A Chronicle of Outrage Marketing

I was watching something on Twitter yesterday that I thought was interesting. The ongoing dynamic of how to talk (if at all) about books either by people on the right or particularly liked by people on the right. The questions is whether it is possible to do so. [Part 2 Here]

The particular point of interest is an anthology from Baen whose gimmick is that all (but one) of the author are called “Dave” or “David”. I’m not particularly interested or concerned about the book and it was something I would have more generally ignored because it’s got Dave Freer in it. On Baen’s own social media there were some comments about the premise being inherently discriminatory and a response from Baen’s social media account that it’s one anthology and they’ve published anthologies (or at least one) where all the authors were women.

There’s some merit to Baen’s argument in principle — I haven’t looked to see how it works out in practice. The merit is that it’s not the impact of a single anthology but the collective impact over time. A publisher picking an anthology premise that promotes authors of one demographic group (intentionally or otherwise) isn’t itself an issue. It could be a neutral thing or a positive thing but the issue is with overtime is part of an effort to narrow who gets published or broaden…and so on. An anthology of Daves isn’t a big deal, does favour a type of author more likely to be male etc, should be seen in a broader context of what else the publisher publishes and so on. Not terribly difficult ideas to get your head around. The propositions that it is just a silly/fun/quirky idea for an anthology and makes a (small) contribution to making it easier for the stereotypical ageing white guy SF author to get published can both be true. The scale of the thing makes it easy to ignore i.e. publishing has bigger issues than this book.

BUT it clearly should be absolutely OK to make either point about the book.

So here is Nick Mamatas on Twitter about the book in question.

Now Nick M is not famed for his delicate diplomacy on social media but this is hardly scathing or particularly harsh. It’s not even a substantive dig at the premise of the book nor at the actual contents. The point is a pertinent one. Some of the authors on that list have been vocal about what they see as ‘affirmative action’ in Science Fiction publishing. It really would be hypocritical for them to be OK with a book whose premises helps their story get published rather than somebody else’s on a basis other than whether the story is fun or good or otherwise. Note, that doesn’t mean their story ISN’T fun or good, it is just literally taking a critique that some of the authors on that list have used in the past for anthologies for women, disabled people, LGBTQI people and others and showing that their critique would apply even more aptly to a book of Daves.

The counter-argument (i.e. that there are other anthologies) is itself a counter-argument to their own anti-‘affirmative action’ argument. It doesn’t address the issue Nick M raised about the inconsistency of the position.

If this sounds very pedantic on my part then 1. welcome to my blog new reader and 2. I just wanted to pin down this initial point so we can follow where the argument goes afterward. The other point is that it’s perfectly reasonable and measured criticism even if you think the criticism is incorrect or unnecessary. It’s pretty mild, there’s no suggestion that the book is horrible or deeply offensive or badly written or whatever.

Act 2. Author Christopher Ruocchio replies. I’m not familiar with him but his bio at Random Penguin books says that he is also an assistant editor at Baen. He replies to a later Tweet by Nick M on a side discussion on why Barry Malzberg is in the anthology if he’s not called Dave (the answer is the story has Dave in the title). Nick M calls this weak, which is arguably a bit mean.

And it escalates up from there:

And so on…

And so on…

Except of course, nobody said bigotry. To start with this was pretty mild critique of an anthology.

Well OK. This a silly argument on social media with an author/edit being a tad over sensitive. An ordinary occurrence. I won’t post every Tweet. This one is from near the end of the exchange.

And yes, sure enough, elsewhere in the social media of right wing authors the spin on this specific exchange becomes transformed. The left is trying to cancel the book etc and specific calls to actions to boost the anthology and to spread the word and to show the left that people won’t be silenced etc etc.

Of course there’s a contradiction here. The early complaint of punching down and the boast of free publicity are at odds. It is the later claim that is more correct. Whatever, you might think of Nick M’s initial Tweets they were not doing any practical harm to the book and probably doing a small net gain in publicity. The people who might view the concept of the book negatively weren’t ever going to buy the book but Nick M’s argument wasn’t an attempt to discourage people to buy the book.

The hyper-defensive reaction probably did help boost initial publicity for the book. Indeed, regular readers have all witnessed various authors trying to arrange their own brouhahas precisely to help their books get noticed. Does that work in the long run? I’ve no idea. Is that what happened in this case? Where the initial responses from Christopher R a cynical reaction to build up a publicity flame war or a genuine case of somebody being overly sensitive on social media? I think that is a false dichotomy.

Think about it this way: among conservative leaning authors in particular there is no social penalty to being hypersensitive on social media. The over-reaction is (probably) a genuine reaction but it happens also because it can help promote books within a community of readers.

