Thursday, September 19, 2013

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TALES FROM THE SFR BRIGADE: What's Next?



TALES FROM THE SFR BRIGADE is a free anthology of science fiction romance short stories. It was produced by a team of authors, bloggers, and editors from the SFR Brigade, a consortium devoted to raising the visibility of SFR. (I participated in the cover committee, but that was the extent of my involvement).
 
Having since read the anthology, I'm impressed with not only how professionally it turned out, but also how much work went into its creation. No one was paid as far as I know--TALES FROM THE SFR BRIGADE was truly a labor of love.

Additionally, the team behind this anthology had pretty much zero privilege. They didn't use Kickstarter to raise funds. They didn't have the backing of a publisher. They didn't have any kind of mainstream platform, or the platform a successful mainstream print author might have (e.g., Courtney Milan or Meljean Brook) before going indie. In essence, TALES FROM THE SFR BRIGADE started from scratch.

I mean, wow. I was the recipient of eight free science fiction romances simply because a group of highly dedicated people were motivated enough to deliver them to readers. I generally expect to pay for my entertainment and feel good about compensating authors for their work, but it sure is great to receive a generous book gift like that now and then.

(The closest comparison I can think of is like a free, county-funded children's fair/festival (as opposed to a paid amusement park, class, or camp). I've taken my daughter to a fair number of free events and most of them were really fun for her. I really appreciate that kind of resource, especially since it's helpful for families on a budget.)

Of course, I'm a hardcore SFR fan so it's a given I'd read the anthology. I read as much sci-fi romance as I can, as often as I can. But the anthology is also meant for readers outside the core SFR fandom. Do they have any idea this passion project even exists?

In The Hunt for the Elusive Reviewer, Pippa Jay, one of the anthology authors, described her efforts to not just find active reviewers, but also ones who accept digital-first, indie sci-fi romances. Seems like it's been a real uphill battle:

So, out of the remaining 269 reviewers, I've currently made 100 requests to those who accept digital-only, self-published science fiction romance. Out of those, I've had 7 say yes. Two others said no but offered me a book spotlight, with a third saying they may not review it (depending on time) but still offering me a promotional spot. One said no full stop.

In the comment section, Donna S. Frelick pointed out that in addition to the vast number of free/inexpensive books, "…reviewers are reluctant to take on review projects without a clear pedigree."

I agree with her conclusion, at least regarding reviewers whose tastes run toward mainstream fare. Reviewers who focus on niche stories are more concerned about content than pedigree, but those folks are in the minority and probably even harder to find.

On the other hand, the pedigree issue has always existed. Despite that barrier, plenty of niche stories have broken out into the mainstream.* So I'm not entirely convinced pedigree is the only factor making reviewers hesitant to give TALES FROM THE SFR BRIGADE (or other SFRs) a try. Strong word-of-mouth can trump pedigree *if* the story delivers a clever reinvention of a popular trope or is so cracktastic readers can't look away.
 
It's too soon to tell if this anthology has the power to generate a word-of-mouth tidal wave. So in the meantime, I'm going to pose a question for the SFR Brigade members: "What's next?"

Via SF Signal, I came across a post at Comics Worth Reading about author Peter David. He had announced a recent publishing deal with Amazon: Peter David Writes Next Book For Amazon, Not Self-Publishing, Due to Low Sales.

The post provides some interesting insights into the challenges of self-publishing, but what really struck me was the comment by Robert Greeneberger: 

"There’s no magic bullet except accepting this is a marathon not a sprint."

I found his comment very astute. While I understand the frustration of Pippa Jay and other folks on the TALES team regarding the difficulty in finding receptive reviewers, I can't help but wonder if a goal realignment is in order. 

It'd certainly be wonderful if TALES FROM THE SFR BRIGADE reached a statistically significant number of reviews. It's no less deserving than any other ebook. But despite everyone's best efforts, few may be forthcoming. In light of that possibility, should reviews be the only goal?

For one thing, the anthology's shelf life will, presumably, be indefinite. It can be reintroduced at various future points, especially for readers for whom the free price point is a major consideration. Or for those who want to give SFR a try without the risk of investing in a full-length novel. At appropriate times and in the appropriate forums, SFR fans can use it to help hand sell the genre. I have a feeling the anthology's real work, and that of its creators, has only just begun ("…marathon not a sprint").

The anthology stands as a symbol of just how much can be accomplished by determined authors/editors. But it can also serve as a lesson about how to improve the process in the future. TALES FROM THE SFR BRIGADE doesn't seem to be available at Amazon. Surely there are some takeaway lessons here?

The anthology could be a building block. In other words, what about another anthology? What about a series of anthologies generated by the SFR Brigade? Each installment could feature (and should feature) a different set of authors. Brigade members could take turns providing editorial services, cover services, etc.

Future editions could offer unique themes, such as an all near-future or cyberpunk edition. Have one anthology be a collection of erotic sci-fi romances. Then hard SF settings. Heck, I'd love to read one about stories mixing weird SF and romance. The weirder, the better! Crack open the cracktastic seal and see what happens!

Most importantly, one volunteer (preferably someone other than the participating authors) should be in charge of sending out review copies and implementing a multi-faceted marketing campaign.

All of the above is easy for me to say, I know. And I would totally understand if TALES FROM THE SFR BRIGADE was the first--and last--ever to be made by the current Brigade members. Marathons require lots of training and hard work. And one can't run very far without sustenance.

Perhaps it's time for an energy drink break before the next strategy session begins. :) 

Joyfully yours,

Heather

*We all remember when THE WALKING DEAD comic book series didn't have a pedigree, right? Illustrator and co-creator Tony Moore hand-sold me an autographed copy of the first issue at San Diego Comic-Con circa 2004. Let me tell you, I'll never forget the earnest expression on his face. He really wanted my investment in the concept.

I and other attendees at his booth didn't need any kind of pedigree to convince us of the worth of the story. So why did it take--oops! I'll save my rant about pedigree bias for another day.