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The “Next Big Thing” Generation

So, a common topic in many of the writing communities I used to frequent was “the next big thing”.  Generally, what genre of book was going to be the next Twilight vampire romance or Hunger Games dystopia.  I had a lot of fun with those discussions, but only recently have I really stopped to consider how damaging the “next big thing” mindset is.  Not only to literature, but to any field and to our characters as people.

First, it’s damaging to the quality and diversity of books coming out.  If everyone is chasing the next “popular” genre, they aren’t writing, reading, or accepting for publication many good books who just happen to not be the next big thing or who are part of the last big thing.  Even though 90% of the books in the genre of the last big thing were crap, and 7% of the rest were mediocre.

Which ties into my next issue: This attitude creates a hunger for similar books, despite quality or whether the reader would like to try something else because it creates a comfort zone for the reader.  They know they like dystopia because they liked Hunger Games, so they’re more willing to take a chance on another dystopia than a high fantasy or Mundane SF.  (Mundane SF itself having once been the next big thing, thus the proper noun moniker.)

But this is a false comfort zone for many reasons.  The reader may not actually like dystopia, but just that one book.  They may like dystopia but ignore other things they would also really enjoy to keep from having to stray outside their comfort zone.  They may gorge on so many dystopias that they learn to see the flaws in the genre finally,  and therefore ignore a wonderful dystopia down the line, because they’ve moved onto their next big thing.

Or, if they’re jumping on the bandwagon, they may perceive all of YA, say, as mediocre dystopias or obsessed with love triangles.  Perhaps they think all epic fantasy is ASOIAF, which they disliked, and so they don’t take the chance on other works.  For example, maybe they watched the TV show, and aren’t fans of gratuitous sexposition, and so they don’t read the books or similar books because they don’t want to get buried in another avalanche of incest and prostitutes.

Many authors have stories of agents or publishers telling them they have a great book, but they missed the window, or it doesn’t fit with whatever the next big thing is, and so they can’t sell it.  Or they already have ten of these, and even though 8 of them are sub-par, they can’t cancel the contract and pick up this new book.

Or perhaps they like the book, but everyone acquiring fantasy stories right now wants ASOIAF, not comedic contemporary fantasies, or low-key urban fantasies in the original mode without kick-ass leather-wearing, tattoo-bearing heroines with troubled backstories and seriously poor taste in lovers.

And the same can be said for things besides commercial fiction.  Google+ was going to be the next big thing in social media.  Then it was Ello.  Tinder was the next big thing in online dating, and it spawned dozens of clones.  Social media itself is something of a successful next big thing in human interaction and the Internet.  Object-Oriented programming was the next big thing in software design, and yet now the backlash has been going on for years.

Sometimes a next big thing is a great thing.  But the mentality of always hunting for the next big thing is not.  And despite the pressure from our capitalist economy, it might be better in the long term to look for alternatives.  And it is capitalism that is a major driver of this obsession, because history shows even mediocre products can ride the wave of a predecessor to make big money.  Following a successful formula is a bit of a dream situation for many producers of entertainment or products.  That’s why Walmart and most other chains have their own brand version of most popular products, from medicine to housewares to groceries.  The next big thing trend might make some people a decent amount of money in the short-term, but it has long-term effects that have created a sort of creativity pit that we’ll have a hard time climbing out of any time in the near future.  And in the short term, the people who don’t manage to catch the wave, as wonderful as their contributions to literature or software or society may be, are left choking on the dust.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2017 in atsiko, Uncategorized

 

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Social Media and Plagiarism: How the Dynamic Web Has Changed Speech

There’s been a lot of hubbub on the internet lately, in social media circles as well as the traditional press, about the issue of plagiarism in social media.

Now, plagiarism has been a problem online for a long time, but social media brings something different to the discussion.  Back when the internet was young, and you had to pay your own hosting fees and code your own website, it was a lot more difficult, and just plain inconvenient to plagiarize.  You had a static site and relatively few ways to distribute your work.  Much like with books, the Static Web was everywhere, but not all that hard to police.

