A complaint: Furry fan publishing is overlooked – by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
I feel like complaining, and I’m not sure who to complain to.
It’s about the review of the recent FurCon in Science Fiction/San Francisco #161, (PDF), Spring 2015, “Furries in the Fog: Further Confusion 2015” by Christopher Erickson, reprinted in the DP newsdump of April 16. It’s a typical review today of a furry convention for the general public, both accurate and highly favorable. But Erickson said, “I was also able to see all of the dealer room. There was a lot for sale. There were numerous artists to choose from. There were also dealers selling ears and tails. There was a stand with puppets. One stand was selling custom collar tags and license plate covers. Others were selling artisan crafted soaps and lotions. I purchased a few pieces of badge art from one dealer that featured various fandoms.”
This is all too typical of reports of furry conventions by non-furries that praise furry fans’ creativity for making fursuits, original art, puppets, theater, composing music, dancing, etc. – but that NEVER have any mention of furry booksellers or the furry specialty press. Further Confusion is one of the major furry conventions each year, and the three leading furry specialty publishers — Sofawolf Press, FurPlanet Productions, and Rabbit Valley — all have dealers’ tables there. All three attend many furry conventions each year. There are furry book dealers at EuroFurence and at Australian furry conventions. Some conventions such as RainFurrest are quite writer-oriented, with specialty books, or new books debuted at their conventions, and panels on how to write and/or sell furry fiction. Kyell Gold, a leading furry author, has been a popular speaker (and often a guest-of-honor) at furcons all around North America and in Europe and Australia. But you wouldn’t know it from these con reports.
Sure, furry books and writing are just a minority interest amidst the totality of a furry convention. But they aren’t nonexistent, or invisible. The implication from these convention reports is that furry fans are only interested in fursuit making & wearing, badge art, knickknacks like furry earrings, clocks, soaps and license plate frames, and items that go with outgoing furry social life — nothing literary. As a writer of furry book reviews and an editor of furry short fiction anthologies, I’m both insulted and dismayed by this ignoring of furry literature.
I’m not sure what to do about it, except to urge the fans at a furcon to, when asked by a mundane what furry fandom is about, mention the literary stuff, too.
I agree whole heartedly that the literary works within the fandom are often overlooked and often wonder just why that is.
Lower reading levels in the USA where a lot of these works are produced?
Quality? Perceived lower quality?
Or something else?
It would be nice to see our craft get more recognition, but that said, it would be nice to know why it is not.
I think this is a tricky question, because it’s relative. Overlooked compared to what? Here, the article compares insider fan activities. But how does furry fan publishing compare to indie publishing in general? There may be a number of counterpoints to complaints.
A few theories –
– The stuff that does catch attention is very visual. What makes a better media piece – a picture of a fursuit or 1000 words of furry fiction?
– I don’t have an impression that reading levels are low these days. I think books sell as well as ever. There is just more wealth of options than ever before, and niche writing has to compete for attention. If you compare consumption of all media (games, movies, etc) I would guess that furry fans are on the high end. Long-form text works take a lot of concentration though, and have a higher barrier to entry than other media. Especially for young people (furry fans skew young) who may have stuff like schoolwork to study instead of fun reading.
– Insularity is a big reason to feel overlooked. I have an impression that there’s a common question about furry fiction from the non-acquainted: “why are they all animal-people?” For furry fans, you don’t need a reason – it’s just because. But outsiders aren’t steeped in it all the time and may not visualize such a world without context and cues provided inside the text itself. So they just don’t get it. Authors working in that mode are making works aimed at a special niche, without reach outside it, and building their own complaint.
– This blog is meant to sit on the border between subcultural insider-fan activities and general culture… that’s why I love covering “crossover” type happenings. There are definitely some very active writers conscious of that, but I get the feeling there aren’t enough of them. More works that could fit in general-sci-fi or imaginative literary mode would help. Fred frequently reviews some impressive examples of those – most recently, his review of Mort(e). But that wasn’t a “furry” book. Bring more furry-authored work like it, and more branching out to stuff that isn’t furry at all.
– What is popular among furry fan readers? Erotica and romance sells a lot. That brings pigeonholing… romance novels by themselves make one of the least-regarded niches of books (not that “low culture” is bad). Crossie at Flayrah made a sad-but-true joke calling it the “gay foxes in high school” genre.
