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Thread: Indian SFF

  1. #16
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by prohasta
    The title of the Ashok K. Banker book I was referring to, for those who asked, was Prince of Ayodhya.
    Ok. According to Banker's web site the second book has been scheduled for publication by Warner in early 2005. While they might be trying to get him to change things, that is not the same as canceling the book. If its been canceled in the US, why doesn't his web site say so ?

    I also checked out Warner Aspect, the US publisher, and they have him and the first book listed on their web site, and a link to his web site. In their blurb it says he has finished the 2nd book, Siege of Mithila. It doesn't give a publication date, but if they have canceled it, why mention it, or link to his site ? I know for a fact that many US publishers are worried about losing sales to the UK, so I can't see them carrying his web site - with its links to amazon.uk all over the place, unless they had a stake in his continuing to be of interest to US readers.

    Are they trying to make him change his book because the first one didn't sell well in the US ? Once they bought a book based on such a strongly foreign premise I can't see them trying to change it based on a whim, or they never would have bought it in the first place. Poor sales would also be a reason to cancel it, if in fact they did. I have started other series that didn't finish because the books didn't sell well enough for them to continue publishing it. It is a real pain to get stopped before the end.

    I have the first book, though I haven't read it yet, but once I do, if I like it I will get the 2nd one, either here or from the UK. Though it also says on the web site that Penguin India is also publishing it - which may mean it will be available on amazon.com like Samit's book will be. So it looks like no matter what happens with Warner in the US the book will be available.

  2. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by FicusFan
    Ok. According to Banker's web site the second book has been scheduled for publication by Warner in early 2005. While they might be trying to get him to change things, that is not the same as canceling the book. If its been canceled in the US, why doesn't his web site say so ?
    Because it will be available in the US in early 2005, but in the UK edition. The US publishers Warner Aspect cancelled the US edition.

    Quote Originally Posted by FicusFan
    I also checked out Warner Aspect, the US publisher, and they have him and the first book listed on their web site, and a link to his web site. In their blurb it says he has finished the 2nd book, Siege of Mithila. It doesn't give a publication date, but if they have canceled it, why mention it, or link to his site ? I know for a fact that many US publishers are worried about losing sales to the UK, so I can't see them carrying his web site - with its links to amazon.uk all over the place, unless they had a stake in his continuing to be of interest to US readers.

    Are they trying to make him change his book because the first one didn't sell well in the US ? Once they bought a book based on such a strongly foreign premise I can't see them trying to change it based on a whim, or they never would have bought it in the first place. Poor sales would also be a reason to cancel it, if in fact they did. I have started other series that didn't finish because the books didn't sell well enough for them to continue publishing it. It is a real pain to get stopped before the end.
    The problems came about way before the first book was published. The thing is, an editor named Betsy Mitchell was the one who bought the series for Warner back in 2001. She was very enthusiastic about the series and knew just what it was, ethnic Indian mythologically based "fantasy". But she moved to Del Rey soon after--and when she tried to move the series with her, Warner refused, saying they had a contract with Banker. After that, another editor took over the series for Warner and she was the start of the problems. Since it had been bought by her predecessor, she didn't see it the same way as Mitchell had. Hence the reams of editorial suggestions and comments, which, if Banker had carried them out, would have turned the first book, Prince of Ayodhya, into just another pseudo-medieval epic fantasy. He got them to agree by and large on that book, but on the second book, even his agent turned around and said he would have to carry out all editorial corrections. The absurd thing was that by that time, the second book (and the first of course) had already been published in the UK and India, etc and was not just selling very well but was hugely popular.

    Carrying out the editor's suggestions on Book 2 would have in essence have altered the storyline and characterisation itself, and we're talking about a mythological tale that has been around for over 3,000 years! It was unacceptable and Banker said so. That was the point at which Warner Aspect quietly cancelled the series. They didn't do this noisily, since they admitted it wasn't anything wrong with either the series or the author, but they shelved it anyway. Incidentally, this happened to several other Aspect authors who got 'orphaned' when Betsy Mitchell moved on to Del Rey. She was able to take a couple with her, including the brilliant (IMHO) SF writer Peter F. Hamilton but the others all suffered similar fates to Banker.

