The Sad Puppies win! And the Right-Wing Balance to the Hugo Awards

If you have no idea what the Hugo Awards, are, they’re, like, the biggest deal in science fiction and fantasy writing. For anyone who writes in these two genres, winning one is like winning the Grammys or an Oscar.

Unfortunately, literary fiction has not been immune to personal politics. And we aren’t talking about the “did you hear what she said about so and so?” kind. We mean liberal vs. conservative.

Disclosure: I’m no long-time follower of the Hugos, so I’m commenting by what I see as I learn more.

Essentially the issue boils down to what conservatives, libertarians, and other “non-conformist” ideologies feel is a politicizing of science fiction literature by the left-wing of the group, led by former Sci-Fi Writer’s Guild President Jon Scalzi and Patrick and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden of Tor Books. The right-wing/no-wing side believe left-of-center types have used the Hugos and other sci-fi/fantasy awards to promote works by other lefties or “diversity”, aka giving awards to women/people of color/different sexual orientations BECAUSE they are non- straight white guys, as oppose to being great writers worthy of nomination. So about two years ago, some openly conservative/libertarian authors started the “sad puppies” group, named to be sarcastic about bleeding-heart liberals who always profess to do something to help “the  children” or “sad puppies.” AKA, the name is supposed to mean “vote for our nominations or you’re killing sad puppies”, something to that effect.

The counter-argument from the left was that for most of the history of book publishing, straight white guys have dominated and their reaction now is due to feeling threatened by women/POC/DSO taking awards from them so they’re lashing out. They NEED the diversity in the awards, they argue, since this is the only way individuals in under-represented groups (count the number of big-time Hispanic male authors, and get back to me) can have a shot at winning.

Well, it appears the Sad Puppies won. The 2015 Hugo Awards nominees are (apparently) mostly individuals who were being pushed by Vox Day and some other right-of-center sci-fi authors for the nominations. This has caused a huge firestorm of protest from those considered to be “social justice warriors”, i.e. who were (allegedly) punishing non-conformists by denying them the opportunities to get books/short stories published or nominated for awards, and those who think, after finally being included in the normally “straight white guy” world of sci-fi/fantasy literature, are being pushed back by those who (allegedly) want the 1950s back.

I’ve heard of the Hugo Awards before, and I knew they were prestigious. I had no idea the political ideology fights were so intense. It kind of stinks, in my opinion, because this means any and all nominations will be subject to what side of the aisle you’re on- and if people happen to read any of my Watchdog.org op-eds, like here and here and here, I’ll lose any possible chance i have of being “politically-neutral” and this eligible to offend no one if some magical unicorn came to me and .convinced its flying sea-monkey friends to nominate me for a Hugo. That’s about the only chance I will ever have to win one, and if I’m ever nominated, let alone win one, I’ll have to come up with something gross or crazy like jump out of a moving car or publish a sex tape or something.

Feel free to share your thoughts about the Hugo award nominating process or this year’s choices. Who do you think will win?

photos are not mine and are republished as ‘fair-use’ under U.S. Copyright laws.

Why Understanding Web Traffic is Important to your Website Profile

I want to start off 2015 with a miniseries of articles on data analytics. The reason is because as the Caesar Rodney Institute’s Communications Director I have spent a lot of time going through data analytics for our websites and social media pages (social media analytics will come in a future blogpost). Seeing the data is one thing; knowing how it can benefit your company or personal website is another. All you aspiring authors and personal profile builders out there, you might want to take a few notes. Knowing ways to build your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can mean the difference between being discovered and going “viral” and being stuck in the bog of roughly 644 million websites worldwide.

For this post I’ll focus on Google Analytics (GA) and the book “Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, 3rd edition” by Brian Clifton (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012). Brian is the former head of web analytics for Google Europe, Middle East, and Africa, and I combine his lessons with my own experiences. Most of the newer editors are just slightly updated versions of previous editions, but if you have the chance to pick up a copy I’d recommend it. (author note: I do not benefit in any way from endorsing this book)

The first step in learning to use data analytics is to know why it’s so important for your website profile. Unfortunately many people just see a bunch of numbers and some pie charts and then don’t compare data from past months or try to dig into the data to spot useful trends. GA has over 100 different reports available for downloading and this is a daunting number for the new user.

Not all data points in GA are as useful as others; for example I discovered that, for CRI, measuring the average page visit was not very valuable. Part of this reason is because there is no perfect way to measure exactly how long someone really stays on your page- ever opened a new website in your browser, then gone off to do something else? At some point the website has to cut off your site visit time. Some sites cut it off after 30 minutes of inactivity, some 10.

