Debarkle Chapter 68: History Rhymes — Nebulas 2019

One of the contradictory themes of the 2015 Sad Puppy campaigns was its dual claims of tradition and change. Brad Torgersen had sought a traditional publishing path within science fiction, seeking a mentor from an influential editor (Mike Resnick) and publication in one of the longest-running science fiction magazines, Analog. However, the Sad Puppy campaign would quickly shift to claiming that it was championing the new independent paths to publishing created by the proliferation of ebooks and ebook readers. In the 2015 Sad Puppy slate, Torgersen had in particular included independent author Annie Bellet as an example he could cite of the Sad Puppies introducing independent writers into the Hugo nominations. That many independently published writers were already present in the shorter fiction was not something acknowledged by the Puppies nor was the fact that the most notable bête noire of the Puppies, John Scalzi, had self-published his first science fiction novel on his blog.

In the chaos and bad blood of the 2015 Hugo Awards, Annie Bellet had withdrawn after the Puppy sweep of the nominations became clear. While the maelstrom that was the Puppies dominated science fiction news in 2015, other significant changes were occurring. 2015 also marked a major change in the membership eligibility rules for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). After a referendum of members, the SFWA amended its rules to make it easier for self-published and small press writers to become members[1]. Bellet had been a member of the SFWA prior to the rule change but was part of a growing number of independently published authors joining the SFWA.

The territory of science fiction publishing was changing during this period. New small publishers focused on ebooks were coming into being. From 2016, the newly created Dragon Awards featured some finalists from new publishing collectives such as Chris Kennedy Publishing[2] particularly in the military-SF and space opera subgenres. Ironically, after a busy year in 2017, Vox Day’s own boutique publisher Castalia House effectively withdrew from science fiction publishing in 2018[3].

LMBPN & 20BooksTo50K

Among the many new milSF/space opera publishers was an outfit calling itself LMBPN. The publisher began as a name for author Michael Anderle to self-publish under[4]. Prior to his foray into self-publishing, Anderle had worked in online sales marketing[5] and used the skills he had learned to more effectively market his books in the increasingly crowded market of ebooks. At the time Anderle was visiting Mexico and while the money he was making from self-publishing SF was small he realised that he could make a steady income from it.

“Down in Mexico, you can have an incredible life even in Cabo, which is more expensive, for $50,000 a year. Now you only have to make $36,000 in order to stay in the country and I looked at it and said okay if I can get 20 books all making this seven and a half dollars a day I could make $50,000 a year and retire my wife, who was the main breadwinner in the household.

And so that’s kind of where the genesis was: 20 books to make 50k. I had written two books. I was in the middle of my third. I figured I could finish it by the end of next year. So 2016 is approximately 14 months and that was my goal. Try to get 20 books all making seven and a half dollars and making it income for us.”

https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2019/10/21/indie-author-to-creative-empire/

To expand the range of books he was publishing, Anderle partnered with another self-published author Craig Martelle, an Alaskan-based former marine and business consultant[6]. LMBPN continued to grow but it was a different enterprise that would make both Anderle and Martelle more famous in the world of independent publishing.

KBoards were a set of community forums for self-published ebook authors. In a 2016 post entitled “20 books to 50k”, Anderle outlined his model for making money from self-publishing. He explained how he had learned from advice offered on the boards:

“I was on The Author Biz with Stephen Campbell in January. I had just released my 5th book and was going to close above $10k that month. The title to that show is ’90 days to $10,000′ and it was a blast talking to him. I mentioned how Rick Gualtieri and Annie Bellet shared some incredible information here on kBoards and I really appreciated their willingness to lay out their information here for newbies like myself to read.”

https://www.kboards.com/threads/20-books-to-50k.233197/

The purpose of the post was partly to explain his model for making money but also to recruit authors to a new private Facebook group he had created where authors could learn to follow Andele’s model. The group was unsurprisingly called 20BooksTo50K and by 2017 Anderle and Martelle were running a 20BooksTo50K conference in Las Vegas to help aspiring authors make money from self-publishing.

“Sam’s Town, Las Vegas
November 3-5, 2017
What is this conference about? Do you want to take things to the next level? Is your hard work not getting you where you need to go? That’s why we’re here – how can your writing make you money?”

https://web.archive.org/web/20170417190105/http://20booksvegas.com/

By 2019 the Facebook group had over 26,000 members and was running conferences internationally[7]. The group had strict rules against self-promotion, off-topic posts and most importantly a rule that stated “NO DRAMA! (that’s what all the above nopification is about) – drama never helped anyone. This is a business site to help you be a better indie author business”[8].

Among the members of the group was another former marine turned author, Jonathan Brazee. He had also started his own small press for his books Semper Fi Press and also had become an active member of the SFWA chairing the professional education committee[9]. In 2018, Brazee’s novelette “Weaponized Math” published by LMBPN in 2017 was a finalist in the Nebula Awards[10]. The connections between 20BooksTo50K and the SFWA went in both directions —2016-2019 SFWA Director-at-large Lawrence M. Schoen had also joined the Facebook group.

2019 & The Nebula Slate

In November 2018 Jonathan Brazee posted a message to the 20BooksTo50K Facebook group encouraging eligible members to take part in the SFWA’s Nebula Awards. At the end of the post was a long list of titles by 20BooksTo50K members that might be suitable works to add. Brazee was quite clear that this was not intended to be a slate but just a means to encourage participation and maybe improve the number of independently published works on the SFWA reading list.

“Nominations are now open for the Nebulas. You can nominate five in each category. Indies have not fared so well in the awards, with only one work making the ballot last year. It probably takes 20 nominations to make the ballot, so there are certainly enough indies who have read each others’ works and can nominate. We can’t–and shouldn’t–have a slate to get an indie work the actual award, but we can get indie works visibility to that other members might notice them and read them. Then, let the chips fall as they may, and may the best story win, indie or trad. Below is a list of indie works or trad works from 20Books members taken from the Nebula Reading list. I have probably missed some, so please, let me know so I can add them. I will be repeating this effort later on.”