– Speaking of tropes, I have seen Phil Geusz analyzing anthropomorphism tropes and pulling out several reasons for “why a furry world”? There’s magical ones that need no explanation, magic or science transformation, and so forth… the “oppressed species” one seems really common. Awareness of why to use the genre could help.
– Business wise: It seems that the level furry publishing is at, may actually be average to good. Having three specialty publishers handling most publishing makes a fair amount of activity for a tiny niche audience, and they have even got some prestigious awards. With publishing in general, the big houses have been consolidating and facing a hell of a lot of upheaval this decade. Book stores have one national chain remaining (Barnes & Noble) and physical shelf space (very important for discovery) had been steadily whittled down. Times are tough. Digital publishing is a new thing but not the same thing… I get a feeling it’s very a la carte to buyers, and best serves activity that’s already strongly established (big companies and brands). Back in Fred’s day, pulp magazines thrived on news stands, and we don’t have that now. It makes an uphill battle for recognition on anything more than a hobby level.
All true enough, but not exactly pertinent to my complaint. Let’s raise the visibility of furry writing and publishing in reports in the mainstream press of what the furry subculture is about. Then, we can examine why people — the fans, and the mainstream reporters — praise the creativity of the fursuits, the artwork, the music composition, the making of furry knickknacks, etc., and always ignore anything literary.
As the media relations guy of Eurofurence, one of the few furry conventions that actively works with the press, I agree that there is too much emphasize on the costuming aspect. For the general public, we’re the funny people dressing up as animals. When we talk to reporters we always present the full range of creative activities to reporters. If we are very lucky, they will briefly mention other visual arts in their report, usually only fantasy artwork, rarely comics, but never literature, music or puppetry. But in most cases it will be about fursuiters only. And even then not about fursuiting as a theatrical art but “human interest stories” about the guy (or gal) behind the mask. In fact, it is almost never about art, though always about people. But then again, at least in Europe, it’s all that passes as news and journalism these days, regardless the genre. Even literature shows on public television: almost nothing about the book, all about it’s author. The type of media doesn’t matter, regardless whether it’s print, TV or radio: topics don’t generate ratings, people do.
Honestly I am ok with this. Stories about people are relatable, so are appealing costumes. There is a place for book reviews and so forth too, but writing about writing only goes so far. Ultimately, works need to stand on their own merits beyond hype… speaking from experience in publishing. Even traffic to this site shows that reviews and coverage of writing are relevant for specific readers who are looking for it – but people are far more likely to read and share about social happenings and history.
Luckily there isn’t competition for traffic here – as a nonprofit volunteer site, there are other reasons to run stories. Relevance is about much more than what’s popular, and that’s why it’s great to have reviews and news about the writing, and spread curiosity to know more. But I can definitely see why it naturally takes more dedication to find and doesn’t get priority in news.
Fursuits and other visual arts are, well, visual. Costuming is the first thing anyone sees about furry these days (and it’s been that way for at least a decade), and the second thing is likely to be the most attention-grabbing stuff in the dealers’ room — which is again likely to be visual — or the art show. Articles that go any deeper than that are very likely to start focusing on the social aspects that occupy so much of convention time and space.
I’ve had a suspicion for a while that media coverage has also been something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. What people see about furries in any media, from typical alt weekly coverage to “CSI,” is fursuits, first and foremost. Fursuits fursuits fursuits. Furrydom has penetrated pop culture consciousness, but if you ask someone who isn’t a furry what a furry is, they’re going to tell you “somebody who like dressing up in animal costumes and partying.” And at some point I think that stopped being a cliché to be waved off. A lot of furries in 2015 are people who like dressign up in animal costumes and partying. They may not even be all that into the art, let alone the comics and the (gasp) text.
So: back on point, I’m not sure how to fix this beyond working to make furry books more visible in non-furry media. I don’t think there’s any easy solution to that, but I do think we probably need to be kinder to ourselves, after a fashion, with regard to what we imagine non-furries will accept. MCA Hogarth, Kyell Gold, Michael Payne, Paul Kidd and others have audiences outside furrydom. (Hogarth was recently elected vice-president of the Science Fiction Writers of America!) Kyell and I workshopped novels at an “intensive workshop” program at the University of Kansas last year run by all-the-awards-winning author Kij Johnson and nobody in the class, including Kij, had a problem with talking animals, including Kyell’s unapologetically “it’s just like that, deal with it” approach. (Incidentally, Fred, my novel was Kismet, the one my Furry Future story is connected to.) Of the three short stories nominated by the Furry Writers’ Guild for Coyotls, two of them were published in mainstream sf magazines: one by Malcolm Cross, set in the same world as his novella “Dangerous Jade,” and one by Ursula Vernon, which just won the Nebula Award.
