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Every now and then, I come across a comment like this, where someone says, essentially, "I am new to the local fiction scene, but I'm finding the stuff I'm buying sucks."

We're talking: packaging, fiction, art, whatever. They think it sucks. It's a new reader. They come in. They say it... and then usually, someone in the scene, corrects them. Or attempts too, anyway.

I find that interesting, because, right or wrong about their opinion, I don't think we should going round correcting them. I don't think we should go, "Yes, sir, right away, ma'am," either, but I think they should be given a bit more voice. After all, if they represent a potential new audience, and if you follow the theory that only a small percentage of people speaking represent a larger opinion, then they got to represent more who have come in, bought a thing for the scene, found it bad, and didn't come back.

Maybe you disagree with that. That's cool. It isn't like it is something I have empirical evidence for. You could argue that when people are happy with a product, they say nothing. Fair enough. But, it seems to me, that there is also developing a body of criticism around the small press scene here that is not overly positive. This relates more to short fiction than novels, but it doesn't mean that there isn't criticism about novels out there, because there is (I don't have the link, but Martin Lewis (ninebelow) in the last NYRSF took on Less than Human and Orbital Burn, both of them winners of the Aurealis, and both of them, in his opinion, substandard). These reviews, by the way, run from being really, really stupid, such as the SF crowsnest reviews of Ticonderoga, which are essentially some scrawled opinions by a writer to drunk to bother with anything that gets in the way of finding a new drink, to actually being given more time and depth such as on Strange Horizons and ASif.

So, what I'm thinking is, eventually, the local scene is going to have start paying attention to this. Paying attention in terms of design. In terms of content. In terms of whatever. How we react... well, who knows? But maybe there is coming a time when the voices that intersect between buyers and critical ones, maybe they deserve a bit more of a listen. Or maybe we just keep ignoring them.

But, I find it interesting to note that a response recently is to tell new readers that they are not reading the best of an author's given work. Regardless of how you mean it, to tell someone who doesn't like something that they just paid money for what was not the "best"... well, it doesn't come off well, to my mind. It sounds as if the local scene is knowingly publishing the substandard stuff, and that's not going to win us new readers. It's just not. If they read a piece a work, they think it sucks, and then the response is, "Well, it's not their best work, no," by the people in the scene, then really, what kind of message is that sending?

"We got submitted some work that we didn't like as much as [the author's] other work, and we know we really can't defend it, and it's subpar, but we kinda like it, but really, you ought to check out their other work, it's really good. You should read some of that."

Yeah, let me get my credit card.

That keys into a larger problem, on the author side, of money and exposure, and under selling, and over selling work, but I don't want to get into that here, except to say that if you have a scene that can't afford the best of an author, or isn't desirable for him/her... Well you see how it all joins together, yes? Food for thought, I reckon.


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Oct. 18th, 2006 11:37 pm (UTC)
IMHO it is an editor's job to keep substandard stories out of print. Of course, most editors probably think they have good taste and are doing this very thing. But some of 'em don't... and they aren't.
Oct. 18th, 2006 11:47 pm (UTC)
I'd hazard that everyone, yes, believes that they have good taste and are putting out the best possible product.

But ... my experience is that the quality of your slush pile is an awful big constraint; if we limited ourselves to publishing world class fiction, many of us wouldn't publish anything. And while nobody prints stuff they believe to be substandard, not everyone has the same standards.

I worry that in many cases, the thought process is "I'll bring out an anthology!" and the anthology comes out come hell or high water, which tends to be "the best I could do under the prevailing conditions" rather than "the best product possible."

(I've got an antho in the selection stages, so I'm somewhat preoccupied with thoughts of this nature atm.)
Oct. 19th, 2006 01:32 am (UTC)
yeah, very much. in aus, i think an editor needs to know how to get the good stuff, sometimes. you just can't rely upon it to arrive (and i say that with absolutely no experience of editing whatsoever!) :)
Oct. 19th, 2006 01:44 am (UTC)
its an interesting question - do we overprint for the size of our submission market or should we be trying to seduce more of the writing from offshore ?
Oct. 19th, 2006 09:45 am (UTC)
I don't think you'd ever get the "right" amount...
Oct. 19th, 2006 09:51 am (UTC)
i think it's more of a question of working the talent before you get to printing. i think you have to go out of this little scene. you have to find things. i mean, on a very obvious level, the scene voices are kind of white and middle class.
Oct. 19th, 2006 10:35 am (UTC)
yeah i think that's fair
Oct. 19th, 2006 04:07 am (UTC)
Exactly. And tastes differ enough that one persons rejection is another persons gem. I think Agog and Borderlands have both rejected stories, seen it appear in the other, and then be nominated for an Aurealis. And there are plenty of other examples (Ben hating Memory of Breathing, for example).

