Had a few questions in the Action Force Mailbag I thought deserved answering:
P.T. Dilloway asks:
The publisher of my novel A Hero’s Journey (Tales of the Scarlet Knight #1) said yesterday by the end of the year they will no longer be distributing ebooks via B&N and Smashwords anymore, only on Amazon. Do you think this is where the publishing industry is headed? And would you ever want your books to only be published on Amazon?
First of all, hope the free publicity helps because The Mighty Robot King knows we can all use it.
Secondly, the easiest answer is, No, I would never want my books only to be published on Amazon. Or only anywhere else. If I’m to have any chance of continuing to earn a living at this, I need to reach out to as many people as possible, and while distributors are always eager to have “exclusive” rights (and who can blame them?), I feel an artist is served better by diversifying his distribution rather than shrinking it.
This has always been a problem to varying degrees. It’s the age old conflict of what is best for the creator versus what is best for the publisher, and while a lot of times those needs coincide, there are also times when they don’t. And distributors in particular couldn’t really give a damn about creator rights (or even publisher rights). They’re businesses that operate on business principles, and one of the most basic principles of business is to corner a market.
But as a writer, I seek expansion, not exclusion. I want more people to buy my books, not less, and I want people who haven’t yet heard of me to get the chance to find me. In order to pay the bills with this job, I have to sell a hell of a lot of books. (Technically, more than I currently sell, if I can be honest.) And a distribution choke point, even one as large and influential as Amazon, would probably work against that.
I’m not an important enough writer to warrant that kind of attitude from any distributors, but if that day ever comes, I’ll definitely be against it.
R.P. Dossier asks:
Considering that grimdark settings and relentlessly unhappy anti-heroes are now the norm of mainstream fiction, do you think this means that Superman and his ilk are now rebels to the popular culture? Are they the new Michael Corleones, Cool Hand Lukes and Don Drapers, opposing the cultural norm of cynical grimdark with sincerity and whatnot?
Interesting question. I’m not sure my answer is going to be all that optimistic.
When it comes to cynicism and dark maturity, once a cultural icon starts down that road, it’s often impossible for them to come back from it. Just taking a look at both Man of Steel and The Dark Knight Rises show that the sophisticated version of superheroes are synonymous with dark and unpleasant tales. Superman resisted this pull for probably the longest, but with the success of Man of Steel and the current fiasco that is DC superhero comics (don’t get me started), I feel pretty positive that Superman will be killing people and moping around as part of his typical portrayal soon enough.
Batman has been struggling with this since Frank Miller decided that Bruce Wayne was little more than a crazy man in a costume, and when I think of the classic Batman stories like Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, I see a character who is destined to eventually become little more than a grim parade of misery. While I feel The Killing Joke is overrated (as does Moore, ironically), there’s no point in debating its importance and how Batman has been slowly and inexorably moving toward . . . well, I don’t know what exactly. Just something a story about a guy who dresses like a bat to fight crime probably shouldn’t be.
Yet culture is a pendulum, and with some luck, eventually that pendulum will swing away from the dark side and toward a more balanced portrayal. Heck, I’d love a few, honest-to-Robot-King triumphs of humanity to reappear (ala Pacific Rim), but at the same time, the culture has become so relentlessly maudlin that it’s a long way back. A change in course is inevitable, but I just don’t know if it’ll happen anytime soon.
A big part of the problem is that in order to be part of “counter-culture”, you generally need to be shocking. And Superman isn’t shocking. Genuinely heroic characters and stories where the good guys win aren’t shocking either. As such, we often don’t seem to register them as anything other than harmless and immature. Man of Steel got popular culture to actually talk about Superman and what he might represent, but it only did so by having a story where Superman fails to save a lot of people and where he kills a dude. It was only by shocking us that we even dared to consider his character and what it might mean to us as a culture. And even then, at least half the people I talk to seem to be in the Finally, Superman stopped being a wimp camp. So it’s not as if it shocked us into reconsidering our grimdark ways.
I’d love it if a genuinely bright and heroic character become incredibly popular for exactly those qualities, but we’re living in a world where the most popular fantasy on television features a bunch of rotten people doing rotten things to each other and where serial killers and drug dealers are characters people adore. Hell, even Don Draper is a dinosaur of a thankfully bygone era and instead, a lot of people admire him and his philandering ways.
So, yeah, it looks like it’s a long way back, and it’s not happening anytime soon.
Beau Ahrens asks:
Having read your recent post about the TV show (Game of Thrones), I just have to ask, have you read the books?
Can’t say that I have. This isn’t because I actively avoided them, but I am not and have never been an epic fantasy fan. It’s weird to admit that, given how so much of my chosen genre is defined by epic fantasy (both classic and modern). But I’ll just go ahead and admit that I don’t have the patience for epic fantasy. There’s a reason I write shorter books and why all of those books are standalones. I get bored. I am not the kind of fan to get absorbed by the minutia of a world. I don’t care about a lot of worldbuilding, and I’ve never found details for details sake to be especially compelling.
That’s not meant as a criticism of those who do. It’s a big, big world, and for a lot of people, drowning in the details is what makes their fiction worthwhile. Good for them. It’s just not for me. So when I see a five-hundred plus page book that is part of an epic series, featuring dozens of characters, and with special praise for its worldbuilding, I tend to move along.
I have no reason to believe that the books are bad, and I respect tremendously what George R.R. Martin has done with them. I certainly hold nothing against them, but trying to read them would only make me bored and / or frustrated. From what I’ve heard, the TV show is pretty close to the books anyway, and if I don’t want to spend an hour watching cruel people commit atrocities on TV, I probably don’t want to spend hours reading about it.
But perhaps my biggest pet peeve is that I just don’t like it when a writer kills a character for shock value. I know that stands contrary to what is Game of Thrones biggest selling point, but I simply have no interest in investing in a character, only to have them unceremoniously beheaded. I’ve never been fond of this, and I’m especially not fond of it when it becomes a trend in a series.
Maybe that makes me immature. Maybe I’ve just lost too many important people in my life in needless ways to find any entertainment value or emotional satisfaction in it in my fiction. Or maybe it’s just that following a character for hundreds of pages only to have them die for shock value seems like a colossal waste of my time.
We’re often looking for those elements in fiction that are missing in our own lives, and I think it’s as simple as this. I’m convinced that our existence is mostly a random batch of events and that none of it really adds up to anything in the end. I certainly haven’t seen anything to convince me otherwise. But in my fiction, I like to believe that we can make a difference, that there is a place for good to triumph, and where if I take the time to get a know a character, they are worth knowing and not just being groomed to perish to shock my sensibilities.
In life, death is ugly, indiscriminate, and mostly tragic. I’m not looking for more of that in my fiction. Not to fault anyone who is.
Plus, I’ve never read a (fiction) book over 300 pages that has been able to hold my interest, much less an epic fantasy series. It’s just not my thing apparently.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,