Thursday, May 2, 2013

Odious Comparisons, or Why I Am Midlist

So yesterday I got my first-quarter - actually first month, since it came out in March - royalty statement for Sullivan, That Summer. Five copies sold. Oh well.

But check out the downloads page for Widespot. It became available at almost the same time as Sullivan, and as of this writing it's been downloaded 548 times!

So my exercise in making something for a game that is no longer supported or sold by the company that owns its copyright is almost eleven times more successful than my book in a popular genre. Sigh.

I can whine about it, or I can learn from it. From what differences does this discrepancy arise?

It's not quality, I can tell you that. Both are solid, workmanlike storytelling.

Comparing across formats is always problematic because the technical requirements of storytelling in different formats - book, video, game, oral transmission, graphic - vary so much, and though techniques from one medium may be usefully translated into another (considering "camera angles" in a novel, say), they will not have equivalent values. Creators are often the worst judges of their own work, also. However, I'm in position to state that the same degree of care and creativity went into each; that both spring from the same fangirly place in my psyche; that both were created under considerable internal pressure, to the point that I could not leave them alone over an extended period of time. If work and care count for anything, in fact, Sullivan ought to be the better work, since I had almost ten years to polish it (I think it first forced me to write it around 1995) and I have a lot of experience and skill in prose storytelling. Possibly Widespot benefits from unstudied naturalness or something, but I doubt it.

Price should not be a factor. Widespot is free, of course, but Sullivan is only $4.99. And whereas Widespot is only useful to Sims2 players, Sullivan is available in trade paper and a variety of electronic formats; and Widespot is only available at a single website, while Sullivan can be acquired through the publisher or a variety of other retailers, including big players like B&N and Amazon.

Ah, but here's where the law of supply and demand comes in. Whereas the demand for LGBT YA literature is much higher than the demand for premade Sims2 neighborhoods, and the supply is not as great as it ought to be, the proportional supply-and-demand is skewed against me in the literary market, and for me in the gaming market. The number of populated premade Sims2 neighborhoods available is small, and the proportion of them that contains corruption (bad code that will eventually render the neighborhood unplayable) is large (and includes the original neighborhoods shipped with the game!); though I have no statistics on the matter, this supply is nowhere near big enough to satisfy the demand. The pay rate is low, the currency of tender is intangible, and the market is shrinking, so my only competition is from other people who were intrigued enough by the creative problem of making one to assay it and motivated enough to complete it. LGBT literature, on the other hand, is a growing market in which it is possible to make money as well as ego gratification, so competition is stiffer.

The size of the pond is also relevant. MTS is the oldest and one of the largest (possibly the largest) fan forum the Sims franchise has online. Even people who don't like to hang out there, even people who rag on their upload policies and sneer at their downloads, check it out periodically. Within this tiny pond, I was able to hitch a ride aboard a good big fish.

Queer Teen Press is a small, niche venture; small enough that I didn't submit Sullivan there till I'd run out of mainstream publishers to try it on. It's one of a number of specialty publishers taking advantage of the digital revolution to launch, all vying for a good lane position on the information highway. Even within the tightest focus of this particular niche market, consumers are bombarded with more information than they can possibly absorb; any given company, let alone any given publication, in this market needs as much luck as skill in order to catch the attention of an interested buyer.

And within the small world of each pond, at MTS I'm a talkative poster who has become familiar to a fair proportion of the other participants, while at Queer Teen Press I don't really know anybody. MTS is part of my normal social milieu. Queer Teen Press is just another place where I submitted a story over the transom. I have a platform at MTS; I have none with the queer YA audience.

Nor do I know how to get one. I'm not a teen, and although I self-identify as bi I've never been part of the queer subculture. I live within a heterosexual marriage, for heaven's sake! And I'm just not social enough professionally; I never have been. I can make friends with other writers, but when it comes to being a personal presence to the audience - I suck at that. I'm sufficiently aware that most people who've ever met me have either been indifferent to or have actively disliked me (and that I could never isolate what I did to bring that on) that the idea of going out and trying, with an ulterior motive, to put myself out there were people can get to know me makes me physically ill. And even the most basic social networking with a purpose seems to be beyond me. Sullivan has a Facebook page, but with the best will in the world I haven't been able to find things to put on it and I'm not even certain it's published properly.