Jonathan Brazee https://www.facebook.com/groups/781495321956934/permalink/1654005978039193/ as quoted here https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/02/23/just-an-additional-note-on-the-20booksto50k-nebula-not-a-slate/

Brazee would later state that he had discussed posting an indie reading list with an SFWA staff member who had advised that it would be fine to do so if he stayed away from recommending how people should vote[11].

Skipping forward in time, in February 2019 German fan writer Cora Buhlert posted her annual thoughts on the Nebula finalists after they had been announced by the SFWA. After analysing each of the categories, Buhlert considered the more unusual aspects of that year’s finalists. Buhlert had taken a specific interest in the burgeoning indie publishing space and had published multiple works of her own and as a consequence, she was quick to notice something that others had not.

“Which brings us to the other notable trend on this year’s Nebula shortlist, namely the surprising amount of indie writers nominated. There are six indie writers and five indie books/stories nominated for Nebula Awards this year, which is a lot more than we’ve seen before. Now the SFWA opened membership to self-published writers a few years ago, so it was only to be expected that we would start to see more indie books on the Nebula shortlist (disclaimer: I’m not an SFWA member).”

http://corabuhlert.com/2019/02/21/some-thoughts-on-the-2018-nebula-award-finalists/

Digging down further, Buhlert noted a common connection between these nominees.

“Furthermore, most (five of six – I’m not sure about Rhett C. Bruno) of the indie Nebula finalists are affiliated with the 20Booksto50K group founded by Michael Anderle. For those who don’t know, 20Booksto50K started out as a Facebook group for business minded indie writers (the name implies that 20 books should bring you an income of 50000 USD), but by now they are also holding regular writers’ conferences. 20Booksto50K is a huge group – I think they have twenty thousand members or something – and because of their business focus, a lot of financially successful indie writers, i.e. the ones also most likely to join SFWA, are members. Plus, many of the early members including the founder were SFF writers, though they’ve since branched out to cover other genres. I’ve never been a member, largely because I don’t do Facebook, but I know some members and have seen videos of their conferences, so I’m familiar with the ideas behind the whole thing, which is basically “write fast, publish fast and create a ‘minimum viable product’ in highly commercial genres”. I’ve also read their manifesto, which may be found here. 20Booksto50K also encourages collaboration between authors and I wouldn’t be surprised the some of the indie anthologies, where the nominated stories were published, grew out of this or similar groups. What is surprising, however, is that several writers affiliated with 20Booksto50K hit the Nebula shortlist this year, since critical acclaim and awards recognition is not really a main aim of this group. Though I guess they’re happy enough to take the publicity boost it brings.”

ibid

Another blogger[12] followed up Buhlert’s observation and looked into the posts at the private 20BooksTo50K Facebook group. On February 5, shortly before nominations would close for the Nebulas, Jonathan Brazee had posted a second message to the group about the award. Once again, he had stated that he was not posting a slate but this time he was more direct with a call to action.

“Having written that, we hope you will at least consider self-published works when you make your nominations. It is difficult to compete with the Tors and Random Houses in publishing in terms of visibility, but at least if an indie work makes the final ballot, other members will be aware of it and will hopefully give it a read before voting once the final ballot is released.”

Jonathan Brazee https://www.facebook.com/groups/781495321956934/permalink/1759086464197810/ as quoted here https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/the-nebulas-20booksto50-not-a-nudge-nudge-slate/

As well as framing the vote in terms of indie versus the powerful big publishers, Brazee went further.

“A title with two asterisks after means it is currently in the top six (four titles at the moment). A title with one asterisk means it is in the top ten with regards to recommendations (five more titles). Other titles are very close to the top ten.”

ibid

And in the Andre Norton Young Adult category, he was even more direct, highlighting one specific work:

“I’m not sure if you all saw Amy DuBoff’s post in another FB group listing indie works, but her novel, A LIGHT IN THE DARK, is also YA, so it is eligible for the Andre Norton Award (one of the Nebula Awards). Last year, there weren’t six books that achieved the minimum required ten noms, so there were only four books on the ballot. If ten people have read her book, liked it, and nominate it before COB Friday, then it will probably make the final ballot. — with James Hunter and 24 others.”

ibid

The post had stated that it wasn’t a slate but the difference between Brazee’s asterisked list and a slate was minimal. In addition four of the six authors from the slate that had ended up being Nebula finalists had also been published recently by LMBPN including Jonathan Brazee, Richard Fox, A.K. DuBoff, R.R. Virdi and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne. Blogger Aaron Pound looked further into Brazee’s original list and found that 15 of the authors listed had appeared either in an LMBPN anthology series called The Expanding Universe or had appeared in a non-LMBPN anthology series called Sci-Fi Bridge[13].

When the news broke of the apparent slate impacting the Nebula Awards, nobody was angrier than Annie Bellet.

In a long set of Tweets, Bellet outlined her objections to slates and her anger at what had occurred. In particular, she was angry because of the effort that she herself had put into bringing self-published writers into the SFWA.

Bellet felt that despite Brazee’s caveats, the February Facebook post was unambiguously a slate:

“the list was explicit including asterisks for the works that should be focused on the most and explanations of how many votes it would take etc. There’s no grey area on this one. It is a slate.”

https://twitter.com/anniebellet/status/1100461597049401345 also quoted here http://file770.com/annie-bellet-criticizes-20booksto50k-slate-and-members-of-the-group-respond/

It appeared sci-fi fandom was heading into another slate war.

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne is a Sri Lankan author who at the time of this controversy had published work both independently and in more traditional ways. His story Messenger had been written in collaboration with the US-based writer R.R.Virdi and published in the LMBPN Expanding Universe anthology series. Finding his story had been nominated for a Nebula Award was an exciting surprise. However, his delight soon encountered the fall out from the public counter-reaction to the apparent 20BooksTo50K slate.

