A couple of years ago, I wrote a post on my adventures in traditional publishing, all of it based on the premise that – back then – no matter what your publisher did, it was always the writers fault, and if you had problems with that, well, just shake it off. He beat you, but he was your publisher, and if you left that, well, you just wouldn’t have an audience.
Those days are gone, thank heavens. I now can follow Dave Drake’s advice to me eleven years ago, to only work with publishers I respect. This is because I have the option to go indie for my other stuff.
But in that post, I mentioned something about being Latina, and refusing to claim that and to play the game. Someone of a ah… politically correct persuasion in the comments to the Passive Guy got all upset because I was claiming that the publishing game was easier for women and minorities.
The answer is yes… and no.
Publishing is easier if you’re a woman/minority who agrees with the Marxist definitions of your role and place in the world. In fact, if you’re a minority woman whose politics confirm and flatter the New York establishment, you’ll get the red carpet ride to success with extra flowers and champagne. (So, okay, nowadays that might not mean much. The champagne has gone moldy and the carpet is moth eaten, but give the bastards their due. They will try their very best to get you to the top as fast as they can. Mind you, it’s still better to be a WHITE woman of socialist-feminist upbringing, like the precious flower who got 300 thousand dollars for a book that went on to sell eight thousand copies. And then got ANOTHER 30k advance.)
If you can be that, or pretend to be that, they will help you any way they can. (More, of course, if you have minimal talent.)
Note what I’m saying here – if you fit their preconceptions about you. Or if you are willing to sell your soul to pretend you do.
I was told that I could get the golden ride IF I were willing to write an auto-biography that hit all the right notes. I wasn’t.
Why wasn’t I?
Well, it starts with the fact that I’m a little contrary. No. Wait. I’m a lot contrary. Even if I’d agreed with them, I’d have got pretty upset at getting shoved in the “Latina” box and in the “feminist” (whatever this means this week) box. That’s to begin with.
The other part – EVEN IF I AGREED WITH THEM POLITICALLY – is that this is not what I wanted to write. It just isn’t.
I can write non-fiction (eh, you’re reading it) and essays and biographical crap. I can also drive a truck for a living (okay, I can’t, but I could learn.) For all the joy I’d get out of it, I’d rather drive a truck.
What I wanted to do was write science fiction and fantasy (and mystery, too, but that was more distant and came later. I had mystery mostly as my popcorn reading for years, not as my ‘work’.)
It was sort of hinted (and driven towards by various agents – I ended up with four serially and those were the ones I didn’t reject outright in initial interviews – that this was fine too, if it was, you know, Latina, feminist SF/F.
Look, maybe other people have more control over what they write. Me? I ended up with psychotic b*tch female from h*ll in DST and for a switch a gay male barbarian in AFGM. It wasn’t my doing. My subconscious hates me. (Yes, they’re both lovable. That’s because I can’t help loving them.) I’m the libertarian whose books become ensemble casts as a matter of course. This thing is loaded and not fully under my control.
I can’t put that sort of restriction on my work. My work seems to well up from a deeper part of me, where I can’t dictate. If I try to it just stops cold. I can make minor modifications/tweaks, but that’s it. Oh, some of my characters have Portuguese or Spanish names, but I really don’t think once you get to the 25th century that means the same it means now. And if we’re going to talk in fantasy… My people’s Celtic notions got thoroughly stomped by the Romans who in their way were the most pragmatic people ever. Even their magic was matter of fact. I can write elves and fairies and all that, because I research. Nothing “authentic” about it.
Besides this being “Latino” or “minority” fiction or whatever IMPLIES an imperative to whine about America and American values.
A) I think that’s a load of nonsense, and I did even back when I was 15 and some idiot was telling me the reason Portugal didn’t have a computer industry was that America wouldn’t allow it. (Or it could be the regulations, the innumerable restrictions on invention and a culture that tends to Manana.)
B) I came to America. I chose to raise my kids here. What you’re telling me is that I’m a morally reprehensible person who will trade in her morals/dignity to be part of the “oppressors”? Much obliged for the image of me you have. Or I could have come here because I believe in Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness which this country, flawed though it is, still (more than any other in the world) guarantees its people. And because I think that’s better for everyone, of whatever heritage.
