Thursday, January 10, 2008

In Which Xandra Goes Meta

There's something very interesting happening in Romancelandia, that I have only recently noticed and been able to articulate. It's a fascinating phenomenon, and one I'm watching--and hopefully participating in, in some small way--with enthusiasm.

A friend of mine recently remarked on the so-called "stigma" of e-books--she's not a writer, but she is a voracious reader and keeps tabs on the genre. We got to talking about the perception that ebooks were the books that New York rejected, and the implications both good and bad of that assumption. In the course of the conversation, we figured out something, which I will explain below...eventually, as it is my way to be long-winded and meandering. ;)

It's not an untruth to say that many e-books are, in fact, ones that New York publishers wouldn't buy. That is not to say that they aren't worthy reads in themselves--only that they didn't fit New York's idea of publishable due to any number of reasons, which led us to our first point--that the e-book market diverges from the mass-market paperback market from a pure materials management point of view. The cost to produce and market an e-book differs from the cost to produce and market a paperback. The time to do so also differs--everybody knows the intert00bz moves faster. Ergo, the constraints that limit an e-publisher differ from those that limit a print publisher, so print and e-books are two different products which nevertheless have a lot of things in common, including a large portion of their individual target markets.

More discussion on our part, however, further identified a key difference between e- and print, and that was the subject matter. It's no secret that erotica and erotic romance have taken off, and it's largely due to e-publishers leading the way for a variety of reasons (rapid response medium, streamlined production process, plentiful raw material, and little competitive demand for it among those reasons, and the internetz being made for pr0n in all its flavor being another), and that led us to the meat of our discussion. The e-publishing industry being as young as it is (and let's nevermind the fact that the internet is run in dog-years and ten years is venerable Methuselah status--we're talking meatspace in this instance), it's hard not to notice that the product (the e-book) remains wildly unstandardized in matters ranging from file format to delivery method to the more subjective subject of subject matter (say that three times fast), and the not-as-subjective matter of quality assurance standards (and the immediate nature of the internet brings qa issues like typos and such to the light faster, as well as granting a quicker opportunity for production adjustments to correct those issues).

But also emerging was the wide range of what my friend called "rawness" in the body of e-publishing, as opposed to what was found in her print experiences. I understand what she means, and without trying to place a value judgment on it, the body of e-work does have more unconventional-ness to it. Sometimes this manifests as unskilled writing craft, other times this manifests as odd or unusual storytelling cadence or subject matter. In some cases, this can be fixed, and in other cases, it may be better served to be left alone.

Huh? you say. But doesn't Xandra blather on incessantly about writing craft stuff all the time? Isn't she obsessed with trying to learn that much more about what makes a better writer? Well, yeah, I do. But here we come to the rich and chocolatey center of my point. E-books are made up largely of more erotic works, and their explosion has done something not just for publishing, but for the body of consciousness known as women's fantasies. In the meta of things, e-books have busted a huge hole in the boundary field of acceptability in women's fantasies.

Four or five years ago, if I wanted to read a love story with a hero, a heroine, and another hero, I would have to either hang out on the internetz with pervs or fanficcers (and the venn diagram that includes "pervs," "fanficcers," and "regular people" is one with a massive intersection, don't let anyone tell you different) or in highly secretive enclaves attuned to a particular kink as a lifestyle. Now, I can go to Liquid Silver or any number of the reputable e-pubs without having to expend much effort, and find my kink without changing out of my jammies, and before I finish my first cuppa. And without having to hide under a blanket or visit websites laden with viruses, spyware, and malware ready to trash my computer.

E-books right now are at the intersection of literature, entertainment, and consciousness dialogue. Especially erotica and erotic romance e-books. Yes, it can get messy. But pushing boundaries is rarely a mess-free activity. As the subgenres of electronic erotic romance and electronic erotica grow and mature, I have no doubt the dust will settle and literary standards will make themselves known. But at the present, there's a messy sort of exuberance evident in a body of work that includes a percentage of works that are new, raw, and formerly unspoken. Like I said, an interesting time indeed.

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