Wijeratne seeing claims that appeared to be accusing him of cheating his way to a nomination (as far as he understood them) responded in kind to Bellet’s Tweets. Unaware of the back-history of the Sad Puppies and the connection between sci-fi awards and the ongoing culture wars, Wijeratne stepped into a social media controversy. He would later describe the ensuing angry back-and-forth in these terms:

“Much of this boils down to information asymmetry: the US SFF community clearly has a lot of group norms and contextual behaviour templates. However, if they are to welcome authors from other parts of the world, it remains a mistake to assume that everyone walking in will know what these norms are.”

https://yudhanjaya.com/2019/03/incidentally-there-is-support-for-wijeratnes-story-part-two-aftermath-and-decision-trees/

And yet…unlike the events of 2015, a number of factors resulted in what had been an angry situation, de-escalating rapidly. Partly this was due to people building bridges between individuals, in particular Wijeratne and Bellet whose social media exchanges had become very harsh. A more public step was taken by Jonathan Brazee, who did something quite remarkable when compared with the events of 2015: he apologized.

Rather than doubling down on the conflict or making excuses for his Facebook post, Brazee wrote an extended explanation that was posted on File 770. In it, Brazee explained honestly how the 20BooksTo50K list had come about, his motives for creating and most importantly took the blame for the mistakes made.

“Fourth, while I had what I consider the best of intentions, my unfortunate wording has cast a pall over the awards and caused ill feelings, something that has kept me awake at nights since this broke. I can’t turn back the clock, and I have nothing in my power to change what happened. But what I can do is to offer that my own nomination be removed from consideration for the award.”

http://file770.com/jonathan-brazee-sfwa-make-statements-on-nebula-awards-issues/

In addition to Brazee’s apology and willingness to shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for the bad feelings generated, a number of other factors also helped reduce the heat of the conflict. First of all, the impact of the supposed slate had been relatively small and unlike the 2015 Puppy slates had not led to a sweep of the nominations. Secondly, while Brazee’s post had framed things in terms of an indie-v-trad publishing divide, he had not framed things in terms of the wider culture within US society. Both of these factors minimised the extent to which the arguments would result in two entrenched camps.

Of course, while 20BooksTo50K were not, in general, culture warriors that did not mean that the culture warriors were not watching what was going on.

The Forever (Culture) War

Nobody is exactly sure how the online right-wing magazine The Federalist is funded[14] but by 2019 it was a prominent source of culture war style propaganda and pro-Trump stories. To cover the science-fiction award world through a partisan lens, The Federalist employed Jon Del Arroz. For Del Arroz, the conflict over the Nebula Awards was a simple one.

“The targeted blogs and social media posts are a coordinated effort by traditional publishing’s elites to diminish 20BooksTo50K’s credibility among establishment publishing and brand them as a political organization to fight. In 2019, being apolitical has become akin to declaring your politics to the extreme left. Much of the left has taken an “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” attitude to try to harm people who don’t want to take sides in the culture war. It’s a dangerous view to take, as writers have been blacklisted and banned, and now even worse.”

https://thefederalist.com/2019/03/04/indie-sci-fi-authors-upending-traditional-publishing-turned-war/

Drawing parallels with Comicsgate and the Puppy campaigns, Del Arroz claimed that left-wing “elites” were out to destroy 20BooksTo50K because of their commercial success and focus on writing rather than political correctness. However, Del Arroz skipped over multiple inconvenient facts, including that the major critic of 20BooksTo50K was Annie Bellet whose track record on independent publishing was significant. Del Arroz also failed to mention his professional connection with one of the authors who had benefitted from the 20BooksTo50K list. Del Arroz was adapting Richard Fox’s Ember War series for Vox Day’s Arkhaven Comics, a connection he did not mention in his article.

A similar highly selective omission of key facts was done by another culture-warrior, Brad Torgersen, who saw parallels in the brief conflict with his own more contentious Sad Puppy slate.

“Anyway, this past week, some indie authors got on the Nebula ballot, and the taste-makers — many of whom are ardently “woke” political activists — began braying about how a “slate” had ramrodded these indie authors onto the sacred SFWA ballot, and how it was high treason against all things Good and Clean in the genre for any “slate” to influence the Nebula final selections.”

https://archive.is/Rc3fb#selection-205.0-209.50

A name missing from Torgersen’s essay was once again Annie Bellet, whom Torgersen had drafted into his 2015 culture war. That Bellet was erased from both accounts had multiple layers of significance (her role in promoting independent authors in the SFWA, to being directly cited as an inspiration by Michael Anderle in establishing 20BooksTo50K, to being one of the “footballs” used in Brad Torgersen’s own slate campaign) but to add to the irony Torgersen framed his essay in terms of George Orwell’s 1984.

Torgersen did briefly mention Bellet in a long comment left on a post by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne in which Wijeratne had recounted his upsetting and confrontational experiences as a consequence of the backlash against the 20BooksTo50K list.

“Anyway, 2015 was a maelstrom of verbal attacks — and a major media misinformation campaign not too different from the kind launched against American teenager Nick Sandmann. I had to write several media outlets and ask them if they felt like having me bring them up on a slander lawsuit for what amounted to horrible, baseless accusations. It was lies from one side of American SF/F to the other, and back again. Annie was a casualty, though I will say she’s now making the mistake of beating other people up with her crutches — and that’s the wrong way to go about anything, no matter how wrong you believe yourself to have been.”

Brad Torgersen comment at https://yudhanjaya.com/2019/03/incidentally-there-is-support-for-wijeratnes-story-a-response-to-file770-and-a-record-of-the-nebula-award-madness/ [15]

Torgersen could only see this conflict in terms of what he described as “woke” politics despite the lack of any obvious ideological dimension to the conflict. The only claim of systemic racism that had been made was a reasonable claim that the hostility that Wijeratne had experienced as a consequence of the anti-slate backlash was yet another way authors from a background other than white male English speaking Americans experience barriers to participation. For Torgersen, any division must have been a division in politically partisan terms and one in which there was an establishment elite consumed by left-wing ideology.

