I'm going to co-opt Donna S. Frelick's use of the word "pedigree" since she applied it so smartly in her observation that "…reviewers are reluctant to take on review projects without a clear pedigree."
I don't take issue with the idea of a book having a pedigree, or with reviewers and readers who take that into consideration when deciding which books to purchase and read. After all, the words on a page have to at least be coherent enough to read!
I am, however, deeply concerned about the perception that because a book lacks a pedigree it is automatically inferior and unworthy.
Pedigree, as proof of excellent quality, is something that can be bought. Marketing campaigns often involve labeling a product as "the best" in one fashion or another regardless of a product's actual merit or ability to suit an individual's taste. The placing of one product above others through an orchestrated marketing campaign is interpreted, without question much of the time, as the product being inherently better than other, similar products.
Simply by sponsoring mainstream print distribution for a book, a publisher is often creating the illusion of a pedigree. Level the playing field by taking away the distribution and it all comes down to a matter of taste. Either you're interested in a story or not.
In many cases, a lack of pedigree is not an issue of lack of appeal or worth. It simply means a book remains undiscovered.
I'm going to reiterate a comment I made in a previous post:
"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."
I started wondering why a pedigree--whether of the paid kind or one of perceived worth--is rarely important to me when selecting books to read or movies to watch. During a brainstorm session with my husband, he pointed out that it's because pedigreed products have not always suited my individual tastes. In fact, more often than not, they fail to match my tastes. So I stopped automatically equating pedigree with "This is a quality product for me."
(Incidentally, this is also why I do a large amount of my grocery shopping at ethnic food stores. Pedigree supermarkets don't offer the variety I crave).
Sometimes I do fall into a wide, catch-all demographic, say with Pixar films like TOY STORY, but most of the time I don't. Pedigree is only correlated with my interest in, say, a mainstream print SFR, as opposed to being a cause of my interest.
I don't automatically equate pedigree with quality, especially when it comes to books. A pedigree can mean a certain standard of quality in terms of packaging, editing, proofing, etc., but stories are far more subjective than, say, fruits and vegetables. Five different people can have five different opinions about a book, but those same folks are highly likely to reach the same conclusion about the state of a rotten apple.
So for me, my encounter with Tony Moore had as much worth as, say, obtaining a hardcover book from a Big Five publisher celebrity author. The content was key, not the pedigree, marketing, or the packaging. (Well, the grassroots marketing of THE WALKING DEAD probably appealed to me. I do so love being at Comic-Con!)
Because content is the determining factor for me, my entertainment adventures evolved into me seeking niche stories like sci-fi romance in non-mainstream venues. In fact, accidental exposure via a non-mainstream venue was how I became familiar with SFR in the first place. "Pedigree" sci-fi romance books, films, and TV shows are only one source of the genre for me, not the only source.
Of course, I may be an outlier. Many readers fear being burned--financially or otherwise--by books that don't match their interests or live up to their expectations. For them, pedigree can be a strong indicator of a product's worth. In order to reach those readers, SFR may need to develop and/or earn a certain level of pedigree--unless there's another way. In my next post, I'll explore this other possibility.
In the meantime, inquiring minds want to know: what was your very first introduction to sci-fi romance?