Some useful data points which can be tracked:

  • Your daily visitor total
  • average conversion rate (if you sell things on your site)
  • top-visited pages
  • where people are searching from (location)
  • where people are searching from (web browser)
  • Your “page stickiness” (how many pages are viewed before a visitor leaves)
  • keywords being used in search engines to find you.

All of this data, and more, help you identify your Key Performance Indicators (KPI). For example, a review of CRI data shows about 1/3 of people who find us via search engine are doing so by looking for us by keywords like “prevailing wage Delaware” or “Delaware government accountability” rather than by our name, which is an indication that there is interest in our policy issues but a lot of those people didn’t know we existed prior to entering those keywords.

Having this information available allows you or your team to figure out what is working and what isn’t working with your pages and make adjustments. So for us, for example, we discovered that we had an increase in total visits in November but a lot of those views were from November 1-20. By being able to break down the month into thirds to view our total page views, we could see that November 21-30 accounted for only 26% of our visits, which we attributed to the Thanksgiving holiday. Knowing the specific cause of the late November drop into early December prevented us from being overly concerned about the drop and then making an irrational decision regarding our online presence.

In the next post I’ll talk about some of the inaccuracies in GA and some ways you can prevent these inaccuracies from adversely affecting your data points. Please feel free to comment below on ways you use data analytics for yourself or your company.

The Traditional Publisher’s Revenge: Turns out Publishing with Amazon has Drawbacks, too

cartoon credit: Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe. Distributed by the Tribune Content Agency.

On December 27 the New York Times ran an article called “Amazon offers all you can eat books: Authors turn up noses”. The problem starts with a new Amazon program called Kindle Unlimited, which allows readers a.k.a customers to buy into a monthly membership for $9.99 to get unlimited access to a wide range of titles. Needless to say, this is great for avid readers and for Amazon, who gets people to use their services, but a bad deal for authors who depend on selling books even if only for $0.99 a copy.

From the article: (bold emphasis mine)

“Authors are upset with Amazon. Again.

For much of the last year, mainstream novelists were furious that Amazon was discouraging the sale of some titles in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette over e-books.

Now self-published writers, who owe much of their audience to the retailer’s publishing platform, are unhappy.

One problem is too much competition. But a new complaint is about Kindle Unlimited, a new Amazon subscription service that offers access to 700,000 books — both self-published and traditionally published — for $9.99 a month.

It may bring in readers, but the writers say they earn less. And in interviews and online forums, they have voiced their complaints.

For romance and mystery novelists who embraced digital technology, loved chatting up their fans and wrote really, really fast, the last few years have been a golden age. Fiction underwent a boom unseen since the postwar era, when seemingly every liberal arts major set his sights on the Great American Novel.

Now, though, the world has more stories than it needs or wants to pay for. In 2010, Amazon had 600,000 e-books in its Kindle store. Today it has more than three million. The number of books on Smashwords, which distributes self-published writers, grew 20 percent last year. The number of free books rose by one-third.

Revenue from e-books leveled off in 2013 at $3 billion after increasing nearly 50 percent in 2012, according to BookStats. But Kindle Unlimited is making the glut worse, some writers say.

The program has the same all-you-can-eat business model as Spotify in music, Netflix in video and the book start-ups Oyster and Scribd. Consumers feast on these services, which can offer new artists a wider audience than they ever could have found before the digital era.

Holly Ward, who writes romances under the name H.M. Ward, has much the same complaint about Kindle Unlimited. After two months in the program, she said, her income dropped 75 percent. “I couldn’t wait and watch things plummet further,” she said on a Kindle discussion board. She immediately left the program. Kindle Unlimited is not mandatory, but writers fear that if they do not participate, their books will not be promoted.

One major point of contention: Kindle Unlimited generally requires self-published writers to be exclusive, closing off the possibility of sales through Apple, Barnes & Noble and other platforms. (Ms. Ward was an exception.)

Amazon usually gives self-published writers 70 percent of what a book earns, which means a novel selling for $4.99 yields $3.50. This is much more than traditional publishers pay, a fact that Amazon frequently points out.

Lack of ethnic diversity in writing and in movies?

