Terminology in Romance
Last week we looked again at Marketing Fiction, and at what sells besides Sex & Violence.
So today we're going to discuss the part terminology plays in marketing and propose a new term to replace the term "fanfic." We need to replace the term "fanfic" because of the Changing World in the title of this series of blog posts.
Fanfic has been the driving force behind much of the change, but fanfic itself came from something and has now leaped up to something that makes it require a new label. That label will open vistas of potential only some of you have seen coming.
So publishing terminology has its roots inside the fiction that's being marketed, which in turn is rooted in the writer's subconscious, in choice of objectives, in motivation for writing at all.
That's very abstract stuff, but language itself tries to make it concrete.
The classic question, "Why do you write?" is based on the assumption that there is A reason (not a plethora, not a whole personality profile).
Marketing fiction is all about finding fiction that is "aimed at" a specific "audience." That assumes that a whole bunch of people all share ONE motive for reading (i.e. buying) fiction.
That assumption of a writer and reader sharing just one motivation is the reason that the question, "Why do you writer?" stymies writers.
There is a why in there somewhere -- but it is not composed of anything you can articulate in a single word or sentence.
Yet all fiction is about that why.
You write a story that is about something (even if you don't consciously know what at the time). The point of the exercise is not the "something" that the story is "about" -- but rather the "about" itself. Being ABOUT is what Art is.
As I've discussed in these blog posts on writing craft, stories are Art.
Art depicts reality - it is not reality, itself.
And marketing Art shifts and changes, more rapidly now than ever.
Now consider that language, any language, also "depicts" -- the map is not the territory. Language itself is symbolism.
We've discussed symbolism at some length:
The essential ingredient in fiction is conflict. Therefore, the writer must depict both sides of a philosophical argument (a thematic statement) in order for the fiction to be 'about.' The two sides of an argument must conflict, and ultimately resolve (even if there are issues left over for a sequel.)
The "both sides" structure of a story conflict is artificial. That division into just two sides is symbolism, not reality.
Sifting two clear, opposing points of view out of the pea-soup morass of human experience so that each side can be clearly depicted is Art.
The process of sifting and defining the two sides is the same as the process of paining a picture. The graphic artist "selects" certain lines, composition, arrangement, colors, sharp/fuzzy focus, perspective, to "lead the eye" just as a story-writer "leads the mind" via composition.
Having laid out a clean, clear, two-sided conflict, the writer must aim the narrative (a narrative is a beginning, middle, end set of points that are given connection by the writer's composition of the picture extracted from reality).
The narrative must be structured to aim at a particular audience.
If that audience is large enough, the economics of "publishing" (traditional publishing) takes over. The widely-aimed story becomes commercially viable at a certain break point. That break point is constantly changing. It used to be the volume of cardboard consumed by China dictated that break point by dictating the price of newsprint paper used to print paperbacks.
China at that time was just beginning to become a manufacturing powerhouse, and needed boxes made from cardboard to ship finished product.
So trade treaties with China (politically controversial because of China's Communism) governed the subject matter and narrative structure, the composition, of mass market paperbacks, and thus of hardcovers that could be re-published as paperbacks reaching a larger readership.
Then came our "changing world" that I've been writing about here since 2007.
With the advent of usable e-reading screens, the e-book market which had grown via PDF download, dedicated reading devices of dubious worth, html websites posting fanfic, just plain exploded.
It pretty much caught traditional publishers by surprise.
They hadn't followed the growth of hits on fanfic websites.
And for various reasons, traditional publishers had always been way out of touch with what "readers want" -- and more in touch with what a reader will buy based on a cover, or cover-blurb, or based on what books are placed in a bookstore window or "dump" carton in an aisle.
Book sales are all that matter to a publisher. And book sales don't matter at all to a reader, as long as the reader gets satisfaction, or can find the next book in a series they're following.
Book sales matter to a writer only insofar as their income stream is satisfactory. When income is satisfactory, the matter of sales fades from the writer's consciousness. The writer is concerned only with ABOUT, with the urge to DEPICT the world in a revealing light that makes sense out of chaos.
To a writer, only the story matters, only the narrative matters.
That's why writers are so hurt and bewildered when a traditional publisher turns down the next book in a series. The writer is about finishing the story. The reader is about finding out the ending of the story. The publisher is about efficient use of resources to make a profit.
So with the advent of usable reading screens, the readers who wanted to finish reading the story, and the writers who wanted to finish publishing the story, and some entrepreneurs who saw that connection, founded small publishing via e-books.
The first commercial level explosion of e-book sales for such small publishers was in the Vampire Romance.
