time in a land far far away, there was only one method to publish books and have those books read by more than five people. We now call that method traditional publishing. Back in those dark days, there were dozens of traditional publishing houses (instead of the Big 5 and a few hangers-on we have now), so writers had some choice there.
A handful of daring writers would self-publish a book. Mostly, those writers were also advertising executives or salesmen in their daily lives, and knew how to move product.
. . . .
Dean and I learned the arcane practice of book distribution when we started Pulphouse Publishing nearly 30 years ago. Because we learned that practice in the bad old days, when publishing was hard and distribution required climbing mountain peaks in a blizzard just to consult with some damn oracle who might deign to take your book and pay you pennies on the dollar to distribute it (with returns, of course), we were not afraid to take on indie publishing in the early days. Indie publishing seemed—and it turned out to be—a lot easier.
However, when you’re dealing with a closed system like traditional publishing used to be, it’s exponentially more difficult to operate outside of that system. The system becomes Important in and of itself. Writers use all kinds of words to describe the system—from gatekeepers to traditional publishers to…well, let’s not go there. The fact remains, however, that a closed system forces anyone who wants to work inside it to do a special dance just to make sure they can come to the party.
. . . .
The thing is, in an entrenched system like music was, and like traditional publishing was, these people, who were essentially untalented business owners or employees of corporations, took on great importance. And then they came to believe they were important.
Once upon a time in a land far far away, these power brokers actually had a modicum of power. And they used it or abused it with startling regularity. When the power brokers said, “This type of book is no good,” then the people who bought books for libraries or who stocked major bookstores or who bought for The Book of the Month Club (once an important institution) listened to them, and wouldn’t acquire that book.
Once upon a time, my friends, this snobbery was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Oh, sure, there were a lot of us who read other books. Many people didn’t admit it to their friends. I did, if asked. But mostly I kept quiet about what I read. So did most of the sf readers I knew and the romance readers I knew. The fact that the snobs hated those kinds of books built both the sf community and the romance community as havens from book-shaming.
But now these power brokers no longer have real power. They’re losing their grip on taste-making. Not because they have lost their positions of power, but their positions have lost that power.
. . . .
These days, people who self-publish or who run indie companies to publish their books, make more money and have more fans than new writers coming up the traditional way—even with all the backing of traditional publishers. Books with tons of push, shoved into the old taste-maker system, no longer become the books discussed in every living room and coffee shop. Book clubs discuss indie books these days as well as traditionally published books. Libraries buy indie books for the shelves. So do bookstores.
But the shaming has moved to new heights. People in those old positions of power worry that most of the indie published books are crap. They believe that readers have no taste and must be led to good books. These power brokers are afraid of word of mouth, unless the words come from their mouths.
So they’re shaming writers. These former power brokers, many of whom have lost their jobs in traditional publishing, are telling writers that they need development editors to make sure their finished book is “good.”
(Why can’t readers tell them that—by buying the book? Or maybe, if the writer’s really nervous, a few trusted first readers who are not writers and won’t tamper with the manuscript?)
Over and over again, writers hear that they shouldn’t self publish. They’re not “ready.” Or they wouldn’t know how to write “quality.” Or they don’t want that “stigma.”
The fear of the stigma of self-publishing sends many new writers to equally new small presses. Many of these presses are worse than their traditional publishing counterparts. These presses don’t know what they’re doing, they have no idea how to design or publish a book, and they don’t understand contracts. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the worst contracts I’ve seen lately have come through indie published writers and the indie small presses. And that’s a crime.
Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Rhonda and others for the tip.
Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.