Friday, September 21, 2007

Separating the Sheep and the Goats


The Judeo-Christian parable of “the sheep and the goats” pictures the final judgment in which sheep have followed the shepherd, so they will inherit eternal life, but the goats are rebels and will be cast into the lake of fire. In the real world, sheep graze on the grass growing on the ground, predictably, but those pesky goats will browse all over, eating whatever. Sheep tails dangle down; goat tails rise up. Perhaps the greatest difference is in behavior; however, the sheep flock together, but the goats are independent.

Sometimes I think writers are either sheep or goats. This may be especially true for genre writers, like science fiction and fantasy. Those who belong to the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) are among the sheep. For any of you who don’t know, there is a rather short list of accepted publishers, and “real” SF writers must flock to those. Using another publisher or another method to get a book out (such as ePublishing or small presses) makes the author a goat. Romance writers have similar issues with the RWA, but I know more about SF/F, so I’ll stick with that.

When I visited LibertyCon in 2006, I realized I’m a goat— big time. I’d been told to be there at six on Friday evening, when all of the con guests would be introduced, followed by a mass book-signing. Those guests who had been invited got seats at the head table and a formal introduction. The rest of us, fledging authors who asked to attend, formed the audience, and we merely got to stand and wave from our seats as our names were announced. After that, the con staff set up the room for the book signing. Again, the sheep were at the head table, but the goats were parked at the side of the room. The program director told us that he did that, rather than seat us at the back of the room, to give us a chance to snag an occasional autograph seeker. I was a bit surprised when one gal assigned to the goat section grabbed her preprinted name and taped it on the end of the sheep table. In fairness to her, she had co-authored a book with a prominent sheep, but apparently the con staff had never heard of her. Her behavior throughout the con was no doubt designed to make everyone aware that she was “somebody.” I didn’t attend this year, but I’ll bet the staff now knows she’s a member of the flock.

At LibertyCon, the panels were set by the staff, but guests, even goat-guests, had input into discussion panel assignments, and I was lucky there. I was seated beside a sheep on the first panel; he couldn’t have been nicer. He asked about my book and encouraged me to tell the audience how I managed to get a contract, which was the overall topic. Another panel was strictly goat territory: self-publishing pros and cons (no pun intended) so my co-panelist and I managed to conduct an informative panel, even though we’d never met prior to that event. You gotta stand on your own feet to be a goat.

Don’t misunderstand me. Being a goat isn’t all bad. Sometimes good sheep are stranded as their shepherd-publishers go looking for the next big thing, and being sheep, these authors won’t or can’t seek out a publishing alternative beyond the sheepfold. That’s sad, because many worthy stories are out there, waiting to be told. In my own reading and book buying, I embrace the works of small publishers and ebook publishers because some of the goat stories are fresh and more interesting than the same old stuff from the flock.

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