2017/07/31

Superversive vs. PulpRev

Paladin vs. Antipaladin

This past weekend I had the pleasure of meeting a few of my readers for dinner and lively conversation. We talked for hours on a wide range of subjects, which as you'd expect of SFF fans getting some personal time with an author whose work they enjoy, included several hot button issues of the current publishing industry.

Even now, when digital age necessities like hustling on social media, building email lists, and gaming Amazon's algorithm have largely made signings, convention appearances, and book tours obsolete, it still behooves authors to get out and talk to their audiences in meatspace. After all, the biggest change ushered in by the digital publishing revolution has been to once again make the reader king.

Below, in no particular order, I've listed some of the topics that my readers brought up. The sample size was admittedly small, but the fact that the sample came from out of town to chat with me about these items tends to suggest something about their overall importance.


The Superversive Movement vs. The Pulp Revolution

Though my work doesn't meet the ideal of either literary movement, I'm sympathetic to and have friends in both camps.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Superversives and the #PulpRev, the former seek to overturn the rampant nihilism in contemporary SFF from above with stories informed by genuine virtue, while the latter identify post-World War II Campbellian sci-fi as the point where the genre went off the rails. The PulpRev revisits the classic pulps for the inspiration to make science fiction and fantasy--which are really the same genre--fun, heroic, and truly romantic again.

A brief rundown of my readers' opinions on both movements:
  • The Superversives have more high profile authors.
  • The #PulpRev has a far bigger cultural footprint--due to their greater willingness to interact with the public on social media.
  • The Superversives lag behind in terms of marketing their ideas.
  • On the whole, the #PulpRev has the upper hand--though the two movements aren't exactly in direct competition. There's a high degree of overlap.
To any Superversives who feel inclined to take umbrage: don't shoot the messenger! This is just what I heard.

Luckily, my readers did have actionable advice to help the Superversive movement catch up:
  1. Your membership is too private and insular. Discuss what's going on in the movement out in the open more often. Conversations about upcoming projects, new members, superversive philosophy, etc. should be had in public to raise awareness and build interest.
  2. The Superversive Roundtables are too long. Try keeping the ordinary shows to one hour, tops. Your audience will give you a little longer for special events.
  3. Sci-Phi Journal, Forbidden Thoughts, and Astounding Frontiers are good. But there's always room for improvement. Superversive magazines and anthologies should have a stronger editorial voice, and the story selections should show greater intentionality.
Considering the raw brand power at the Superversives' disposal, they should be able to quickly gain ground if these suggestions are implemented. They sound simple--and they are--but they'll require discipline to succeed.


Castalia House

Lead Editor Vox Day has publicly stated on numerous occasions that he expects Castalia House to surpass Tor Books as the #1 publisher of science fiction and fantasy. This small, upstart house is off to a strong start, boasting 100% growth three years in a row and a blog that has already become a force to be reckoned with under the able editorship of  Appendix N mastermind and #PulpRev guru Jeffro Johnson.

Of course, there's still plenty of room to grow. Here's a sampling of what my readers had to say about Castalia House:
  • CH's nonfiction selection is superb. Whether it's venerable military historian Martin van Creveld, ninja Ivan Throne, or the Supreme Dark Lord himself, Day has assembled a deep bench of world-class scholars. Oh, and lest we forget, gardeners.
  • Grandmasters like John C. Wright and best sellers like David VanDyke exemplify the strong brands to be found among CH's biggest fiction authors.
  • However, one of my interlocutors noted that all of CH's name fiction authors already had strong brands before they signed on. Castalia has yet to take a sci-fi author from the slush pile to the A list.
  • It was also pointed out that CH's catalog is rather heavy on nonfiction for a house that aspires to the top spot in science fiction publishing. One reader opined that they need more authors.
That said, it should be mentioned that Castalia House has only been in business for three years. They've accomplished a tremendous amount in that short span, and their stable of authors will naturally fill out in time. I have it on good authority that the company's leadership is keenly interested in building up unknown authors from scratch, and they're devising strategies to make that happen. Recent experiments to this effect show promise.


On a personal note...