The collision between LMBPN and 20BooksTo50K’s ethos, the SFWA and the Nebula awards was not without hurt and emotional damage. It led to Lawerence M. Schoen resigning his directorship and for former SFWA President Robert Sawyer decrying the admission of independent authors[16]. However, it still offered a different picture of what could have been. Multiple people found ways of de-escalating conflict without compromising their own substantive interests even after confronting experiences and social media controversies. Instead of lasting months, the controversy lasted a few days. Despite precipitating a crisis, Jonathan Brazee’s integrity in taking the brunt of the blame only helped his reputation. Brad Torgesen on the other hand, could only see the culture war and while he had resisted falling into the well of absurdity that was Qanon, he was trapped in a view of the world in which everything was a struggle against the imagined leftist elites.

Next Time: The Hugos 2018-2019 and Campbell’s Legacy


Footnotes

114 thoughts on “Debarkle Chapter 68: History Rhymes — Nebulas 2019

  1. My memory is that Torgersen expressed some horror at the results of his slate directly at the start, saying that the meaning wasn’t to dominate on that level. But that quickly went over to anger, when people didn’t quiet down directly and when he started to understand how his career might be affected and from that it went downhill.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. camestros felapton: In addition to Brazee’s apology and willingness to shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for the bad feelings generated

    … which later turned out to be merely window-dressing, as videos from the 20BooksTo50K showed him being utterly unapologetic about the slate and insisting that the slated works were just as good anything they might have pushed off the ballot (spoiler: they weren’t).

     
    Yudhanjaya Wijeratne: It was lies from one side of American SF/F to the other, and back again.

    This was a pretty ironic comment, coming from someone who had made comments of which at least half were obviously untrue or otherwise mendacious.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Unless he has a sideline I know nothing about, Jonathan Brazee is not the one putting on conferences and events for writers, though he does speak at such events. You probably have him mixed up with Michael Anderle and Craig Martelle, who indeed run a series of conferences for writers.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. We’re getting closer to the present. I hope that there’s an eventual chapter that covers Debarkle Chapter 1, so that a loop can begin

    Liked by 4 people

    1. “Early in 2021, the growing rift between Camestros Felapton and his cat broke out into an extensive feud over control of the kitchen. Retreating to a broom closet, Felapton vowed never to let the cat near his blog ever again…but how was he going to fill his blog pages without the precious cat content? With the Puppy conflict well and truly over, his only recourse was to write about 2015 from the beginning all over again.”

      Liked by 5 people

      1. So that is the reason that we don’t get a comment from Tim about She-Ra, where at last one character should be very interesting to him.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Quick correction. Michael Anderle never lived in Mexico. Apparently, he spent a holiday in Cabo in Mexico and wondered how much money it would take to live there permanently and how many books he would have to sell to earn it. That’s how he came up with the 20 books and 50000 USD number.

    However, Anderle never moved to Mexico, not even after he earned the required 50000 USD and more. He now lives in a suburb of Las Vegas.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m not sure about Mexico but you can pretty much live permanently in SE Asia while not earning greatly more than a minimum wage Western salary. (Source: have been living in Asia since 2015)

      Liked by 3 people

  5. “KBoards were a set of community forums for self-published ebook authors, in a 2016 post entitled “20 books to 50k””… S/b two sentences, “…authors. In a 2016 post…”

    …”we can get indie works visibility to that other members might notice them and read them.” — “to” should probably be “so”, but the error might be in the original quote from Brazee.

    “Brazee would later state that he had discussed posting a indie reading list with a SFWA staff member” — s/b “an indie reading list” and I *think* it s/b “an SFWA member”.

    “What is surprising, however, is that several writers affiliated with 20Booksto50K hit the Nebula shortlist this yar…” “yar” s/b “year”, but once again I don’t know if this error is in the original by Buhlert. (Hi, Cora!)

    “Blogger Aaron Pound looked further into the Brazee’s original list and found that 15 of the authors had listed had appeared…” — Delete first “the”, delete first “had”.

    “And yet…unlike the events of 2015 a number of factors resulted in what had been angry situation, de-escelating rapidly.” — S/b “de-escalating”

    “First of all, the impact of the supposed slate had been relatively small and unlike the 2015 Puppy slates had not lead to a sweep of the nominations.” — “lead” s/b “led”

    “Drawing parallels with Comicsgate and the Puppy campaigns, Del Arroz posed that left wing “elites” were out to destroy 20BooksTo50K…” — “posed” s/b “posted”?, “posited”?

    “A name missing from Torgersen’s essay was once again, Annie Bellet,” — Delete first comma.

    Footnote 3 — “reprient” s/b “reprint”

    I hate the very idea of 20BooksTo50K. One book written in two and a half weeks might be good, but not twenty of them in a row. What happened to the Sad Puppies’ demand for good stories? Or a writer’s pride in her craft? I’ve never read any of these books — to be honest, I wouldn’t have heard of them if not for the controversy — so I’m willing to change my mind if anyone can point to one of these writers who’s consistently good. (Note: I’m not talking about all self- published authors, just these guys.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The “yar” typo was mine. It has been corrected now.

      Groups like 20Booksto50K and similar outfits aim at producing disposable popcorn entertainment aimed at Kindle Unlimited mass readers. Nothing wrong with that and disposable mass entertainment can transcend its aim on occasion and produce something genuinely interesting and innovative. And the output of LMBPN, Chris Kennedy Publishing and similar outfits at least fulfils a certain editing standard and looks professional enough.