Of course it’s no use saying this stuff to the people of the NYC traditional publishing establishment. See, they’re not even badly intentioned. They’re just convinced it is their MISSION in life to improve how people think and through it society by … mostly pushing a bunch of tired Marxist nonsense at people. First it starts with viewing people as classes and genders and levels of oppression. At no time are these people people, with real histories. For instance, a female of upper middle class background who went to Harvard is ipso facto more “downtrodden” than a man who grew up in poverty and went to community college. Because she’s female.
They believe this on faith, not on any empirical observation, and they’re encased in an impenetrable wall of kafkatrap. If you’re a male and say that you’re more oppressed, they scream at you for not knowing your very own “male privilege” , and if you’re a female and say males have it worse, they tell you you’re “colonized.”
They have in fact, in their own minds, formed a completely hermetically sealed alternate reality.
Which would be fine, if it didn’t affect their decisions in our reality. But it does.
And the problem with the NYC publishing establishment is that it’s not just publishing houses who live in this alternate reality: it’s also distributors, heads of chain bookstores, and in fact all the commanding heights of business and culture. (They ARE the man.) Because a pre-requisite of hiring is to have gone to the good colleges where this Marxist (but never acknowledged as such and the usual idiots on my FB page will pull the “no true Scottsman” on me again on this) vision of the world prevails.
So the signs of the books that SHOULD be pushed because they will “educate” and “improve” people are those books that agree with them. Disagree with them and you get consigned to midlist hell.
Disagree with them while blatantly refusing to be what they think you should be because you are female and technically of a protected ethnicity and…
Well, just before three years ago, when DST did well and indie opened up… I was considering walking away from writing forever. And writing stories is the only thing I wanted to do since six. But there’s only so much the heart and soul can endure and I HAD HAD enough.
The choice was to become what they wanted to me to be – and I couldn’t. I was me, not some widget labelled “female, from Latin country, MA in Languages and Literature.” – or I could walk off. And I was ready to walk off and try to find a retail job or ANYTHING ELSE that didn’t require me to sell my soul piecemeal.
So, is it easier to be a female of color in publishing? Oh, much easier, if you’re willing to sell your soul, to void yourself and be exactly what the publishers want. If you mirror their prejudices at them, they’ll push you as hard as they can. Of course, as I said, with the new competition from indies and Amazon turning the market on its head, that’s not very far… but it’s farther than you’ll ever get if you insist on being an individual with individual beliefs!
And their prejudices aren’t only of the Marxist kind, mind you. Being “socially conscious” individuals, they get to indulge their often shockingly old fashioned prejudices in a way that anyone less politically correct would get crucified for. So my friends who weren’t even distantly “Latina” got told that they couldn’t write science fiction because “women write fantasy better.” or “Ladies can only write fantasy.” (This was told to a friend with a graduate degree in physics.) I got told that too, and also that “Women rarely plot well enough for mystery.”
This was all said by people who pride themselves on their open mindedness.
So, yes, women writers of sf/f (and anything except maybe romance) meet with prejudice. And women writers of color meet with worst prejudice. We’re dehumanized, widgetized (totally a word) and if we refuse to play along we get relegated to a sort of soft midlist ghetto where we’ll never ever be allowed to get ahead or get any support because we just are the wrong kind.
We’re not given the freedom or our own experiences or our own minds, because we iz poor womnynz of color and that idea we have that we have our own mind? Yeah, totally false consciousness. We need our betters to tell us how to think and what to feel. And if we don’t take that received wisdom we are bad womnynz of color and need to be kept in a place where they won’t wrongly influence other people who clearly can’t think for themselves.
Apparently the only people allowed to think for themselves are properly ivy educated white people who can do whatever they want to (but don’t. They willingly turn in their brains for the contradictory ideology of a crazy German scribbler. Never mind.)
