2016/03/28

How Big Publishing Bias Drives Indie Growth

Bias

Is widespread political bias in big publishing enforcing a blacklist against openly conservative and libertarian authors?

A few years ago, I would have greeted claims of publishers rejecting and blackballing writers based on ideological differences with skepticism. Sure, Manhattan, where all the big publishers congregate, has a pretty left wing culture. But these people are in business to make money. Surely they can be adults, put their prejudices in their back pocket, and exercise enlightened self-interest when it comes to signing and promoting authors.

I really believed that New York publishers put professionalism ahead of politics. In fact, I had enough faith in their objectivity to send them manuscripts on multiple occasions.

Only recently did I learn that my earlier trust in big publishing's impartiality was utterly wrong.


A very surprised looking sperm whale and a bowl of petunias

Back in 2014, Dave Freer ran a statistical analysis on the outcomes of past Hugo Awards by political affiliation. In terms of the awards' impartiality, the results can only be called damning.

Look – political viewpoints in any society are described by a Gaussian (aka bell-shaped ) distribution curve. 
For the hypothesis ‘There is no ideological bias in Hugo awards,’ to be true, then this distribution of political viewpoint would have to be true in the winners, and in the nominees. There is no reason why should not be if the system were fair and unbiased in any way.
For the purpose of this proof I’ve chosen a very generous 0.15 (or 15 out of 100 or 15%) as the proportion of any population who are likely to be loud, fervent, open supporters of the ideology of the left, or the same on the right. In reality, the loud fervent part makes the figure much smaller.
We have fifteen red billiard balls (outspoken left wing) fifteen black billiard balls (outspoken right wing), and seventy white billiard balls. And we have an imaginary Johnathan Ross to draw 5. (Don’t worry. He’s imaginary, any fat jokes he makes will be about imaginary fat, the best kind.) And we make the poor beggar time travel back to 2005.
So in ten years… I’ve given up on the sperm whale of nomination likeliness. There is doubtless a parallel universe somewhere that in the tens of millions of possible where that level of red ball selection would, by pure chance, happen. When you start adding the other categories –shorts novellas novelettes — into it, it just gets worse. You need that infinite improbability drive. But in 10 years the 50 nominations should be 7.5 red, 35 white, 7.5 black. – if that tested out, with reasonable error bars, the hypothesis ‘There is no ideological bias in Hugo awards’ would be true. As I make the figures 27 red, 21.5 white, and 1.5 black…*
Shall we look at this year [2014], when thanks to the sad puppies there were at least possible black balls to chosen as winners? Not much use in selecting years when there weren’t any. Let’s just stick to writing. Graphics and movies and art and editors aside… Novel, novella, novelette, short, and fan writer – 5 categories, a roughly 1/7 chance of a red or black ball winning in each if there is no bias.
All red balls. 1/7x 1/7 x 1/7 x 1/7 x 1/7 – this is likely to happen once out of every 16807 years* if there is no ideological bias in Hugo awards. Wow! Aren’t they LUCKY.
*Emphasis mine.

Hugo asterisk
Takes on a hole new meaning.
You could make the objection that the Hugos are awarded by the voting members of Woldcon, independently of any major publisher. Sadly, you'd only be half right. It ain't a coincidence that Tor Books has won twice as many Best Novel awards as any other publisher since 1986, has the majority of Long Form Editor wins since the award's inception, and that the Tor.com Reviewers' Choice List has been a reliable predictor of Hugo nominees for years.

Tor author John C. Wright has flat-out said that a highly placed individual inside the publishing house confided in him that a clique from Tor Books exerted tremendous influence over the award process. This is less of a wacky conspiracy theory than it sounds, since before Sad Puppies, the contest could be decided by a few dozen votes.

Yet even if an award process controlled by publishing bigwigs honors ideology over merit, perhaps their political bias doesn't influence their business dealings with authors.

And perhaps Twin Peaks had a coherent ending.

Twin Peaks
!kcor s'teL


Red vs. blue

The other day, Larry Correia linked to an eye-opening study that breaks down various professions by political affiliation.

Guess where book publishers fall on the political spectrum.

Actually, you don't have to, because I'm happy to present the study's results for you. Red = %Republican. Blue = %Democrat.

publisher politics

Gee, I wonder if book publishers let many Republican novelists into their liberal pillow fort.

Author politics

...Oh.

Well, surely there's a reason why solidly liberal gatekeepers don't sign many conservative authors besides rampant institutional bias. Perhaps conservatives are too busy managing landmine factories and interviewing illegal alien gardeners to write fiction. We all know that only liberals have what it takes to produce real art, anyway.


Besides, there's no evidence that the few conservatives good enough to make it in NY publishing receive less than fair treatment, right?


Nick Cole gets banned

An old boys' club controlling awards is one thing. Ideological discrimination that affects authors' reputations and livelihoods is orders of magnitude more serious.