It was super cool hearing firsthand what my readers think about my books. One especially awesome guy asked how The Hymn of the Pearl is doing sales-wise (it's doing well, but as I said above, there's always room to do better). He even brought a paperback copy of The Secret Kings for me to sign. Looks like I spoke too soon about signings being obsolete.

Apparently people are excited about my next book. Don't worry. I won't draw out the suspense any longer than necessary.

Thanks to all of my awesome readers. You are why I do what I do!

@BrianNiemeier

24 comments:

  1. It seems to me that the superversive club is trying to hard to be exclusive, and creating more rules for themselves, and trying to "own" the label.

    Honestly, the label is quite clever, and should be broader rather than narrower. Focus on the obvious intent of what the label means and worry less about having to fill up some checklist to be considered part of the in-crowd, I think.

    Otherwise, they run the risk of the label getting away from them, and devolving into lower case superversive vs. upper case Superversive, with the former being more significant than the latter.

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    1. In a nutshell: the libertarian vs. Libertarian problem.

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    2. I think the only reason Superversive has retained its significance is because of Jagi. Her direction is clear and succinct without the caveats a lot of the other superversives tend to bolt on.

      It's one of the reasons I think Human Wave didn't go anywhere. There were no clear directions or goals outside of "Don't treat the human race like garbage" which is not much of a direction to build on.

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    3. Hi! Anthony here (don't ask me why I use this username, it's from a play I was in in high school and it's too much bother to change), the guy who normally writes the superversive column at Castalia and regular contributor at Superversive SF. I tend to be in the thick of a lot of the fights for both of those reasons, along with the simpler fact that I'm a stubborn ass.

      Let me tell you my issue here:

      People accuse me - over and over - of using superversive as a shorthand for "stuff I like". This isn't remotely true; I am a huge fan of Isaac Asimov, Rick and Morty, and Lemony Snicket novels, none of which are superversive. I even wrote articles on the latter two ON the Castalia site. Yet still this accusation pops up.

      So the superversive team - because, again, this accusation has been leveled so many times - has tried to explain what we mean when we say "superversive". We came up with a canon of books and from there tried to distill the essential qualities of superversion from them; the estimable Corey McCleery turned this into an excellent post.

      I did a review of "Sword and Flower", and Jeffro asked me to look at it from a superversive perspective. I did; I found it lacking. I still do. Remember, I was specifically asked to do this. My original review was on purely literary grounds, not superversive grounds. A bunch of pulp rev guys were confused how I considered that book lacking in the superversive element but found "Daredevil" extremely superversive, accusing me again - extremely unfairly - of being arbitrary.

      So to explain what I meant I compared the two, point by point. "Daredevil" is, in fact, far more superversive than "Sword and Flower"; season one is one of the most superversive shows I've ever seen, in fact. People then got annoyed I was comparing "Sword and Flower" to "Daredevil", even though I was more or less asked explicitly to do so.

      Fast forward. Brian is correct that superversive is essentially about bringing virtue back into stories, and I was once asked if there could be such a thing as a superversive tragedy. I said "Yes" and used "Breaking Bad" - one of the most deeply moral shows of the decade - as an example.

      Keep in mind, I didn't just say this; I made an argument for it, a careful argument. I built a case, I used the categories that Corey had identified as being key to superversive and attempted to explain, step by step, why "Breaking Bad" fit that mold. And it does.

      In the comments I was - once again - accused of being arbitrary in how I use the term "superversive". Accused of having superversive mean "Whatever media Anthony likes" - which, again, is not only not true, but demonstrably not true.

      So it seems the real issue was not "superversive is whatever Anthony likes", but "If Anthony says it's superversive, no matter how he tries to explain the matter, if I disagree his opinion is clearly arbitrary".

      So I ask you, faced with that criticism, considering everything I have done to try to resolve it - What exactly do you want me to say?. If the answer is "Keep out of pointless arguments with allies", well, I didn't write the post to start an argument; I wrote it to clarify a point. Yet here I stand.