To some extent I don't know why people who aren't connected to the local scene in some way would want to read some of the anthologies out. I know if we didn't get occasional feedback (eg Ellens list) that some of the work we published was globally competitive, I wouldn't be bothering.
Oct. 18th, 2006 11:53 pm (UTC)
"the best I could do under the prevailing conditions"

the trick then becomes to know where to go to get what you need. if your slush pile is too slushy, you gotta chase up quality authors and get stories offa them. or put back your antho till there's enough good stuff available.

But I say there is much quality out there to be found if you know where to look.
Oct. 19th, 2006 12:04 am (UTC)

But "if you know where to look" comes from experience, and that particular experience isn't always easy to come by.
Oct. 19th, 2006 01:45 am (UTC)
it must also be the quality of editors though - and that's an issue here since most editors are newish
Oct. 19th, 2006 12:12 am (UTC)
true. But the onus should be on the editor, or wanna be editor, to know what they're doing, or have support from those who do know what they're doing. Just saying "I wanna be an editor" isn't enough of a credential. I can say "I wanna be a ballet dancer" but that doesn't make me qualified to be struttin my tutu on a stage and charging admission.

I didn't have much experience when I started Agog. But I had backup. I had a plan B in place. There was an experienced editor waiting in the wings to take over if I fucked up and couldn't deliver the goods. There were quality authors I could rely on to fill the gaps if I didn't get enough good subs. Lucky for me, I didn't need either. But producing a shit antho was never gonna be an option.
Oct. 19th, 2006 01:06 am (UTC)
Well, yeah.

I started the editing gig with the full support of a lot of clever and talented people; the support structures were built right in, to the extent that I didn't realise what many of them were until they weren't there any more.

My personal least favourite writer is the one who says "I want to be a writer!" as if that was enough; it hadn't occured to me that there might be editors who fall into the same category, though it makes perfect sense.

I don't know who they are, though, and I don't know if I want to know. :)

Oct. 19th, 2006 09:47 am (UTC)
So what happened?




Oct. 19th, 2006 12:20 pm (UTC)
U R so BAD Mr Payne!
Oct. 19th, 2006 12:32 am (UTC)
As a reader, what I most want from the literary review corps as a whole is a big glowing compass needle to the stuff that I will most appreciate having read, in order. Then I can just keep taking from the head of the queue.

It's a bit more hit and miss in practice, and I certainly don't go to sf review sites to get a start. I'm much more likely to listen to personal recommendations from people with known patterns of taste.

The review itself may have something positive to contribute: background information, insights, more profound analysis than how good or bad the subject was along five dimensions, etc.

When a reviewer (or post-review commentator, or other scene star, etc.) is honest and consistent in their tastes at least you can use them to navigate by. But sometimes you have to go into a whole calculus of how close they are to the work they're reviewing. Perhaps they edit the writer, or the writer edits them, or they were in the same anthology, or they co-edited the same anthology, or they co-ran a convention, or they like to link to each other's blogs, etc. etc. In these cases, why would you even bother?
Oct. 19th, 2006 01:30 am (UTC)
But sometimes you have to go into a whole calculus of how close they are to the work they're reviewing. Perhaps they edit the writer, or the writer edits them, or they were in the same anthology, or they co-edited the same anthology, or they co-ran a convention, or they like to link to each other's blogs, etc. etc. In these cases, why would you even bother?

yeah, i know what you mean. it's difficult allr ound, especially on this scene. i'm finding that every now and then i get people coming up to me, emailing, or leaving comments here that what's the point in listening to people if you can't trust the opinion. i'd certainly feel burnt if i knew i was getting a pointer to the work of that person's friend... and that means you can't trust the best part of conversation: word of mouth.

it's worse here, where i know that what a lot of people say public and what they say private, is quite different.
Oct. 19th, 2006 01:47 am (UTC)
I really try to moderate that on ASif! Often reviewers will pull out saying that can't review their friend or they put in a disclaimer at the top - there are two off the top of my head that do that in recent reviews. Or they will admit to having edited a previous issue of a mag.

I find the opposite trouble - I seem to get crit more for publishing the truth!
Oct. 19th, 2006 02:11 am (UTC)
Yeah, well, I don't really get the whole scene thing. But I tend to go back to canon a lot. For example I don't read many short stories, and when I do I usually read single author collections by absolute superstars of the form - Ballard, Kafka, Borges, Saki, or even say Greg Egan.

Some people read an awful lot - by your own confession you don't, and I certainly don't get through more than a book a week at the moment. I don't get why anyone would read any stuff - let alone the second tier of stuff - in the local scene before reading every book in the Masterworks series unless it was for social/friendly/scene/networking reasons.

I do try to read the newer books that are at the pinnacle of marketing hype in the global sf&f scene and attract my attention, so I've just finished The Lies of Locke Lamora (iffy at best) and moved on to Vellum (shaping up really well). I'm probably an example of someone a bit like greteldragon - I don't normally read local anthologies and when I do, I'm often slightly disappointed with the quality (with all respect due to the people in the scene), in my case just because the best of what's out there is extremely good. The only "local" anthology for which I have seriously credible word of mouth props at the moment is Black Juice, and I'll probably grab that at some point.
Oct. 19th, 2006 02:21 am (UTC)
I'm digging the Masterwork series. Trying to acquire them all 2nd hand in great condition, but I've already got some of them anyway, and I prefer hardbacks. And I'm also going through the Masterworks series as homework, albeit pleasurable homework.

Then, and only then, will I be able to comment intelligentily on the state of the nation.
Oct. 19th, 2006 02:27 am (UTC)
There's a bookshop in Canberra that until recently was carrying mint secondhand books from the Masterworks series for $3 a pop. Damn that was a sweet deal. They can't seem to get any more in though, but I did get hold of about twelve titles.
Oct. 19th, 2006 02:32 am (UTC)
Wow! Where's that shop? I sometimes work in Canberra but I'm bound to the Civic area.
Oct. 19th, 2006 02:35 am (UTC)
Alexander Fax booksellers in Mawson (Southlands shopping centre). They had a semi-permanent (i.e. they kept saying it was ending soon, but it never did) 50% off on their SF&F shelves, which were exceptionally cheap anyway. I've moved out of the area now, though. Haven't been there for about two months, and last time I was in the store they'd donated most of their best SF&F titles to a charity drive (!).
Oct. 19th, 2006 02:25 am (UTC)
Some people read an awful lot - by your own confession you don't, and I certainly don't get through more than a book a week at the moment.

i used to read a lot more, it must be said. at the moment, i'm lucky if i can hit a novel a week. but that said, i do a lot of inbetween reading: articles, comics, graphic novels, and short fiction. i've read a heap of sort fiction this year. but yeah, i am not going to be up the list of fast readers--though i can speed read a book in a day, but it's just not enjoyable.

(research for the phd taught me that trick. how to digest two or three books a day? learn to scan.)

but, then, perhaps i am a bit different to you, because i've read a lot of the 'classics'--not all, certainly, but i find myself really more focused on trying to find new things, new voices, and new concepts. some times that means reading things with the hype, such as VELLUM (messy, but cool, and with a really nice turn of phrase), and then things such as THE PEOPLE OF PAPER, laird hunt's new book, and anything else i can get my fingers on.

on lanagan, btw... i didn't so much dig 'singing my sister down'. i find her stuff a bit, well, lacking. didn't read BLACK JUICE, but i knew it wasn't my thing. just fwiw.
Oct. 19th, 2006 02:33 am (UTC)
Yeah - I have the key rec on Lanagan from my dad, who's a credible but occasionally unreliable source, the old softie.

I don't count articles, news, blogs, reviews or comics as reading really, but I certainly read a lot of that sort of stuff.

I'm only 150 pages or so into Vellum, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit.