So does that mean Nick M should NOT have even mentioned the anthology and avoided giving free publicity? No. It is reasonable and right to talk about books, including books with issue. More politically, I’ve discussed repeatedly how so much of the right’s current engagement with the left and centre is about shutting down discussion and silencing left viewpoints. The current iteration of the right is, in general, deeply opposed to free speech in its functional sense of open discussion and exchange of ideas. Not talking about stuff that you find interesting for fear or either a hyperbolic reaction or that you words will be exploited to help sell more of a book amounts to a pernicious self-censorship.

Pick and choose and there’s no single right way of doing this. That’s not much of a moral to finish the story but it’s all I’ve got 😌


34 thoughts on “A Chronicle of Outrage Marketing

    1. I’d tell you what my title is, but then I’d have to kill you.

      (Not entirely joking. A friend of mine who was into Wicca at the time gave me a new name and said I wasn’t supposed to tell anybody else because that would give them power over me. Still remember the name, and haven’t told anybody else what it was. I may not believe in magic that way, but I do believe in not betraying a trust.)

      Liked by 4 people

      1. “What a worthless scroll. All it says is ‘Hastur Hastur Hastur’ over and over again….”

        Like

      1. Oh, we can all be king of typos, but we all know there is only one Supreme Emperor ogf Typos.

        (Yes, that’s a geniune typo. But I thought it was fitting so I’ll let it stand.)

        Liked by 2 people

  1. The Dave Conspiracy is entering the real world! Helen must have made a breakthrough.

    If we can give ourselves titles, I guess I’ll revive my old gaming title: Lady Lewdly Lane-Lipton, the Dutchess of Lilliupt-Lowthian,

    I’m constantly deeply amused by the fact that the people who routinely throw around the word “snowflake” as an insult are the only ones I see melting down on the internet.

    Liked by 9 people

  2. I bought Ruocchio’s debut novel some time ago, because it sounded sort of interesting. I had no idea that he was affiliated with Baen and the book wasn’t published by Baen anyway. Not sure if that would have kept me from buying the book, though Ruocchio’s behaviour has pushed his book further down the slopes of Mount Tsundoku and also hasn’t made me particularly keen on buying the sequel.

    As for name gimmick anthologies, one of the big SFF magazines did an issue featuring only people named Smith or variations thereof way back in the 1960s, so the idea isn’t even new. Also the editor could have come up with a more diverse line-up of Davids, e.g. by including Davids of colour or women named Davies, David or Davidson.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Yeah, there are women whose first name is Dave or David and there are certainly lots of women who have some form of David or Dav in their last name. If they were having that much trouble filling the roster, they could have gone looking outside the white guys.

    But it’s apparently hard for women to get into an anthology about Dave’s, even though the requirements were so loose that some of them could have qualified. Which is exactly part of the reason why women-only anthologies help women SFF writers from being overlooked and getting more opportunities in the field.

    And that’s the point that Mamatas was making. This anthology was throwing together a bunch of “Dave’s” for fun, a targeted (and apparently lazily limited) demographic. And in the anthology, some of its authors have screamed against demographically themed anthologies that boost marginalized groups like women or POC, which makes their participation in a demographic Dave anthology hypocritical — and bigoted — if they keep saying that’s not also acceptable to them for marginalized, overlooked groups.

    “Sir” Christopher has no problem with some of these authors crapping on all-women anthologies while appearing in an all-men anthology on the supposed basis of their name. So he’s not going to just let Mamatas point out the hypocrisy as a criticism without pouting, no siree bob. Those authors who’ve railed against all-women anthologies are not hysterical to Sir Christopher and don’t need to get a grip. Mamatas pointing out their hypocrisy in their views, however, is extreme and mean and blah blah.

    And yeah, it’s a form of marketing, although it works better for crowdsourcing donation campaigns or YouTube streaming than getting angry men to buy print anthologies. But what it really markets is a societal view — expressed by some of the anthology’s authors — that all-men anthologies (which have been a regular thing throughout SFF history to the detriment of women authors’ careers,) are great and all-women anthologies that help boost women’s voices are awful and shouldn’t be around; that criticism of men about their anti-equality views is wrong and unreasonable and criticism of women trying to get more opportunities is fine and logical, etc. That’s what Sir Christopher is marketing and it’s an old product — and not one that particularly helps Baen Books in the marketplace.

