Monday, February 24, 2014

POOR COUSIN

I’ve just returned from a two-day meeting that brought together about 250 participants from the Canadian world of words. The idea behind the gathering was to take stock of where the Canadian publishing industry stands in order to see where it’s going. The participants were to consider new and innovative ways of supporting writing and writers, in all their forms.

I was excited at the prospect of being in a room full of people who love words as much as I do. I looked forward to learning from the experience of others and sharing my own as a hybrid (indie/traditional) writer.

We were assigned a table and stayed with the same eight to ten people for the two days, and while I got to learn about the people at my table, I didn’t meet any other writers. Looking at the participants list, there didn’t seem to be many writers. And while there were many (many, many, many) small literary publishers present, there was only one big publishing house represented. Where was Harlequin? Simon and Schuster? Penguin? And what of the smaller genre publishers like ChiZine?

Where were the organizations like SF Canada and Crime Writers of Canada?

Literary short fiction publishers abounded but there were no publishers of short genre fiction, like On Spec Magazine. And we have wonderful, well-published science fiction and mystery writers in this country—Robert Sawyer, Giles Blunt, Louise Penny, Guy Gavriel Kay—were they invited but didn’t come? Were they not invited?

I would have been interested in hearing what some of those folks had to say. I did hear the opinions of a number of writers and small publishers in the plenary sessions and at the microphones at the end of each session.

As it turns out, nobody was all that interested in my experience as an indie writer. In Canada, it seems, indie publishing may be the wave of the future but right now it’s still rather gauche.

I may be generalizing unfairly, but it seemed to me that there was a whiff of elitism in the room. I lost track of the number of times people spoke about the value of literary fiction and poetry (both of which I like just fine, thank you) in enriching the Canadian discourse. I actually considered going up to the microphone myself and making a point about the value of genre fiction in enriching pocketbooks as well, but I ran out of nerve. Besides, nobody actually said anything negative about genre fiction or indie publishing. It was more subtle than that. It was interrupting me when I brought up a point about indie publishing or corrected a misconception, and deflecting the discussion back to literary fiction and poetry. They were willing to be polite but really didn’t think what I wrote and published was important.

After a while, I felt like the poor cousin invited to the mansion for Christmas dinner: nice, until you realize you’re a charity case.

Am I being overly sensitive? Is this a chip-on-the-shoulder type of thing? If so, maybe I should just build a bridge and get over it. I am, however, interested in learning if other people experience this type of bias. Is it different in the U.S.?

My latest crass, commercial venture is a short story, “The Verdant Gene,” in the Fiction River anthology, Moonscapes.
 
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14 comments:

J Wachowski said...

Hey Marcelle, I don't think your experience is unusual at all. Same-same, here in the US of A.

Change is slow. And people at the leading edge don't get any awards until the risk is long past. I remember learning a shocking statistic in graduate school--that it takes 30 years in mainstream use for a new technology to be incorporated into a school setting.

One example was the overhead projector--which was widely used in bowling alleys in the 1940's...and finally found it's way into classrooms in the 1970's.

Publishing is another grand old beast. Indie publishing is just the start of the revolution, I'm sure. There will be counter-revolutions!

If I could look ahead, I'd jump to 2040 for answers. :)

Toni Anderson said...

I think it is worse in Canada.
I don't know what it is but I certainly feel the elitist aspect in all sorts of subtle ways that I wouldn't comment about about online.

So I've ignored it. And it has ignored me, and I'm fine with that :)

I feel your pain, Marcelle. I've sat in your seat. It sucks but it is their loss. They gagged you without even realizing it.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Wow, this was fascinating, Marcelle. I felt like I was behind the bandwagon, trudging along but missing the whole self-publishing wave. Sounds like that wave hasn't hit everywhere yet.

What J says above is a great point. Change is slow, especially when there are big groups fighting it. ;)

jean harrington said...

A fascinating post, Marcelle

You are not alone, believe me. I write tongue-in-cheek mysteries (at least that's what I'm doing at the mo). When a friend or acquaintance is about to read/buy one of my books, I make a point of saying it was written for fun. For relaxation. Why do I do that? Because I'm well aware that what I've written is "commercial" fiction, not literary prose, and I guess I want my readers/friends to know that I know that.