    Quote Originally Posted by FicusFan
    I have the first book, though I haven't read it yet, but once I do, if I like it I will get the 2nd one, either here or from the UK. Though it also says on the web site that Penguin India is also publishing it - which may mean it will be available on amazon.com like Samit's book will be. So it looks like no matter what happens with Warner in the US the book will be available.
    The situation now, as I understand it, is that Banker's UK publishers are so pleased with how well the series has done in the rest of the world that they've bought US rights from him (he has a new agent now too) and are going to distribute their UK editions in the USA. That's why Banker's website still lists the second book. Penguin India has only Indian rights--so their edition won't be available on amazon.com. Samit's book will be because Penguin India hasn't been able to sell rights to the USA or UK so they're going to sell their edition there themselves. So, yes, the Ramayana series will be available in the US and in the form it was written. The UK publisher, a very well known SFF imprint named Orbit, had no problem with the books or the contents and their editorial suggestions were the normal variety.

    But I don't know if you'll really like the books. In a sense, the problem, as Warner Aspect realized much too late, was not with the books themselves, but with how they were marketing them. (Betsy Mitchell had had a different plan but of course she wasn't there to put it into effect, sadly.) They just marketed the books as the Next Big Commercial Fantasy and slung names like Tolkien and Brooks and Goodkind, which was ridiculous because if you read Prince of Ayodhya as I have done, you'll see it doesn't hail from that tradition at all. That's, like, the whole point! What Mitchell had intended to do, and which would probably have worked really well, was to market it as something unique and new, and target it to Indian readers as well as those Americans interested in something fresh and different. Aspect realized this but by that time they were committed to the first approach. In the UK too they started out similarly to Aspect (though without the name-dropping) but quickly realized their mistake, corrected it before publication, and all went well.

    If I'm getting a hotdog with Indian spice curry flavouring, as against a completely Indian dish (like a sam-osa, say), I'd want to be told up front. I don't want to be given an Indian sam-osa and told 'hey, this is the Indian hot dog, but without the bun, without the dog, and without relish, and hey, it's got potatoes, and dough and Indian spices but it's still like sortof almost a hotdog, isn't it?'

    If you look at Aspect's publishing program since Betsy Mitchell left, you'll see that they've done almost nothing really great. On the other hand, Del Rey has become hot to trot after she took over. It's incredible how much difference one good person can make in this biz.

  3. #18
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Oh yeah, he got orphaned. Which can absolutely kill a book, since the editor assigned to take over usually has little interest in the title. It also sounds like there were major shake-ups going on at Aspect, which may be why Mitchell, who's a legend in the field, headed for Del Rey. Third and last, he was a foreign author who was being imported, which, while it's become more common, is still something U.S. imprints are figuring out how to handle. Tricky, and kudoes to him for standing his ground. I'm sure Orbit will be able to do well with it, though some U.S. booksellers may have felt they got burned by it. But if the second book does well, all will be forgiven and it will revive the first one. They should keep an eye on the first one and if it looks at all out of print, try to get the rights back from Aspect.

    I'll give you another story -- children's fantasy -- to let you see how publishers can be foolish. My agency repped Janell Canon who was the writer and illustrator on a wonderful kid's picture book called "Stellaluna," about a fruit bat who ends up being raised in a family of birds. We sold it to Harcourt Brace's kid's arm. Not too far from publication, they raised the idea that since Janell's drawings were so true to life on the animals, that we should scrap the story and replace it with non-fiction scientific information about bats and birds. This idea made absolutely no sense whatsoever and I'm not sure where it came from over there, but the author and we argued vigorously that this was an impossible change to make. They backed down because publishers usually do in these situations and I'm not sure they were that into the new idea anyway. And the book came out and was a big bestseller in kid's picture books -- because of the story.

