Earlier this year Howard V. Hendrix, the then vice president of SFWA, created quite a storm when he wrote that he was
… opposed to the increasing presence in our organization of webscabs, who post their creations on the net for free.
Howard Hendrix, posted on Will Shetterley’s Live Journal, 12 April 2007
Now I’m not going to talk about whether I agree with him or not. GalleyCat, over at mediabistro.com covered it pretty well for me. What I do want to talk about is where we find new authors, because I find a lot of mine on the web, at those very same sites of those people Hendrix calls webscabs.
When I was younger I discovered new authors through the pulp magazines—Asimov, Astounding, The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I discovered Connie Willis through FireWatch, A Letter From the Clearys and The Last of the Winnebagos. I discovered Vernor Vinge through a novelisation of Marooned in Real Time in Analog. I could go on and on.
If I found a good writer in the magazines I would buy their novels without even worrying about whether the book was any good or not. I was seldom disappointed.
Some of the magazines have disappeared, some have stayed (even if not in the same format), and new magazines—particularly the ezines —seem to come and go. Even so, I don’t read them any more.
I used to buy books on spec, too. I would go into the specialty science fiction/fantasy bookstores and just browse. I’d pick up anything that took my fancy, or that the bookseller recommended. Those old stores have gone now, forced out of business or online by the high cost of shopfront premises.
I go into the big chains like Borders—the only local bookstores left now—and there is nothing I want to read.
So where do I find new authors now?
The truth is, I don’t find as many as I used to. Of the new books I do find half come from personal recommendations of friends, or from a scoop-through at the library. (I’m sure you’ve done it. Go to the shelves and pick five books at random, or five whose covers you like, or five authors whose names begin with ‘C’. Take them home and you may get one book you like.)
The rest of them come from the web. I find an author whose blog I like, or someone who has posted a sample chapter or three on line. It draws me in, and I’ll go search out the book.
I think this is probably the way of the future.