      The problem here is not so much the production – much pulp SFF, Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories, many of Ray Bradbury’s early works, etc… were written under similar constraints and have stood the test of time. The problem is that the currently prevailing indie author mindset actively discourages innovation and tells authors to analyse the most popular books in a given subgenre and copy the prevailing tropes, because this is what readers supposedly want. So you get a whole lot of cookie cutter books. And even the ones that are not cookie cutter are marketed as if they were, e.g. One of the 20Booksto50K affiliated authors mentioned in an interview somewhere that her books are full of lesbians and trans people, she just hides it in the blurbs, because she fears conservative mass readers would not read her books otherwise. Meanwhile, the people who would actually enjoy reading about trans people and lesbians in space will just skip over those books.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Another problem is those who go the Webnovel way, trying to first publish on free sites, getting a test audience and patreon sponsors before going to Amazon Unlimited. They often go for incredibly short chapters to be able to add new ones 1-2 times a day and show up more in rankings and recently updates. They are also very mercenary in dropping stories right in the middle if they haven’t received good enough ranking quick enough. I have learned to avoid those authors.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I agree with you that some pulp writing stands the test of time — look at Dickens, for example, or maybe even Shakespeare. I just can’t see how it can be done under the constraint of twenty novels a year. Not even Moorcock wrote that much, I’m pretty sure. (A better comparison might be Robert Silverberg, but a lot of his early books were porn, which is just the same book over and over. And I once heard Kevin Anderson telling an audience he wrote a book a month, which seemed a lot to me then but is just a little over half of these guys.)

        Sorry to keep coming back to this, but it really bugs me. The writer and reader have a sort of contract — the reader gives the writer some time and money, and the writer gives the reader entertainment. It can be a fast read that the reader forgets by next week, but while they are reading it they enjoy it. The 20BooksTo50K people don’t seem to have the reader in mind at all — they’re writing just to fill up space, to turn out product for the market, cookie cutter books, as you say. It seems a waste — what if they actually tried to write a good book? (I know, I know, they wouldn’t make any money on it.)

        Well, I never read any of these books, as I said. And people do seem to enjoy them, or some of them. I probably shouldn’t have said I hate the idea of churning out so many books, but it does bother me.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I’m familiar with the ebook market for romance (I edit a romance author) and the pace there is ~4 books a year. The author I work with set up a system under which she writes them in one quarter, lets them sit fallow for a quarter or so, and then we do the edits in a quarter, and then she publishes, but this required a lot of planning on her part (but she is a Spreadsheets Goddess so that sort of thing is up her alley).

          The thing about that market is that it’s absolutely predicated on building a backlist. Romance readers are voracious and have often clear preferences, but it’s fairly common that a new series won’t pick up until it has at least three books in it, at which point there’s a noticeable spike in attention things get (I guess so people won’t get hooked on a flash in the pan and then disappointed? but also algorithmic visibility feeds on itself so a certain density of books on the ground produces meaningful access differences). There are absolutely resources out there to game that particular system – the person I work with used them to get herself into her niche – because it is fairly predictable if one can write a decent short novel on the regular. But again, four books a year is a different scale than that.

          The thing that boggles me about the really fast-paced people is all the traditional publishing people I’ve heard talk have said that it’s bad to have more than a book or two out per year because flooding the market with oneself has dangers. I suppose the brain candy bookspew pipeline may not care as much about that? But it still gives me a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.

          Liked by 2 people

            1. Yes, Anderle and many other of the same ilk are aiming at the so-called “whale readers” (never understood that analogies, since whales are big, but not particularly voracious), who inhale books and subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. Literary quality of often secondary to these readers, as long as the book is readable and provides the desired experience.

              Like

            2. “ “Whale” is a term I suspect they took from Las Vegas etc.”

              It’s also been adopted for discussions of microtransaction-driven online games, which might be a more direct inspiration for the self-publishing use of the term.

              Liked by 2 people

            3. I always assumed “Whale Readers” was an analogy with baleen whales, which swim around the ocean with their mouths open inhaling plankton. Literally consuming all the time.

              Liked by 3 people

            1. They’ve gotten longer over time, I think she started around 60K. (The first one was written as a NaNoWriMo and then finished up in the following weeks.) The one we’re currently in editorial on is …. [opens file] …. [figures out how to run wordcount] … just shy of 90K.

              She’s doing althist/historical fantasy with her romances so there is a certain minimum of worldbuilding and SFF-genre expectations involved, which makes her books longer than the minimum required for the niche she’s hitting.

              Liked by 3 people

            1. And one guy, Walter B. Gibson, wrote almost all of them, churning out a long novella/short novel every two weeks. But then Walter Gibson was a phenomenon and he was literally typing all the time.

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        2. Most of Michael Anderle’s books as well as those of many of his 20Booksto50K compatriots are co-authored, which is a deliberate way to publish more books. And the 20Booksto50K group also partly serves as a recruiting ground for co-authors. Anderle and friends are at least open about it. A lot of content mills also employ ghostwriters to churn out yet more product.

          There are a few indie writers who are legitimately very prolific, e.g. Amanda M. Lee who writes cozy witch mysteries and publishes one or two books a month. She used to be a journalist and is used to turning out clean copy very quickly.

          But a lot of the time, the secret is co-authors, ghostwriters and/or very short books.

          That said, the “one or at most two books per year” schedule of traditional publishing is largely due to economic factors other than the writers’ speed.

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    2. Lampwick: I hate the very idea of 20BooksTo50K. One book written in two and a half weeks might be good, but not twenty of them in a row… I’ve never read any of these books – to be honest, I wouldn’t have heard of them if not for the controversy – so I’m willing to change my mind if anyone can point to one of these writers who’s consistently good.

      I read all of the 20BooksTo50K stories which were slated onto the Nebula ballot (with the exception of the non-YA novel up for the YA award 🙄 for which I read the excerpt), and they ranged from mediocre to readable. In other words, yes, it’s fiction created to satisfy people who want to read something genre but don’t particularly care whether it is original, innovative, or well-crafted.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. frasersherman: Which is not a new thing. Lots of people have always been happy with formula fiction (I read a fair amount of it).

          So do I. And there’s nothing wrong with that type of fiction – sometimes it’s just what the “doctor” ordered.

          It’s the insistence by certain parties that plot-by-numbers works deserve to be on awards ballots that really grinds my gears.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I think it deserves to be considered. And, mostly, then reaching the conclusion that, no, there are other works more deserving of a “finalist” position.