My next project is getting a copy of this book "Nifft the Lean" that won the World Fantasy award in the early 80s, and is supposed to be a purple-prose Boschian crossover between Lovecraft and Leiber, or similar.
Oct. 19th, 2006 04:35 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed "Nifft the Lean". "Boschian crossover between Lovecraft and Leiber" is a good description, as far as I remember the story, though I don't recall the prose being particularly purple.
Oct. 19th, 2006 04:53 am (UTC)
Well, it sounds good to me anyway. Hard to get though, my best bet is looking to be secondhand from Amazon.
Oct. 19th, 2006 03:40 am (UTC)
i didn't so much dig 'singing my sister down'

I'm not alone!
Oct. 19th, 2006 09:54 am (UTC)
I must admit I'm finding Vellum hard going... despite being, in places, beautifully written at a micro level... it's all just so broad... I'm finding it really hard to care... individual paragraphs intrigue me but the book as a whole is lacking in focus... but I'll persevere with it, because the writing is good...

Oct. 19th, 2006 09:57 am (UTC)
i had this patch in the middle of it where i found that to be the case. i set it aside for a while, actually. i guess i'll know what i think of it as a whole once INK is done and read. but yeah, the focus thing, i do not disagree.
Oct. 19th, 2006 01:14 am (UTC)
There's also the point that some people just aren't going to like some stuff, whether it's 'world class' or not.

That's exacerbated by the different styles being lumped into one scene, but even within a subset of sort-of-maybe like-minded people you can't make everyone happy. Trying too hard to do so can get you into trouble.
Oct. 19th, 2006 01:24 am (UTC)
sure, there's taste, and a whole lot of issues at hand to contribute to it. but: if people keep saying this, reviews, word of mouth, whatever, then at which point do we start paying attention? do we start thinking: time for a new way of thought.
Oct. 19th, 2006 01:48 am (UTC)
in terms of publishing practice?
Oct. 19th, 2006 09:52 am (UTC)

what else you got?

sometimes, i think what we have,it isn't working very well. but i don't know if an alternative could ever be introduced that would work better.
Oct. 19th, 2006 04:25 am (UTC)
Don't worry, I won't accuse you of trying to make everyone happy.

But what do you mean by paying attention? I suspect there are a lot of people who do pay attention to the bad reviews and outbreaks of snarkiness, and they all have their own private responses. But what is the public response to be?

'You're right, that story was crap, I'll have to do better'

'You're right, that story was crap, I'll stop now'

They might be extreme examples, but I think people can really feel that way on occasion (either about stuff they've written or stuff they've published), and it can make or break them. But I don't think saying either aloud is the way to conduct a professional career.

As a purely hypothetical example: say you run an award that gives prizes to the best SF of the year by a resident of the Antarctic, and somebody comes along and criticises the award, with good reason. Do you say "This year's process was stuffed. (I'm sure people will take our award seriously if we let slip we don't actually like the winners)" Or do you quietly try to improve things the next year?

(Or perhaps you think "bugger you, matey, we'll do it my way". Telling that method apart from the previous one may be difficult for on-lookers.)

So there's two ways of making everyone happy. You can create an environment which is relentlessly positive no matter what, and talk down anyone who tries to raise an alternate opinion. Or you can answer every criticism with a promise to improve or to change, going this way and that endlessly.

I don't think the 'scene' is doing too badly at the moment, steering a middle course. Especially since (as has been said), a lot of people have ambitions that can't possibly be met, but they have to act like they can be.
Oct. 19th, 2006 09:55 am (UTC)
yeah, i see your point. it's entirely fair and right and i agree.

but i think the difference is, i don't think this scene here is doing so well at the moment. but then i guess that's no surprise, since i'm the dude with the blog that is always nudging and rubbing people in their sore bits :)
Oct. 19th, 2006 02:20 am (UTC)
direct them to my short story collection, mr peek! it's supposed to be my best, or was a couple of years ago. that's if anyone can get hold of the f#$king thing.

People are used to the BIG STUFF though, what we all thought was what books was, from chain bookshops. And then independant press and specialty bookshops are revealed and we suddenly see that not all books like the BIG STUFF, that the paper is of a different quality (sometimes better, sometimes worse) that they just sort of look different. I never knew these things existed until I started writing and was forced to investigate the local scene.
Oct. 19th, 2006 09:43 am (UTC)
direct them to my short story collection, mr peek! it's supposed to be my best, or was a couple of years ago. that's if anyone can get hold of the f#$king thing.

i wonder if i asked sean to send me one, he would? :)

And then independant press and specialty bookshops are revealed and we suddenly see that not all books like the BIG STUFF, that the paper is of a different quality (sometimes better, sometimes worse) that they just sort of look different. I never knew these things existed until I started writing and was forced to investigate the local scene.

sure. but you know what? i think there's a whole bunch of readers out there who are willing and able to leave the mainstream, big chains, huge company publishers, and go into the independent scene. i think we see those people, occasionally, and i think if we catch them, we have to kinda--i dunno, nurture them?

that sounds kinda shitty. but readers, man. i want readers.

