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Thursday, April 9, 2015

On Award Debates, Publishing Choices and Writing Solitary


I don’t usually write posts like this, but there’s been this debate raging over the Hugos, the manipulation of how entries are voted in (not illegal, and not really out of the spirit or somesuch), the valuations placed on literary over entertainment works, on those written by the young, the gendered or transgendered, the white or the not-white, the female or the male or the whatever—and it’s gotten a lot of people, writers and non-writers, all bent out of shape. To be honest, I don’t know how to feel about it, but it is having an adverse effect on some writers, who find it diminishes the enjoyment they have in their craft, and that actually does bother me. So, it got me thinking—why do I only feel sad? Why am I not outraged? Why don’t I want to get an opinion out there and defend it to the max? Why am I afraid at the thought of being nominated as opposed to never being nominated?
And I realised that it’s because awards are nice, and amazing and all that, but that they’re not worth an entire community going at each other’s throats, not worth readers having their favourite tales being devaluated, not worth writers being made to feel bad about something they love. It’s being able to write that matters most, and being able to find stories I want to read in a field of stories that represent tastes and styles from all over.
While thinking on this, I found I had to acknowledge that I have doubts about what awards really mean when they cannot possibly represent a balanced selection of all the stories out there, that all awards, no matter how thorough and fair they try to be, have a very good chance of missing a story that someone, somewhere, will feel is better than those nominated or those that finally win.
And that made me realise that writing is subjective. That readers are like art connoisseurs—they like different things. What one reader considers pure art, the best possible way to while away a few hours of their lives, another will abhor and declare the biggest waste of ink, paper and an editor’s time in publishing history, as well as noting the minutes or hours they’re never going to get back. And that goes for stories that are fortunate enough to be nominated for awards, as well as those that aren’t.
All of which made me realise just how much the debate over the Hugos’ entries is like the debate currently raging over independent versus traditional versus hybrid publishing, and the way independent authors are discriminated against by authors who have decided to solely tread the traditional path, or the way those choosers of a traditional path are pitied or looked down on by independent authors, or the way some readers won’t touch an indie, but buy anything approved by a publisher… or vice versa.
And it’s sad, folks, because the only person qualified to judge whether or not a story is any good is the person who takes a chance and reads it—and maybe the person who has read it, and who knows there’s a chance someone they know will like it. Those are the people whose approval we should be competing for. They don’t have to abide by the strictures of a publishing schedule and perceived market, and they don’t have to worry about restricting entry to their reader by genre or publishing type, or whatever. They just worry about what they like.
Those are the folks we write for—and not all of them are going to like what we write, or even all of what we write. Let’s not upset them with politicised opinions; that’s not what they want from us. What they want from us as writers—ALL they want—is another story that they’re going to enjoy.
And that’s all I want to do—write a story and get it somewhere where a reader might find and enjoy it. Since I don’t like some of the aspects of traditional publishing, I go indie—and am judged for it, not by the readers, but by a writing community I will never fully be part of; and since there are aspects of awards that make me wonder, I have noticed I enter those less often than before, as well—and that is not a reflection on the quality or value of the award.
Is that sad? Not really. You see, I still have readers who like what I write, I still get to hang out with writers who don’t really care that I choose to publish independently—that’s a community I *am* a part of—and I still get to write what I want to write, and that’s really all that matters.
No matter how popular a writer is, when they sit down to write they’re on their own, adventuring with characters they discover they don’t know half as well as they thought they did, in worlds that can still surprise them. Whatever flavour a story turns out to be, it isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but someone out there will love it, whether it is nominated for an award or not.

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