Basically, I think we need to start trying to gently push our stuff outside the fandom, as well as start gently pulling stories from non-fandom writers into our publications when we can. I have a bit of a bias on this, as it’s what I was trying to do with Mythagoras twenty years ago. But, hey — Mythagoras remains the only furry fanzine that published a story by a Hugo winner, as far as I know, and it was also one of the first places recent Nebula nominee Lawrence Schoen published.
Hey great comment. Of the 7-8 writers (and you) named, I wonder how much they represent the bulk of furry fan writing? As far as I can tell, erotic/romance is a mainstay of the 3 big fan publishers. (Oxymoron?). Not that I have any problem with it, but catering to popular opinion that way can be self-limiting.
[…] A complaint: Furry fan publishing is overlooked – by Fred Patten..I am as guilty as the rest. Buy the stories that are in the furry mind. You watch the cartoons. Don’t go past the books. I will buy a book the next time I go. I will see a picture or title that sounds intriguing buying it. It will make the one selling it happy. Make them happy if not for any other reason. They are your furry brothers. […]
From the outside media perspective I thinks the problem is media obsession with fursuiting i.e. furries are just propel dressing up in animal suits, too few reference about the other aspect of furry fandom. I also wonder there an internal apathy towards literature in furry fandom. When was the last time some writers put on a what to read or a reader specific panel at a con? Perhaps furries share the same problem with the Science Fiction fandom: obsession with writing but not reagin and enjoying of SF. This Is true for our local Science Fiction con.
Another issue it typecasting of furry fiction as nothing more from gay ramce to soft porn, something I do not care to read.
On a related note, there has been a raging controversy about the dealers’ room application process for this year’s FC. The application process changed from the classic first come first served method to a jury based process which looks like it was anything but transparent and resulted in the exclusion of several estabilished artists regardless of actual past sales.
Details of the new selection process:
The FC marketing lead joins the discussion:
The excluded artists are obviously biased when discussing the selection process, and I’m not buying into conspiracy theories, but I wonder what Fred’s opinion on the matter is.
It’s worth noting that Sofawolf Press, FurPlanet and Rabbit Valley all made it past the new process, so clearly they have a healthy number of dedicated fans in spite of the reduced visibility.
Made a dumb mistake here, sorry – the new selection process is for FC 2016. So we don’t know yet whether the three publishers have passed (although they should have been privately informed of the results already).
I read that before, with Flinters from Jarlidium Press complaining about the selection process.
I got the impression that there is no perfect system… either they can do first-come/first served and be weakened by factors like too many dealers offering less-than-broad selection, or they can be juried and everyone will naturally complain of bias. No matter that selecting has to have some sort of bias, whether it’s for broadness or quality or who knows…
With these cons being run by DIY volunteer work, I am not against some benevolent dictatorship in the process. There are enough cons around to put some competition in it, and at heart it’s a hobby type activity, I don’t sense reason for entitlement. Could those who complain take part in running the cons, and get the favor they complain about that way?
Should I be accused of insensitivity, talk of competition isn’t just rhetoric. Is San Jose the first city to have two furry cons?
Since I haven’t been able to attend furry conventions since I was paralyzed in 2005, except for the local CaliFurs (in my wheelchair), I don’t really have an opinion. The juried rather than first-come system sounds fairer since it should enable more dealers in high-quality merchandise to get tables, rather than those who are already at a con to sign up all the tables for next year. But who decides which dealers are “the best”? How long will FC wait to allow “higher quality” dealers to apply, instead of letting next year’s Dealers’ Den to sell out at once? How is “high quality” determined? By the highest sales figures? By a variety of merchandise, to ensure so many artists, so many book dealers, so many fursuit makers, so many plushie dealers? If it comes to a choice between dealers, how are they judged? By the amount of past sales? By the judges’ preferences in what kind of merchandise they’re selling? Are accusations of judges’ biases and of con committee secret agendas true? I haven’t any real idea, besides reading some of the complaints from the rejected applicants.
All I know is if IMVU gets into FC like they did in 2015 (when it was FCFS) I am going to want to go to the store and buy some pop-able popcorn.