    In a few years, who knows, Indian fantasy and sf fiction may be dominating the U.S. genre market. Big changes are coming, don't know if good or bad, but they'll be interesting no doubt.

  4. #19
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by prohasta
    Because it will be available in the US in early 2005, but in the UK edition. The US publishers Warner Aspect cancelled the US edition.
    You said that but it isn't what his web site says. It says Warner will publish it in early 2005. Can't see why he would not say Orbit, which is totally different than Warner. He should update his web site. Orbit and Gollancz have taken to selling a few titles here directly each year, so it is possible the new books will be on the shelves at B&N along with the old one. In any case I will still find copies of the later books if I want them.

    I am not quite sure what you mean by not enjoying them. If they are well written then I will most likely enjoy them. If not then I won't. I don't really care what the book is like, as long as the story and the characters engage me. I don't generally buy books because they are 'like' something else. I don't actually know anyone who does. I suspect those who do are not real readers and they may buy the books, but probably don't read them. Since I don't read Jordan, Tolkien, Brooks et al I don't really care that his books aren't like them.

    If however his books are so steeped in Indian Culture, Language, and Rituals -- without any explanation for those of us who are outsiders, then that could be a problem. It is a fine line to balance between boring those in the know, and bewildering those who are new.

    I actually just finished a book for my fiction group called Madras on Rainy Days by Samina Ali, an Indian-American woman who wrote about an Indian Muslim girl who split her time between the US and India, and her difficulties in navigating the 2 cultures in terms of getting married. She wrote so that some things were understandable from the context but some were not and it was frustrating.

    I agree Betsy Mitchell is a force for good. I may email her and see what she has to say.

  5. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by FicusFan
    You said that but it isn't what his web site says. It says Warner will publish it in early 2005. Can't see why he would not say Orbit, which is totally different than Warner. He should update his web site.
    Just checked out his website and (scratching head) can't seem to find the page you're referring to. Are you sure you're on the same (web) page, ie www.epicindia.com ? It seems very up-to-date to me, in that it lists Banker's new non-genre novel. Click on the link titled Ramayana. Or try refreshing your browser page when you go to the website.

    In any case, Orbit _is_ Time Warner Books (UK), so there's no mistake. In the UK their imprint is Orbit, and in the USA it's Aspect, but in both countries they often publish as Time Warner.

    In fact, if I recall correctly, Betsy Mitchell's plan was to publish Prince of Ayodhya as a Time Warner or just plain Warner book in the USA. (She did this quite successfully with Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and more to the point, with Nalo Hopkinson, another writer who defies easy categorisation.) Mitchell had apparently even shortlisted a number of eligible awards to submit the book to when published, and was helping the author set up his own web page--that's how involved and committed she was to the book.

    The start of the string of mistakes Aspect made after her departure was when they slotted the book as just another big commercial epic fantasy, put it out under the Aspect Fantasy imprint, and not only did they not submit it for awards, they even neglected to mention it in their listings of new publications--this is apparent from articles in Publishers Weekly and other media around the time of Prince's publication. I have it on good faith from a journalist who was engaged by Salon.com to interview Banker that Aspect didn't even bother to respond to Salon.com's questions (they needed inputs from the publisher, naturally) because of which Salon dropped the article. A feature interview with Banker by Washington Post (a cover feature on Washington Post Book World no less) suffered the same fate for the same reason. In the same period, Aspect's new editor when asked by PW about their fantasy line, chose to single out a novel by Octavia Butler published ten years earlier! (I'm sure the fact that Betsy Mitchell was responsible for building up the Aspect line in the interim period was a factor in her leaving out so many good books and authors.)

