Open letter to the Dutch SF/Fantasy scene

“Do it, boys and girls!” – the great Dutch language writers enquete

I just filled in an enquete on the Paul Harland Prijs site.

What triggered this post is the tweet above and a post (quoted partially later) by Bert Hagendoorn.

Open letter to the Dutch SF/Fantasy scene

On Dutch design – a strangely familiar story

This is a partial translation of an article on Dutch design written by Bert Hagendoorn. Bold by me.

Dutch Digital Design: zero reputation

[…]

We are a sparking hotbed of creativity, also on digital productions. Could it really be — like Mediamonks stated: that it is because we simply do not bundle our forces? I fear they are right.

[…]

Who is doing well, internationally? According to Mediamonks especially the Swedish, but also the Brazilian and since recent also the Russian people are asked a lot as digital designers. [..] what are they doing right? […] Especially, they work together. They form one front and work actively on their marketing and promotion. And that is something we [the Dutch] do not. The Netherlands are not on the map. And that is a missed opportunity.

[…]

How is this possible? It appears that Dutch bureaus rather compete against each other than aid one another. The Swedish do that differently: they work together and put their expertise in the market together. And that pays off. In the end it delivers them a good imago and a lot more work. […] That is something we should be able to achieve here as well.

Dear Dutch SF/F writers

Why is Dutch SF relevant? Does it all (the writing, the publishers, the opportunities) really suck that much? Are we really that disadvantaged compared to others? Is it really that much better elsewhere? And if so: would you actually be able to get access to that big juicy steak abroad?

Where are you in this game? Why are there only a few of “us” published by “real” publishers? Why are we not taken more seriously as a group? And is that really the problem?

What do you want to achieve? Who can help you in this? How big is your market (in terms of buyers)?

And so on.

Who are “The Dutch”? Where are the other voices?

“The Dutch” in the Netherlands used to be mostly white and mostly religious people living in cities and villages. In the 1950’s and after 1960 this changed radically.

The new reality after 1950 is this: the Dutch are any people living and working in the Netherlands and identifying themselves as such. EVEN when Dutch society does not acknowledge them (yet).

But do we see this same diversity back in the works that are sent in to contests, magazines and publishers? If not, why not? Where are you, writers with Nigerian, Indian, Indonesian, Chinese, Turkish, Moroccan, Russian, Polish and whatever backgrounds and family roots? I refuse to believe you do not love and read and produce SF and Fantasy related works yourselves.

And let’s not forget the “outcasts”. The ones that are “awkward” and different. The ones who follow pathways different from the mainstream. Who see a different type of reality and different ways to communicate and live and live together and form families and join and separate and eat and make love. The ones to whom the world is full of gaps and holes which are unfilled and unfulfilling and exiting and sexy and/or painful.

I also think your voices can add things to the the field nobody else can add but you.

The negative attitude, having a choice and the silent majority

One thing that struck me in connecting back to old friends and new people was the consistent mention of “negative elements”. In short: some very vocal people telling everyone and anyone how dark and gloomy and doomed and hopeless everything is for whatever you do as whom-ever in the Netherlands.

Who love to repeat over and over that all new initiatives are useless and doomed even before they start.

And it made me wonder.

Why is this a problem? And where, then, is that warm bath and that fizzling places when even the organizers of many things and publications are affected by this? As a (new) writer and artist I want to go to places where, when I enter, I feel uplifted and energized and safe. Not to be forced to be careful.

Apparently new writers have been scared away by this toxic elements. Something that is truly awful.

To the ones of you who are kind and loving: don’t be silent. Create counter-movements. Walk away from contaminated places. Produce environments where it is healthy and fun to be. Where people can feel safe and respected and wanted. It really does not matter when that happens not in one place but many. Just look at any street with several restaurants. More choice, more diversity and more chances to find one that fits you.

Use facebook. Twitter. Tumblr. WordPress to show yourselves and create your own hangouts. Make clear what your rules are. Where I can go when we do not fit.

