There’s been a lot of discussion both on the blogs and behind the scenes about prejudices within the creation and consumption of fiction. This time the talk has been centered on the worth of self-publishing and the inherent presumptions in the old paradigm that self-publishing is a form of retreat embraced by authors whose stories are of lesser worth.
The conversation has got me thinking about my own prejudices. What I will and won’t read and why. Am I turning down a novel out of hand because I’ve mentally classed it in an outgroup? Am I rejecting it because it tells a story I don’t tend to enjoy? Am I decrying its existence because of drecky or treacly cover art? Most of all, which selection methods are a wise use of time and which are an outgrowth of a snobbish prejudgement?
Let’s take a look at Books Kath Won’t Read:
Case One: You lost me at the MT
I used to not buy books based on the man titty, romancelandia’s term for the cover featuring the male chest, oftentimes the headless male chest.
—blogger Jane at Dear Author
Jane may have reformed her opinion over time, but I’m just not there yet. If the book has the nips-and-six in the cover art I just cannot bring myself to pick it up. I don’t care what the words say. The words could say “Abraham Lincoln’s physician, crushed by the loss of his presidential patient and close friend, escaped to Ireland where he found the magic of medicine and the medicine of true love” (words that would otherwise get me to give you more than $10 for the book). Doesn’t matter. In my book the Nips-and-six are nix.
Verdict: Outright Prejudice Cover art is meant to be eye-catching and is usually designed by someone other than the author. I could be walking by a great many good stories by fleeing from these. Of course now that I have a Kindle the embarrassment factor caused by reading such a book in public is now non-existent. So there is that.
Case Two: You Suck and therefore you suck
I have tried. I really have. But I just do not enjoy stories where women fall in love with vampires, werewolves, the pillsbury doughboy come to life. If the story is about how “loving you is wrong and I don’t want to be right and oh by the way you are a demon” I just don’t engage well. There are certain tropes which leave me cold. This is one of them.
Verdict: Discerning selection based on trope. I’ve been reading long enough to know which stories hook me and which ones don’t. Roommates thrown together in a house who learn and grow? Yep. Doctors? Of course. Bildungsroman? Nearly always; if a book has one of these devices I’ll at least give it my 56-pages rule. Likewise I know well enough by now to know that it won’t take 56 pages for me to realise I don’t like the type of story at hand.
Case Three: Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam
I have long been at enmity with most Christian fiction because it’s been, in my opinion, too market-driven and shallow.
Verdict: Outright Prejudice I still maintain there are significant problems with many books in the genre–stories are still often broken up into series when one book would serve just fine. Layouts are still often in large print and trade paperback style to justify a higher price. Many times the stories are too overtly preachy and the character development consists of being bad and then becoming a Christian. More and more often, though, there are good things to find in Christian fiction. Authors are becoming better at the craft and the new publishing methods (small independent houses, faith imprints at mainstream houses and self-publishing) are bringing better works to light. For Christians this is no longer a genre that’s easy to dismiss. Unfortunately I still would have problems recommending most books to non-Christians, with a few exceptions.
Case Four: Self-Published WorksThree or four years ago this genre was just getting off the ground. It had for a long time been where vanity projects (family histories, memoirs) lingered alongside novels that just couldn’t get taken on anywhere else. In many ways it can be analagous to travel. Ocean liners used to be the only way to really travel in class and style. If you were anybody that’s how you got to other continents on the globe. Only the poor and lower classes travelled in steerage or in the dank holds of fishing trawlers; it used to be that self-publishing was the steerage of the book world. But the Titanics have been sinking for awhile now. The Lusitanias have all been torpedoed by the fast moving e-readers** and many travelers are realising that they can get to the public in speeder, cheaper ways by publishing their own stuff. The mechanisms are in place to charter nice craft–you aren’t necessarily stuck in dank holds anymore. Five years ago I would have been leery about self-pubs. Now they’re just another choice that I have to weigh using tropes and covers and reader recommends.
Verdict: It used to be an outright prejudice for me but I’ve evolved. It’s now almost–ALMOST–a non-issue.
Case Five: Cover Art
I write about this a lot, but it can’t be said enough. Your cover matters. If you self-publish your book, I will base my selection in part on your cover. The cover is your chance to get noticed. It says a lot about what you think about your book; unlike those who go the traditional publishing route you have say in what you put out there. If you don’t care enough to put any time at all into it (or even to invest in a commissioned cover, which I recommend every person serious about self-publishing do) then why should I care to read it?
Verdict: Sensibility I don’t base my choices solely on this. I’ll take other factors (tropes, reader recommends, blurb copy) into serious account. But I can’t lie–if you don’t feel the artisanship of the story any more strongly than to present like this then I have a sinking feeling about the overall quality of the story.
So there it is. Feel free to redirect me. And know that I know that I am still really prejducial toward Jane Austen and the Russians. I’m working on it. I promise.
**this analogy makes sense but it’s a hot mess….