By Letitia Coyne
Posted March 15, 2012
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Readers, have you ever wondered how you can get rich on the bonanza that is independent fiction? Have you considered picking up a pen and then realized there really is a skill to getting a story onto the page? Here’s an alternative to consider.
Review. I mean it. Not just a few lines of recommendation at Goodreads — if you have an enormous history of loved books clogging your living areas, you could turn out to be one of the great lights of the digital revolution.
Reviewers need a big clap; it isn’t easy. It’s a vital role, and its importance will come to the fore as the independence movement in fiction progresses. At present there are names in high places, known reviewers at the big print papers, whose word can make or break a novel. They are the people the readers go to to hear what they should be reading and what they should think about it. Going forward, a new group of people with real insight and the ability to summarize a book reliably for the wider audience will emerge with great power. Go for it now! All hail the powerful.
Meek, you will have to wait until you inherit the earth, I’m afraid.
I’ve been hunting out reviewers in the week since Touchstone hit the presses, looking at their work and their preferences and trying to find people who might like to review for me. In the spirit of sharing that has arisen, and with the sudden absence of inspired blog material, I thought I’d share one of my past lives with everyone.
Now, there are people who share like this with such precise beauty and wonderful phrasing that it makes me shake my head and eat my own words. Someone like that would be Penny Goring in her incredible work, Temporary Passport.
My own worst memories are of the decade 1965-75. Do you recall it? Ugggghhghghg!
Moulded plastic furniture and shiny clothes that melted on your skin if you went too near a candle. Colors like mustard, tangerine and burnt orange, lime green, mission brown, and acid yellow. Light blue shimmer eye shadow, beehives and Osti patio frocks; white shag pile rugs, everything circles and holes and MODERN. Help, my skin is crawling away. Plastic. Plastic. Ewwww. Plastic jewelry! Plastic sofas. Plastic wood-grain bas relief matadors and geometric design curtains still lurking in forgotten caravans. MARBLECRAFT! K Tel record selector.
I need a Bex and a little lie down.
When I review those days, I watch Rocky Horror, Velvet Goldmine and JC Superstar to recall the history that never really was, but I fantasized about anyway. Frankie said, ‘Don’t dream it, be it,‘ in a small town picture theatre in north Queensland and loaned me dreams above my station.
We were hippies and students, too, so we knew the poverty and the gypsy soul, but it was a decade or two earlier in the twentieth century and Penny’s cities in Europe might as well have been on the moon. Those I know who made it to the far off brighter lights were the sensible souls who studied nursing or teaching, then did Europe on a dollar a day or backpacked in packs without the obligatory pack, worked bars in London, and squatted in Brixton.
I do miss that time, though, before we learned we were all destined to burn in a nuclear holocaust.
We knew we should husband the earth, and that men didn’t have the right to keep taking as long as the planet kept giving. We knew it. But when the great terror campaign was perpetrated, most of us became yuppies and lived well in glass and chrome and very nice cars. We ran ahead of the fear, or celebrated with who-cares-anyway when there’s nothing you can do about it. We remembered life before the sexual revolution and yet we let the media strangle and distort the message so that women were left with the right to say yes. And only yes. To everything. And we did nothing.
Then all the guys became girls. The straight boys were pretty, the gay boys were macho; we all wore leather and feathers or tartan and painted our hair to match our clothes. When there was money we dressed in labels and drank all day. When there was none we knew all the best came from op shops [before TV current affairs shows taught the senseless how to forage].
And tonight I’m listening to Queen’s first album, from back when they were poor, and wondering who we actually ended up being – Baby Boomers, the scourge of the earth – when I should be babbling about the week in review. What’s happened lately…?
By now everyone knows there was a bit of a kerfuffle over censorship at Smashwords. It had to do with PayPal not liking some content.
In an email directed to all 30000+ Smashwords authors, publishers and literary agents, Mark Coker, Smashwords Founder, outlined the problem:
“PayPal contacted Smashwords and gave us a surprise ultimatum: Remove all titles containing bestiality, rape or incest, otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal account.
PayPal tells us that their crackdown is necessary so that they can remain in compliance with the requirements of the banks and credit card associations (likely Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, though they didn’t mention them by name).”
So then, no man can buy or sell fiction unless he bears the mark of approval by bankers. And erotica is such an easy target. Sexual aberrations crowd our waking nightmares; we are never to forget the dangers of perverts. They’re everywhere waiting for us to blink and they’ll pounce. They’re front and centre of the ‘fodder for irrational fear’ files.
Like child eating, broom flying, Satan sucking, night dancing, spell casting, evil spreading witches before them, they’re waiting in the shadows. We jump at every sound. If we don’t do something about the threats, our fears will choke us all. We’d better burn someone soon, or we’ll all be doomed.
And just like witch trials, or lynchings, there is a fear of guilt by association. If anyone stands up for the group to be excised, they risk being ‘tarred with the same brush’. We’ve gone over this ground so often in history we know the drill. We watch our feet as society is cleansed for our benefit. We know that there is nothing we can do to save them without risking our own safety. And no one is going to risk losing their safety for a rapist, am I right?
Except we are talking about authors, here, not rapists. Not people breaking a law. Not people practicing any violation of anyone else’s rights. We are talking about the arts.
The primary role of the arts across the board is to discuss the world in all forms and in all variations of form. Art should prompt us to ask ourselves what we think and what we value. In fiction we can watch a scenario played out for us without injury. I am more afraid that the role of our arts community should be reduced to supplying some mindless color and movement; more afraid that the only voices we should hear are those who say what they are expected to say; than I am afraid of some works of fiction with sharp edges.
Well, surprise! This time it’s good news. Mark Coker wrote today to thank Smashwords authors and customers for writing in support of those works blacklisted.
“Yesterday afternoon I met with PayPal at their office in San Jose, where they informed me of their decision to modify their policies to allow legal fiction….
…. Smashwords authors, publishers and customers mobilized. You made telephone calls, wrote emails and letters, started and signed petitions, blogged, tweeted, Facebooked and drove the conversation. You made the difference. Without you, no one would have paid attention. I would also like to thank the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). These three advocacy groups were the first to stand up for our authors, publishers and customers. Their contribution cannot be overstated. We collaborated with them to build a coalition of like-minded organizations to support our mutual cause. Special kudos to Rainey Reitman of EFF for her energy, enthusiasm and leadership.
I would also like to thank all the bloggers and journalists out there who helped carry our story forward by lending their platforms to get the story out. Special thanks to TechCrunch, Slashdot, TechDirt, The Independent (UK), Reuters, Publishers Weekly, Dow Jones, The Digital Reader, CNET, Forbes, GalleyCat & EbookNewser and dozens of others too numerous to mention.
I would like to thank our friends at PayPal. They worked with us in good faith as they promised, engaged us in dialogue, made the effort to understand Smashwords and our mission, went to bat for our authors with the credit card companies and banks, and showed the courage to revise their policies.”
Good work, world! There might be other things we can change together!
So then, who wants to be a famous reviewer? Who has memories? Who has something to say about censorship? Who wants to change the world? Speak.
All content released under a Creative Commons license unless otherwise noted.