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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!