    Mamatas is an experienced editor and author and a (sort of) white straight guy, so Sir Christopher couldn’t use the straightforward little lady tactics he’d use on a woman for this sort of thing. He had to go for chest thumping — I will defend my friend! Satanic Panic! You’re calling us Nazis! Which makes him sound ridiculous. If he was just an author in the anthology or doing books with Baen, it would be funny, but the fact that he’s actually editing at Baen is more disturbing. (Of course, Baen apparently doesn’t do any editing, according to them, so I guess it’s not critical.) But it’s sad when an editor so completely misses the point about what women face in the marketplace, including from men with views like his.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. It must be effective. I see so many of them do it.

    Say, didn’t one of the leaders in outrage marketing recently stop publishing new works of science fiction and fantasy?

    (Also, are the folks at Baen feeling okay? I just bought the new Tim Powers book in paperback and the cover art is not nearly as bad as I expected. It’s not good, mind you, but it doesn’t have that classic Baen awfulness to it.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Maybe their cover designer died and they now have to make do with someone whose taste is not quite so godawful.

      One thing that always makes me sad is when I see indie SFF authors imitate Baen’s cover design of all things. Though few of them manage to quite capture the sheer awfulness of true Baen covers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I suspect it was negotiated as part of his contract with Baen. “Look, I’m willing to sign, but I have to see the covers for all the books in the contract first. Yes, I know I haven’t written all of them yet.” The cover for the Baen edition of Expiration Date isn’t bad either.

        Alternately, somebody at Baen read their TV Tropes page.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Lois McMaster Bujold, P.C. Hodgell, and Catherine Asaro all have enough clout now that they’ve been able to get fairly decent covers on their most recent books.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. And the Dr Seuss poem “Too Many Daves”

      Did I ever tell you that Mrs. McCave
      Had twenty-three sons and she named them all Dave?
      Well, she did. And that wasn’t a smart thing to do.
      You see, when she wants one and calls out, ‘Yoo-Hoo!
      Come into the house, Dave!’ she doesn’t get one.
      All twenty-three Daves of hers come on the run!
      This makes things quite difficult at the McCaves’
      As you can imagine, with so many Daves.
      And often she wishes that, when they were born,
      She had named one of them Bodkin Van Horn
      And one of them Hoos-Foos. And one of them Snimm.
      And one of them Hot-Shot. And one Sunny Jim.
      And one of them Shadrack. And one of them Blinkey.
      And one of them Stuffy. And one of them Stinkey.
      Another one Putt-Putt. Another one Moon Face.
      Another one Marvin O’Gravel Balloon Face.
      And one of them Ziggy. And one Soggy Muff.
      One Buffalo Bill. And one Biffalo Buff.
      And one of them Sneepy. And one Weepy Weed.
      And one Paris Garters. And one Harris Tweed.
      And one of them Sir Michael Carmichael Zutt
      And one of them Oliver Boliver Butt
      And one of them Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate …
      But she didn’t do it. And now it’s too late.

      Like

    2. Yes, I do indeed remember that song, and was actually just now skimming over the list to see if anybody else had mentioned it so I could post it myself if not.

      Like

  5. I like some of Baen’s covers. But if they’ve nose-dived in recent years, my reading is so scattered among authors and publishers I might not have noticed.
    Ruocchio reminds me of Bret Stephens of the NYT freaking out because a professor had referred to him as a “bedbug” on Twitter (Stephens went to declare this was literally Nazi Dehumanization Tactics 101). Stephens has, unsurprisingly, devoted a lot of column space to venting about fragile college snowflakes who want safe spaces.
    And portraying Mamatas as a leviathan smashing the puny, helpless Baen Books is … creative (I presume that’s why he paints it as bullying the editor).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I suspect the one whose career has suffered the most damage due to this is not Nick Mamatas or any of the Davids (and Gregorys and Barrys) in the book, but Christopher Ruocchio. Until now, he was a newish author of grimdarkish science fantasy novels. I’m not sure how well it was known that he also was an editor at Baen. I didn’t know this, but I’m not that plugged into the SFF publishing world. I also suspect that very few people would have had an issue with the fact that Ruocchio works for Baen, because despite what some people believe, there is no Baen boycott. Even a Twitter spat with Nick Mamatas wouldn’t have done much harm, because Nick is widely known to be argumentative. But having some of the most disliked people in SFF jump to his defence lumps him in with that crowd. Being invited to supply a story for a Chris Kennedy anthology also isn’t really a reason to brag. Lie down with dogs and all that.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Anecdotally, I just recognised his name in the Gollancz sale the other day and didn’t even bother to read the synopsis of his book to see if I’d like it. Life’s too short to knowingly give money to arseholes and my TBR is long enough already (and significantly longer since I added Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes and The Girl King by Mimi Yu recently).

        Liked by 2 people

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