How Incestous is SF/F, Anyway?

Today is a happy day in SF Novelist land, marking the release of several member works:

   

As I was thinking about how to promote and celebrate my friends’ books, I started wondering about the ethical side of things.  I’ve heard more than a few grumbles about the incestuous nature of publishing, particularly in the SF/F field.  Whether it’s swapping recommendations for Nebula awards, authors blurbing their friends’ books, or the interviews we post for one another here at SF Novelists.  When we know each other personally, and consider many folks in the field to be friends, can you really trust a word we say?

For starters, the SF/F field is small.  It’s very difficult to be an active writer without getting to know a lot of the names in the field.  Just a few years ago, I couldn’t conceive of the fact that I might share a discussion group with Elizabeth Moon, or have a chat about copyright with Jane Yolen, or have Kevin J. Anderson break a beer glass at me at a convention.  But it happens.  And even after only a few years as a “pro”, I’m at the point where if I only reviewed books by people I’d never met or corresponded with, it would drastically limit my reviewing.

Award nominations are the same way.  I’m sure there are people trading recommendations, but often we just read who we know.  If I look back at my reading for the past year, over half of the books I read are by friends of mine.  If I go on a Nebula-nominating kick, it figures that half of my nominations would probably be for my friends.  Not because I’m deliberately trying to promote my buddies, but because that’s what I’ve been reading.

So can you trust a word we say?  Is it ethical and honest for us to be promoting one another?  My answer would be a qualified yes.

For one thing, most authors I’ve spoken to won’t push a book they disliked, even if it was by a friend.  We’ve all got friends in the field who are wonderful human beings, but their work just doesn’t click for us.  For another, a good review or recommendation doesn’t say, “Read this book because I said so.”  It says, “Read this book because it has X and Y and really good Z,” and encourages you to make the choice yourself.

With that said, I’d encourage you to check out these three books.  Here’s a link to my review of Deader Still.  Here’s the short story that gave birth to Palimpsest.  And here’s the first chapter of Spell Games.  You can also find interviews with the authors floating around the blogosphere this week.

What do you think?  Where’s the line when promoting or reviewing a book from someone you know?  Must every post have a full disclosure statement, or is it fair to just assume most of us know one another, and that readers will keep that in mind when reading our recommendations?  Or do you tend to just ignore author recommendations entirely?

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  1. 1. Kate

    I would venture to say this is how the WORLD works – not just SF/F. My day job is in arts development. When we personally know funders, when we can entice them here to see our shows, we tend to get more money than we would on a brilliant proposal alone.

    It’s networking. It’s the same in art, music, theater, dance. It’s idealistic to think otherwise, and I don’t see anything wrong with it, anyway.

    (Kevin J. Anderson broke a beer glass AT you?? Now there’s a story!)

  2. 2. OtterB

    I like author recommendations. I prefer the ones that, as you said, tell you that it has X and Y and really good Z. That lets me seek out books with features that I expect to enjoy. Sometimes I’m misled, more often not. Over time, I can see if my taste runs with someone else’s, whether that’s a reviewer or a blogger (author or not) and have a better feel for how far to trust their recommendations.

  3. 3. Jim C. Hines

    @Kate – I’m told the beer glass was an accident. I’ve chosen to give him the benefit of the doubt, mostly so that I can use this incident at a later date to guilt him into blurbing one of my books :-)

    I think part of it is that I just don’t like networking. But you’re right, at least to a certain extent, it’s part of life. I think sometimes it’s more obvious in smaller circles, though.

    @Otter – I think that’s part of what makes a good review, regardless of who’s doing the reviewing. Writing a review is harder than it looks. I’m still not good enough that I’d be willing to do it as a paying gig. And it definitely helps to learn which reviewers/bloggers seem to match your taste. (Or in some cases, that if a certain reviewer pans a book or a show, that there’s a good chance you’d like it ;-) )

  4. 4. Jessica De Milo

    In fact, it is because authors are friends with one another that I put so much stock in their recommendations. If an author I like says some work/writing is good then I expect that the reviewing author had the chutzpah to possibly say ‘no’ to reviewing an author whom they know. Whereas a potential reviewer might not turn down a request for a review or blurb from someone with whom the reviewer didn’t have any relationship … because, in my experience, it is much easier to offend someone whom you don’t know well than it is to offend your friends.

  5. 5. C

    I have to wonder if the casual reader even *knows* which authors are friends?

    To me, a reccomendation says “Hey, can you please take about 30 seconds to check this out and see if YOU think its really cool TOO?”