Maintaining a simblr (a Tumbler page consisting mostly of game-related pictures)? Ffft, that's easy! I can tell myself that nobody looks at it, really, except my friends who are genuinely interested and whose game pictures I'd also like to see more of, though I've been pleasantly surprised to find some "big name" simblers whom I don't know personally following me back. I promote Widespot accidentally, as a byproduct of stuff I do for my own amusement. I want to promote Sullivan, but can't relax and do it naturally.

Sometimes you know exactly what the problem is, and still can't solve it.

So that's where I am. Suggestions appreciated; but don't get your feelings hurt if you give me viable solutions and I'm too chicken to implement them.


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  2. Hi Peni R. Griffin,

    Since you asked, I have three suggestions:
    1. Hire a literary agent to try and market the book for you.
    2. Immerse yourself within the LGBT culture. If you want to know people, sometimes you have to be with the people you want to know more about.
    3. Attend an LGBT-friendly church. The church is a wonderful social setting to meet people and explore God, and even if you aren't religious, you may just kick out the God part and meet new people.

    Take care. :)

  3. 1) One does not just hire a literary agent. The process of getting one is much like submitting for publication - only the agent is even less motivated to take on another project because she can only handle so many. Believe me, I'm working on it. But I am not an easy person.
    2) You can't fake what culture you're in. I'm on the fringes of lots of them.
    3) Agnostic. Don't go to church except as social activity with religious relatives. See above

    But thank you for playing.

    1. Hi again Peni R. Griffin,

      Well, what I really meant for #2 was actually finding an LGBT club or social group near you based on whatever common interest you have (queer dancing, for example), and connect with the people there.

      Also, there is Unitarian Universalist Church that is open for everyone, including nonreligious people. There is no common creed other than the Seven Principles.

      By the way, what church do your relatives attend?

      Take care. :)

  4. Have you talked to Lee Wind about your book:
    Or considered doing a guest post for me?

  5. Umm...y'know, I've known and followed you all this time and it never once crossed my mind to ask to do a guest post? I am sooooo bad at this it's ridiculous! But if you'd like one I'll see what I can find interesting to say.

    Lee Wind's blog is one I'd intended to approach but then when I had something to approach people with I went blank. I thought I had that blog followed, too, but Blogspot seems to have lost it, which made it easier for me to blank on it but isn't an excuse, so now I should catch up.

    You are such a natural at this, all my stressing out and failure to move must seem bizarrely inexplicable to you.

  6. You can write about the story behind the book, working with a small/niche press, some aspect of the writing life or craft of writing, and we can promote the book in conjunction with that.

    And really, no. You are being too hard on yourself. I have a college degree in PR from one of the top journalism schools. It's not easy stuff to navigate, but it is learn-able.

    Hm. Maybe I should start consulting.

    1. Oh, yeah, 'cause you need more to do to fill up your empty days. Let me think about the best way to talk about Sullivan - I think that's a little bit of my problem, I wrote it so darn long ago and the process is so different from my previous books it still doesn't feel like a real thing, and I've got a stack of author copies sitting on the printer table ready to be mailed to relatives. So it's hard to talk about the book, as a book. But I will e-mail you a post when I have it ready, and you can tell me it's too long, and then I can edit it down and send it to you again.

  7. Peni, on the topic of people met in person not liking you, and considering how many people at MTS do like you, and a comment or two you've made about facial recognition, do you suppose you have prosopagnosia? I ask in part because I'm pretty sure I do, but in reading about it I learned that many people with it have trouble interpreting facial expressions, not just recognizing faces, and it seems to me that could lead to as many relational problems as not greeting people who think I should know them.
    Website here:

    Another thought, can you link to Sullivan in your MTS signature? I'm not sure about MTS policies, but there seem to be a fair number of teens at MTS, and judging from how many folks there are open to playing various relationships, there'd likely be some open to reading about them.