            I suspect most of it falls into my general “brain candy” bucket. Momentarily satisfying, but neither nourishing nor sustainably filling.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. The problem with the 20Booksto 50K folks and similar outfits is that they confuse “This book sells well” with “This is a high quality book”, so they of course believe that their cookie cutter military SF is deserving of an award – after all, it had sold umpteen thousand copies and has been in the top 100 of some obscure Amazon subgenre bestseller list for seven months.

              Liked by 1 person

  6. Urgh, following your link on federalist financing, ended up at the Federalist’s article on why Judge Roy Moore dating 14 year old girls was perfectly acceptable at the time. Not a surprising view for them at all.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. The growing misuse of the term “pedophilia” is a pet peeve of mine. Yes, everyone does it these days — but technically, lusting after teenagers is not pedophilia. If anything it is more correctly ephebophilia, which is attraction to young but post-pubescent people.

        And everyone should also remember that Juliet was 14. Our current US society thinks that such young people should not be pursued by adults, and I agree with that assessment, but doing so is far from unheard of in our species’ history or even today. I hate to see it falsely turned into some sort of mental derangement — to me, that lets the perpetrators off the hook to some extent.

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        1. In Germany, the age of consent is 14 (down from 16), though what Roy Moore did would still be illegal, because he had professional power over those girls due to his role as a judge.

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        2. Unless you know the medical situation of the teenager in question, you don’t know whether they are post-pubescent. Lumping all teenagers together as post-pubescent is a problem. Many people develop at different rates and in addition mental and emotional development doesn’t always track with physical development. A 14 year old could definitely still be a child physically, mentally and emotionally. I don’t think bringing up ephebophilia is at all helpful.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. 🙄

            Teenagers are a lot more likely to be post-pubescent than pre. And a lot more men are going to be sexually attracted to teens than to preteens.

            Part of my point is that cases like Judge Moore’s are a societal problem, not a mental health problem. In large part it is a symptom of the ongoing widespread acceptance of powerful men taking advantage of powerless women, especially young ones. It isn’t an aberration of our society, it is a symptom of it. And it’s going to take a lot more work by the whole community to get rid of it.

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            1. Probably depends on exactly where in the “teen” span one looks. Towards the 13 end, chances are that you will find them in the pre- or pubescent stage, towards the 19 end, chances are pretty high that they’ll be post-pubescent. I mean, it’s not really an instant change, after all.

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          2. At 14, I was still over a year from physical puberty, thanks.

            And I don’t see anyone do the “it’s really ephebophilia” except MGTOW, incels, and other manosphere assholes. Who don’t think Roy Moore did anything wrong either.

            So I vote NO on that.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. And that is the moment where I came a bit close to the story. Beeing called eletist and bigoted was somethink. (Richard Fox has that honour to do it)
    One of the slated (I think A.K. DuBoff) was moderating a panel on the last worldcon.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A.K. DuBoff was virtually at CoNZealand. She was on programming and may well have moderated, Subsequently, she set up her own virtual con called SFFcon, which focusses more on subjects of interest to wrtiers than Worldcon.

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        1. It stands for “London Milan Barcelona Paris New York”.

          Which I find absolutely hilariousK, given that these are the same plonkers who rail on and on about “elitism in publishing”. 😀

          Liked by 2 people

            1. Michael Anderle actually attended the Dublin, though you’re forgiven for not having noticed he was there (I didn’t realise he was there either), because Michael Anderle doesn’t bother with programming or actually talking to fellow fans. He’s only there to talk business with the really important (TM) people.

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            2. Cora Buhlert: He’s only there to talk business with the really important (TM) people.

              I’ll bet that was an interesting experience for him, since none of the Really Important™ People at Worldcon would have had any idea who he was.

              Liked by 2 people

            3. Apparently, that’s exactly what happened. He swaggered in with his “I’m a seven figure author/publisher” attitude and was met with, “And who are you again?” reactions.

              Liked by 2 people

            4. They actually do publish books in German and supposedly they’re very successful. I’m pretty sure they’re machine-translated with maybe a little clean-up. Cause I can’t imagine them paying a translator. Also, the German books are clumsily written. No glaring mistakes, just really clunky prose, which suggests automatic translation.

              On the other hand, it’s quite possible that the English language books just as clunky.

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  8. “Torgersen could only see this conflict in terms of what he described as “woke” politics despite any obvious ideological dimension to the conflict.”

    The lack of any obvious ideological dimension, I suspect?

    (Look at me actually reading this promptly enough to make a Tyop Partlo level comment!)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The Puppies split the sf/f community in 2015—probably for a generation, perhaps longer (time will tell) into themselves/right-wing ideologues vs. everyone else in sf/f. My impression of them since then, certainly including the statements quoted here above by self-identified wingnut JDA and SP3 ringleader BT, is that they actively engage in maintaining their in-group’s identity, cohesion, relevance, and energy by framing many/most/all events, incidents, or controversies in the sf/f community or sf/f world as “those terrible oppressive libtards who want us all dead and are Really Bad People at At It Again!”

    These are the kinds of positions that formed the faction where people like BT, JDA, & their various in-group colleagues and have profile, relevance, support, and approbation. So they use whatever opportunities they perceive to reenforce group identity among themselves and their followers with statements like these. As witnessed in the Puppy campaigns, details, accuracy, and veracity are irrelevant to the factions that gather around their banners. Their “we are alone and under siege as brave, right-minded, free-thinking people, surrounded by evil libtard sharks everywhere” premise is what matters to them and their in-groups.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Plus, a lot of indie SFF is aimed at right-leaning readers and the authors tend to lean further right than the average SFF author as well, though very few of them are far right jerks like the puppies. However, the puppies sense potential fellow travellers with big marketing footprints there.

      And a lot of these indie gurus and content mills have no issues associating with puppies. JDA had been at the 20Booksto50K conference and Brad Torgersen has been a speaker. There’s a “panel from hell” video online somewhere. Chris Kennedy Publishing has published books by puppy authors, Nick Cole is a puppy and welcome in indie circles due to selling a lot of books. Craig Martelle was boasting of having shared a TOC with Larry Correia.