I came across this graph at the blog fuckyeahscifiwomenofcolour.tumblr.com/. The original website it comes from is from Lee and Low’s blogsite Read it and think about it:

medievalpoc: leeandlow submitted to medievalpoc: The Diversity Gap in the highest grossing science fiction and fantasy films. Sad, right? You can see the full study here. I highly recommend reading the entire article. from the infographic: Among the top 100 domestic grossing films:• only 8% of films star a protagonist of color• of the 8 protagonists of color, all are men; 6 are played by Will Smith and 1 is a cartoon character (Aladdin)• 0% of protagonists are women of color• 0% of protagonists are LGBTQ• 1% of protagonists are people with a disability

and this from the Lee and Low website:

If you are a minority/person of color and you have aspired to becoming a writer (yours truly speaks in the first person on this one) you may look at this and become convinced that the odds of becoming a bestselling author are slim, or if you are writing a book with a lot of minority characters (includes LGBTQ) in it your novel will not sell. While I am not sure what Lee and Low think the primary cause of the dearth of non-heretosexual Caucasian authors and characters are, I can offer my best guesses for a few of these items (warning: my opinions on most matters are well-informed and based on my expertise and/or knowledge of a subject. If facts bother you, this is not the blogsite for you!):

First off I am surprised only 14% of movies have a female protagonist. They may be referring to movies like Lucy or The Hunger Games where the primary protagonist is female. The lack of villains of color (assuming Darth Vader doesn’t count) is likely due to the fact that Caucasians dominate Hollywood and there is fear that if they make the “bad guy/girl” a minority they will be charged with racism, so it’s safer just to make the villain Caucasian.

As for the books, the first truth is well-read and well-educated people tend to become authors. Well, the sad reality is that many Black and Hispanic children are behind White and Asian peers when it comes to reading and writing. In some states, like Delaware where I live, the difference can be as much as two full grade levels difference (i.e. White child in 6th grade reads like a 6th grader should, Black or Hispanic child are at 4th grade level). Children who don’t grow up around books and who can read them are less likely to want to write them someday.

The other truth is income-based; Many low-income children grow up in a single-parent household, and often that single parent does not read to the children on a regular basis the way parents with higher incomes or education read to their kids. Since reading has long been seen as something predominately solid middle, upper-middle, and upper-classes do, and most Americans in those categories are White, then it’s logical most authors will come from households where reading was encouraged over home where it is not.

It’s also therefore logical that the vast majority of those whose jobs depends on writing of some kind, including agents, publishers, editors, book reviewers, screenwriters, movie producers, directors, etc., come from the same backgrounds. Don’t believe me? Go look for an agent or publisher and tell me what seems to stand out. If indeed the facts mentioned above are in any way related to the types of books published and movies made, then you cannot expect movies and books which are “different” to become blockbusters without a major change in the movie making and literature world.

The most logical reason then for the lack of POC in books/movies has more to do with who writes and who publishes vs. inherent racism and discrimination against authors of color, but it would be wrong to say there is no prejudice whatsoever anywhere in Hollywood and in literature.  Accept that if you are of Hispanic descent (yours truly) or some other non-White background you will feel as though the already-challenging odds of getting published are even harder, especially if you happen to write about a theme which is “different” than what usually fills the bestseller lists or makes blockbuster franchises. It may seem unfair but it is the cold, hard truth.

There is, however, hope for you.

The best advice I can give is never to quit writing or producing movie content. If you do then you simply create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Write the book or movie script YOU want, not what someone tells you is “acceptable” for publication or production. What should matter is the quality of the story and not whether some major publisher or distributor deems it among the “chosen ones” based on pre-determined criteria and/or whether YOU THE AUTHOR are among the “approved ones” based on your age or what you look like.

One suggestion is to examine your own personal life or the life of someone close to you and look for something unusual or which stands out from the experiences you would expect the average American has.

For example, if you were ever involved in gang activity, but now you are out of it, that’s a good story right there. You can write a story about gangs better than someone who was never in a gang or who didn’t know gang-members personally. If you were in the military in any country, write a fictional story based on your experience, whether or not it is a military novel. In my case I infused elements of my Boy Scout camping days in the novel I am currently editing. If you were born poor or homeless or on a tribal reservation, create a story based on how you lived and how you felt. There’s an old saying “people write what they known” and it’s true. Use your unique life experiences to your advantage in your writing! 

COMING UP NEXT: novels for male audiences. Do guys even read books anymore? Or is the future of fiction going to belong to the “chick-lit” genre which basically means romance novels (paranormal or normal doesn’t matter) or dystopian thrillers with female heroines? Stay tuned.

COMING UP SOON: will also post some vlogs on some topics I care about and repost them here. For this upcoming episode I have a couple things to say about “The Fault in Our Stars” and its author John Green. Some flattering, some less so. Stay tuned.