Traditional Publishing started this trend -- some might say, Anne Rice's Interview With A Vampire started the trend, but I think it appeared first in YA novels about a Vampire who turns up in a High School, either as a student, a teacher, or on the periphery. 13 year old readers become adult readers in about 5 years.
And it was about 5 years after the popularity of YA vampires that we saw the Vampire Romance emerge onto bookstore shelves, buried inside the Romance genre paperbacks.
A couple years later, Vampire Romance got a label on the spine, different labels from different publishers.
Sales peaked, then started to fall off as other sorts of Paranormal Romance appeared sporadically. How do I know sales peaked and fell? Because I was marketing my own material via an agent at that time, and Manhattan lunches gleaned proprietary stats and reports on how the purchasing editors were thinking.
I found that by the time I wanted into that Vampire Romance market, the publishers were saying they were over-bought on Vampire Romance, had more than a year's worth in stock or under contract, and would not even consider another submission.
They ran out of Vampire Romances, and by then other sub-genres were selling better.
There's a perverse logic in the publishing business model, rooted in the disconnect between the objectives of a writer and the objectives of a publisher.
So when Vampire Romance readers suddenly could not find any more paperbacks to suit them, they quickly learned on the grapevine that Vampire Romance was alive and well, thriving and growing in the e-book market.
That demand for Vampire Romance, in part, drove the demand for readers that drove the technological improvements in screens. Improved screens increased demand for e-books, and other varieties of novels, and now even non-fiction, are all e-book.
And of course, you've all heard of the contretemps between Amazon and Hatchet and other publishers over the price of e-books. Readers have been saying for a long time that e-book prices are about double what they should be.
Small publishers are consolidating (buying each other), and refining the business model. Many, many publishers that started up in the nascent e-book market have closed. And now the traditional publishers used their marketing strength (and Amazon & B&N) to yank the e-book market away from small publishers.
So writers who wanted to reach their own readers self-published.
Many self-publishing writers are New York Times Bestselling writers, taking back the rights to their NYT best sellers, re-publishing them by themselves or through small e-book publishers, and then finishing their series. Sometimes they bring out new books in new series.
Meanwhile, a lot of writers who could not sell to traditional publishing went with self-publishing.
Some of these had honed their craft on fanfic websites, getting feedback from readers, learning to use beta-readers, and grow into a skill set that works to produce good novels that hit their readers nerves squarely.
Other self-publishing writers learned as they went.
There's an organization for e-book publishers and writers something like SFWA or RWA, complete with genre book awards and cover art awards which I joined years ago when I had my first e-book out, Molt Brother. Now it's in paper, e-book, and also audiobook, along with the sequel, City of a Million Legends.
http://www.epicorg.com/ is the website of the e-book professionals organization and it also has an active forum where people exchange a lot of information, writers find publishers, and so on.
These are the people generating the change in the world of publishing.
So we are seeing an increasing level of quality in self-published books.
Historically, Science Fiction Fandom invented fanfic -- fiction written by fans for fans. For the most part, science fiction fanzines never published fiction, but rather discussed conventions and novels. But fan fiction thrived in smaller circulation, often on carbon paper, though usually not using established characters of a professional writer.
With the advent of Spockanalia and T-Negative, Star Trek fans discovered the joys of fanfic written to expand and expound on the TV characters. And gradually, fan writers created original characters to interact with the established characters, revealing new depths to the shallow TV depictions.
That evolution of fan fiction is the main subject of my Bantam Paperback STAR TREK LIVES!
STAR TREK was the first TV Series to engage the fertile imagination of organized science fiction fandom. Yes, organized. There were (and are) clubs with constitutions, slates of officers, and annual elections, plus dues and publications. The World Science Fiction Society holds the annual World Science Fiction Convention (worldcon) and awards the Hugo, as well as other Awards.
Science Fiction fandom was (and is) organized and connected. Today it's connected via Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. Then it was snailmail and telephone.
From STAR TREK LIVES! and the New York Star Trek Conventions, the media picked up on the term fanfic (especially slash), and popularized the term FAN, fanzine, fan fiction, and eventually the term FANFIC.
In that term, FANFIC, may lie the barricade between self-published Romance novels and the prestige they deserve. It may also give us a clue as to where the resistance against Romance comes from in the general population, even though they flock to films with a tear-jerking Romance, and give awards to the RomCom (the romantic comedy) -- yet shy from Romance per se.
Terminology is key to changing people's assumptions, or prejudices. We changed from the term "nigger" to the term Black to indicate elevating the prestige, the potential value of a person.
The terms Liberal and Progressive, Communist and Socialist, Independent, etc etc are continuously redefined, and then changed.
So let's examine the origin of the term "fan" to see what it is telling the world about us.
The media, and now dictionaries and major sources, keep insisting on a misconception about the origin and meaning of the term "fan."