    The irony was that Banker's only support came from the trade. B&N ordered out virtually the entire first run of the hardcover edition, and did all they could to promote the book and series. The book actually had very decent advance orders in hardcover as well as, later, in paperback and was easily selling out its runs. Now, of course, it remains to be seen how well or otherwise Time Warner UK does with its editions in the US market, after the long gap and neglect by Aspect.

    Last I heard though, Banker had a new agent in the US, a gentleman named Donald A. Maass of an agency named DMLA (presumably Donald Maass's own agency?) and was optimistic of doing better with his new series based on the other great Indian epic The Mahabharata. But I think Banker might do better to sell the new series as more mainstream or historical fiction rather than genre fantasy. Hopefully, things will go better for him this time around.

  6. #21
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    Yes I was on the right page. I have copied the section from where it appears. It is under the Breaking News Section, about 3/4 of the way down the page under the heading listed below.

    Siege of Mithila, besieged by Indian readers

    Yes, it's here at last. Siege of Mithila, Book 2 of The Ramayana, is available in all Indian bookstores. Within a week of its appearance, the book hit the bestseller lists, showing up as No. 2 in Hyderabad, No. 1 in Bangalore (on the Non-fiction list!), No. 2 in Delhi, and stores like Oxford and Crossword Mahalaxmi in Mumbai reported a sell-out. So if you want a copy, or want to gift someone a copy, you'd be wise to act quickly!

    Readers in the USA will now sigh a little louder--and longer. Warner Books USA have pushed back their Ramayana publication schedule slightly. Siege of Mithila will now be published in the USA in early 2005, followed by Demons of Chitrakut later the same year.

    It was hard to find, so perhaps they forgot it if circumstances changed. But since I was looking for info about book 2 I read that section entirely, where I just skimmed the others.

  7. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by FicusFan
    Yes I was on the right page. I have copied the section from where it appears. It is under the Breaking News Section, about 3/4 of the way down the page under the heading listed below.
    Um...excuse the ghost in the machine, but I couldn't find it. But I also noticed that most other pages have changed since I last visited, which was just a day or two ago, so maybe they've been in the process of updating the site. Anyway, I think the point's fairly clear that Warner USA is not releasing the rest of the Ramayana series, Warner UK is, as a division of Warner USA! Same difference.

  8. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by KatG
    I'll give you another story -- children's fantasy -- to let you see how publishers can be foolish. My agency repped Janell Canon who was the writer and illustrator on a wonderful kid's picture book called "Stellaluna," about a fruit bat who ends up being raised in a family of birds. We sold it to Harcourt Brace's kid's arm. Not too far from publication, they raised the idea that since Janell's drawings were so true to life on the animals, that we should scrap the story and replace it with non-fiction scientific information about bats and birds. This idea made absolutely no sense whatsoever and I'm not sure where it came from over there, but the author and we argued vigorously that this was an impossible change to make. They backed down because publishers usually do in these situations and I'm not sure they were that into the new idea anyway. And the book came out and was a big bestseller in kid's picture books -- because of the story.
    That's a fascinating--and frightening--story. Kudos to your agency for standing up for the author. It doesn't always happen. In Banker's case, a real horror story, the agent felt her loyalty lay with the publisher and basically advised said publisher to dump the author. Allegedly, (I heard) said agent was vindictive enough to axe a film deal--she told the producer the author "wasn't interested" and told Banker that the offer wasn't worth considering. (According to Banker, it was but it was too late by then.) There were several similar incidents, and by the time Banker realized what was going on, he had already been made out to be the 'bad guy' in the whole scenario and his entire US contract was flushed down the toilet. The biggest irony was that he had not been shown the contract at all--the agent had a power of attorney from him--and she felt that since she was responsible for "creating" Banker's fledgeling US break in the first place, she was justified in destroying it too. And she probably has done just that. I doubt any other SFF publisher in the US--and there are hardly a handful as you know--would want to touch him with a barge pole now. The sad thing is, nobody ever gave Banker the benefit of the doubt.

