I spent yesterday afternoon doing the brakes on my 2014 Ford Fiesta, which turned out to be such a simple job that I’m kind of ashamed that I put it off for so long. The front brakes on this car are the easiest pads I have ever replaced–I love working on machinery that is well designed.
But that got me to thinking about how things have to work together to make a complex mechanism operate, and since I tend to view the world through mechanical metaphors, I’m applying this thought to my ongoing musings about the state of indy genre publishing both in general and specifically how it relates to my own career trajectory.
In order for a movement to be successful it needs four things–artists, publishers, critics, and fans. All four are vital, and while there will be a certain degree of overlap between the groups, I think that it’s important to see the groups as distinct, with different roles to play in the promotion of a quality product.
The four groups need to be in the proper relationship to each other–a wheel, as it were, on each corner.
Artists create. They make the product–fiction, graphic arts, music, whatever–that the movement is all about. Many artists are also publishers, but they should keep the roles separate, because they have somewhat different focuses. Some artists also have the skill and temperament to be critics, but in my experience it requires a rare combination of talents to do both well. Lastly, artists are usually also fans–but with the caveat that a fan, in the sense I am using it here, is more than just a casual consumer of media.
Publishers curate. This is more than just publishing, it is choosing what to publish, and how to package it, how to promote it, what audience will best appreciate it. They need to be able to look past their own personal tastes to see the market as a whole, to anticipate what will satisfy the current fans and what will bring new fans into the market. This requires perspective, the ability to see past the merits of the individual work and see it in context, which is why it is difficult for many artists to take on the role of publisher.
Critics evaluate. This requires being passionate enough to care deeply about the work while being dispassionate enough to judge it objectively. Critics must be independent to be credible–which is not to say that they cannot have working relationships with artists and publishers, just that their first loyalty must be to the readers. All readers, not just the subset that I am calling fans below.
Fans support. Financial support in terms of buying the product, but also emotional and social support. Fans are the best promoters because they will be honest–they spread the word, both good and bad, because they care about the work. Their investment is time and passion and should always be free to say whatever is on their minds. In the end, they are the force that drives the movement, and are beholden to no one.
I am a writer, and a pretty good one. That is my focus and that is where my talents lie. But I also accept that my particular mindset makes me a lousy publisher, a bad critic, and at best a mediocre fan.
I can’t do it alone. I can’t look past my own work to see the movement as a whole. My own vision is too tight, my artistic sensibilities too specialized.
I need publishers who will judge my work in terms of marketability, who know how to get the right story to the right audience.
I need critics who will judge my work in terms of quality, who aren’t afraid to tell me when I’ve lost the plot, and who care more about what readers think of them than what I think of them.
Most of all I need fans who will judge my work in terms of enjoyment. Are they getting good value for their money, is my name one that they can trust to deliver a quality product, and will they speak up if I start slipping?