sci fi

The advertising cycle of doom

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Making a living is hard these days, no matter what business you’re in.  Books are a luxury item and as an author, making sales has become difficult, and many are resorting to all sorts of techniques in order to gain some visibility.  Those with money to splash around or working spouses to sting for money, can pay for online advertising.  The best known (which I won’t name as I don’t owe them any free advertising) is a site where you pay for them to add your name to their mailing list.  For those willing to spend a lot of money, this can create a spike in sales for a day or two.

This particular site charges a lot of money for the honour of being included in its list, and it requires that your book already has a lot of glowing reviews, or you get turned down flat.  Seems funny to demand that so many reviews be already in place, as I would think that if you had that many reviews already, you’d be less likely to need help getting visibility.  Ho hum, I guess I’m missing the point.

I can’t afford this site’s services, and don’t have the required truck-load of reviews anyway, so it’s off my radar.  I have to rely on ways to advertise for free, which tend not to have the same punch as paid for services.  It’s a vicious circle, if I could make more sales, I’d have more money to spend on better advertising, but in order to make more sales, I need better  advertising.

I’ve tried everything I can think of.  I’ve set my books as free at Smashwords, but as people never buy at Smashwords, no one downloaded them.  I can’t have them free at Amazon, because I’m in the UK, so they can’t be less than 99 cents there, where everyone buys their books.  American authors can list their books free there, and because so many are doing so, people get them and ignore mine.

People want everything given to them free these days.  Once, when I had advertised one of my books that I had just published, one gal posted “Let me know when you’re giving it away free, and I’ll download it.”  But when I did put them all as free, no fucker downloaded.  Make your damn minds up!

I find people are always encouraging, but won’t actually say they hate my books.  I’ve had people tell me they can’t afford to buy books, then they post in groups about how much they’re enjoying this or that book, and when I look for it on Amazon, it’s not free.  I’ve had people say “oh I don’t like sci fi,” then they post a status about some book or author they like, and it’s hard core sci fi.  Then there’s the “I have so many books to read, I can’t add any more yet,” and then their next post is about another book they’ve bought.

I don’t know what the answer is.  Well actually I know exactly what the answer is.  It’s money, and lots of it.  Get a truck load of money and pay a marketing firm a fortune to promote for you, then sit back with your coffee and wait for the tidal wave of adulation to hit.  Until I have the means to go down that route, I’m stuck with books I can’t even give away for free, to people who won’t admit they hate me/my work/everything I stand for/the colour of my hair/my choice in footwear/whatever else.

People don’t hate sci fi, people love sci fi.  All of the most successful movies are sci fi and many of the most successful books are sci fi/fantasy.  There are huge fandoms dedicated to Star Trek, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, Harry Potter etc, all sci fi/fantasy.

No one likes to be told that their work is shit, it’s a blow to the ego.  In a way though, I’d prefer it if people were honest.  At least if I knew why they hate it, I’d have a chance of changing something.  I admit, I haven’t the first clue how to beat this or proceed.

Well done to those who have the money and friends to create a huge spike in sales for a day or a week.  Remember though, that this kind of quick sudden spike in sales isn’t the kind of presence or visibility that lasts for years.  Making 20k downloads in one day due to paying hundreds of dollars for a slot in an advertising site’s email list, will bring you a bonus that month, but five years later, no one will remember, or give a shit, who you are or what you did.  People might still know who I am in five years, even if it’s of the “oh she’s that woman who writes shit sci fi,” variety.

I’m glad I decided a little while ago, to slow down my attempts at marketing/promotion.  The constant work and ensuing disappointment creates emotions I don’t like feeling all the time.  Without the stress of wondering whether this book will be the one that becomes popular at last, I can just write what comes and be creative in the way that feels most natural, instead of changing things to try (and fail) to make them saleable. My local library lets me give them paperbacks, so I can continue to do that.  I also have the knowledge that well known and well respected places like The British Library, the Bodleian Library, Oxford University Library and Cambridge University Library, all have copies of my books.   Not because I asked them to take them, but because they asked me for them.  How many of the “look at me aren’t I successful” party on facebook can say that?

Sexism in Science Fiction

For a while now, there has been a new topic of discussion amongst some female authors – sexism in science fiction.  If you’re a woman, and you write science fiction, you are far less likely to be reviewed or taken seriously, and the whole science fiction arena continues to be dominated by men, men who don’t seem to welcome their female counterparts into the genre. Why should this be?

The first time this subject came to my attention was when I read this post by Ann Aguirre.   In it, she tells of her treatment at the hands of male sci fi authors at the SFF Fandom in 2008. It’s shocking reading, and not just because I’m a woman, and not because I’m also a sci fi author, but because I’m a human being doing something I love to do, and which I’m pretty good at. What has my genitalia got to do with it?

Take a few minutes to google, and you can find countless articles about this problem of sexism in sci fi.  Here is one by the Guardian, here’s another by The Wire, and here’s another by Slate.com, and there are many more. It seems that men in sci fi think us gals will sully ‘their’ genre by bringing romance into it, and that we should stick to the romance genre. Tsk tsk gentlemen, don’t you realise that without romance, you and your dinosaur chums wouldn’t exist?

It’s  not that male sci fi writers keep their books full of action and derring-do, far from it.  Take a look at a few sci fi novels written by men and you will often see scantily clad women on the covers, scantily clad women characters and quite a bit of sex in the stratosphere going on. These narrow minded male writers are happy for these almost-naked-but-not-quite characters to appear in their books, but they tend to be of lower ranks in the pecking order, and often spend their off time bedding (or trying to bed) the hero. The male characters spend quite a bit of time having sex or trying to have sex with female characters, but seldom do these books contain strong female lead characters who don’t wear skimpy bikinis while fighting creatures, and seldom do they not hop into bed with anything with a Y chromosome at the drop of a hat. For these male writers, sex is fine, but romance is out of order. They seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that woman can’t write anything without romance being an integral part. I have a sci fi series called The Sinclair V-Logs, which stars a freelance law enforcer and I can assure all those male dinosaurs out there, that there is no romance whatsoever, nor will there be.  Sam Sinclair’s adventures concentrate on his experiences as a law enforcer, not any romance he might have encountered. I refuse to believe I’m the only woman who can write without including romance into a story.

The old boy’s network is trying its best to exclude women from the genre, by disrespecting us and our work, by behaving in the most shocking ways to us in front of sci fi fans, and by generally behaving like rather badly educated neanderthals. Women are beginning to hit back, some by adopting genderless pen names and others by being nominated for prestigious awards. This year’s Nebula Award nominee list shows a refreshing number of women. This is wonderful news, and a real step forwards for us women science fiction authors.

As a female science fiction writer myself, I find it hard enough to garner interest for my work, as sci fi doesn’t seem to attract the same interest as other genres, without sexism coming into it. I must admit, I have toyed with the idea of adopting a genderless pen name, but I’ve resisted so far.  Let’s hope that the Nebula award winners turn out to be all women. That will deal a mighty blow for the old boy’s sci fi network, won’t it girls?