    After hearing Banker's story on an SFF writers/editors online discussion group, I began wondering whether it's worth trusting an agent at all. In the UK, for instance, most good editors will look at unagented manuscripts and it's not anathema to go unrepped. But in the US, I'm told, editors won't even consider an author, well-known or unknown, without an agent involved. I understand that editors are over-burdened but surely UK editors are burdened too? Banker's story may be somewhat unique, him being an Indian author and straddling genres, but I've heard other horror stories of authors signed with US agents. In contrast, your agency story is a welcome relief.

    Quote Originally Posted by KatG
    In a few years, who knows, Indian fantasy and sf fiction may be dominating the U.S. genre market. Big changes are coming, don't know if good or bad, but they'll be interesting no doubt.
    I doubt that very much. The publishing pros I know--and I know a few--all seem to feel that while an 'ethnic' kind of genre novel would be a welcome change, they certainly don't see such books as being big sellers. What they have in mind are books along the lines of say, China Mountain Zhang, or Lord of Light. Not a blockbuster fantasy series.

    And most US readers probably don't realize it, but there are whole bunches of stuff taken from Asian myth and used in several major fantasy series.

    What readers seem to look for in a BCF (Big Commercial Fantasy, but you knew that already) is a traditional type of story that fits in with the Euro-US history they're already familiar with, but has interesting new exotic elements. These latter could be Arabian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, whatever. But the main storyline and characters should be recognizably, well, for want of a better word, WASPish. And I mean that in the most general, non-racial sense, please. So, for example, George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, which I personally think is brilliant, is essentially based on the Wars of the Roses with a few titles and names spelt differently ("ser" instead of "sir", etc.) and only one sub-plot, that of Daeneryes (sp?) and the dragons she nurses, is thrown into the mix as the obligatory exotic (read "Asian") spice.

    But had Martin turned that on its head, and made the Daeneryes (sp?) plotline the main story and the rest of it background, I hardly think it would have done half as well.

    For that matter, how many majorly successful fantasy series heroes/heroines can you name who don't have WASPish names?

    It's going to be hard if not impossible for American readers to break out of that fixation. I don't see it happening anytime in the near future. But what I do see is a continuation of the growing interest in genuinely new and different ethnic-based novels (in genre and otherwise) in the UK and the rest of the world. I wish I had the same hopes for American reading tastes, but I just don't see it, frankly. Please, somebody up there (Betsy Mitchell? anyone?) prove me wrong!

  9. #24
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by prohasta
    In fact, if I recall correctly, Betsy Mitchell's plan was to publish Prince of Ayodhya as a Time Warner or just plain Warner book in the USA. (She did this quite successfully with Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and more to the point, with Nalo Hopkinson, another writer who defies easy categorisation.) Mitchell had apparently even shortlisted a number of eligible awards to submit the book to when published, and was helping the author set up his own web page--that's how involved and committed she was to the book.
    Committed and smart, but a loss for the genre. By moving him out of Aspect and into Warner, she would have made the book general fiction -- non-genre fantasy. Both non-genre fantasy and non-fantasy fiction by Indian writers is at this point common and popular in general fiction. By having him published by Warner and marketed in the general fiction area of stores, it would make him eligible for literary awards, mainstream reviews, and so on, as evidenced by the interest from Salon and the Post Book World. When Betsy left Aspect, the book should have been handed over to an editor at Warner, since that was the campaign, but it got left in Aspect and they really had no idea what to do with it. They're not that used to dealing with media like Salon and the Post on most titles, and things were probably a mess for awhile.

    Nalo Hopkinson does not defy easy categorization. She's a sociological science fiction writer. I didn't like her one book I tried that much, but I understand that as a black female sf writer, they are anxious to keep her in the genre and to do crossover sales to stir up "literary" interest. The question is whether she'll bother to keep a genre comitment, or whether she'll be lost to general fiction as some other sf authors have done.

