Tag Archives: SFF covers

The Problems We’re Still Fighting in the Industry

Australian writer Foz Meadows is rapidly becoming a favorite columnist of mine. She’s sharp, erudite and a good researcher. Over at Black Gate Magazine’s site, Meadows gives a meditative take on the resistance to diversity in the SFF field that involves all of us, conscious and unconscious, and how the industry responds and contributes to these issues in the article “Challenging the Classics: Questioning the Arbitrary Browsing Mechanism.” And she even references me! Specifically the piece I did in July on publishers needing to prove they really do want women authors to get women authors and why, “Reality and the Welcome Sign: Gender and SFFH,” in response to an announcement from Tor UK’s editor, Julie Crisp, on diversity and SF.

But that’s not really what impressed me about the article, nice as it is. Browsing is one of the three main interactive factors of the fiction market, along with symbiosis and variety. How readers browse is therefore deeply critical to what fiction publishers do, and I hope that a lot of them and booksellers especially will consider Meadows’ piece. If we improve diversity in browsing, and in marketing and publishing fiction, we improve and increase the market, the effectiveness of browsing. I also think it’s great that Black Gate editor John O’Neil has not only taken a long critical look at his own thinking, but continues to promote the discussion of these issues, including publishing Meadows’ piece. (Plus, have you checked out the fiction at Black Gate? — it’s really good.)

The depressing side of the article is that Meadows documents the many obstacles put in the path of that improvement, and often in our own brains. These artificial obstacles hurt SFFH, they hurt YA, and they greatly limit the appeal of fiction books, by a combination of discouraging readers away from books that they are trying to sell, and making it impossible for many readers to find the interesting and diverse books that have managed to get out there.

Books survive on a combination of the appeal of our romantic notions of them as objects and entertainment/insight providers, and getting as many people as possible to ever read any of them, any kind of book, in any format. Self-reinforcing and false feedback loops that discourage reading and limit it, sink the book market.  Essentially, when booksellers insist that stories with non-white protagonists get whitewashed covers, for example, and publishers go along with that idea, they are committing sales suicide, not only for the book in question, but more importantly for the books to come. When the industry and fans promote the idea of women written books being only for women and always of poorer quality, for instance, they are sinking the market, losing huge chunks of growth. Throwing up your hands and wondering where the readers have gone when you’ve been telling them to leave and that there’s nothing for them here is creating a death spiral. While fiction stories will always survive, we could be surviving so much better, if not for absurd scripts in our heads that are put out in the market. (And it is in our heads — booksellers have no stats that the damaging marketing techniques are needed, only fears.)

It is in this area that self-publishing may be beginning to play an interesting and vital role. E-books sales are leveling off as they took up what they are going to of the mass market paperback market, and as tablet enthusiasts and electronics companies lose interest in books in favor of apps and video. And a lot of the folk who dove into the self-publishing pool have gone back out again after not selling many copies. But those who continue to experiment in that market include many authors who have found the going harder to get folk interested in trying their stuff — stories about women, non-whites, non-Western cultures, gay characters that come out in the other sectors of fiction publishing too, but which may be marketed badly. What we know is, when stories and authors who have been marginalized — and declared by many not to exist — see a real opening in the marketplace that they can get to, they’re right there. And the response is often new sales, new readers, and market growth for the whole industry.

So check out Meadows’ piece and some of the excellent articles she links to (no, not mine, the other ones,) especially this one on racism and YA book covers, “It Matters If You’re Black or White: The Racism of YA Book Covers” by YA librarian Annie Schutte.





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You Be Ladies Now, Ya Hear! — The SFWA Bulletin Dust-up

Just when I was planning to move on from “lady” stuff, apparently a bomb of controversy exploded at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) concerning the organization’s newsletter, the Bulletin. It had been a slow brew of exasperation that bubbled over just before SFWA President John Scalzi was safely able to exit and pass his post over to in-coming President Steven Gould. A fairly good summary of events with commentary that I think is fairly apt is offered by Trisha Lynn.

Back in the day, the Bulletin, the main newsletter of the organization, was basically a bulletin. It was published in plain print on 16-20 double-sided pages on thick, stiff paper usually colored vanilla or an office memo pastel shade. It had a few small ads of only print and graphics, and it was filled mostly with announcements — publication opportunities, the movement of editors, agents and imprints, member author book deals and publications, convention and conference schedules, SFWA news, services and legal campaigns. There might be a few brief articles on sales and other trends in SFFH, or a brief author interview. It looked like a dull brochure and you could subscribe to it if you weren’t a member of SFWA. It was something of little interest to most people, but had useful information if you were in the field or trying to break in.