Look, I can’t imagine a worse “colonization” than that, frankly. I can’t imagine a colonialist, racist of the 19th century saying that a subjugated person doesn’t have his own thoughts, is not ALLOWED to have his own thoughts, and if he has his own thoughts he’s wrong and bad. Or rather, I can, but you’d have to go all the way to slave owners.
So… I don’t wonder why many women writers in science fiction are furious. I just wish they’d stop and think at who is causing their fury.
No, I really don’t care if your PUBLISHER told you that the reading public wouldn’t take a gay character (told me that. Agents, too) and I don’t care if they tell you it’s those troglodytes, out there in redneck country who don’t like your daring prose.
Your publisher and your agents are inside a parallel reality. They talk to people like them, and they know what it takes to “sell” books to distributors and store managers, but not necessarily to the people on the streets (which is why printruns keep falling. Never mind the excuses about videos and games. Write stuff they want to read and they will come.)
In the last few years, I’ve got to talk to a lot of real people, out there, some even fandom but not organized fandom, and I have yet to see any who resents that I’m a woman, of color (Well, I used to be tan. Days spent inside have given me this sallow olive look. I must make enough to buy a beach house. Then the color I am is exactly that of toast with butter) who writes whatever crosses her mind and none of it victimhood. The only person who has scolded me for not writing “more Portuguese” was someone mad I write historicals about English History. (He was from Portugal and I actually agree with him on the wonderfully rich history. The problem is that there isn’t a substratum of knowledge for it to peg onto in the states, which are still my main market. I could write Portuguese history, but it would have to be disguised and in the far future.)
The fans don’t care, provided I give them characters they care about and an interesting story. Heck, my leftist fans stick around despite my obvious libertarian beliefs, which, yes, do bleed through into books. You can’t help it when you’re writing from the soul.
And interestingly enough, Baen doesn’t care either. Baen, that evil Right Wing House (which publishes Eric Flint, an avowed communist, and more than a dozen leftists of various shades. Ah, but they publish people who aren’t leftist, and that makes them ipso facto evil and right wing.) Baen looked at my books and bought the books. They accepted that this woman of Latin origin can have a mind of her own and allowed me, for the first time in my career, to write what I really wanted.
Curiously – or not – that was a book that sold better than anything else I’d written to date: Darkship Thieves.
And then I sent them A Few Good Men, on Spec, and they liked it so much, despite the BLATANT gay romance, that they sent me copyedits before the contracts.
(Which is of course, how evil they are, see, they even let the little womyn of color write things that are clearly false consciousness. The pure evil! – do I need a sarcasm tag?)
So you see, my story has a happy ending. I escaped from a situation in which I was a widget and there was only one path for success and I’m free – just like a real person! – to forge my own path to heaven or h*ll. No guarantees, but I get to do what I want to. I don’t have to sell my soul to be allowed to create “approved of” art.
So, all of the women screaming about their oppression can stop being oppressed. They can walk away from publishers who demean them, and go indie or find a publisher who respects them.
You can’t force the world to stop thinking whatever it will think, but you can go around and forge your own path and reach readers who just want to read.
And you know what? The readers don’t care if you’re purple with pokadots. I know this, because I’m a reader, and I don’t care. I don’t even care about your politics if you tell me a good enough story that I’ll read it despite rolling my eyes at a few paragraphs. And I’ll buy the next, too.
Your success is in your hands. And it has nothing to do with what’s between your legs, or your pigmentation. Or even what’s between the legs of your characters or their pigmentation.
Traditional publishing, the NY way was making me insane with the lies of its parallel reality. It was killing me softly with its intent to help me ITS way.
So I walked. No, I’ll never get the magic carpet ride. But I’m not afraid of working. And I’m not afraid of selling to the fans. I can tell them stories, and that’s all I ever wanted to do.
To every writer treated like a widget: Stop driving yourself crazy. Set yourself free. And consider that likely your tormentors are the ones who claim to be your liberators.
UPDATE: Because Kate had trouble slice-o-dice-o-mating our little precious flower link troll yesterday in comments (because, you know, she’s not rude and tries not to wall of text the comments) she continued the vivisection over at Mad Genius Club.