Just ask Nick Cole, whose A.I apocalypse book CTRL ALT Revolt! was recently dropped by Harper Voyager. Long story short, Nick wanted to think up a new reason for A.I.s to terminate humanity and came up with the highly original idea of having them watch a reality TV star choose to terminate an inconvenient pregnancy, thus raising the logical question of what humans as a whole would do if they discovered the potentially inconvenient existence of A.I.s.

For this novel yet chillingly plausible masterstroke, Nick was called on the carpet by his editor, who not only found his characters' motivations personally offensive, she claimed that half of his readers would as well.

Setting aside the Harper editor's gross exaggeration of how many people disagree with Nick, the number of readers who are closed-minded enough to shun his work on ideological grounds is even less significant. Perusing the book's reviews will turn up several readers who admit to not sharing Nick's beliefs yet still enjoyed his writing.

CTRL ALT Revolt!
When the metal ones come for YOU
As Nick told me in a recent interview, he also used to think that big publishers were basically whores who could do business with ideological opponents. The CTRL ALT Revolt! incident taught him that NY publishers are actually zealots who will push their ideology, even if it comes at the expense of their business.

Which, as I shall now demonstrate, it most certainly does.


Big five, big dive

If NY gatekeepers' claim that conservative viewpoints alienate half of readers is true, then their predilection for publishing liberal authors should mean that their market share is growing, or at least holding steady.

Our friends at Author Earnings have much to say on that subject.

Author Earnings - 2016 market share
Source: February 2016 Author Earnings Report

The five largest publishers now account for less than one quarter of Amazon eBook sales, while indie authors represent almost half of the market.

Quite a reversal of both parties' fortunes. But how does it affect authors?

2016 Author Earnings
Source: February 2016 Author Earnings Report
 The earnings gulf is even wider. Big Five published authors have less than a quarter of the eBook royalty pie between them. Indie authors are taking home about half of it.


Conclusion

There are many reasons for NY publishers' declining sales, such as their relatively low publishing frequency, narrow selection, and prohibitive eBook prices.

But considering the certain proof of systemic political bias--one which is in fact at odds with 70% of the US population, it's getting harder to avoid the conclusion that big publishing's ideological fanaticism is driving readers away from them and into the open arms of indie, and reader-centered publishers like Castalia House and Baen.

The possibility doesn't exactly discourage me, seeing as how I publish two indie books of my own. People seem to like them.

Nethereal

Souldancer

There were times when I questioned my decision to self-publish, but institutional abuses like the Hugo controversy and Nick Cole's blacklisting leave me more sure than ever that I chose correctly.

Even if I make less money, working to please my readers instead of publishers who hate them--and me--more than makes up for it.

2016/03/18

Sad Puppies: The Superversive Mandate

Sad Puppies 4

The highly anticipated Sad Puppies 4 recommended reading list has been released. Just in the nick of time for Hugo Award nominations, which close at the end of this month, these works were suggested by SF fans from around the world and across the web.

The full list can be found here.

Suggestions were completely open to the public, and SP4 even received signal boosts from genre heavyweights who've taken issue with past Puppy campaigns, like Mike Glyer and George R. R. Martin. These factors support the view of SP4's recommendations as a representative sample of broader SF fandom's tastes.

Sad Puppies 4 gave the fans a chance to speak. What did they say? If the most-suggested works are any indication, SP4 voters made a statement that echoes what folks like Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, and Tom Simon have been saying for a while, now.


The Superversive Mandate
I've written previously on the Superversive literary movement.

A quick recap for those who are just joining us: the Superversive movement seeks to return SFF to the service of beauty, truth, and the good--a service which the curators of literature in NY publishing have  not only abandoned, but betrayed. Tom Simon in particular has called for overturning the gatekeepers' subversion of SF, not from below, but from above, i.e. superversion.

Judging by SP4 participants' choices, most of them are sympathetic to Tom's vision. So many recommended works contain superversive elements, or were written by authors affiliated with the movement, that it's no exaggeration to say that Sad Puppies 4 represents a superversive mandate.

Hugos asterisk
The old guard's open contempt for 70% of their audience may have contributed to the backlash.

SP4 List Highlights
Here are highly placed entries from the official recommendations list that contain superversive themes, were written by superversive authors, or both.

Quite a showing for such a young movement.

Many creators of works listed above wouldn't describe them as superversive. Some might actively deny affiliation with the movement. But whether intentionally or not, all of the works above celebrate heroic courage, treat beauty as something real and transformative, honor objective truth, or a combination of multiple superversive elements.


Speaking from Experience
For once, I'm not just some armchair pundit peddling secondhand opinions on the internet.

To my amazement, five projects to which I have direct creative involvement appear on the Sad Puppies 4 list--each near the top of its category (viz. Nethereal, Sci Phi Journal, Superversive SF, Geek Gab, and, in the case of the Campbell...me).