But don’t give in.

Present and market yourself by what YOU offer. The good stuff.

This is not a competition

Writing is not a competition. It is a craft. You are not in competition with your fellow writers. There is no reason to talk down on people. If you are and if you do, ask yourself why.

To become a better writer, to build something of worth to you and others, you need people around you. Fellow writers. Fellow artists. People who are willing to assist you, read your work, give feedback. It is OK to not like certain works, or certain writers, but this Dutch playground with nothing to offer yet is too insignificant for stupid fights about nothing.

Work together. Build. Allow diversity. Allow different approaches. Support the others around you. Even if that is by just shutting your mouth.

Dear publishers and organizers

Tiny market, many initiatives

I was surprised and pleased to see what is going on after my absence of almost 10 years.

The Dutch-language SF/Fantasy market is tiny. Yet there are several magazines (Holland-SF, Terra SF, Pure Fantasy). Several publishers (Uitgeverij Macc, Verschijnsel) There are several writing contests (Paul Harland Prijs, Fantastels, Magic tales).

I wonder though if and how much competition is between you. Do you people from all these (and more) initiatives sit together from time to time? Drink coffee? Do you appreciate and compliment each others work and effort and initiative? Even if you do- and might not agree on all and everything? Are your friends? Frenemies? Or do you rather not speak and find out at all?

The audience

How do you cater the needs of SF-loving Dutch-people? How many people do you reach? 500? More? Less? How many people show up on your conventions? 200? More? Less? And how do you perceive events like Elf Fantasy Fair  where apparently over 20.000 people showed up the last years?

Do you ever envision reaching similar numbers in your audience? Do you already reach them? Surpass them?

Profit and business models

What (business/distribution ) models do you use to base your magazines, contests and other things on? How much profit do you make? Is it worth it? Can you reach more people? Does it make sense when you look at reach, investment, costs and return of investment? Is your business model still valid in this present day and age?

Why paper?

Looking at the things you offer and how you offer them, I am like: really? Why paper? Why not go digital? Cut the last steps of printing and using postal mail all together? Save yourself time and effort.

Why not give everything away for free online? Why not start fundraisers to cover the cost? It is in a sense what you have been doing until now: “buy this book. Subscribe to our magazine.”

What else is that but crowd-sourcing the old way? Your main audience are fans. Your editors and writers are heavily underpaid and/or volunteers, working out of love for what you create for them and others. Who act out of appreciate for YOU and your initiatives..

People pay you NOT for the product, but for the goodwill you created by producing a magazine or book. For the level of quality you produce. For the choices you make as the care-taker of that specific thing you do and publish.

Dear weird and crooked Dutch self-image

There is a weird thing going on with you, weird, crooked Dutch self-image. And I do not think it is healthy.

Why can you not celebrate awesomeness? Why is it so hard to feel proud of things? Of other people? Of your own culture? Why look at the bad things and use that as the template to everything? Why not look at the good things and expand that?

Why put certain people and certain things on pedestals as the extreme other side of things? Where “everything sucks except [something]” in some kind of faith-based adoration.

Mediocrity and blandness are far from awesome

It is absolutely not awesome to be mediocre and bland. It is not awesome to think small, but that is what Dutch culture seems to prefer. Anyone sticking out, anyone doing things different is criticized beyond the point of “good humor”.

Mocking is easy

It is easy to mock. Easy to belittle. Easy to talk bad about others who do the same as you do. Easy to put down their efforts. Easy to say “yeah but” and come up with some lame excuse to make yourself look smart and the other look silly.

Here is what this attitude brings: nothing.

Survivor survive “even though”

The people who survive do this regardless. Against odds. Swimming against useless streams of bullshit created by useless people who usually are too lazy to stick out a single hand to provide some help.

It seems so hard to work together. Especially when your ego is in the way and you need to intellectualize and discuss everything first to find “the perfect way” to do it. It seems so hard to simply pick up that task, do what is needed and say: “here is the result. What else can I do for you?”

