Where is the SF in the charts?
In the mega-bookstores, there’s a tendency for highbrow and liminal SF, etc., to be absent from the charts in favour of churned-out pulp scifi. It doesn’t happen all the time, but the amount of rubbishy scifi in the charts can get quite annoying not just for authors but also for readers trying to find good examples of SF…
This is because of a whole lot of factors that I’d like to delve into further at some stage, but here, I just want to focus on four limiting factors associated with SF as opposed to pulp scifi:
- Such narratives are often too complicated and challenging; anything beyond the year 8 or 9 level (like in blogging) will lead to a massive reduction in not only the readership but the number of people who will stick with the story from beginning to end, so to speak … and, importantly, get something positive out of it;
- There is often too much ‘highbrow’ and ‘marginal’ content in such narratives and not enough status quo, action-adventure, and conservative narrative forms and ideas, etc. This is particularly debilitating as it can lead to a reactive aversion to what it is, which is thus particularly difficult to overcome in such fiction. Often, complaints about highbrow/marginal SF, etc., can be reduced to this complaint; essentially, the reader wants the book to be more conventional and conservative and pulp-fiction oriented, and really doesn’t want the story even to exist;
- The mainstream is conservative and oriented towards pulp scifi not highbrow SF in all its colours. This means that in order to gain a large audience (on average) for SF, you need to either dress the book up as pulp scifi and horrify and annoy many readers or you live in obscurity because the pulp scifi readers can easily peg out that what the product is; they will consequently avoid it, and the book then has a distinct risk of not being read by its target readers; this is because visibility is required to gain access to them, lol! Moreover, those lowbrow readers who do get ‘trapped’ into reading it will be some of those who speak up at the negative end of the review distribution warning the majority reader to stear clear;
- Anti-intellectualism: “Don’t try and teach me anything!” Pulp scifi readers don’t want to be taught anything and don’t want to be challenged. It’s hard to write highbrow and marginal/liminal SF without taking ideas and narrative construction seriously. There are great chunks of society that suffer from rampant anti-intellectualism, and unfortunately, some of them are pulp scifi readers.
All this is unsurprising, though, right?
The race to the bottom
There seems to be a race to the bottom in terms of narrative construction as controlled by the readers and the algorithms inthe mega-bookstores.
Some authors respond to this and see the needs of readers in positive terms and attempt to do their best to please them. They gravitate to the Golden Mean of narrative construction. This, however, should often be seen as a marketing dynamic: it’s more like writing marketing-fiction than writing fiction … and then attempting to market the fiction. I mean, good on them for working out how to write pulp fiction that hits all the right buttons in the right way for the largest number, consequently drawing in the massive readership of pulp ficiton readers, all the while having fun writing and marketing it.
Millions of SF readers that want more?
This doesn’t mean that the situation is hopeless, though. There are millions of readers who love SF: I mean just look at SF history and some of the big names who have drawn in and continue to draw in a large audience to their SF.
The problem, when starting from a cold position, is finding them and enough of them to give the book the boost it needs in order to survive and thrive in the mega-bookstores that play favourites through the tendencies of the lowly averages. You know the average is pretty low, right?.
For me, this is where web development and writing and publication programmes come into it. SF can’t depend on the bookstores, which in the end puts you in a stronger position becuse those that have ‘easy’ success (algorithm driven success de jour) are more likely to be sloppy in their web development and may even neglect it for extended periods. Where will that leave them in the future…?