But social media and the content creation movement has changed all that.  Where once we had the Static Web, with people coding their own sites by hand, or paying someone else, we now have the Dynamic Web, where for the cost of an internet connection or a walk to the local library, anyone can have as-good-as-infinite accounts on the hundreds of content creation and social media sites whose struggles carry vibrations all across the Web.  And these sites auto-create pages from databases and some PHP/RoR/Perl code.  No more commitment-heavy hand-coding.

There are actually two issues at hand here.  Although content creation platforms and social media platforms are different in method, they are similar and ethos, and their differences shrink daily, as VBulletin includes blogging features in their forum software, and Facebook Groups function much like an old-style message board.  The effect of both of these Dynamic Web implementations is to bring written speech much closer to casual speech.

It used to be that creating written work required a commitment to the end product.  People struggled over letters to friends, competed to be published in newspapers.  Many people ascribe the various issues with Dynamic Web speech to the lack of gate-keepers or competition.  But what’s really going on is deeper than that.  Although social media sites like Facebook and Twitter store speech in text format, a status on Facebook, or a tweet on Twitter, is not really the written word.  It’s treated and acts much more like a comment tossed off in a college discussion class, or a joke made to a friend.

And where the disconnect between people in the Static vs. Dynamic Web paradigms happens is that the Tweeter or the Facebook poster isn’t thinking of their status as a publication.  So when they leave off a citation, or mis-attribute a quote, they don’t consider the consequences.  After all, we’ve never policed the spoken word to the extent that we police the written word.  It would be impossible.

So when I stumbled across the false MLK quote doing the rounds on Facebook and looked it up on Snopes.com, it didn’t surprise me that it wasn’t really from MLK.  If it had been a spoken word mis-quote, it wouldn’t have been a big deal.  The maximum propagation rate for the spoken word is relatively small.  It’s limited by memory, by audience, by time, by importance, by significance.  But because the text Web is searchable, because it allows instant access to much larger social networks, because the Web is forever, the propagation rate of a statement is significantly higher.  What would have been an un-important mistake in a casual conversation with a few friends has the potential to reach a much larger audience.  And that audience, reached through the Dynamic Web, is more likely to treat the statement as normal speech, and therefore, before passing on this mis-quotation, they are unlikely to source and cite it.  And then we have the issue that we had with the MLK quote and many others in the last few years.

As an example of this dis-connect, I have an anecdote I heard from a friend of mine.  He was perusing his Facebook feed, and came across an screencap from tumblr showing images and recipes for cocktail shots based on Eevee’s evolutions in the Pokemon games.  He shared it.  As it happened, one of his friends was friends with the person who had created the shot recipes.  And who was shocked and a bit creeped out to find it coming back to her in this circuitous Kevin Bacon effect manner.  Whoever had learned about it from her probably didn’t consider it plagiarism to pass it on.  After all, one of the features tumblr is most well known for is the “reblog” feature.  Which actually does a decent job of citation.  Tmublr has a system for that.

And so we encounter the other disconnect of the Dynamic Web.  Not all sites have the same terms of service, and very few sites, if any, have clear rules for how content is to be treated if shared outside the boundaries of its original, individual site.  You may have come across the auto-citations that many sites have started adding to links and copy-pasted quotes.  Or how a major art-based social media and display site, DeviantArt, implemented an anti-hot-linking system a few years ago.  All of these are individual sites’ attempts to combat the casual speech ethos of the Dynamic Web.  But what we really need, what would actually do something to solve the greater problem, is to educate people on the differences between social networks and content creation platforms and casual, real-world speech.  Perhaps the chat systems implemented by Facebook and other such sites are somewhat equivalent to casual speech.  But a Facebook status or a blog post is not.  You can’t treat them the same way, because as a decade or so of evidence has shown us, the consequences of such speech are very different.

Now, it isn’t a sure thing that Dynamic Web speech is the same as professional publication or journalism, either.  It may be in-between.  But better to err on the side of intentional publication than of casual speech.

(Maybe next time I’ll address plagiarism of status and blog articles more specifically.)