In most cases it seems we rather enjoy the smell of our own farts.

A challenge 

Here is a challenge for you, weird and crooked Dutch Self Image:

  1. Allow yourself to be proud — Really. Try. Of yourself. Of others.
  2. Give other people room to shine — Like: Yeah! Go for it boy/girl!
  3. Be of assistance — Help where you can. Volunteer if you think something is worth it.
  4. Make beauty — Produce, add, make, build.
  5. Understand yourself — Understand where you come from, what your history is, what you achieved, what mischief was done, how you treated other people in the past, where you want to go to, how you can treat people in the future.
  6. Look at the big picture — The world is not revolving around you or your village, or your country anymore; if it ever did.
  7. Work together — Form teams, make things, keep it open. Learn how to do it form people who already do it for decades. How do they think? Why do they succeed? Why are they loved?
  8. Stop whining — Strip up those sleeves. Whatever you do not like, you take on as a project and improve. See also: Make beauty.

Dear all: English language, bigger market

What is this emphasis on Dutch language?

The Paul Harland Contest: “the biggest Dutch SF/F writers contest” explicitly requires the stories to be written in Dutch. Dutch magazines (who do some pruning and catering and publication of writers) publish in Dutch.

What does it provide me as a Dutch writer when I attend a Dutch contest or write for a Dutch magazine and my story has to be in Dutch? How does that stimulate me as a writer? How is Dutch language relevant at all in this?

Because we have to preserve our culture and cultural identity? Because what?

As a writer, I want to be read

As a writer and artist I want to reach an audience. As many people as possible. The English language is — after Spanish, the three main Chinese languages and the three main Indian languages — the most spoken and most read.

In Dutch language I am obscure.

Do not limit me because a minority of Dutch people do not master English. I don’t care about them. Because if and when I write in Dutch, I automatically isolate myself from the rest of the world.

Let it be a choice, but not a default.

Think BIG. Think European

Why not think European?

Sure the Netherlands are relevant. Sure we have our own voice and our own unique place in the world. Hell: we did some really crazy-ambitious-shit in the past.

But we are not the center of the world.

There is a big opportunity for Dutch writers to break-through internationally. There is also an incredible nice way to draw it bigger. “European SF”.

Join up with the Swedish, the French, the German, the Romanian, the Portuguese. Anyone! Everyone.

Closing

Show the world that SF and Fantasy is not just the stuff that comes out of the United States

Dutch writers: Retell local European tales. Reflect your own culture. Local history. Drive it to the future. Learn, grasp, integrate. reflect your own. Make it your own. WORK TOGETHER. Do international workshops with people from all over the continent. Travel.

Think Big without overstretching

Keep it simple. We — being most authors — write out of love. We do not need yet another publishing house. Or big plans from good-willing publishers to get paid. We (the writers) need simply a proper platform and a bit of love. We need some kind of stimulation and support so that we can grow as authors. So that — at some point — our work will reach the international market and people from all over the world sends us their love as well: “I read your story! Read your book! Beautiful! Go on!”

Someone provide the platforms, we provide the content

Let us write. Let us do that part. You: build something that does not look like my 13 year old cousin scraped together with Google on a weekend. Make it look professional. International. Mature. Involve us in that.

Translate the work of people who do not master the English language that well yet

Provide fan-service in that. Collect good readers and create proof-readers out of them. People I as a writer can send my story to and people who will give me feedback ranging from: “I still do not feel it. I still can not sympathize with your characters” to “If you introduce X, Y and Z in your first chapter and change P, Q and L the story will suddenly take off better. Also you need to work out better M, N and O as I feel you are just guessing, which makes your story weak.”

Make it inclusive. I write, you help. I write, you help me get better. I write, you help me reach international levels.