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    3. One can have prosopagnosia by having a brain damage especially in the Fusiform Face Area, and one can have a developmental form of prosopagnosia. The developmental form of Prosopagnosia is not really a clear-cut black-and-white psychological condition. In other words, it's not always feasible to point out who has the condition and who has not. It's more of a spectrum, and the degree at which a person has prosopagnosia is very important. A person who is severely prosopagnosic may suffer in social relationships, whereas a person who are super face recognizers may also suffer in social relationships (other people will think that they are being stalked due to their own prosopagnosia). I'm pretty sure that most people are somewhere between the two extremes of being extremely good at recognizing faces and extremely lacking in recognizing faces. Another psychological condition that is more of a spectrum would be autism. There is the really high-functioning end, Asperger's syndrome, and there is the other end where the patients severely lack the ability to identify social cues. Ideally, it's best to be in the norm like Goldilocks, but when a person is born with a condition that is debilitating, then a person has to try to find the means to compensate what he does not have. Education is always helpful.

  8. I 'm certain I don't have prosopagnosia. If I did it would interfere with my life more. Every condition exists on a spectrum and prosopagnosia, like pretty much any mental or emotional disorder, is merely the most extreme and debilitating expression of traits that exist in milder form in lots of normally functional people. I just don't read the same visual cues, or read them as well, as other people. I don't hear normally, either, or I should say listen normally. Instrumental music slides right off my ear, and I cannot tell what my voice is doing, which is a big part of setting people against me when I meet them in person. I have certain tones of voice that set people off. It's easier for me to be likeable online - I can edit my conversations, I write better than I speak, and if I really have to say something nasty I can say it and then not post it, gaining all the emotional release and none of the repercussions!

    Andrew Karre has some relevant things to say on this subject at the Carolrhoda blog this week: . I really think the key thing is participation. I need to participate in the social dimension of my professional life more. I'm more or less uninhibited about participation in a gaming venue because it's play and I can always walk away without repercussions.

    Also, in a hobby context, I don't have to worry as much about the conflicting roles of "industry participant" and "self-promoter." As soon as I catch someone trying to sell me something, even something I might like, I don't want it and I don't want to be around that person; so all my instincts scream at me to keep a low profile.

    You don't think people'd mind me linking to non-sim-related matter in my MTS sig, Sunbee? I post under my own name so people can find me if they want me, but it seems spammy to slip advertising into each post I make like that. But your judgement in the matter is probably better than mine.

    1. Speaking for Sunbee, I am sure he/she will probably say yes to linking to non-sim-related matter in your MTS signature.

      I wouldn't say that every condition exists on a spectrum. Huntington's disease is most certainly a pathological condition of the brain in which a person's dopamine neurons degenerate in the basal ganglia. It's a late on-set disease, so sometimes people may have children before any symptom will appear, and it is also hereditary. Once it starts, it progresses until it kills the person within 10-20 years from initiation. In other words, a person either has it or does not have it. There is no gray area, if that is what you mean by "spectrum".

  9. I'm sure if you put some effort into it, you could manage an annoying link, but a little text note along the lines of 'Check out my latest work, Sullivan, That Summer, available here' (Is there a sample chapter up online? That would be awesome to link to if there is). I can't imagine something that simple would irritate anybody except those who take pleasure from being irritated, and you'd be doing them a favor. As long as MTS doesn't care. Some folks have the most inane quotes in their signature lines, after all.
    Think of it more as saying 'This is what I'm up to' than advertising. What percentage of folks over there do you think know you are a writer?
    I'd tell you to participate in your genre's message boards, except I don't think you really write in a genre. As an avid science fiction and fantasy reader I spend way too much time over at Baen's Bar.
    I'm probably not the best person to suggest publicity ideas because I wouldn't have been in the audience for Sullivan as a teen, being someone who read only in my genre and the classics my mother made me (home schooled). Set it on the Moon, though . . .
    Have you and your publisher put Sullivan in the Kindle programs at all? I've seen several authors, Sarah Hoyt is one, advertise that they will set a Kindle edition for free for one or two days, to push it up the Kindle sales lists and attract more attention. Though I think those are books that the rights have reverted on so she doesn't have to talk a publisher into going along with it.