Over time, SFWA tightened up its membership regs and the Bulletin itself morphed into a semi-glossy magazine with cover art and more articles. Somebody running it got the idea to have prominent SFF author Mike Resnick and writer/editor/former agent Barry Malzberg do a regular column in which they have a conversation about various topics. And with the Bulletin approaching 200 issues, Jean Rabe, the current editor, asked the two to talk about women writers and editors in the past for issues #199 and #200. Which they did, by talking about lady writers and lady editors, bathing suits, and how one editor’s main contribution was that she was a dish, and, well, you get the idea. Two older guys talking about the old days of the 1960’s and 1970’s when the “ladies” were around and working hard, but didn’t mind the comments and a slap on the rear — because it could tank their career if they didn’t put up with it. (This is not just an age thing, as plenty of younger people unfortunately also have these views.) What caused more than minor grumbling about this was that issue #200 with Part 2 of the guys’ dialogue was accompanied by a cover image that seems to be a Red Sonja reprint or tribute picture — Sonja in her traditional metal string bikini and cape in the snow standing over a dead giant. There are a lot of 1980’s or earlier art images they could have picked from SFF history, but in an issue that was supposed to be supporting women’s contributions in the field, that one was more than a bit out of place.

So there were a lot of complaints by men and women in the membership. And then the next issue, #201, came out and might have been unremarkable except that comics and horror writer C.J. Henderson, in an otherwise innocuous article about lasting in your career, decided to school the “lady” authors about how to behave if they wanted to keep their careers — like Barbie. An imaginary Barbie who was ladylike, neatly dressed, nice to people, had her career without demanding that Ken was blocking her from it, etc. Of course, the only reason that Barbie ended up having “careers” is because women got demanding and un-ladylike towards real-life Kens about not blocking them from the workplace and advancement with artificial sexist barriers. Mattel saw the change in society and what little girls wanted to emulate, and went with it. They also took rivals (Bratz) to court in a not very nice manner.

Issue #202 saw the Bulletin’s attempt to respond to the complaints about the cover of  issue #200 with an article by Jim C. Hines about women in cover art, related to his previous, hilarious cover art flips and writing that won him a Hugo. But they also figured they’d let Resnick and Malzberg respond to their critics about the previous ladies in publishing articles. And their response was, well, chiefly to declare that long ago women used to keep quiet if they had a problem with anything — because they never heard a complaint — and women should keep being quiet or they were liberal fascists trying to censor the two gentlemen by disagreeing with them and not liking what they said. You can imagine how this went over with men and women author members. They were angry and took the anger to the Net, because Resnick and Malzberg are right — it’s no longer the past when the ladies “don’t say anything about it.”

Scalzi apologized for dropping the ball on really understanding what had happened with the Bulletin and appointed a committee to review procedures on SFWA publications and help Gould out for future policies. So yet another incident yields a bright spot for improved dialogue about discriminatory problems and diversity in the field. But we are left with the knowledge that these incidents will likely continue because both men and women (Rabe is a woman,) unthinkingly say women are and should behave like docile dolls, and then get confused and upset when others angrily point out that they aren’t.

Overall, SFWA has been a smart organization run by sturdy volunteers and has changed and adapted to the needs of its membership in shifting market conditions, and it will probably do so again. And voices like Resnick, Malzberg and Henderson are not ignored, nor evil, nor do they have nothing to contribute as members and authors to the field. But because their viewpoints on women are so exclusionary, they can’t be the main voices speaking for the Bulletin or SFWA, nor can images of Red Sonja, groundbreaking though she was in her time. And neither can Barbie. Instead, SFWA and the field itself will have to put up with loud-mouthed, unladylike female authors and their allies, because in a conversation about women, women are going to keep talking.

Some links of possible and related interest:










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2010 SFFH Novels to Check Out — Welcome to Fall!

Shiloh Walker, in a post for Tor.com, gave one of the best explanations of the compulsion of fiction writers I’ve encountered: “Because it’s shiny.” Here’s the link: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/07/because-its-shiny

Her newest paranormal romance title, Veil of Shadows, takes place in an alternate realm facing a war against demons and tells the story of a couple who may have found love amid war, or betrayal.

Anthony Huso‘s The Last Page is getting some good buzz. It’s a dark alternate world fantasy with a steampunk vision and a young king and sewer monsters. I always like sewer monsters.