Obligatory reminder of author's well-received book for sale.
When I decided to turn my writing from a hobby into a profession, I had no idea how my work would be received. Rather than fret over possible rejection, I just wrote the kinds of stories that I wanted to read, but that no one else seemed to be offering.

Obligatory reminder that the well-received book has an even better sequel. (Eligible next year.)
Along the way, I kept coming across like-minded individuals who were dissatisfied with the current state of SFF. Some of them accepted the challenge of writing for themselves. A few of these people must've thought I had something interesting to say, because they invited me to co-host their podcasts and post on their blogs. I continue gratefully doing so.

The takeaway is that, without a NY publisher, and with no advertising budget, resources, or contacts to speak of, Sad Puppies 4 let me compete on a level playing field against this:

the Martian

and tie for first place.

From where I'm standing (next to Andy Weir, as it happens), the predictions of indie making the gatekeepers obsolete look thoroughly vindicated.

I brought books to market, found readers, and--if past years are reliable indicators--stand a non-zero chance of being nominated for a major literary award. All of this was done without granting all of my rights and most of my profits to a publisher.

Sure, it's survivorship bias to say that if I can do it, then so can you. But I'm not the only example. Indie has produced far greater successes than me.

Oh yeah, that part about zero resources and no contacts? That problem's been pretty much solved--thanks to my fellow superversives, those who support the cause, and most importantly of all, my phenomenal readers. You guys have achieved what all of the industry experts said was impossible just a few years ago.

Congratulations to everyone who made the list. Thanks to all of the overt and covert superversives out there, to the Evil Legion of Evil, and Sad Puppies everywhere (especially Kate, Sarah, Amanda, and the volunteers who collated the suggestions). And once again, extra special thanks to my readers.

We're just getting warmed up, and I'm proud to be at the starting line with you.

Update: in the time since this article was first written, my name has also been added to the Rabid Puppies list of Campbell nominees. The Supreme Dark Lord is indeed kind.

2016/03/16

Report from the 8th Annual Drunken Zombie Film Fest

Drunken Zombie

This past weekend I had the pleasure of once again attending the Drunken Zombie International Film Festival. For the eighth year in a row, our friends at Drunken Zombie assembled a collection of independent horror movies from around the world.

How did the 2016 festivities measure up against previous years? The return of perennial fan favorite Lord Blood-Rah to perform hosting duties augured well for an imminent geekstravaganza.


Then there were the movies themselves. I'll do my best to keep the reviews spoiler free, but to start I'll just say that this year featured one of the strongest indie film lineups I've ever seen.

Let's dispense with the pleasantries and get on to the movies, shall we?


HAG
HAG

Whether intentionally or not, each DZ film fest seems to have one or more themes running through each of the entries. This year was no exception--in fact, this lineup had multiple common threads, including but not limited to: dogs, nose piercings, evil kids, etc.--and HAG exemplifies the well-represented genre of horror movies based on folklore.

You can check out the trailer here.

HAG featured solid performances, a consistently eerie, paranoid mood, and workmanlike special effects. Recommended for a good, quick scare.


E.N.D.
E.N.D.

An Italian zombie film composed of three segments made by four different directors, E.N.D. is a breath of fresh air in an oversaturated genre. To be honest, I found the middle section a bit weak, but the opening and concluding chapters more than made up for the sagging middle act.

Saying anything else would risk major spoilers. Go and see it for yourself!


They Will All Die in Space
They Will All Die in Space

Sweet Ridley Scott, is this film a winner! It might be poor form for an objective reviewer to play favorites, but a) I never claimed to be objective, and b) the sheer awesomeness of They Will All Die in Space makes it impossible for anyone except emotionless androids to remain impartial.

Full disclosure: SF-horror is my genre. Seeing someone do it this well is highly gratifying on multiple levels. What you get with TWADIS is a high tension thriller set aboard the claustrophobia-inducing confines of a ship in deep space. With set design in the venerable tradition of 80s SF noir films and shot in black and white, TWADIS pays homage to its predecessors while carving out some new territory of its own.

Hands down, my pick for the Best of Show award. What? the DZFF doesn't give out prizes? Let's see what's in my pockets...$12.62 in small bills/loose change and a used parking deck pass. It'll have to do. How much is postage to Spain?

Enough! The trailer.


Suffer the Little Children
Suffer the Little Children

A prime example of this year's evil kids theme, Suffer the Little Children is a short film based on the Stephen King story of the same name. See, if you want to film a Stephen King IP, he'll sell you the rights for $1, provided it's one that hasn't already been made and you promise not to profit from it. I've seen a few of these "Dollar Babies" now, and StLC ranks among the best.

Synopsis: at an ordinary American middle school, that one teacher everybody hates comes to suspect that some of her students may not be what they seem.

