The Change in Publishing/Book Marketing

This past weekend, as announced on the website here, I was at the Phoenix Comic Fest, where I was selling my books at Bard’s Tower, and doing some panel appearances. With me at the booth were Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon, Alan Dean Foster, Jody Lynn Nye, Melinda Snodgrass, David Butler, Christopher Husberg, Mark Gardner, Kevin Ikenberry, Amity Green, and Brian Lee Durfee – an array of writers ranging from old-timers to rising young authors.

So why were all of us at a “comic fest”?

Because of the dramatic change in the publishing world. Twenty to twenty five years ago, Tor –and other publishers – used to tour quite a few authors fairly often, and I was one of those toured. I was on the low-budget tour. Tor would fly me to a city, give me a formal signing or two each day, and I’d use the rental car to visit every bookstore I could get to where I wasn’t doing a formal signing so that I could talk to the staff and sign whatever stock they had of my books. I’d also leave a bound bookstore/press packet with glossy photos of covers of most of my books with a brief description, as well as other information that the bookstore would find useful. There were times when I’d visit ten to fifteen bookstores in a day, in addition to the formal signing. It worked fairly well back then.

It doesn’t work now… not unless the author is literally selling at least a few hundred thousand copies of a book, and it doesn’t because: (1) the number of bookstores has dwindled drastically; (2) e-books have grown considerably; and (3) despite what everyone contends, electronic book piracy has reduced paying sales without increasing overall sales. In addition to that, tours and book signings offered a venue where authors could meet readers and interest them in books and authors they hadn’t previously read. But because tours are no longer even remotely close to break-even exercises, except for high best-selling authors, publishers don’t tour nearly as many of their authors as they once used to do.

So… how do authors get new readers? Some invest heavily, both in time and money, in social media and an online presence. But as several newer authors I know have discovered, sometimes a huge social media presence doesn’t translate into sales. In fact, on a percentage basis, success through a social media presence is relatively infrequent [but, if I’m being honest, I have to admit that only a small percentage of would-be writers ever turn out to be commercially successful]. At a comic-con or a comic fest, however, there are thousands of people, many of whom are readers, and there’s a good chance to meet some potential new readers… and right now, it’s one of the few person-to-person venues left open to authors… which is why I – and other notable authors – appear at them.

The market’s changed, and if we don’t adapt with it, in some fashion, we’ll become less relevant. Besides, I had a good time talking to those readers, even when they didn’t buy my books.

Male Rights?

Apparently, I’ve been too generous toward at least some members of my gender, thinking that they might just understand why women are less than thrilled with the various fashions in which they’ve been treated by men over the past several millennia.

No… apparently at least some men believe that they have the right to have sexual relations with women, and even the woman of their choice, regardless of whether she shares that desire. Three recent fatal attacks, including the Santa Fe High school shooting, have been motivated at least in part by such self-professed sentiments on the part of the attacker, and are fairly clear symptoms of what I can only term a new “hate group” – so far, only a subset of the Incel [involuntary celibate] movement.

As with a great many groups that feel themselves disenfranchised in one way or another, while most incels do feel like outcasts, the majority obviously haven’t resorted to killing and violence, but laying the blame on women isn’t going to solve their problems or resolve the situation. Neither is telling these (mostly young) men to “just get over it.” From the limited studies on them, most have lacked opportunities, strong positive male father figures, and decent educations.

Part of what’s behind this “movement” is the feeling by these men that in the past men did have access to women, especially for sex, and that such availability no longer exists, but throughout history groups of men, especially young men, and often large groups of them, have suffered involuntary celibacy. So have women, and in fact the term “Incel” was actually coined by a Canadian woman some twenty years ago.

But now online male Incel communities are showing up, and some are more than vocal and demeaning toward women, including voicing resentment at being denied “their God-given rights to have sex with women.” [Personally, I find it incredibly disturbing how various uses of force and weapons are being touted as being “God-given” rights.] Before it was banned and removed in November of 2017, Reddit had a subreddit entitled “Incels,” with more than 40,000 members of that subreddit.

As women as a group become more highly educated, more financially and socially independent, fewer and fewer will need to be subservient to men… and the Incel movement may only be the tip of the iceberg as a manifestation of male dissatisfaction in the way the world is changing. While violence isn’t the answer, neither is ignoring the situation until we’re facing more and more incidents such as the few that have recently occurred.

But then, since when have we reacted in any other way?

A Less Moral Nation?

The other day I read an editorial that cited quite a few statistics to the end that most Americans feel that the country is “less moral” than it was fifty years ago. I don’t dispute the fact that people feel that way, but I’m not nearly so sure about the accuracy of those feelings.

As shown by all the revelations surfacing in the wake of the Me Too Movement, there has been a continuing pattern of sexual abuse by men, particularly powerful men, dating back to the beginning of the United States, and even before that. The fact that it’s been revealed doesn’t change what happened or make the country any less or more moral, although it does reveal that we certainly weren’t as moral as we thought we were.

Often one of the statistics used as a proxy for “morality” is the teen pregnancy rate, but teen pregnancy rates have decreased by almost eighty percent since 1957, and that decline has continued steadily since 2000. Some of that decline is doubtless due to the use of birth control, but the CDC attributes a significant share of the recent decline to sexual abstinence by teenagers.

