Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Epic Succeed

Lying in bed last night I formed a long and depressing post reacting to the most recent Interzone Readers Poll. I'm a little more at peace with things this morning, but I still wanted to go through my thoughts on the subject.

I had a pretty bad reaction to last year's poll, I'll admit. Both the stories I had in 2006 ended up in the bottom third of voting, and I kind of wondered what the hell I was doing. This year when they posted some of the results online I had at least made the top ten. Specifically, Toke placed tenth. I had a couple immediate thoughts on this, which developed into other thoughts. Anyway. In order:

1) Toke? Really? I think it's a good story, but between the two I had in 2007 I really thought Algorithm was a much better story. At the time of its publication, I felt it was the best story I had written.

2)Well, I'm glad to have made the top ten, at least.

3)Then again, I'm in tenth. Tenth place is still nine places too low.

4)I wonder where Algorithm ended up?

I got the relevant issue of Interzone yesterday, and guess what? No Algorithm in the top 20. Once again, my favorite story ended up in the bottom third. Swell.

I've been thinking a lot about how I define success in this industry. Because we're talking about an art form here, you're going to get varying tastes and preferences. It all comes down to how those preferences get expressed, and whose tastes take dominance. Editors, for example, like certain things. I have no doubt that the editors at IZ liked my work. I know that I liked it, and many of my readers liked it. But the majority of readers? Less impressed.

Now, I'm not going to change how I write. I'm not sure I could, to be honest. But I'm beginning to feel like maybe I'm an acquired taste, and that breaking through to a larger audience is something that may never happen. I'm jumping the gun a little, obviously, since the book isn't even out. I'm sure the editors will like it. I know I like it. But all those readers out there, the ones who go from shelf to shelf and buy the author's happiness in $7 packets? Who knows.

And if I end up the kind of successful that develops a cult following and limps along in the midlist, grinding out a book or so a year but never able to support myself on proceeds, and I get a moderate amount of recognition from my peers but nothing like commercial viability?

Well. I have a word for that kind of success. That's the kind of success that's actually failure. That's the kind of success that keeps you in your bad job, and makes you burn out on late nights, and takes all of your free time and converts it to mild depression and no social life.

I won't accept that kind of success. Sorry.

9 Comments:

At 12:19 PM , Blogger colin said...

I'm not sure that Algorithm is the "best" story of the two. Perhaps it will sound new-agey of me, but they are good for different reasons. Toke is good for the visceral punch. It's a very aggressive story. Algorithm feels deeper, and I do like that, but it's more philosophical. It wants to draw you into a longer exploration of the world, whereas Toke is more self-contained.

Anyway, these things are far too random to pay much attention to. It's only slightly better than the "most listened" stats from last.fm for the WGB group.

(E.g. The art rankings. How did the 211 cover lose to the 213 and particularly the 209? I have no idea, but so it goes.)

 
At 12:21 PM , Blogger Jetse de Vries said...

FWIW, I thought "The Algorithm" was the superior story, as well. And there were some stories missing in the top 20 that I would have put there.

But the IZ poll is not the be all and end all. And you've got a novel coming out.

Keep writing, keep getting better. I sure wish I had more time for writing.

 
At 12:27 PM , Blogger colin said...

Did you read the accompanying editorial? First commenter (Phillip Eagle) disses the number one story in the poll as "a threadbare tale of petty and unpleasant hipsters with a grafted on SF ending." Ouch. Anyway, it's (nearly) random.

 
At 1:43 PM , Blogger Tim Akers said...

It's random in the specific, but telling in the abstract, I think. You're going to get specific examples of people who really like or really don't like a given story. It's only once you aggregate a bunch of those opinions that you're able to get a feel for what is popular and what isn't.

Take Heartstrung. Like the editorial said, on pure popular votes it's in the top five. But it doesn't even place because it got so many negative votes. A divisive story. I wouldn't call it a controversial story, personally, just one that you're going to love or hate.

Anyway. I really am feeling pretty good about all this. Just lying there last night, staring up at the ceiling, was no fun. And I like to share my no fun with you lugs.

 
At 2:19 PM , Blogger colin said...

If you're looking at commercial success, though, you can just as easily make it with a "love it or hate it" book as a book which is broadly "liked." Because the negative votes don't count for much. Only the positives will buy your book, and if there are lots of them, that's good. The negatives can go [expletive deleted].

I just think there probably weren't enough votes to make the IZ rankings particularly significant. For example "all the stories got at least two positive votes." Two? And the top two stories got the same number of positive votes. That suggests the spread between winners and losers isn't that big here, in terms of actual numbers of people.

Just you keep on sharing that no fun, mister. Did you get those repairs you were going to do with your advance done yet?

 
At 2:25 PM , Blogger Tim Akers said...

Yeah, repairs complete. New roof on garage and the addition, lawnmower is being fixed right now and the spring for my garage door opener is replaced. Hopefully everything else will hold together for a while.

I appreciate all the kind words, folks. I just expect a lot from myself.

 
At 5:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked Toke better than Algorithm. Why? Toke had a more ... well visceral is a good word, but it's already been used. It was more human, in that nasty way that humans lie to themselves and are willing to step on other people to get what they want. Algorithm felt very ivory-tower-ish, like it was an elvish thing that humans couldn't fully understand. It had a very ethereal quality to it.

 
At 5:34 AM , Anonymous aetius said...

curse Noscript, the above comment was mine.

 
At 8:20 AM , Anonymous Mike A said...

Hmmm, I'm more of an "Algorithm" fan myself. I think it has something to do with me being more on the SF than the F side of the fence. Whilst I could appreciate the thematic arguments of "Toke", I had a harder time suspending disbelief.

I suspect the Readers' Poll is rather a small sample, with no doubt some influence of croneyism in the voting.

I was really surprised by the winner - it was no more than an also-ran for me. But that's obviously just one person's opinion.

 

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