Science Fiction Robot Lady

I’m supposed to start editing the first draft of my new YA novel today, therefore I’m writing this unnecessary post in reaction to an article in the Guardian’s Culture section this past week. Freelance columnist Sarah Ditum askswhy are authors still sniffy about sci-fi?

The catalyst for the piece seems to be Ian McEwan’s refusal to accept that his new novel, Machines Like Me, is science fiction. It’s an alternate history story with androids (ie: it’s science fiction). Ditum politely calls McEwan’s arrogance “a whiff of genre snobbery”.

I haven’t read a lot of science fiction, at least not of the “spaceships and laser beams” variety. It is only recently that I decided to start reading more science-fictiony science fiction, because I’ve come to view it as an extremely flexible and boundless platform in which to tell a story.

When it came to classifying some of my stories, I was hesitant to label them science fiction, but not because I felt “above” the term. Quite the opposite. I was afraid I wouldn’t live up to it, that it would be misleading. Maybe the spaceships and laser beam crowd would shoot me down.

So far, I haven’t had any complaints. People know how to read blurbs and descriptions. They can tell the difference between climate change and an alien invasion.

“There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future,” McEwan said in a recent interview, “not in terms of travelling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but in actually looking at the human dilemmas.” 

Funny, I thought that’s precisely what a lot science fiction did. Ian McEwan wants to use the genre while denying and disparaging it at the same time. He’s like one of those religious conservatives staunchly preaching anti-gay rhetoric during the day, while at night he’s sitting in a toilet stall, covertly tapping toes on the men’s room floor.

Ditum points out that masterful wordsmith Margaret Atwood has softened her position on her work being classified as science fiction. Considering Frankenstein turned 200 last year, and Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451  are required reading in classrooms throughout the world, it’s about time.

Maybe it’s even time to view science fiction as a respectable literary genre.

Base image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

goodreads_review_themasq

My wrists and eyes are burning as I wrap up this final-ish edit of my novella The Humid, so I took a short break to see how my short story, The Masq, is doing on Amazon.

Not great. Not even good, actually.

But I’m neither surprised nor disappointed. It’s a short story, and the only written work by an unknown author, on a website with nearly fifty million books.

I clicked my way over to Goodreads, just to see if there had been any activity there. Two people gave it a rating, four stars and five stars. That made me grin.

But what made me smile was the review that one of them left.

Short, interesting and beautifully written.
This was much more than short story.

This was much more than a review. It made the pain in my arms secondary, and galvanized me to get this edit finished. Thank you, random guy who read my book.

There are only two periodicals where I plan to submit my novella, so perhaps The Humid will be available on Amazon fairly soon.

With the publication of my first story, The Masq, my meteoric rise to the top has been nothing if not educational. Well, maybe that’s all it’s been.

Bestseller lists have received their fair share of criticism, and I’ve now seen firsthand how these Amazon Best Seller lists are ripe for abuse. They open the door for clickbait titles (like the one for this post), misleading book descriptions, and disingenuous author bios.

I’m not a bestseller. Maybe technically, but not really.

There are a number of variables at play, and they all impact Amazon’s bestseller lists.

Time

Whereas something like The New York Times bestseller lists aggregate weekly sales data from thousands of brick and mortar and online stores, Amazon updates their rankings hourly—from a single sales channel. This allows for “snapshot best sellers”, like when I sat at #1 for a couple hours. This was during the second day of my sale. It simply means for a very brief time (not enough to watch a single installment of The Lord of the Rings), more people bought my story than any other in the category.

Categories: Paid vs. Free

Amazon divides best seller lists into two main categories: Paid and Free. Obviously, as I was doing a two-day promotion giving the story away, it was in the Free column. But it was still listed as a bestseller. Seriously though, should it really be considered a best seller if you’re giving it away?

(The answer is no.)

More Categories: Genre

It’s common practice for bestseller lists to focus on genres. In their print edition, The New York Times has eight bestseller lists according to genre and format (hardcover, paperback, etc.). It has another six lists online. Amazon has 24 genre lists. When combined with Paid vs. Free, that makes 48 lists. That’s 48 potential new bestsellers every hour of the day, seven days a week.

Bestseller lists have always been an area of contention and criticism. Depending on the source, the can be more about marketing than actual sales.

Even that holiest of grails, The New York Times (which is not without its own controversies), has admitted it is not only possible, but rather common practice, for authors and publishers to game their system.

Strategic bulk or other purchases made by an author or an entity working on behalf of an author with the intention of skewing the lists happen with frequency.

It’s not only disingenuous, but patently absurd, for me to claim to have had a bestseller. Even though, Amazon would tend to disagree.

 

Perhaps conundrum is an overstatement. Especially given I know which way I’m leaning.

It’s also not a pressing concern, considering I’m only done the first draft. And I might rewrite the entire thing in first person. (At least it’s only 75k words.)

Regardless, I just finished writing a young adult (YA) novel and began pondering the case for pseudonyms. Seeing as I haven’t made any name for myself, the issue is far down my list of concerns. Somewhere just above who to include in my Edgars acceptance speech.

However, I’ve also wanted to give self-publishing a shot–both to learn the ropes and see how it goes. In that case, the question rockets to the top like the 1999 St. Louis Rams.

Stephen King wrote under the nom de plume Richard Bachman to circumvent an industry that penalized prolificacy.

J.K. Rowling stated that it was “wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

Then there’s erotica. Some sources estimate that 103% of all erotica is written under a pseudonym.

Obviously I do not share the concerns of either King or Rowling. And I’m not writing erotica. But many make the argument to use a pen name when writing a different genre.

Iain Banks wrote mainstream fiction as such, then ever so sneakily wrote science fiction as Iain M. Banks. (More for clarity than obfuscation.)

John Grisham writes young adult fiction and non-legal-thrillers under one name. Many authors write in multiple genres under one name, including the aforementioned King.

The argument is often made that using a pen name allows the reader to know what they’re getting. But there’s a thing called a description. They could always read that first.