They insist that the science fiction fan is a FANATIC (i.e. not sane but obsessed.)
That is the label that was slapped on science fiction fandom way back before it was organized, and even afterward for decades.
A fanatic is a person who is not in their "right mind." And usually, being a mild conditiion, the fanatic "out-grows it" or "gets over it."
Can you imagine out-growing or getting over Romance? Come on!
But they are saying that science fiction is a "phase" that some teens go through and therefore it is negligible, and can safely be tolerated and disregarded. There is nothing in it (they said in the 1930's) that has any bearing on reality or the future.
30 years later, that generation sent men to the Moon.
The next generation of science fiction fanatics invented the internet and the web.
The next twenty years saw the advent of the cell phone, then the smartphone.
Fanaticism is a mental disorder suffered by teens, like measles was considered a childhood disease you just had to suffer through.
Fanaticism is a disease.
Today they say of the same age-group that Videogaming is "addictive." That's it's unhealthy for teens to communicate with each other via social media.
In the 1940's they said the same thing of that generation's teens who were communicating with each other via telephone. The picture of the teen monopolizing the ONLY phone-line in a household, holding long conversations with fellow teens (often of opposite gender) was a feature of life in the 1950's, tolerated and scorned by adults.
If you're a writer intending to grab a market-share for your work, watch what teens are doing now. It takes about 5 years to write a novel, from Idea to published, and in 5 years today's teens will be at peak entertainment consumer years.
But they may pick up the scorn associated with terminology used when talking about Romance Genre novels, and never explore the rich, complex, and satisfying worlds Romance writers build.
Or, if they do browse mass market paperbacks, they may never discover the worlds being created by writers using small publishers or self-publishing in e-books.
I get a couple of newsletters pitching free and 0.99cent e-books, Romance genre, Mysteries, etc.
I often see books pitched as having many hundreds of 5-star reviews on Amazon.
The star-review has become the self-publisher's marketing tool, and yes, there is some fraud associated with this statistic, even though Amazon tries to prevent that.
Still, read some of those reviews. Even if you would scorn the book because of typos or need for editing out inconsistencies and filling plot-holes, look at the comments by readers who focus entirely on the payload, the way the STORY made them feel, not the technical flaws in the writing craft.
Those 5-star reviews are typical of fanzine reader responses to fanfic based on a TV-show.
Get that free newsletter, click through to Amazon on a title with lots of 5-star reviews and read carefully. And while reading, think about this.
Self-publishing is hard (writing the novel is easy by comparison). The odds are against you selling a single copy to anyone you don't know personally.
But there are associations of self-publishing writers who can teach you how to connect with cheap promotional strategies that might work.
There is very likely an audience hungry for what you want to sell them. You finding them, them finding you, or "going viral" is a long-shot. Finding and serving a market is what publishers do -- their business model is suited to that process. Writing uses a different business model.
But because of the adequate e-reader screens now available fairly cheap, there is a readership starving for what you write. They just won't recognize it when starting right at it.
What do we need to get that instant recognition?
We need a label, a symbol, a TERM which describes what this kind of fiction is, where it comes from, why it deserves their attention, and most important what it actually delivers.
The term self-published has gathered scorn because of the missing editorial steps people have become used to.
The term fanfic has gathered scorn because of the old (and inaccurate) term fanatic.
What other artform besides writing has, historically, been a source of pure satisfaction and meaningful entertainment (and information)?
Think about the music industry.
Commercially available music has its origins in the Bards taking news, information, and historical Events and gossip from town to town, presenting it all as song.
Isolated towns had their own youngsters who sang and played music.
Think about the old West. Whoever in town could saw on a fiddle played for the square dancing.
Along with all this, came one of the oldest artforms, which became known as Folk Music.
Here's a wikipedia article on 1940's folk music.
In the 1960's, people like Pete Seeger, Theodore Bikel, Woodie Guthrie, Johnny Cash, and people you've never heard of because they only played and sang at weddings and birthday parties. Yesteryear's Garage Bands.
You can get this old music on Amazon, iTunes, and other websites.
Yes, politics grabbed the folk song and ran with it. Theodore Bikel's concert records have patter that reveals all that.
But folk music reflects the life and times of those who perform and those who foster it. It's folk, not professional.
In the 1960's it became big time professional, and highly respected -- because it made money for the music industry in records and concerts (and movies).
Country Music is the professional development of old, folk music by people who farmed and lived too far away from cities to associate with city folks. Country was isolated because transit was slow, and internet didn't exist. Today, many places only have satellite service if that.
A lot of money has been made from Country Music -- and don't forget Elvis Presley came from that venue.
Today the term folk music doesn't carry the opprobrium that fanfic does.