      Originally, I wondered whether I should have privately warned some of those indie authors how problematic certain folks are. But it would have been to no avail, because they wouldn’t have listened.

      Liked by 1 person

            1. I don’t think I’ve mentioned Chris Kennedy yet but I think he was in Vox Day’s Riding the Red Horse anthology and his book firm are Dragon Award regulars.
              …I don’t know the second guy…or I couldn’t catch his name. [eta: B V Larson – published by Vox Day’s Castalia House]
              Chair: Jonathan Brazee of 20Books etc star of Chapter 68
              Richard Fox – only a side character but at least mentioned in 2 chapters, Dragon Award, comic book collaboration with JDA for Vox Day’s outfit and a dearly beloved visitor to this blog’s comment section
              Brad Torgersen – enough said

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  10. So the plan is to write as much as possible, as quickly as possible, aiming for the bare minimum level that will also, um, rake in the awards? Am I missing something here?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. One can pretty much “buy” certain “awards”. When I get review copies, many micropress and self-published authors have awards prominently displayed on the covers. They are awards that you have never heard of, and if one investigates, basically an author can pretty much get them if they submit their book for consideration (along with a fee, of course).

        Liked by 1 person

      1. According to Craig Martelle, awards don’t matter, especially awards which are given out by writers and juries rather than readers.

        So according to Craig Martelle, the Dragon Awards and Goodreads Choice Awards are more valuable than the Nebulas, Clarke Awards and Nobel Prize for Literature.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s also the story of the bestselling self-published author (not Anderle, this was someone else) who just qualified for SFWA and walked up to GRRM in the SFWA suite. “Hello, I’m XXX and I’m number 4.”

      GRRM gives him a strange look. “Who are you?”

      Indie author: “I’m number 4. I’m just behind you on the Amazon fantasy bestseller list at number 4.”

      GRRM: “Oh, really? I never look at those things.”

      Sound of indie author deflating.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. This bizarre fixation of indie authors that taking a screenshot of the moment in time where they were somewhat high up in the Amazon rankings for some obscure category (usually after they’ve had their book available for free or as part of a Book Bomb) means they are somehow important just baffles me.

        I mean, how desperate do you have to be as an author, to claim that somehow makes you important?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I can understand it. This is an ego-bruising career for most of us; I can understand grabbing at any evidence that what we’re creating matters. Beats turning to the bottle which a great many writers have done.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I can understand that side of it, but what I understand less is the ones who constantly use it as a credit. “I’m a #1 Amazon bestselling author!” Yes, you and the other million authors who know how to work categories. And?

            Liked by 2 people

            1. I see your point but it still doesn’t seem that unusual. No different from “I’m a Mensa member!” or someone in their twenties who brags about their SAT scores to impress you.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. I would almost certainly take such a screenshot for myself, because it would be cool to see your book at the top of something. But I wouldn’t put “#1 Bestselling Author!” on my books, any more than I would include “I’m a member of Mensa” or “I scored 1500 on the SAT” on anything intended for viewing by other people. To me, doing so is a sign of massive immaturity and insecurity.

              Liked by 2 people

            3. No argument, but there’s a lot of people who are massively immature and insecure. Plus, of course, putting it on the book rather than dropping it in conversation is at least in theory a good marketing tool (the sheer number of #1 bestsellers I see in ads rather devalues it).

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            4. frasersherman: putting it on the book rather than dropping it in conversation is at least in theory a good marketing tool (the sheer number of #1 bestsellers I see in ads rather devalues it)

              In theory. Obviously, there are a lot of readers who are not as savvy as the habitués of this blog and File 770, but anytime I see an author or book being promoted as “#1 Bestselling Author” due to a momentary Amazon ranking (and I certainly know how to verify a “bestselling” claim), or bragging about a Pay-For-Play Award such as the “Readers’ Favorite Awards” or the “Apple E-Book Awards”, they automatically go on my DBDR (don’t buy, don’t read) list. Because damned if I’m going to reward that sort of mendacity, and if they’re resorting to that sort of promotion, it’s likely to be shyte, anyway.

              Liked by 1 person

            5. Yes, but, I mean– my publisher took one and sent it to me because there was a presumably 5-minute interval when my book was #1 in SF ebooks in Japan. I posted it to FB with a jokey “look, I’m big in Japan!” comment, but I wouldn’t put it on my CV, and I don’t think I even know where the screenshot is anymore.

              Liked by 4 people

            6. It took me a couple of months to realise that I can actually put “The new book by Hugo finalist Cora Buhlert” in my book descriptions now, because it’s absolutely true. And then I thought, “But this one’s a murder mystery, so maybe not.”

              Liked by 4 people

        2. I have a few of those screenshots, one where I’m number one in English language fantasy collections at Amazon France, briefly ranking above GRRM, and another where I’m number one in lesbian romance at Amazon Germany. Those screenshots make for a fun ego-boost and that’s fine.

          However, you shouldn’t mistake them for anything meaningful. It took exactly a single sale to be number 1 in an obscure category at Amazon France. The number 1 in lesbian romance at Amazon Germany took 34 sales in a single day, I think.That’s not bad at all, but it doesn’t make me or anybody else a super duper bestselling author.

          Liked by 3 people

      2. Well, quite understandable that GRRM wouldn’t look at those things. Apart from the fact that he doesn’t need to, it’s often better for a writer’s mental health (and productivity) not to do it.

        That said, however, indie writers frequently follow numbers like that. I’d say most of them do it, probably most of the time. Because they are their own publishers and their own marketing and sales debts, they monitor sales and rankings–sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, depending on circumstances. They need to be aware of which books, covers, packages, sales copy, advertising, and promos (ex. putting a book on sale) are working, what’s not working, what works where, etc.

        It’s self-absorbed, unprofessional, and and distinctly the comportment of a jackass to introduce oneself to anyone at all the way the indie author described in this anecdote did.

