Thursday, December 22, 2016

Seeking My Target Audience in an Indie Pub Future

Sarah Hoyt wrote this kickass article on indie publishing that sort of elaborated on some of the thoughts I’ve been having. In response to a link to it on File 770, author Heather Rose Jones said something about writers that release a few books, fail to find their target audience and vanish without a trace. Naturally, I immediately worried about falling in that category.

While it is true that I have absolutely no track record as a writer of YA science fiction, I’ve been a vaguely successful writer in a few different contexts. I’ve written things for subcultures and charities, under pseudonyms, that have gone viral and/or resulted in international fan mail, and that’s what gives me a sense of confidence that my science fiction will eventually catch on.

But yeah, at this juncture in time I have no following and no reviews. Most of my posts are perused by a mere handful of visitors and most of those are Russian bots. Potentially friends, relatives and/or co-workers are out there, possibly also enemies and people trying to get enough information so they can friend me on Facebook and try to catfish me. I’m too much of a noob to harvest emails. Maybe I'll do that someday when traffic picks up.

For those of you who do know me in real life but can’t get behind my science fiction – no worries. I’ve spent most of my life hanging around with the aesthetically incompatible. It wasn’t until the advent of the internet that I actually found fandoms for most of the things I like – and those fandoms are pretty much mutually incompatable too. I’ve always been more likely to hang around with people who are fannish about things I don’t even pretend to grok, like Stranger in a Strange Land, for example. 

Moving towards liking art for its own sake, in fact, has been a long arduous lifetime struggle. All along the way there have been people scolding me for liking the wrong art, for the wrong reasons, or for being somehow unethical by liking art that was too loud, or too old, or too male, or too rough, or too dumb, or too smart.

That was why the Sad and Rabid Puppies got my attention. They were attributing the similar shade they got to politics, while I’m talking about experiences I had amongst people with politics similar to my own. I characterized it as more of the social viciousness endemic to people with overly leisurely lives and thanked my lucky stars I’m a loner. And you could probably also throw some blame towards that words-make-the-world thinking that I ranted about after the election, and am still trying to articulate my feelings on that into a coherent essay.

The gist of it is that I believe we wordslingers are describers of things, not shapers of them. We lack godlike powers, although sometimes we may find ourselves resonating with the zeitgeist. Yet by even mentioning this I am performing a very dangerous ritual known as “Contradicting The Narcissists,” and I believe that’s where the shade happens; as a natural and expected byproduct of a culture in which narcissism is held up as a worthy and life-sustaining virtue.

Then again, if I had a little more narcissism, maybe my posts would get hits in the double digits, maybe even triples – just noting.

Maybe Ms. Jones’ prediction will in fact apply to me, and maybe my stories will sink without a trace, unreviewed and ignored. And yet, there’s a chance something different might occur. For instance, I might find my aesthetic gang. A group of people who like similar books, and movies, and music – not all completely the same, but similar enough to transform us from individual consumers of art to rampant herds of locusts helping each other pick out the good art while ignoring all the crappy art. 

That’s my main motivation for writing science fiction, after all – to find some kindred souls and travel around to science fiction thingies with them, ordering room service and watching cosplayers and trading jokes. I have no desire to be a best-seller and midlist no longer exists, so I’m aiming for “outsider artist” or “acquired taste” or something in that neighborhood.

If I were associated with a corporate press I’d get more exposure, but paradoxically, my target audience hates corporate art. If I were with a cool indie press I’d meet some more folks in Portland and Seattle and Spokane that share my fondness for public transit and kale salad, except I don’t do a lot of writing about lefty social issues, so maybe that’s not my target audience either.

I think some of my target audience lurks in fandom circles while keeping their opinions about their preference for, e.g., Dark Tower over LOTR to themselves, lest they be enveloped in shade. Another large portion of my target audience rejected science fiction books in favor of videogames years ago, but they might come back for the right writer. Some of my target audience makes games, or comics, or other kinds of art, and may want to collaborate with me. Some are just cool people that aren’t into all this fannish stuff. Truthfully, I don’t know a whole lot about them yet. I’m pretty sure they prefer e-books to paper, but that’s about the extent of it.

I also think the publishing world will change, and after I finish up my all-consuming trilogy I might think about trying to write something tradpub friendly, depending on what the corporations are like at that point.

You are out there somewhere, my beloved target audience, and I will find you. I have no idea what you look like, where you hang out and what kind of sneakers you like best, but I do know we will love each other. I’ll keep stringing words together until that happens.

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