John Dickenson, a British author, offers a chilling vision of the possible future in the SF thriller We, when a man must leave the interconnected Earth for a life mission to a distant and isolated  ice moon, and from there, he will begin to see what humanity has become.

Seanan McGuire just won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the 2010 Aussie WorldCon. An Artificial Night, the third novel in her contemporary fantasy series October Daye, is now out. Half-fae, half-human detective Toby Daye has to tackle the Wild Hunt to rescue kidnapped children, while dealing with omens of her own demise.

Catherine Jinks brings horror to space in the YA novel Living Hell, about a youth on a colonizing spaceship which begins an organic transformation that causes it to seek to expel the human passengers.


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New SFFH Novels to Check Out

1) Jonathan Barnes – The Domino Men — This new novel is a spin-off to Barnes’ best-selling Victorian historical fantasy, The Somnambulist. In it, Queen Victoria’s deal with a demon comes due and to thwart the destruction of London, the shadowy Directorate are going to have to deal with those schoolboy superpowered killers, the Domino Men. The Somnambulist was a nicely imagined thriller that got a little loose in the end but overall offered memorable characters and writing. My favorites probably were the Domino Men, so a novel dealing with them sounds pretty interesting.

2) Greg Egan – Zendegi – Australian SF writer Egan writes dense, complex stories with unnerving premises, which I don’t mind at all. I do sometimes though have problems getting into his characters, who seem a bit overwrought for my tastes. This new one, however, which deals with a journalist and a scientist involved with Iran and a virtual reality venture, sounds really fascinating. If anyone can do an accurate, plausible virtual reality story, it’s Egan.

3) Vicki Pettersson – Cheat the Grave (Sign of the Zodiac series)  — Anytime a contemporary fantasy thriller writer bubbles to the top these days, it’s worth noting. Pettersson has got herself on the New York Times bestseller list with this 5th book in her zodiac themed series, featuring Joanna Archer, a woman who has died, went to work for the army of the Light, and now is mortal again, and currently learning the truth of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if they were once an enemy. The first book in the series is The Scent of Shadows.

4) Sara Creasy – Song of Scarabaeus –Creasy has been making waves with comparisons made of her to everyone from Elizabeth Moon to Julie Czernada. In this new SF thriller, a terraformer is kidnapped by mercenaries and linked with another prisoner, The Transporter 3 style. Creasy gives that idea a new twist in how her main character attempts to escape on a dead planet.

5) Stacia Kane – Unholy Ghosts – I always enjoy post-apocalypse fantasy, and in this one, Kane creates a noir blend of ghosts, black magic and drugs in a near future gone horribly wrong, where the dead are a serious problem for the living.

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2010 SFFH Novels to Check Out

1) Sarah Ash – Flight Into Darkness – In an alternate universe of multiple realms, including the land of the dead, a crisis requires the efforts of a spirit, a singer and an impulsive young man to prevent disaster.

2) Mark Teppo – Heartland, Book 2 in Codex of Souls series – A once banished magician has to root out the corruption of his old order in the magic underworld of contemporary Paris.

3) David J. Williams – The Machinery of Light, Autumn Rain trilogy – Near future space opera about World War III and the race off planet.

4) Carrie Ryan – The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Dead-Tossed Waves – A YA alternate world fantasy series about a young girl who lives in a protected town surrounded by zombies.

5) F. Paul Wilson – Sims – Genetically altered chimpanzees are replacing humans as menial laborers, and the company that made them has secrets it will go to any lengths to protect.

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Check out Benjamin’s Blog

I still cannot comment on Benjamin Tate’s blog, so I’ll just say here that Ben has accepted my apologies for any confusion sown, raised some good points about how superchains are missing out on the advantages of hand-selling over order centralization, and has lots of information about his up-coming stuff. So go check that out:


Also, because I forgot to mention it before, the cover on his novel, Well of Sorrows, is, well, pretty awesome (though I’m afraid I don’t know who the artist is):

And if you promise not to tell the bookstore computers, you can also check out an SFFWorld interview with Ben from last year under his alter ego Joshua Palmatier:


Because I think it would be as amusing as a fuzzy elf if he ends up being “Joshua Palmatier writing as Benjamin Tate” on some of his book covers. Plus, it’s a good series too and complete.


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2010 SFFH Novels to Check Out

1) Margaret Ronald – Spiral Hunt – Contemporary fantasy — A supernatural tracker must go into the mythic world beneath Boston’s streets.