Stop publishing mainly in Dutch

I know Meulenhoff SF was awesome in the past. I know I wanted to be like Meulenhoff SF when I started my own publishing endeavors in 1990 (and failed). Maybe you want to be like Meulenhoff SF too. I know not all writers master that language that well yet. But the Dutch market is a closed one. It is tiny. It is like selling your oranges on a street corner where you could do and sell crates and kilos in an international shopping center.

Help people write

Help them write better. Cater the ones who won contests like Paul Harland price. Help the ones who show talent, promise. Help them by publishing their work. Bundling it. Making it readable and enjoyable. Available. Findable. Love them. Promote them. I know there have been initiatives in the past that might have failed. That does not mean it is a stupid idea.

Offer fertile ground

Think about what helps writers develop and continue. Think about love. Not money. What do we writers need? What can you offer us? How will we grow and prosper?

Make it clear where writers are

Not all people love writers not yet matured in their work. Separate. Categorize, but include.  Some people are the exception and LOVE to discover new writers who are not there yet.

Think beyond your separate publishing houses and separate brands

Sorry: but who cares if your target audience is less than 10.000 people? Why not bundle your strengths?  Why not do stuff separate as you do now, but build one strong brand with all involved in something called: “Native Dutch SF and Fantasy”?

Produce PDF and ePub files

Some of you do. Others do not. I still have to subscribe to magazines delivered as paper. You probably run just about break-even with all production costs included and do not pay your people anyway. And who cares about paper anymore? e-Readers are awesome. Internet is an awesome distribution channel.

Make it for free

Sorry if you think you can make money with it now. Dutch SF is not there yet. The market does not know about you yet. And YES: this means you will not pay the authors. And YES: that might be against your own wishes and feelings of how it is supposed to be.

Build the brand

Invest. Keep it simple. Love your writers. Stimulate them. Show you care. Address them. Approach them. Ask them to write for you. Publish their work. Help them improve if they are below your standards. (You ask, you have a moral obligation.) And again: make them visible for the rest of the world.

The end.

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2 thoughts on “Open letter to the Dutch SF/Fantasy scene

  1. Hi Peter, I’ll leave my comment in English, despite the fact that a large percentage of Dutch SF/F/H authors that you attempted to reach will never read it because they just don’t read or write anything beyond the border.

    I see that your ideas largely match the ideas you had in the early nineties of the previous century, somewhat expanded to include modern standards. I subscribe to many of them. But I think you’re missing one very important point, which I think is endemic to the Dutch writing community:

    Dutch authors have a sense of entitlement.

    So you win a prize. So you get published somewhere. All of a sudden you are a “published author.” Book deals are surely coming your way. But they’re not. Dutch publishers are not waiting for talent, they’re not looking to sign deals with up-and-coming best seller authors. They want something they can sell “now!”, as opposed to somewhere in the distant future. They are in it for the money, they need to make a living, as do we all. Look at the prize winners of the last twenty years or so. How many have published a novel? How many have delivered a consistent stream of publications? Yes, there are a few, the usual suspects that have been around forever. And think: what could be the reason for the large publishing houses to publish so many translated works?

    Read the above again, author. While you are waiting for them, they are waiting for you.

    You see, it starts with the author who needs to produce top quality work and who needs to consistently polish his/her work through publications, participating in contests, building a following. (Many of the points Peter mentioned in his letter are geared towards this goal.)
    Read up on ‘demand creation’… While you’re at it, pick up something about ‘marketing’…
    Writing is *hard* work. Only a few make money writing. Even rarer the author who actually makes a living writing…

    So the points Peter mentions are valid. In fact, many potential initiatives he describes have already been launched. Most have failed. Why? I think it is because many authors have this sense of entitlement. The ones that look and think further realize that the only way they can get the readers they crave, is to be the best in their field, to produce, consistently, to the best of their abilities, to participate wherever they think they can reach their audience, to improve theirs skills through discussion and training and to look past the Dutch borders. Europe?
    Why stop there.
    Think world.
    Think big.

    But in the end it starts with the author.
    Yes, you!

  2. Dead horses – Second open letter to the Dutch SF and fantasy world « Garbage Only

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