Highly recommended if you can track it down.


Ninja Eliminator 4
A short film made in the distorted image of a French crime/martial arts flick, NE4 is the most hilarious thing I've seen at the DZFF since 2011's Decapoda Shock (the comedic predecessor to They Will All Die in Space).

But why waste any more words when the whole movie is available right here:



Those are my thoughts on the 8th annual Drunken Zombie International Film Festival. I had a fantastic time watching one of the strongest lineups that DZ has assembled to date. The superb quality bodes well for festivals to come, and I can't wait for next year.

2016/03/06

The Secret of the Universe

OK. I'm not actually going to reveal the secret of the universe. Instead, this post will be devoted to bringing you, my faithful readers, up to speed on recent developments in my self-publishing odyssey.

And boy, have I got a lot to share!


Up and Coming
Up and Coming Campbell anthology
There's a venerable SFF tradition of publishing yearly anthologies of works by authors who are eligible for that year's John W. Campbell Award for Best new Writer. Author SL Huang and friends are continuing that tradition this year.

I'm on the official list of Campbell eligible authors, but it still came as an unexpected honor when they invited me to participate in the anthology. I sent them the story that ensured my eligibility in the first place, "Strange Matter" from Sci Phi Journal #3, plus the first seven chapters of Nethereal.

NB: the novel excerpt is from the upcoming revised and expanded 2nd edition, so folks who download the anthology get a sneak preview of Nethereal 2nd ed.

Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors is available now, free of charge. But only until March 31, so pick it up today and make your Campbell vote an informed one.


Souldancer
Souldancer
Cover by Marcelo Orsi Blanco
Last month I launched my second novel, Souldancer. I'm super excited about this book. Although it's the sequel to Nethereal, I actually wrote the initial drafts of SD first; then went back and wrote its precursor.

Souldancer is everything that's awesome about Nethereal, but more of it. Plus a bunch of new, even cooler elements. It's the book I wanted to write from the start, and I think it does what every sequel should: expand on the first story, bring out themes that were only implicit the first time, and play for even bigger stakes.

Well, the first reviews are in, and long story short, my readers and I are on the same page.
Another fine entry from Brian Niemeier. While the previous book was a space pirate story tinged with 1990s anime influences, Souldancer...feels like something from the golden age of JRPGs. It's loaded with big set pieces that I can just see rendered in the Playstation or Dreamcast's primitive glory, from giant tree-cities to a labyrinthine home of the gods beyond time.
--Joshua Young 
Keep your eye on Josh; he's a perceptive one. He totally nailed both books' main influences.

Souldancer manages to combine epic fantasy science-fiction and horror together in one strange and wondrous whole.
The tale takes place after a cataclysmic fire has swept across whole worlds, and left a shattered, savage ruin of civilization. A band of unlikely adventurers...set out to discover what is behind the mysterious and savage murders wiping out caravans... Before they are done they will travel worlds, face treachery, werewolves, ghosts, strange cults, starships, demons and even the gods themselves.
At heart it is an adventure story, but the adventure is not to acquire fame or fortune. Rather, it grows from a desire to protect the innocent, to protecting love, to protecting the very universe itself.
--David Hallquist
Best synopsis ever.

Full disclosure: it's been a challenge coming up with tantalizing yet spoiler-free blurbs for SD. Now these guys come along and leave reviews that knock it out of the park!

It would be insulting not to steal from them.

By the way, I have it on good authority that both of these fine wordsmiths have books of their own coming out in the near future. Lovers of fun, superversive SF are well advised to be on the lookout for both novels' release.

But first, buy Souldancer now.

And buy Nethereal before that.


Sad Puppies 4
Sad Puppies 4

My readers, who are awesome, did me the unfathomable honor of turning out in droves to suggest my work for the Sad Puppies 4 recommended Hugo reading list.

Suggestions are now closed. By my admittedly fallible calculations, my works were still serious contenders in two categories (Nethereal in Best Novel and "Strange Matter" qualifying me for the Campbell) when polling ended.

Sincere thanks to everyone who voiced support for my writing. I honestly had no idea how my work would be received when I decided to take the plunge and offer it to the public. Thanks to my readers (I'm still wrapping my head around the knowledge that I have those), I now have a much clearer idea.

Rest assured, I'll hasten to inform you all of the SP 4 results when they're released.


Huge top secret thing
Loyal fans deserve their reward, so here's a small token of my appreciation: a tiny hint of something unspeakably huge on the horizon.

I'm serious. Something is coming up soon that is bigger than anything yet announced on this blog. Professional courtesy prohibits me from telling you what it is for now, but think of the biggest news item in this post. Now triple it. Now add a zero at the end.

Still not even close.

Bear with me. All will be revealed in the fullness of time. Suffice it to say, what's about to go down will be visible from outer space.