    The irony was that Banker's only support came from the trade. B&N ordered out virtually the entire first run of the hardcover edition, and did all they could to promote the book and series. The book actually had very decent advance orders in hardcover as well as, later, in paperback and was easily selling out its runs. Now, of course, it remains to be seen how well or otherwise Time Warner UK does with its editions in the US market, after the long gap and neglect by Aspect.
    The interest by the booksellers was because they saw it as general fiction, not genre fiction. Is Orbit marketing the next works as general fiction or genre fiction? Because that could create problems, trying to do it now as genre, though Orbit seems to have a better handle on what they are doing and would presumably do crossover sales better.
    Last edited by KatG; February 17th, 2005 at 02:42 PM.

  10. #25
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by prohasta
    In Banker's case, a real horror story, the agent felt her loyalty lay with the publisher and basically advised said publisher to dump the author. Allegedly, (I heard) said agent was vindictive enough to axe a film deal--she told the producer the author "wasn't interested" and told Banker that the offer wasn't worth considering. (According to Banker, it was but it was too late by then.) There were several similar incidents, and by the time Banker realized what was going on, he had already been made out to be the 'bad guy' in the whole scenario and his entire US contract was flushed down the toilet. The biggest irony was that he had not been shown the contract at all--the agent had a power of attorney from him--and she felt that since she was responsible for "creating" Banker's fledgeling US break in the first place, she was justified in destroying it too. And she probably has done just that.
    Unlikely, especially as the major chains liked his book and it sold well for them. Why in the world did he give an agent power of attorney? An agent works for the author. An agent is empowered by the author to negotiate for the author, but all final decisions must legally be the author's and the author must review and sign all contracts. I don't understand why Banker did not do this. I also don't understand why any agent would do what this agent reportedly did. Agents earn their livings from their clients, so she was essentially cutting into her own income. (Wouldn't mind you PM'ing me with the agent's name, Pro, if you have it.)

    I doubt any other SFF publisher in the US--and there are hardly a handful as you know--would want to touch him with a barge pole now. The sad thing is, nobody ever gave Banker the benefit of the doubt.
    Their lack of interest in Banker probably has nothing to do with what went down. It has to do with them not seeing it as a viable genre project. And it's possible some editors do see it as a viable crossover project, like Betsy did, but they might want to see bigger results in the UK and elsewhere before expressing any interest.

    After hearing Banker's story on an SFF writers/editors online discussion group, I began wondering whether it's worth trusting an agent at all. In the UK, for instance, most good editors will look at unagented manuscripts and it's not anathema to go unrepped. But in the US, I'm told, editors won't even consider an author, well-known or unknown, without an agent involved. I understand that editors are over-burdened but surely UK editors are burdened too?
    The UK market is much, much smaller, and the size of the population assaulting UK publishers with fiction is much, much smaller. Some of the U.S. sf/f publishers will still look at unagented fiction, because it is the tradition of the genres, but as sf and fantasy grew in popularity, so too did the number of writers trying to break in. It becomes impossible to devote the manpower and time to weeding through these, so many publishers have left it to the agents to find and bring them good stuff. Of course, this still creates a bottleneck, since there are only a handful of major sf/f publishers and only a small percentage of agents rep sf/f to them. There are, though, a growing crowd of small presses doing sf/f that are becoming more important in the market and that take unagented submissions. But usually, in the U.S. market you want an agent because a key part of the agent's job is to make sure the publisher doesn't screw the author over in the contract and lives up to their contract, and to protect the author in contract disputes with the publisher.

    Banker's story may be somewhat unique, him being an Indian author and straddling genres, but I've heard other horror stories of authors signed with US agents. In contrast, your agency story is a welcome relief.
    Banker's story is completely unique. There are bad agents, agents who make mistakes, and there are con artists out there posing as agents. But there are a lot of good, legitimate agencies that really work for their authors. I know lots of agent horror stories too, but most of those horror stories occurred because the author did not stand up for themselves and deal with the agent. Authors have to be actively involved in the management of their own business and they have to watch what their agents are doing. They have to make all of the decisions, and agents are to negotiate, advise, protect, market rights, and manage monies and other business details.