But, if you examine folk music down to the roots, you will see that folk music and self-published novels (from people who were nerve traditionally published and actively do not want to be traditionally published) share a similar kind of popularity.
And if you juxtapose real folk music (by folks not getting paid to do it) with professional music (by people who do it for profit), you will see an artistic similarity between folk and professional music that exactly parallels the similarity between fanfic and traditionally published fic.
Trace origins and development, find the driving force behind music, and trace how that force generated the Music Industry, and then do the same for novels.
Go back into the 1800's and study women's Gothic novels, circulating as hand-written copies among housewives. That was fanfic.
I expect you can do the same study with Art. There are Great Artists who are "Great" because we've heard of them. And we've heard of them because they had Patrons and got commissions to decorate famous places (like the Cysteine Chapel, for example). And there are folk artists whose work is left to us only as fragmentary remains on pottery sherds dug up by archeologists.
There's commercial art -- advertisements, book covers -- and there's fine art shown in galleries. And then there's folk art, which you find in people's homes, done for the pleasure of their families. Think about quilting, and going out to "the Country" to buy handmade quilts to hang on the wall as art. Those quilts are folk art, and they are respected.
Today, we also have Fan Art published in fanzines.
All of these art-forms have a folk version, and a professional version.
Why shouldn't fan fiction and self-published fan fiction be the FOLKFIC of our world?
Self-publishing is so closely parallel, and often related to, fanfic devoted to underlying works and published on websites for free reading, that the only difference is the homage paid to the underlying work.
Fanfic writers introduce original characters, and re-interpret existing characters, sometimes take them to new worlds, tell parts of a story not treated in the professionally published novels, but it is original writing.
You all know how much fanfic my Sime~Gen Universe novels have generated. There are millions of words posted on simegen.com alone.
Also, on simegen.com we have posted some classic Trek fanzine material.
You might note on that /startrek/ index page that we have a new addition, the Scholastic Voice Magazine Star Trek Story Contest Winner from 1980. It was written by a High School boy, Thomas Vinciguerra, who went on to become a nationally published journalist, and who wrote many articles about Star Trek. You can find links and the story at:
Here's a 2014 contest on marketing on the internet.
As part of its ongoing Seattle Writes initiative, the library has partnered with self-publishing and distribution platform Smashwords to encourage local writers to package their writing for an audience. The eyeball icing on the finger-typing cake? A contest, open until midnight on October 15, in which up to three entrants who publish via Smashwords will have their eBooks included for circulation in the SPL eBook collection.
The fine print is hardly daunting. Have an SPL library card. Be 18 or older. Publish your eBook (for free) with Smashwords on its website. Enter the contest.
Oh. And write the eBook.
Also a new addition to the simegen.com/fandom/ section is a short novel by a Sime~Gen fanfic writer, Mary Lou Mendum, done in Catherine Asaro's Skolian Empire universe, using some of Catherine's characters, and a whole cast of original characters.
Mary Lou is an example of a writer who specifically does not want to write professionally. It's a hobby, and she does it to please specific people. In the case of the Skolian Universe novel, it was done to entertain someone while ill.
She's an example of a folk-writer, writing folk-fic.
Or perhaps it should be called filkfic as akin to Filk Singing.
The term Filk to describe the original lyrics sung to popular tunes done at Science Fiction Conventions dates back to a typo in a con program book. The term was immediately adopted as a badge of honor, though what they did with music was one of the oldest traditions in folk music (new words to old songs, variations on old tunes to adapt to new lyrics).
Folk Art is the baseline creativity of humanity singing the song of the universe.
Commercial Art (mass market paperbacks) is Folk Art leveled to the lowest common denominator, made accessible to all.
Fanfic and self-publishing are both types of folk art, folk-storytelling.
The material is popular not because an insane person created it, a fanatic, but because perfectly sane people with experiences in common resonate to it, enjoy it, and elevate the performers of it to local celebrity status.
The folk of the town admire and reward the local bard, the story-teller who teaches morality to children, the shaman who teaches history to children in rhyme, and the artist who draws pictures of local events.
Fanfic and Self-published works resemble Folk Music both in content, and appeal and business model.
But "Folk" carries a much higher prestige than "Fanatic."
The most powerful force in civilization is the folks, not insanity or teen phases.
You don't tolerate the folks. You admire them. Discount the power of the folks at your peril (or so the rulers of France discovered to their tribulation. England had a problem with those pesky colonists and their Boston Tea Party, too.)
So I propose replacing the term fanfic with the term folkfic or Folk-fic, or some variant so it includes self-published original universe fiction. Here you find the stories the folk (the largest market there is) really want.
The More Things Change; The More They Stay The Same.