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Blogging, Publishing, Rants, Social Media, Writing

 

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Social Media and Internet Crushes

I may have mentioned this before a long time ago, but my biggest author-blogger crush is a capital-R Romance writer by the name of Tawna Fenske.

I do not really read in the Romance genre for fun, but she’s just so damn funny.  (I possibly have a slight weakness for sex jokes.) Plus, her blogging about her career is always interesting and rarely repetitive.

When I say “crush”, I don’t mean actual romantic feelings.  I just mean I think she’s hilarious and awesome, and if I had to pick one writing blog to have with me on a desert island it would be hers, even though I don’t read her genre, and she’s basically the opposite of me in every way: published, regular, and talks about herself which I will never, ever do, sorry, but it wouldn’t be fun to read about me anyway.

So if you’re a writer, or a reader, or a Romance fan, or just looking to have some fun, you should definitely go give her a quick once-over.

I looked for an author page on Facebook, but I could only find what seemed to be a personal page, and getting a random friend request from someone I’ve never heard of before would probably creep me out, so I suppose this is the limit of expressing my admiration.

ETA:  Also, she likes Allison Krauss?  So major points for that, too.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2013 in Blogging, Social Media

 

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Does Social Media Affect Book Sales?

Fuck if I know.  I haven’t done any exhaustive research.  I don’t have published books and a well-known web presence to check with.  I just have my own personal habits.

Like a lot of readers, I have a long TBR list full of great books I wish I had the time to get around to reading.  A surprising number of those books I learned about online.  Many in forums, but an equally large, or perhaps larger number from reading blogs.  I can’t say for sure how many I learned about directly from the author’s own web presence.  I’m sure a large number were recommended by other members of the online writing community.

I think that the majority of books I learn about through social media I learn of through the community as a whole, which includes writers pimping other writers’ books, but not a lot of writers pimping their own books.  So it becomes hard to say whether web presence by a specific author has an influence on the sale of their books.  Even in terms of my own buying experience.

What I can tell you is that I’ve bought a lot more books of recommendations or browsing the bookstore than I’ve bought books off my TBR list recommended by social media.  There are plenty of books I’ve decided I want to read, but once I’m away from the internet, I forget titles or just am not exposed to enough immediate incentive to buy them, even if I loved them when reading about them on a blog or twitter feed.

In my experience social media definitely generates interest, but I can’t say that it’s actually gotten books out of the store and into my hands.

It’s something I greatly regret, and I always plan to make a stronger effort next time, but it does seem to be the reality that a strong web presence is not enough to generate actual sales.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2012 in Blogging, Publishing, Social Media

 

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Why Social Media are Dangerous to Writers

If you’ve spent any time in the authosphere, you know that the number one commandment to writers is : “Write!”  It’s not “Tweet!” or “Youtube!” or “Eat cupcakes!”

But reading blogs is okay, right?  There’s all this knowledge and information, and interaction with other writers and readers.  What could be better?

The truth is, blogs are the most insidious, conniving, malicious plague to ever be unleashed upon unsuspecting authors.

“Wait,” you say.  “You’re exaggerating.  It’s just fifteen minutes a day or so.”

Well, I have story for you.  Over the past few months, I’ve been working on other projects besides writing, and that means I confined what writing time I did have, I confined to actually putting words on the page.  That means a whole bunch of blog posts to get caught up on.  And here’s the problem:  If it was just me going to various addresses in my favorites bar, I wouldn’t have an issue.  I’d just have given up on most of the old posts.  But I have this wonderful little thing called Google Reader, which keeps track of my blog subscriptions.  When I opened it this morning, it listed 432 unread blog posts.  432.  I decided to take Anne Lamott’s advice and get through them post by post.  Instead of doing any writing today whatsoever, I read around 300 blogs posts in 4 hours.  And tomorrow, thanks to links and “round-up” posts, I have about 300 more.

And most of them have been very interesting.  I’m glad I read them.  But it did take up 4 hours I could have used for actual writing.  Things like this have happened before, and I know they’ll happen again.