  11. #26
    BookWyrm Archren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG
    The interest by the booksellers was because they say it as general fiction, not genre fiction. Is Orbit marketing the next works as general fiction or genre fiction? Because that could create problems, trying to do it now as genre, though Orbit seems to have a better handle on what they are doing and would presumably do crossover sales better.
    When I saw "Prince of Arodhya" in B&N, it was in the SF/Fantasy section being marketed face-out in their "LOOK HERE: NEW STUFF" shelf. Now I am massively kicking myself for not picking it up, of course. I had no idea that it would become so hard to get a copy of, and I'm really looking forward to it. I guess I'll have to wait until I make another run on Amazon.

  12. #27
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by prohasta
    I doubt that very much. The publishing pros I know--and I know a few--all seem to feel that while an 'ethnic' kind of genre novel would be a welcome change, they certainly don't see such books as being big sellers. What they have in mind are books along the lines of say, China Mountain Zhang, or Lord of Light. Not a blockbuster fantasy series.

    And most US readers probably don't realize it, but there are whole bunches of stuff taken from Asian myth and used in several major fantasy series.

    What readers seem to look for in a BCF (Big Commercial Fantasy, but you knew that already) is a traditional type of story that fits in with the Euro-US history they're already familiar with, but has interesting new exotic elements. These latter could be Arabian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, whatever. But the main storyline and characters should be recognizably, well, for want of a better word, WASPish. And I mean that in the most general, non-racial sense, please. So, for example, George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, which I personally think is brilliant, is essentially based on the Wars of the Roses with a few titles and names spelt differently ("ser" instead of "sir", etc.) and only one sub-plot, that of Daeneryes (sp?) and the dragons she nurses, is thrown into the mix as the obligatory exotic (read "Asian") spice.

    But had Martin turned that on its head, and made the Daeneryes (sp?) plotline the main story and the rest of it background, I hardly think it would have done half as well. For that matter, how many majorly successful fantasy series heroes/heroines can you name who don't have WASPish names?

    It's going to be hard if not impossible for American readers to break out of that fixation. I don't see it happening anytime in the near future. But what I do see is a continuation of the growing interest in genuinely new and different ethnic-based novels (in genre and otherwise) in the UK and the rest of the world. I wish I had the same hopes for American reading tastes, but I just don't see it, frankly. Please, somebody up there (Betsy Mitchell? anyone?) prove me wrong!
    Yeah, well, publishing pros are notoriously reactive. Since they haven't seen it occur yet in epic fantasy, it can't happen, right? Until it actually does, and then they change their tune. There is a decent percentage of fantasy that is non-white and that amount will grow over time, as it has, slowly, in sf. One problem is that non-white, "ethnic" authors tend to avoid the genres and publish as non-genre sf and fantasy. Which doesn't help the genres out in trying to be less vanilla. One area that offers lots of possibilities is urban/contemporary fantasy -- fantasy taking place in the 1800's and up into the future in terms of setting. Obviously, genre fantasy set in the current day has a lot of cultural options and such fantasy is quite hot right now. Laurell K. Hamilton's bestselling Anita Blake series, for instance, features a half-Latina main character and lots of non-white characters.

    But you're talking about epic fantasy, the core sub-genre. Epic fantasy was spawned from Tolkein's LOTR, D&D role playing games and Western European based fairy tales, and jumpstarted the formation of the fantasy genre as a new category. And it's sold well enough that it hasn't had to add a lot of variety to the epic fantasy menu in the thirty years it's been around. It's only now starting to regularly do stories set in the Renaissance era or later. But that sales record is now faltering. Epic fantasy is experiencing a glut and while some authors do well, the rest aren't producing sales like they used to. Which means titles will be cut, but also leaves room for new types of epics, such as what Betsy Mitchell was trying to do with imported Indian/UK fantasy. Presumably similar to the sort of thing she'll be trying at Del Rey, the most powerful sf/f publisher in the business. It's going to be a mess, and then it's going to get interesting.