Oct. 19th, 2006 10:13 am (UTC)
I hear you, man, I hear you! I haven't really encountered the reader wanting the independant scene, more the writer/reader, and that seems to be part of the more you dig up to make yourself better at it, the faster you will find yourself getting into the independant scene. It's where the depth is.

Ask Sean for a copy. Tell me how long it takes. I've had Ellen Datlow and David Hartwell ask Sean for copies and as far as I'm aware they don't have them yet.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 19th, 2006 09:38 am (UTC)
However, the link you mention is a special case. In it, the writer starts out reviewing the work, but ends up reviewing the writer. Not the writer's work, but the writer personally. Which, based on a few personal sightings and a handful of stories, is literally begging to be corrected by those who know the writers better.

actually, the link is to just a comment in the main post. i'm not linking the ancep-kid at all. most of the comments do need correcting, so i wouldn't do that. rather i was interested in the girl there who had gone to the scene, and found them bad, and which followed was an exchange with russ telling her she hadn't read the best stuff. which, really, i'm not signaling russ out for: i've seent he conversation take place a hundred times. i've even done it.

that's the question for me. ancep-kid is, well, either a scam, or just someone young and restless, as they say, but the other commenter, she's a buyer. She's part of the audience. she's telling us she doesn't like the work, but rather than, i dunno, maybe asking her what she likes, and what she'd like to read, and then organising that a book reaches her or some stories are emailed, we all have excuses.

we're a small scene. i know the logistics. i know the money. i know the talent pool is less through demographics. i know it. but it doesn't have to be like this: editors can go outside of this scene if the work is sub par. there are other writers out there, people with borderline work, and they're struggling for markets and voices. you can make writers work--cat, for example, draws what she wants out of you if it isn't there.

as for the editors publishing substandard... i've known a few who have said, 'well, it wasn't such and suchs best story,' and who say, 'if i paid pro rates...' and how many times, really, as an author, have you heard someone say, 'don't waste your A stuff here--get good money for it. get a good market.'
Oct. 19th, 2006 10:07 am (UTC)
I would think sending her a book is pretty similar to recommending an author's other work.. presumably you'd be sending her something good?

As for people publishing sub-standard stuff... well, they do... but how often is it conscious? I dunno... it's hard to judge from the outside.

And you know, I always keep hitting that wall called subjectivity... when some of the stuff I'm thinking of as "substandard" is recognised overseas... you know... what the fuck do I know?

Oct. 19th, 2006 11:37 am (UTC)

Oct. 19th, 2006 07:15 am (UTC)
I'm not sure it's just an Australian thing.
Oct. 19th, 2006 09:40 am (UTC)
no, it's probably not. but i know the scene here, and i think it's a real problem here.
Oct. 19th, 2006 09:40 am (UTC)
I don't get it. If someone says "such and such a Ben Peek story sucks" I shouldn't say, "yeah, that one did suck. I liked this one better though."

Why not? That's how people talk about books isn't it? Or CDs or anything... yeah, Kid A left me pretty cold, but I dig The Bends... *shrug*...

What's the big?

I mean, I get that if the person that published that particular story says "yeah, that story sucks", then there's a problem, but I don't get why it's a problem to say you think some stories by an author are better than others, be that author local or otherwise...
Oct. 19th, 2006 09:47 am (UTC)
it's our position of power. see, i did like KID A. hated PABLO HONEY. but say i was a friend of thom yorke, and had a band, and maybe i worked on a radio label, or at a radio station, and i saw thom, and talked to him, and maybe i'm talking about how cool radiohead are, and then you say, 'yeah, i bought that last one, but it sucked.'

'oh, man, no. dude. you want KID A.'

the positioning is all different, in my mind.
Oct. 19th, 2006 09:59 am (UTC)
Well, fair enough. I dunno, I don't see it as that big a deal, as long as you're being honest. Sure, maybe some bias will creep in, but hey, you're never gonna avoid that, anyway, and in any case maybe your taste is shit in any case so you're worrying about it for no reason. I say just tell people what you think and let them decide whether or not they want to listen....

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