They were outside in the marketplace and not the dealer’s room… it’s possible that a sponsor-type member could get hall space without conflicting with dealers. There sure is enough of it at the San Jose expo center. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a booth set up in the big entrance hall where they have the pop up donut shop and acres of open floor. IMVU is local to the con too. The bigger and more public cons get, the more they may need to pay attention to the community they are in, potential sponsors, working with the city, etc.
Maybe if they do furries can stop by and telling them why posting human pron/hook up site ads is probably going to be bad for their advertising bottom line on FurAffinity…
If you go back far enough, the whole presence of costuming and fursuiting at s-f and furry conventions can be traced back to the influence of media manipulation. The first World Science Fiction Convention in New York in 1939 was very much a staid suit-&-tie affair, except for Forrest J Ackerman who wore a “futuristic costume” modeled after Raymond Massey’s in the movie “Things to Come”. But the newspaper reports of the convention made it sound like a gathering of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon fans who all came dressed like their heroes in the newspaper strips and the movie serials. After that, “everybody knew” that you were supposed to wear colorful costumes at fan conventions
Could we call that creating an artificial trend, or just unlocking a natural interest they knew would get big? They say Sherlock Holmes fans made the first modern fandom Decades before that. I can’t find mention of how much it involved costume but I did see that his “death” caused many people to dress in mourning in the 1890’s. Furry fans haven’t had an easy time getting news coverage, so I wonder how much cause can be attributed to the media.
Actually I wonder if it depends on the convention; Costuming is rare at a SF con, 20% at a furry con but I see two cosplayer per every attendee at an anime con.
Looks like Fret Patten has answered his own question in his article.
Kyle Gold is “the leading furry author”.
That is a neat summary of the situation. What does Kyle write? Erotic gay furry fiction.
I don’t think it is unnecessary, but then again sometimes it does not matter what I think. I have to do this. I have to write a disclaimer. I DO NOT HAVE ANYTHING AGAINST GAY PEOPLE. There, all done.
HOWEVER, my short three sentence paragraph is still the reason why furry books get little attention. Because if they were, the message transmitted to the public would be “furry is about gay erotica”. And that would be GREAT news. For people who are into gay erotica. And HORRIBLE news for people who aren’t into that. They would say “oh well, looks like this furry stuff is not for me, I guess I’ll avoid it from now on”.
And one might say: “Wait, don’t go! Furry is also about other things!” But it would be too late. Average Joes and Joannes do not want to spend their time looking into furry and what it’s made of. Just like your average computer user will not take time to learn Linux, regular people who might like talking animals will be alienated by a sexual portrayal of the fandom in the news, and not spend a second to do a research and look deeper. Such a portrayal would alienate many potential new members to the fandom.
And before someone accuses me of sprouting theories, I have talked to many funny animal enthusiasts who refuse to join the furry fandom because, quoting them, “it’s all about the sex stuff and I’m not into that”.
Feel free to ignore everything I wrote and disagree completely.
I don’t disagree about the self-pigeonholing 🙂 Crossie at Flayrah said it best, calling it the “gay foxes in high school” genre, haha. OK, well, pop and cheese is not necessarily bad. It’s just good to stretch limits and go beyond what’s safe or what sells to a tiny niche. I’m 100% supportive for that. I enjoy cheese but dislike pandering at the same time.
Kyell Gold fans laud him for trying to stretch genre and writing stuff with little erotic element. I’m not so sure his example is all that compelling, it’s not coming from below the #1 popular author, and I haven’t heard mention of much outside attention going to the non erotic stuff. (This isn’t all that connected, but when Radiohead got lauded for putting out pay-what-you-want albums, people were like, well, yeah, but it’s Radiohead, that isn’t so special to non-established bands who can do what they want.)
There are examples like DIGGER getting the top award of science fiction.
Who cares if average Joe and Joanne are turned off by fabulousness? They can go enjoy whatever lame and boring pabulum they want… if they’re that judgemental, nobody should want to reach them. It’s the adventurous, chance taking, smart kind of reader who is good to reach. “Alienation” is not an issue… I think the issue is making people bored by sticking to cliche.
I would love to see more gonzo, avante garde, punk rock, acid fried, crazy underground culture coming from Furry fans. From Alice in Wonderland to Robert Crumb and Fritz the Cat, it’s already in the roots.