    American publishing is actually quite fluid and can change trends rapidly. Ten, twelve years ago, children's publishing was in bad straits with whole imprints getting liquidated. Now, children's and particularly children's fantasy, is the hot area of fiction publishing. The fan base for epic fantasy and adult genre fantasy in general has also been changing. It started out as mainly young white males, and now it's a lot more varied.

    Indian fantasy writers and for that matter, Indian-American fantasy writers, have perhaps a tough position in trying to enter the genre market because what they are interested in writing does tend to be epic fantasy in category. They may have more luck if they go for the genre through the contemporary sub-genre. But if Banker is getting marketed in the SF/F section, if titles make in-roads, it can easily change.

  13. #28
    This has been a great discussion, and KatG, your insightful posts have really been stimulating and informative. As an aspiring writer myself, it gives me some hope.

    My interest in the whole Banker issue, frankly, besides 'knowing' him from the other list on which we are on together, stems from my own in-progress novel. Set as it is in a recognizably Eastern/Asian world, something that interests me profoundly, both in a spiritual sense as well as in terms of sheer wealth of culture, tradition and narrative history, I've had grave doubts about its salability in the USA. Which hasn't stopped me from working on it for over three years already, and won't stop me from finishing it.

    But I did worry when at least one editor and two agents I approached wrote back saying things like 'this is astonishingly well-written' and so on, but that they felt it might be 'tricky' marketing such a book in the 'current climate'. Whatever that means.

    In the end, I've decided to try UK publishers and agents and they already seem so much more open to submissions. I got a response from a major UK editor within five minutes of my sending my email - it shocked the hell out of me, I can tell you - asking me to send my manuscript to him at so-and-so address. I don't know how things will work out eventually, but even that warm, polite invitation to submit is all a beginner really expects sometimes. After that, it's up to the manuscript itself.

    One thing's for sure: The US is certainly going through a very confusing and disturbing period. And nobody knows for certain how it will turn out, but it's likely that the America we knew back in August 2001, will never exist again.

    A final footnote: Banker himself mentioned in the other list that he's been following this particular thread with great interest, lurking in the background. He thought it better to let the thread play out without offering any comment but from his posts on the other list, I gather that he found it "heartening" to see that there are genre lovers in the US who still think his kind of writing could find success in the USA.

    So, cheers to SFF, in all kinds, shapes, colours and ethnicities!

  14. #29
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Well tell him to stop lurking and come play.

    I'd love to know more about what is happening in the UK market, because they do often create changes in the U.S. market, especially ever since Rowling crashed on our shores. I was very worried to hear that S&S UK dissolved their sf/f imprint last year -- it sounded like the U.K. was moving away from sf/f. But maybe they are adapting new strategies, like bringing more "ethnic" fantasy and sf into the adult genre market. That would be great, and if they do well with it -- guess what the U.S. will do. They'll do more too.

    I hate that you got that response from editors and agents, though. That's just so incredibly short-sighted, but it happens. A British writer I knew on message boards got told her work was chick-lit (it actually wasn't,) and wouldn't sell because chick-lit was done. Not only did she get an agent and sell her novel, but there have been a steady stream of gal power novels from Britain, a number of which have done well. It just takes one person to use their brain cells. Maybe you should seek out Ms. Mitchell in her new digs.

  15. #30
    Hi, Katg,

    I've been lurking a while here, and really enjoying this discussion. And now, the really nice people at SFFWorld have gone and given me my own Official Author Forum, nicely giftwrapped with chintz and all!

    And now that it's up and running, you're all invited.

    I'm open to talking about anything under the sun, related to SFF, of course.

    All questions will be answered. And many interesting new ones will be asked.

    See you there!

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