While a great number of people have cited President Trump as immoral because of his sexual behavior, Trump is an absolute piker compared to President Kennedy… or even Lindon Johnson. And while Richard Nixon may not have strayed sexually, given the Watergate scandal, can one say that he was more “moral” than recent Presidents? I served as a Congressional staffer some forty years ago, and there were more than a few sexual scandals involving powerful senators and congressmen. The difference was that the media didn’t report them as often or in any detail. So, ignorance fosters, at least partly, the idea that our past leadership was more “moral.”

As a nation we had to enact legislation to even begin the process to allow minorities and women equal rights with white males, and even as late as 1960, it was often difficult for a woman to get a credit card in her own name. In 1965, in most of the south, buses, lunch counters, rest rooms, and still many schools were effectively segregated. Where was the greater morality in that?

Admittedly, the crime rate today is higher than in 1960, but the peak in the crime rate, depending on the type of crime, was between 1980 and 1990, and the rates have declined since then. What about marriages and divorce? The per capita divorce rate peaked in 1980 and has declined ever since, although marriage rates are also declining.

So why do so many people feel that we’re a “less moral” nation today?

Is it because more and more people have defined what is moral in terms of their personal beliefs? Or because economically, a large percentage of the middle class has seen their economic position decline, and that equates to a less moral society? Or because there’s always a tendency to recall the favorable aspects of the past and forget the less favorable ones?

Facts and facts

Fact: The past April was the coldest April in twenty years in the United States and the thirteenth coldest in the past 124 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Fact: The American southwest was warmer than usual, as were the southern plains, with record dryness in the southwest and mid-Mississippi Valley.

Fact: The United Kingdom had an unusually warm April, with days that were the hottest in 70 years, so hot that horse races were cancelled.

Fact: The German National Meteorological Service reported that April was the hottest month in the recorded history of German weather.

Fact: Italy also had a warm April, with five cities – Trieste, Genoa, Pisa, Venice, and Grosseto – recording record temperatures for the month.

Fact: Australia had a warm April as well, with parts of the country measuring the second hottest April on record.

Fact: On April 30th, a city in Pakistan – Nawabshah – set the world heat record for April, with temperatures reaching 122.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the city of over a million, causing heatstroke deaths, power outages and general misery.

Fact: Even with cold temperatures in North America, world-wide, April 2018 was the third warmest on record.

So… which facts do you choose to believe?

Do you pick the ones that reinforce what you want to believe? Or the ones you’ve experienced? Or do you look at all the facts and try to sort them out?

Can you even sort them out?

I did a quick scan of news stories I could find on April weather that were published in the last month. Out of some 280 stories, only fifteen mentioned the heat in any other part of the world, and only five mentioned the point that April, world-wide, was much hotter than average and the third warmest on record.

Most of the stories available in English focused on the unseasonably cold U.S. weather without any world-wide perspective. That’s understandable in some ways, because news outlets cater to their local constituencies, but it’s also deceptive because it reinforces a very localized perspective.

All of which bring up a question we need to keep asking ourselves. From just where did we get the facts we so blithely trot out to support what we believe?

God-Given – Part II

Although few want to admit it, the reason why “rights” are so often attributed to a deity is because it endows them with a sense of being elevated beyond mere people. This also why commandments and morality are usually tied to religion and presented as being from a superior being. After all, what value is there in rights or moral values because Sam Nobody or Sara Somebody said it they were the way in which people should conduct themselves?

But in fact, the vast majority of legal codes practiced today, while tied to some form of religious faith, either loosely or strictly, were set forth and presented to the people by other people [with the possible exception of the ten commandments, but even then we only have the word of Moses that God inscribed those stone tablets]. As some commenters have pointed out, even the Founding Fathers deferred to a deity, but in fact they were the ones who wrote the actual language of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Why do we have such a problem in admitting that the beliefs and laws that, for the most part, govern us and our behavior were devised by other people? Is it because we don’t like admitting that someone else had a better idea? We certainly accede to the fact that others are physically stronger, or that “might makes right” in terms of war or the threat of largest battalions.

Yet, the idea that someone else might have a better code of behavior, especially one not based on religion, is an anathema to most Americans, and certainly to most Islamic believers. I suspect the only reason most Americans are leery of a theocracy is not because of the idea of a theocracy itself, but because there’s the real danger of the religious values being imposed just might be those of some other faith. That was most certainly the concern of the Founding Fathers.

Then, too, there’s the question of how any deity could grant us “rights.” Proclaiming that such rights are “God-given” doesn’t make it so, although it may legitimize those rights in the eyes of the faithful. But then, maybe that’s the point of the claim. The problem with such “legitimacy,” however, is that when the laws of a country don’t reflect what a given group of believers think is in accord with their faith, they want to change the laws to reflect their faith, regardless of the conflict such changes causes with the beliefs of others.

In practice, human “rights” only exist so long as human beings recognize such rights and conduct themselves in a way that supports those rights. All too often in history, the rights of one group or another, and often their very existence, have been destroyed through intolerance of differences and in the name of another belief, a rather strong indication that no deity created those rights and that no deity actively defends them, only people of both character with the will to act and to oppose injustice.