And I don't think writers are alone in feeling this elitism. For example, surely musicians do, too. American jazz and soul with their non-elite origins spring to mind. But I digress.

We're doing good work, Marcelle, let's hang in there.


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Claire Eamer said...

This is very typical of the response children's writers (of which I am one, part of the time anyway) get too. It can't be serious writing because it's for children, not for real grown-ups. It's an unfortunate attitude because they're trying to chart the future without, apparently, using the knowledge and experience of some of Canada's best and most successful writers or of some of the most interesting and successful publishers. And I don't mean just the big houses - ChiZine and Edge and many of the kidlit/YA publishers have a lot to offer. Not to mention the groundbreakers in indie publishing. Doesn't sound like a particularly useful exercise. Although Montreal is nice....

Marcelle Dubé said...

Julie, I suspect that what you say is true, if discouraging. :-(

Toni, that's the right word: "gagged." That was exactly how I felt. All that said, it was still kind of exciting to be in a room full of the buzz of words. Everyone there honestly loved words, and that's something to respect.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Thanks, Anne Marie and Jean.

Robert Runté said...

I think the phrase your looking for is "controlled participation". When I worked for government, we had all sorts of stakeholder meetings with gov presentation followed by small group discussion reporting back to the large group which my boss would then interpret to favour the policies he had already decided upon a minimum of 18 months before...the consultation was always after the fact, the questions phrased to lead the discussion where he wanted it to go. It was mostly waste of everyone's time other than to be able to tell people who complained that we had "consulted broadly" and this is what people said they wanted. *sigh*

But I have to tell you things have improved. When 20 years ago I told my (since deceased) Dean I wrote SF he told me considered SF on a level with porn and would not count commercial crap like that as literature at all; whereas more recent Deans have been quite supportive. So some of that old time elitism is dying out--new generation of scholars are much more tuned into current trends, fascinated by where publishing is going. Think of people like Helen Marshall, Derek Newman-Stille, Mike Perschon and a host of others I could name, and the future looks a lot brighter....

Marcelle Dubé said...

Claire, I guess there's bias everywhere in publishing, although Robert's comments are encouraging!

Rita said...

Well up their gauche!
Don't think you were being overly sensitive. I think you went excitied to be looking to the future and got the "we want things to change but don't want to do anything different" BS. Like Tony said it's their loss. Don't forget we loves ya.

Candas Jane Dorsey said...

I was invited to submit a request to be invited, then told politely that I wasn't invited. I have 35 years of arts advocacy experience and alas, this experience doesn't sound like it broke new ground. Matt Hughes in his novel Old Growth allows his character to muse (gee, is this the author coming through) that any areas not covered by the original Upper and Lower Canada seem to be considered "regions" and not Real Canada. I laughed out loud for real because Matt was describing my experience as a "regional" writer, "regional" publisher (of writers from all over Canada and beyond), and a "regional" arts advocate. I could rant, but I won't. Welcome to the Token Regional Representative Club, Marcelle, where all the poor cousins get to hang out while the Real Canadian Culture Mavens construct the arts policy. A microcosm of regional politics overall, but unskewed by oil extraction!

Paula said...

Perhaps our role as book-oriented professionals is to invite the National Forum to attend OUR conferences, which are ever so much more useful as a forum for a variety of voices.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Rita, I'm feeling the love, no worries. :-)

Candas, you made me laugh out loud!

Paula, what a good idea! We should invite them to our conferences -- a great way to get an education.

Clare London said...

Wow I'm late catching up here :). This sounds like an event that claims to be for all but is actually run by and devoted to just one area!

I just attended the first London Author Fair, and while there were far more authors than you seem to have met, and a LOT of representation by Kindle / Nook / Kobo with workshops on self-pubbing and e-pubbing, the panels were still hugely skewed towards the traditional publishing model - and, I suspect, the traditional genres too. I went with another m/m-genre ebook-publishing author friend and we kept glancing at each other and whispering - but hey, we've already done / met / experienced that!

I like ALL fiction, and consider ALL of it literary, but I do understand that's the name of a genre in itself. However, I don't automatically consider that any better or more worthy than other genres.

I know at the UK Meet (GLBT fiction-themed) we welcome every type of fiction and methods of publishing and we're all the richer for it.