    It’s like getting to know your author, sure sometimes you find yourself thinking “REALLY? we’re talking about GARDENING? I did not see that coming from your Star Wars novel.” (not that there is anything *wrong* with gardening, I’m just surprised…) and other times you stumble across your new favoritest thing ever. At the end, I may not care a bit for whatever was recc’d, but I now know a little bit more about that author (for good or for bad).

    Also, a lack of integrity about recc’ing becomes pretty obvious after time.

  6. 6. Alexander Field

    I pay attention to author recommendations, for the most part. They help to make decisions about new authors I haven’t read yet. However, having working at nonfiction publishing house for some years, I know that some endorsements are given quite liberally, and some authors don’t read through everything they endorse (which sounds horrible, and is). Though the authors that care about their name and reputations, will take the time to read those books they endorse, or they’ll just say ‘no’. For fiction, I wonder if this is as big of an issue.

  7. 7. samuel t.

    They recommend and endorse each other, publish each other, condemn and black ball, and set themselves up as experts. Too much hot air.

  8. 8. samuel t.

    Should also add, that it’s unprofessional and a very limited field. The only ones who are any good move out of the genre.

  9. 9. Jim C. Hines

    Samuel – I’m not sure which genre you’re condemning and attacking here, whether you’re responding to me and criticizing my entire genre or responding to Alexander or another of the comments and attacking a different one.

  10. 10. David Heijl

    I would ignore samuel’s comments. The brevity and tone suggest random flaming/trolling.

    Back to the point: Jim, don’t you think part of the reason is the very strong SFF Con scene in the US? I’ve been reading lots of blog posts by various SFnal authors and they seem to spend a lot of their time on the road to various cons.
    (This is a rather strange phenomenon – I’m not sure whether I need to envy it – when observed from mainland Europe, where such cons are rare and usually very small)
    If you all go to these cons as part of the “marketing” effort for your work, it’s only natural you would get to know each other.

    That said, networking is the (or rather, one) key to success in virtually any economical sector…

  11. 11. Jim C. Hines

    David,

    Like a lot of things, I think it depends. I know some authors who invest a lot of time and energy and money into the con scene, and others who never go at all. In my case, I’m probably somewhere in the middle, doing mostly 3-5 local cons each year.

    But you’re right, and conventions are also where I’ve gotten to know a fair number of my fellow authors. That and the internet, which has also become a much more significant networking tool over the past decade. (It makes me feel old that my daughter will never remember a time without e-mail.)

    Any guesses why the difference in the con scene between Europe and the U.S.?

  12. 12. Peggy

    I have friends that write. Do I always like their books. No. Not that it was a bad book. Just maybe not a story line or genre I’m interested in. I’ll still review the book. I may make sure to mention for those that like the xxx Genre it was wonderfully worded, The Main Character was very funny. This is not my normal read but I laughed through most of the book. I would totally recommend it for Tickle me Pink Romance Lovers. In other words.. Its easy to understand. Not any sexy. Light Flirting, funny tingly romance. Real sweet. Lol

    Will I mind if a favorite Author reviewed a friends book. No I’ll be glad to read her review. If she liked the book I may give it a try, but the review isn’t going to make me buy it.

    I’m first going to read the summary about the book. If it has chapters offered. I’ll read them to see if I like how the Author writes. Might be a wonderful book but I can’t handle the way they write. On the other hand might be a crappy story but their style and wording just clicks for me. I’ll probably read it anyway.

    I think its to each their own. However. One friend of mine likes all the same books as me all the time. If she says its good and I’ll like it. I’m not going to research the book I’ll just buy it. Same with her.

    As a Consumer. I would rather a review that mentions the name of the book, the Author, if it was Funny, Sexy, Witty, Sassy Characters. Etc.. I hate when people give details in a review. Like, I wont tell you who she chooses in the end. That just ruined a book for me. Tells me there is conflict and in the end she has to choose. As a reader. I want it to build up to finding out. I want to wonder the entire book what is going to happen. Truthfully I probably wont even read the review unless maybe its on a monthly letter or update from a favorite Author. Other then that. I say Review away! Lol

Author Information

Jim C. Hines

Jim C. Hines' latest book is THE SNOW QUEEN'S SHADOW, the fourth of his fantasy adventures that retell the old fairy tales with a Charlie's Angels twist. He's also the author of the humorous GOBLIN QUEST trilogy. Jim's short fiction has appeared in more than 40 magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Turn the Other Chick, and Sword & Sorceress XXI. Jim lives in Michigan with his wife and two children. He's currently hard at work on LIBRIOMANCER, the first book in a new fantasy series. Visit site.

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