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    4. Jagi is a marvel, but let's not forget the contributions of the thrice-worthy Jason Rennie as well. ;-)

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    5. Your blog posts aren't at issue here; they provoke conversation, a worthy thing of itself. But where are most of you on Social Media? Declan, Dawn, and Jon are all on Twitter and VERY ACTIVE. The PulpRev crew actually converses a TON on there in public, and that enthusiasm is infectious. They've grown their movement through it, even drawing in some more authors already who have their own followings. Bringing their people into the conversations.

      On the other hand, JCW isn't on social media AT ALL, and Jason Rennie and Jagi both mostly only put post links on their twitter accounts. No public forum conversations, so you aren't drawing folk in. The roundtables are LONG, and too populous. If you could treat them more like a small con panel(1 hr, no more than say 5 with a moderator), you'd have more engagement. And where are the links? Where's submission stuff for anthologies, mags, etc? Where can I find the authors/books on Amazon?

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    6. Believe me, this advice is being taken into consideration. We had a big meeting today and you can expect coming improvements.

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    7. Jason's work ethic is up there with the best in the business. I don't know where he finds the time!

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    8. Look at an SJW channel like Overly Sarcastic Productions
      Example: https://youtu.be/r4InTzxkd_0
      Look at how much information her (sped up) ramble gets across in l5 minutes, most of it just "Why do guys protagonist?" at the end of the day. Meanwhile, the average 2 hour Superversive round table...?

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  2. Superversive and PulpRev are the only literary movements I've ever actually cared one iota about. Both appeal to that growing moral emptiness and sense of desolation modern fiction puts out. I'm a big fan of both.

    Also, I sent an e-mail your way.

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  3. Becoming too private in insular is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed if we want to overtake mainstream SF fandom. We don't want our literary movements to become a retread of the Central Fifty from the Campbell age.

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    1. Exactly. There's always the fear of getting co-opted or watered down, but that fear has to be faced head-on.

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  4. Superversive isn't so much insular as it is a bunch of cats going all in different directions. PulpRev is more diverse, but more like a pack of dogs all headed in the same direction.

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    1. Interesting. Any thoughts on why that is? Understanding a challenge is the first step to overcoming it.

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  5. On way to get the word out would be to celebrate St George (23 April) and have a big day of book celebrations with discounts book signing activities that makes reading such a blast. The Catalan authors love going forcthecsignings and to an extent the interviews. Also St George would account for a big sales revenue surge
    xavier

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  6. Since the other aspects of this have been well covered, I'll chime in on the Castalia criticisms.

    Castalia is rising, and it's well deserved. I also absolutely agree that their current catalog is probably hurting them. They seem more like a political publisher, or a non-fiction publisher, who do SF on the side.

    Also listening to Nick Cole's podcast about his latest book, it helped me identify a problem I had been noticing for a while. Castalia house books 'also boughts' are very incestuous. You bring up a Castalia house book, the "also bought" section is nearly entirely other castalia house books, including stuff that has nothing to do with science fiction. For example Alien Game.

    https://www.amazon.com/Alien-Game-Thousand-Worlds-Walker-ebook/dp/B01LX9MUIK/ref=la_B01G427PCI_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1501648620&sr=1-1

    I see Law Dog, Equation of Infinite Complexity, Hitler in Hell, etc. You know what I don't see? A Tunnel in the Sky, or any number of Heinlein or Heinlein inspired novels, despite these being this being the type of audience Rod Walker is going for.

    Vox brags that Castalia fans will buy anything they publish, regardless of what it is. And this is something to be proud of. Many would kill for a base like that. But so far it seems that Castalia books are being bought by castalia house fans, and not by SF fans in general.

    In Nick Cole's podcast he mentions if you were selling books to the same incestuous circle, over and over, with no growth, eventually that's going to be death.

    And as you pointed out, they are still a young company, it's early days yet, so perhaps they will break out of the circle jerk.

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    1. Good points. I'm reminded of Danny DeVito's speech from Other People's Money.

      You can't keep selling the same stuff to the same crowd forever.

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    2. Also, can you point me toward that Nick Cole podcast episode, please?

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    3. Well it's more Webinar than podcast, and sadly expensive, but has some great information about marketing, and Amazon's algorithm.

      https://www.galacticoutlaws.com/product/legionnaire-after-action-report/#tab-reviews

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