        But many focused, professional, profitable indie authors (many of whom sold a few dozen books to traditional publishers before going indie) do often track things like that pretty closely. In the words of the Corleone family, it’s just business.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I track my sales closely as well, because it’s relevant for me to know what’s selling where. However, I’ve never mistaken briefly hitting a small subgenre bestseller list or topping GRRM for all of ten minutes for being a bestselling author. I also don’t walk around bragging about all the money I’m making.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. The Debarkle is still going! I’ve had to drop out of parts of the Internet for a bit due to life stuff so I am unlikely to catch up with the opus, but since Camestros’ blog was in a sideline way involved in this particular kerfluffle, it was interesting to read a summary.

    The Nebula controversy did de-escalate pretty quickly because it was realized that the 20B50K gang were self-pub authors who were focused around the peculiar industry of KU that Amazon created and sometimes wrote SFF and had little knowledge of the SFF category market. They might use but didn’t really understand category SFF media like Locus, SFF conventions, online SFF fan communities, the history of the awards and what the different ones meant, etc. It was simply another marketing opportunity opened up due to self-pubs getting more chances to join SFWA.

    The summary of it can be basically:

    20B50K: You mean you’re not supposed to game the Nebulas by rallying your buddies to work the numbers like we do in KU?

    Rest of SFWA: No, you aren’t supposed to game the Nebulas and we let you into SFWA expecting you to understand that.

    20B50K: Our bad.

    And then they went off to game the Dragons. They are pulp writers making money; the markers they use for status as discussed here aren’t the same as most of the category SFF market is familiar with and they don’t always see themselves as part of the SFF field. (Though they don’t want to be dismissed as not part of it either, nor should be.)

    The Puppies, besides sometimes being involved with 20B50K’s more right wing authors, were bound to ally with 20B50K’s side in any argument because that group was doing what they desperately wanted to do with the SFWA and the Nebulas but could not and so had gone after the Hugos. What we discovered about the Puppies over time was that despite their viewing the Hugo and other awards as primarily a marketing opportunity instead of an accolade from the SFF community or celebration, despite crowing inconsistently about sales popularity over critical acclaim, they very much wanted what they saw as status and respectability from the major SFF awards, in addition to whatever their marketing power. It also became a symbol of political power, of exerting control of the SFF market against those they declared unworthy, who they decided had made them feel bad.

    But the 20B50K authors as noted weren’t really after that kind of status. Putting a Nebula nom or win on their books is a way to enhance name recognition with the large sea of an audience of KU and other outlets within the large sea of offered titles. Putting an Amazon #1 ranking on their books serves the same purpose. And there is a publishing factor involved in that a lot of KU authors don’t necessarily want or can churn out all those books forever. There are a lot of problems with the KU market and other parts of the self-pub market if you’re doing content mill stuff. Some of the authors want to branch out into hybrid arrangements — or already are — and get reprint and other licensing deals from publishers in addition to or transitioning from their self-pub/KU approach. A Nebula nom was possibly an opportunity in that area as well.

    One of the funniest parts of the progression of the Dragon Awards was watching the Puppies deal with their scheme being overrun by very organized self-pub KU authors who saw a new opportunity in the new awards. That’s a dynamic that is still being played out though a lot of the self-pub authors moved on looking for better pastures. There is an uneasy alliance between some of the KU pool that is right-wing and some of the Puppies, but I don’t think most of it is going to come to anything. They are very differently oriented groups for the most part, though there is a bit of overlapping names and political views.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was *really* amused by the KU authors running the Puppies out of their own awards. Pups are so incompetent they couldn’t even keep hold of the award they created for themselves, that is/was administered by one of their own. (Except mil-SF I guess, but even then they’re up against Baen.)

      Although of course the *bestest* part was Scalzi and Jemisin in the Dragons.

      Even the RWNJ KU authors are in a slightly different business. They’re going for volume instead of or in addition to ideology, and since people are reading their stuff for free, the quality isn’t as important as in things you have to pay for. And I don’t think any of the Puppies can write fast enough to do the 20B50K thing.

      The Pups aren’t getting hired by mainstream publishers any more (maybe Analog?), Baen has limited distribution, Teddy even more limited, they can’t churn stuff out fast enough to keep up in KU, and there aren’t enough angry white men who read SF to keep them afloat.

      So, how’d that work out for you? Hope you all kept your day jobs.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Military SF is also one area, where the puppies are heavily up against the various KU authors.

        Also, when I pointed that the Dragons were being taken over by the KU content mills, several puppies ironically assumed I was talking about them. Nope, folks, none of you write anywhere near fast enough for that.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. But in the Puppy worldview, EVERYTHING is about them.

          It’s really telling that none of them have gone in for the endless Generic Extruded Mil-SF Product to Make Money Fast on KU. Larry’s got his Baen contract, so he doesn’t need to do that, but the others could use a steady source of writer income and momentary “#1 Amazon Bestseller” egoboo. Why isn’t Brad doing Mormon Soldiers in Spaaaaace, Book XVII? Why isn’t Sarah doing her “housewives who kick supernatural butt” monthly?

          I guess they simply can’t churn out words fast enough. In publishing, you either need to be very good or very fast, and Puppies/Scrappies aren’t either. If they’d managed not to burn all their bridges, they might have eked out mid-list careers, but even Baen isn’t touching them (except Larry, because he’s always sold well for them). Pretty sure Teddy’s not paying top dollar, and you can’t support a career off the occasional short in a Baen anthology, or rants on The Federalist.

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            1. That means Martelle gives Brad the outline of the books and then Brad has to churn out all the verbiage. Can Brad write that fast?

              Are the characters afraid of Greek philosophers, logical paradoxes (nah, Brad lives those), or only getting halfway to something but never quite reaching it?

              If Tyop Patorl is needed, and they’re actually spelling it with an X, then, well… DUH.

              Liked by 3 people

          1. So far, Nick Cole is the only one who has done this in his Galaxy’s Edge series with Jason Anspach, which started out as generic military SF and then pivoted into Star Wars, only from the POV of the Empire and without those pesky women or POC.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Best be filing those serial numbers off a LOT, lest they be smited by Disney lawyers, who are feared throughout the galaxy. Or at least across this planet.

              Like

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