This is the first part of a two part conversation with author Tobias Buckell about Kickstarter and our writing. Part one is on his blog here: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2011/09/29/a-kickstarter-discussion-with-mary-anne-mohanraj/
The second part is below. Enjoy!
Demimonde is unusual for science fiction because it takes on a planet that was colonized by South Asians (mostly Indians, but some Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, etc. as well). (You know something about writing that kind of book! J I'm three stories into the book, and so far, my main characters have been brown, white, cat-like orange-furred alien, brown, brown, brown, brown. Seven characters, and only one white person in the room so far? That's going to be a stretch for a lot of editors who are worried that white readers aren't going to pick up a book with a brown girl on the cover. (C.f. Justine Larbalestier and the whole Liar cover controversy for more on that.)
And even if a big publisher does pick up a novel like this, there's a good chance they're going to want to shelve it in the 'ethnic' section -- which can be the kiss of death. Even with Bodies in Motion, I had problems with how strongly the publisher chose to market it as an 'exotic half-naked girl in a sari' book. In my opinion, niche marketing like that tends to limit your readership much more than necessary, and honestly, as a person of color, it's sort of infuriating to be minimized that way.
Do you feel like the ethnic elements have been a factor in your Crystal Rain series? Either positively or negatively? Personally, I was tremendously excited to read about characters of color in what felt like a Caribbean-inflected science fictional world; that was a big impetus towards my picking up the books. Do you think publishers were wary, or have had difficulty marketing the books?
Thanks. Thereve been positive and negative sides. Negatives include hate mail from SF fans who genuinely think non-white people will never get to, or belong in space (or the future) and tell me so. I also get a lot of accuasations about being politically correct and things like that. Lots of anger has been directed my way, which can really get me down, its one reason Ive started to get a little louder at people who come at me strongly. I hit a breaking point after a near-death experience with my patience levels.
And certainly it was tough on all sorts of ends with marketing, because I would get people saying I hate issues SF, its boring and stuff like that. When I really like blowing stuff up! I sent out my books by hand to places that reviewed books written for and by peole of non-white ethnicities, but got a lot of pushback because they were science fiction, too.
But the positives, I think, outweigh all that crap. I went down to AnimeKon Expo in Barbados recently, a multimedia convention thats like Comic Con for the southern Caribbean. And it was so awesome because everyone there was so onboard with the books, and I got to talk with some of the coolest fans ever of my writing. It really had a tremendous impact on me, and I swear, Ive never sold so many books so fast at any event. It really sunk home that that was what it was all about.
So heres a question that might be awkward, but one that no one has really felt comfortable asking me that I actually have a particular answer for: what if the Kickstarter project doesnt work out? What do you think we learn or plan to do next? Kickstarter has some interesting blog posts about artists who took lessons from a first project and moved into a second project. It certainly feels riskier to be doing this in full view of everyones eyes. Rejection from a publisher or short story market is usually a private thing, you and I are both facing letting it all hang out in public. Transparency is great, but sometimes it can smart.
It's funny -- when I started this project, I thought that if it didn't get funded on Kickstarter, I would just drop it. But actually, as I've spent time promoting it, I've gotten more and more excited about it, and have continued writing new stories in the book. I'm loving writing about my weirdo university planet, with tons of brown folk and aliens, all under threat of an imminent interstellar war. I suspect that if Kickstarter doesn't work out, I'll try something else to get this funded -- either going the traditional agent-to-publisher route (crossing my fingers that some editor will be willing to take the risk on an odd sort of book), or a different crowdsourcing or self-publishing model.
It's an exciting time to be a writer or artist -- while there are plenty of challenges, there are also opportunities that never existed before. No one ever promised us the life of an artist would be easy.
I've read and loved your Crystal Rain series, and I actually just taught your "Toy Planes," story in my Minority Authors in Speculative Literature course -- I think one student is turning in a paper on it today, in fact. What else have you worked on in the past? And what's coming next?
It is an exciting time, and yeah, no one promised easy for sure. But its pretty cool to see tools like Kickstarter, Peerbackers, and so on. And with eBook readers taking off, things are popping all over the place. Im just happy to be living IN THE FUTURE! I get to play with all these neat things like blogs, twitter, eBooks, eBook readers, and so on. Its a neat time to be alive.
Thanks for the nice words about "Toy Planes", thats exciting. As an adventure focused SF writer, I never dreamed that I would ever be taught in a classroom!
As for whats next, my eco-thriller Arctic Rising will be out in February from Tor Books. Im really excited about this one, it was three years in the making. And I have a few other projects that are coming to boil soon. :-)
Thanks for listening, folks! If you're interested in supporting the projects, you can find out more below: