Brands and satisficing

The slogan of the Sycamore Hill Writer's Conference is "Adequate Science Fiction", based on the principle that "good enough" is, well, good enough.

The writers who attend Syc Hill (of which I have been one) don't believe this at all, of course.  They are aiming at something far beyond "adequate", the use of a litotes (a rhetorical word for "understatement") being a signature turn of the fancy pants literary SF writer.

But humans are not maximizing creatures.  We are "satisficing" creatures:  if seeking out the best takes too long or expends too many resources, then it isn't "the best", not from a resource-conserving standard.  Good enough, found quickly, beats really good, found with difficulty and effort.

Brands (and genres too--I'll get to that at some point) are search-conserving heuristics (to use some fancy pants rhetoric of my own).  They seem to compress a lot of information into a narrowband signal, because they evoke information you already have cached.  We perceive little and process less, and the best way to get to us is to tell us something we already know, disguised as something new.  Effortless revelation follows.  They enable us to find the adequate, quickly.

So a brand (like, say, a writer you may be thinking of reading) should be consistent, so that it can quickly inform you of something you already know.  Writers who think their brand can just be "quality literature" quickly learn that that's too vague--and, frankly, too difficult to deliver on consistently.  We all think we keep our quality high at all costs, but aside from someone like Ted Chiang, we are mostly fooling ourselves.  Better "military science fiction" or "the guy with the weird aliens".  Those are attributes whose quality can vary quite a bit before you get into trouble.  They can convey something you already know.

What is my own brand?  I'm still working on that one.