2) Ian McDonald – Ares Express – SF – A woman journeys across a terra-formed Mars in this sequel to the author’s Desolation Road.

3) Ian Tregillis – Bitter Seeds – Alternate history fantasy – In World War II, magic users fight each other and Britain’s welfare may be up-ended by a mentally disturbed precognitive.

4) Heather Tomlinson – Toads and Diamonds – YA historical fantasy – A fairy tale set in India about two stepsisters and the dangers of curses.

5) James Knapp – State of Decay – SF thriller – In a rigidly controlled future, the dead can be voluntarily reanimated into servants and soldiers of the State, but a cop discovers the system has been corrupted.

6) N.K. Jemisin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy) – Alternate world fantasy — A noblewoman in a kingdom devastated by the rulers who have brought peace and prosperity everywhere else must balance justice, revenge and destruction.

7) Adam Roberts – New Model Army – In the near future, Scotland fends off the invasion of a totalitarian England with a new kind of democratic hired army.

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2010 SFFH Novels to Check Out

1) Kim Harrison – Black Magic Sanction (Rachel Morgan series)  – Contemporary fantasy — Bounty hunter and witch Rachel Morgan has to hunt down a witch for her enemies to save her own skin.

2) Alexey Pehov – Shadow Prowler, translated by Andrew Bromfield – A Russian alt world fantasy about a thief who becomes entangled in saving his kingdom from dark forces.

3) Joe Hill – Horns – Bestselling horror author tells the tale of a man, suspected of killing his dearest love, who finds himself turning into a devil and plans to use his powers to find the real killer.

4) Ian Douglas – Earth Strike: Star Carrier – military SF – Alien forces attempt to keep humans from becoming a major power.

5) Susan Beth Pfeffer – This World We Live In – YA SF — The main characters of the previous books in the series — Life as We Knew It, and The Dead and the Gone — come together in the after years of a global disaster caused by the moon’s changed orbit.

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2010 SFFH Novels to Check Out

More titles this year to check out:

1) Robert V.S. Redick – The Ruling Sea – The next in the nautical alternate world series that started with The Red Wolf Conspiracy.

2) Allison Brennan – Original Sin – Best-selling contemporary fantasy/horror that goes the biblical route in a story of a woman searching for her sorceress mother, and the release of the seven deadly sins.

3) Patrick Lee – The Breach – Best-selling SF thriller – A former cop with a troubled past stumbles into government disaster involving terrorists and alien technology.

4) Ari Marmell – The Conqueror’s Shadow – A dark alternate world fantasy about a bloody warrior who cut a swath of terror in the name of justice who has to leave his peaceful hiding place and face his past to save his family.

5) Mario Acevedo – Werewolf Smackdown – Felix Gomez series – Best-selling satirical contemporary fantasy — Vampire hunter Felix has to deal with a cabal of werewolves.

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Borders Edging Away From the Brink

When you’re down to two mega bookstore chains in the U.S., the prospect of one of them going into bankruptcy — even if it is rather a flawed company sometimes — is not a happy thought. But today, Borders Books — which had flirted with selling itself as a rescue effort and then taken itself off the market block — announced that they’d paid off their really big investment loan, got a humongous line of credit from Bank of America, and are starting to see some recovery if not yet actual profits.


So congratulations, Borders, on managing to escape the executioner’s axe. Now, please move Alaya Dawn Johnson’s debut fantasy novel, Racing the Dark, out of the African American section of your bookstores and put it in the SFF section, like the other booksellers, or at least put it in the YA section. And anyone who would like to support Ms. Johnson, please feel free to contact Borders to put in your request for this inventory change as well.

This is not at all to disparage the African American section of bookstores — a most excellent section that everyone should check out — or the authors who may be in that section. In fact, if Borders wanted to keep some copies of Ms. Johnson’s novel in the African American section while moving other copies of Racing the Dark to the SFF section, I think that’s an excellent idea. But I’m tired of SFF being a racial pit. I’m tired of the bizarre notion that black people only read black authors and white people only read white authors that seems to be creeping about beneath American corporate bookselling. So if you’re going to stick around, Borders — and yay, good luck to you — please get your act together.

You can learn more about Johnson’s novel below. The next book in the Spirit Binders series, The Burning City, will be out in June. Ms. Johnson also has a historical vampire fantasy novel set in the roaring ’20’s, Moonshine, coming out in May.


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