Saturday, March 30, 2013

Overcoming Literary Snobbery

When I was a lad, just discovering how vast the field of science fiction and fantasy was, I was firmly in what David Hartwell has referred to as the omnivore stage.  To put that in plain English, I read everything I could get my hands on with no regard to author, publisher, or to a limited extent, quality.  If it had anything to do with spaceships, other planets, or aliens, then I was interested in it.  (This was shortly after a certain fantasy movie in science fiction drag hit it big.)  I soon branched out to other subgenres.

As I grew older and more discerning, I also grew more discriminating.  As in discriminate against.  I became interested in only reading works of originality.  My definition of originality was pretty rigid.  The work had to be something created by an author on spec that had been published by an established publishing house or the continuation of such a work.  Franchise work, by its very nature, had to be substandard.

At least that was my thinking at the time.  This years before electronic publishing leveled the playing field.

Fortunately, my thinking has changed and changed for the better. I came to realize that franchise, or work for hire, had value.

At first it was just the acknowledgement writing a novel, say, in a franchise owned by a major studio could teach authors the skills necessary to succeed on their own when they wrote "good" books.  There is some truth in that, but it's still a pretty snobby and condescending attitude.  It didn't occur to me then, when I was younger and had all the answers, that there were other reasons authors wrote in a franchise.

For one thing, it was (and is) a way of keeping a career alive.  I didn't understand about the returns system and Bookscan numbers.  It also never occurred to me that authors might write in franchises simply because they loved the characters or world.

Things have changed in my world.  I hope I've become wiser, humbler (relatively speaking), and more open minded in my reading tastes.  As well as more discriminating in a positive way.  I've become educated in the way publishing works.  I've gotten over the "if it's not from a major publisher, it probably isn't any good" syndrome.  In fact, if anything, I've swung more to the other extreme.  I'm finding the works from the big houses tend to be the more bland, safe, paint-by-numbers type of book.  Yes, I realize there are exceptions to this, and that there are a number of fine and innovative authors doing groundbreaking work.  But what I'm discovering is that if I want to read something that breaks the mold, a work in which the author is taking chances, or a story without an Important Message, then the indies and small presses are the way to go.

There are a number of authors I've discovered through their work for other publishers who started out in franchise work.  Franchise work that I've started to seek out.  Warhammer is at the top of the list, but there are others.

There are still some work for hire type books I'll tend to give a wide berth.  There are still media tie-ins written by someone with no love of the genre or the property they're writing, works designed to fatten the corporate bottom line. To the extent I can distinguish them, I'll give them a pass.  I'm looking for good story-telling, vivid description, in-depth characterization, fast-paced action, and crackling dialogue. 

Those are the things I'm looking for.  And I don't care if it's a franchise or a stand-alone novel, from a major publisher or an indie author.  As long as the tale is well-told, the source doesn't matter.

I'll explain in my next post how I think I've become more discriminating in a positive way.


  1. I certainly became more discerning as I reached my 20s and I sometimes wonder how I enjoyed some of the stuff I read before then. But I did. Always for me, though, it's been about the adventure. if the adventure is good I don't care much whether it's a wholly original concept or not. I also need decent writing skills in the works I read, and if someone can combine beautiful language, good writing skills, and an adventure, well I will love it.

    1. We're in complete agreement here, Charles. The adventure is crucial. Beautiful or powerful writing is great great, but there has to be an adventure of some sort there, or I'll move on to the next book.