Prejudice among Gatekeepers
I often see plaints about sexism in publishing. There aren’t enough books written by women, there aren’t enough books that feature women in starring roles, and so forth. I’m more than a little inclined to shrug and say ‘eh, so what?” because in the modern era, it comes down to one of two things: either the readers are reading traditionally published books, or they are reading Indie.
If they are reading the top sellers, the most popular, and none of those ickie ‘self-published’ novels, and they complain about the dearth of female writers, they are trying to point a finger at the readers, and missing. If there is a prejudice against female authors, as the writer of an article I came across at the Passive Voice thinks, then it is not among the readers, but the gatekeepers. Catherine Nichols used a now well-worn ploy, “[she] has found that submitting her manuscript under a male pseudonym brought her more than eight times the number of responses she had received under her own name. In an essay for Jezebel, Nichols reveals how after she sent out her novel to 50 agents, she received just two manuscript requests. But when she set up a new email address under a male name, and submitted the same covering letter and pages to 50 agents, it was requested 17 times.” If this seems familiar, it’s because a scandal broke out last year when it was discovered that a white man had been publishing his poetry under an Asian pen name. I liked what Passive Guy had to say about the Catherine Nichols article: “PG doesn’t know of any formal studies, but he would bet the majority of agents are women. And the majority of editors working at publishers and acquiring books are women. There’s only one logical conclusion – female authors should avoid the sexist hellholes of traditional publishing and self-publish. Starve the biased beast. Male authors should do the same thing in a show of solidarity.”
His conclusions certainly follow along with what I’ve seen – the majority of editors and agents are women. Can women be biased against women? Why not? There’s a sort of reverse sexism springing up out there, if you hadn’t noticed. I have been caught in it myself a couple of times, with reviews on my most popular books stinging me for having dared to write a male POV character (Pixie Noir), and for having the audacity to make my main female character (in the second book, Trickster Noir) hand over her keys, to a secondary character who doesn’t let anyone else drive, ever – sex is not an object to him.
So sure, I’ve seen bias against sexes in the books – by women (presumably) against male characters. I’ve also seen sexism by male readers against female writers – Amanda Green was bitten by this one, writing under an open pen name for her excellent Mil SF books. A highly-ranked Amazon reviewer just didn’t think a female could carry that off.
However, sexism and racism in the industry among the gatekeepers is inevitably going to have a more chilling effect on careers than a few negative reviews – particularly when the bias in the reviews is nakedly obvious and we can rely on intelligent readers to snort, shake their heads, and buy the books anyway (or perhaps because of). However, the bias of the gatekeepers is insidious, invisible, and the readers never get to make their own decisions. Larry Correia wrote an excellent fisking of a recent article lamenting the lack of diversity in Sci-Fi, and I urge you to read it. I’m going to put what I think is the money quote here, though, because he says it better (and saltier) than I could.
“This is a fantastic time to be an author. In the olden days, if a handful of gatekeepers didn’t like you, you were boned. For a long time, unless you were a superstar, there was basically one mainstream publishing house that didn’t give a damn about their author’s personal politics. Luckily, Indy and self-pub have changed the market dramatically.
For a long time entertainment tried to lump as many customers as possible into one big box to provide dumb bland mushy product to. To make a living at this stuff you needed to sell to everybody, including the easily offended. Now, you just need to appeal to one group of fans, and what appeals to them might not appeal to everybody, but screw those guys. You can make what you want. Technology has evolved so that you can get your product right in front of your target audience. It isn’t just books either. Stranger Things got rejected by something like 15 networks for being too weird, and now it is a hit on Netflix.
And the crazy thing is that those gatekeepers who were enforcing the big box of bland dumb mushy product for the masses? Turns out they didn’t know dick about what people actually want anyway. My first novel got rejected by every publishing house and agent in Manhattan as being unsellable. I self-published, did great, wound up with Baen, and I think it is now on its 14th printing.
So if you get rejected by some biased editor, but you know your product is good, and you know there is a market? Go around the assholes and find your fan base yourself. And if it is good and entertaining enough, then it will have legs and grow beyond that one little market you targeted. I started out selling self-published print on demand novels on an internet gun forum.”
We no longer have to suffer prejudice. On the internet, no one knows or cares what color the author is. They only know ‘this is a good story… I want more!’ and that’s enough. Personally, I don’t want people judging my work based on what’s between my legs. That bit of data is irrelevant to the point of what I’m doing – I’m writing. I don’t do that with my sex organs, or the color of my skin. Pixels on the screen become black ink on cream paper…
Once you go Indie, you escape the grasp of the gatekeepers. You may not leave all the prejudice behind, but the biased reviews of those readers may not have the impact they intended. Or, perhaps, they signal to people who want to keep their biases, and thus spare you the author from more negative reviews (kind of like vaccination, I suppose). But the prejudice out in the open light of the market shrinks into what it is, a tiny sniveling hobgoblin, compared to the hulking trolls of the gatekeepers who could smash a hopeful writer’s career with a single rejection note and a snide remark to their friends, the ‘right people’.
Persevere! Write what you want, entertain us, and you will succeed against the hobgoblins and trolls of ‘Isms, O Indie Author. It’s not an easy path, but it’s a free one with no gatekeepers.