Maybe I’m just obsessive.  I didn’t have to read all those posts, right?  But Google made it so easy.  Just point and click.  That 432 just sitting there, taunting me.  “You can’t read all these.  No way.  As if.  You’re weak.  You can read a 600 page novel in a few hours, but you’ll never be able to catch up on your blogroll.  You’ll just have to look at me every day and know what a failure you are.  Go eat some chocolate cheesecake.  Come back in a few hours.  I’ll be here.  I’ll always be here.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2010 in atsiko, Authors, Blogging, Writing

 

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Things I Wish SF(F) Had More Of

So, after thinking about my last post on education, I’ve come to some conclusions. I’ve been reading less and less science fiction lately, and I haven’t been able to figure out why. But now I think I know. It’s because I’ve been seeing a lot of the same things recently. Here’s a list of recent sub-genres I’ve become disillusioned with lately, and some ideas I think could infuse them with new life:

1. Space Opera–Don’t get me wrong, I love this sub-genre, but we’ve been harping on post-humanism and alien combat quite a lot lately. How about we try something new? Like some new thoughts on STL travel, or Near-Earth Space exploration.

2. Near-future SF–Love this genre as well. (Futurismic, here’s to you!)  But we’ve been seeing a lot of the same thing, lately.  Nano-tech, cyberpunk, bio-punk.  I’d love to see some more stories on information technology pre-singularity.  VR’s been a common theme, but very few books out there seem to be addressing Augmented Reality(AR), which–for those who don’t know–is the mapping of virtual information, such as audio and video, onto the real world.  The more well-known application here is the good old “heads-up display”, or HUD, in use in targeting systems and mapping.  Stories about AR that come to mind:  Dennou Coil, Rainbows End, Eden of the East.  There’s a lot of potential in this technology, and a lot of conflict that it could create.  Virtual ads in fields, or modern digital graffiti are two.  And think of the networking and social media applications.

3.  Science fantasy:  There’s been a rise in this genre lately, which I have greatly enjoyed.  Some examples are anime’s Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou, which postulates a modern form of magic created with digital information instead of personal energy and ancient symbolism.  A great deal of steam-punk also falls into this category, although it’s generally not as modern as the normal idea of the genre.  Of course, I’m somewhat misrepresenting this term to describe a combination of scientific and fantastical elements.  I’m not really refering to just planetary romance or dying earth scenarios, as much as contemporary or near-future fantasy outside of the UF genre.  We might also include some space opera works in the category.  Anime provides the example of Heroic Age, while C.S. Friedman has given us the Coldfire Trilogy.

4.  Let’s also throw in alternate universe science fiction here.  Earth-like worlds with different cultural and geographical settings that nevertheless approximate our present level of technology.  I’m hard-pressed to come up with an example of this grouping that doesn’t involve alternate dimensions or the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.  I’m not talking multiverses or dimension-hoppers here.  I’m thinking of entirely independent worlds.  Which makes me want to read this sort  of story even more.  Perhaps Jeff Vandermeer’s Finch could be an example book, although that veers closer to Science Fantasy/New Weird than I’m trying to go.

5.  Oh, and let’s not forget the Chimney-punk.  This isn’t a recognized genre yet, but I’m hard at work behind the scenes, spreading awareness(lol) and writing material.  New Weird isn’t the only interstitial genre out there–at least, not for long.

Anyway, those are a few genres I’d really love to see some new material in.  Does anyone have particular areas of their own that they find interesting but under-populated?

 

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Blog Comments as a Center of Social Interaction

There are many kinds of social interaction sites on the web, but the most common belong to what I like to term “The Big Four”: Forums, Blogs, E-Magazines and Social Networking sites(SNS).  Now, each type of site is different, and while some may overlap in purpose, they all have their own advantages and disadvantages in the various areas of social interaction.  Let’s look these over:

  1. Social Networking sites:  Pretty obvious there.  They facilitate contact between individuals and groups.  You can provide an online presence and contact format for business, or socializing, or sharing interests.  Most SN sites are primarily made up of networks that mirror the real-life networks of people and their acquaintances: college networks, business networks, fan networks.  They allow people to publicize their goals, interests, values.  There’s a very high bar for entrance into new groups on most SN sites–whether your friend request is accepted or not means little.
  2. Electronic Magazines: To be honest I’m grouping a lot of different things under here–e-periodicals, news sites, gossip sites, etc.  But most of them operate in similar manner.  They present static articles, usually based on current events.  They may or may not allow comments, but the interaction between the article posters and the public is very distant.  There’s almost no entrance bar on these sites, and you can behave very badly and get away with it.  Of course, some sites have higher standards, but if you’ve ever seen the comments section on, say, Yahoo! News, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
  3. Forums:  Most forums are moderated, focused discussion areas with for a particular topic:  cheeseburgers, net memes, pop-culture, fan-clubs, etc.  There’s generally a fairly high entrance bar and registration is required for most of them.  They may share a few things with SN sites, but they deal with specific topics, citing more sources, making members aware of relevant material, and generally creating a community around specific topics or areas of interest.
  4. Blogs:  As you might be able to tell from the title, this type of site will be the main focus of discussion in this post.  Blogs are article(post) based social media sites often but not always run by individuals with specific interests and goals.  Personal news sites, you might say.  They tend to be more opinionated and focused on topics the blogger finds interesting.  Most are moderated by the owner, but they still allow for a certain amount of open discussion.  There are blogs for everything, from shrimp to shrink-wrap, and after SN sites, they might be the most popular medium on the web, at least as far as web-heads are concerned.  Bloggers and blog commenters tend to be more tech-savvy, and less geared towards the LCD.  While some forum and SN websites have instituted blog features recently, they are still far less popular than the independent blogging platforms such as livejournal or wordpress or blogger.

Now that we’ve gotten through the basics, here’s the meat of the post:

It is my contention that blogs, with low entrance requirements and an individualist atmosphere are one of the most important social influences on the web.  The blogging community(blogosphere) is one of the most well-connected communities on the net, far ahead of forums, which are oftentimes isolationist and geared towards a cliquish atmosphere that takes a long time for new members to fit into.  Blogs cover a very wide range of topics, and are more accessible to search engines, which means more new blood and a more diverse “membership” in the form of commenters.

Now let’s elaborate on that last idea.  What makes blogs so valuable is the knowledge and attitude of commenters, who often contribute a great deal to the discussion originally opened by the blogger.  Not to bash forums, SNS, or news services, but the quality of commentary on blogs is at a relatively high level for the most part, and the smaller scope means that it is easier to screen out less desirable material than a forum or news site.  The ability of a blog to provide concentrated, intelligent discussion in its own specific sphere means that readers and commenters(followers) have much more control over what they read.  Most blogs have a relatively clear-cut sense of what will and will not be discussed, as opposed to news services which cover a wide range of topics with little moderation, and forums, which also tend to deal with a wider array of issues.  You might say they have more individual personality.  Once you’ve found a good blog(for you), there’s much less sifting to be done to find the interesting and relevant material. 

Even while many are predicting the decline of blogs, and citing statistics which suggest the younger generations(to which I belong) are moving away from the blog model, I would put forth that blogs are not only a thriving and vital component of the online community, but will continue to be so for a very long time.  And I think it’s a good thing.  How many experts in your areas  have you met who hang around on forums?  A lot less than on blogs, I’d imagine.  (Feel free to correct my impression in the comments!)  Of all the writers I’ve met, the vast majority have a greater presence on blogs and SN sites than forums. 

The really juicy material is in the blogs, whereas forums tend to hash over the same subjects again and again.  Although forums can sometimes be faster on the pick-up of new information, the majority of forum members are not active in other areas of the web.  Bloggers and blog readers however are an extremely diverse and interconnected community that is often active across a wide range of sites and topics.  The lack of linear discussion means that an issue can be dealt with from many different angles at once, while still maintaining the integrity of those individual discussions.  Fewer derails, for you tl;dr folks out there.

Of course, I may be biased as an SFF fan who dabbles in programming and has little to do with the more popular SN sites, such as facebook and myspace.  I do however, have an active Twitter account. 😉

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2010 in atsiko, Blogging

 

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