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.”

Man review

a Goodreads review

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.

Male POV

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.

79 Comments

Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON

79 responses to “Prejudice among Gatekeepers

  1. I”m seriously thinking of publishing as a dog and accusing negative reviewers of speciesism 🙂

    • I’m pretty sure there’s been a book that was ostensibly written by a dog? But anyway, if you’re an Indie dog, you can do what you want! 😛

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Oooh.

      As I recall, standard advice for indy writers is to a) run a blog for advertisement b) study law in one’s state for how best to register/incorporate one’s business.

      Adopt the corporation’s name as a penname, blog in the persona of the corporation, word every aspect of customer service as if it were corporate.

      Dear Sir or Ma’am,
      Have you considered that your objection might be driven by the racial prejudice against persons of incorporation? American society practices widespread discrimination against persons of incorporation. This institutional oppression prevents many people from understanding the excellence of corporate works…

  2. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    There aren’t enough books published that are written by Dragons.

    Of course, Dragons have better things to do than write books. 👿

  3. I’ve taken on a new service through my Tiny Publishing Bidness — that of coaching other indy writers into how to be their own publisher, and avoid the pitfalls of Createspace and other POD venues. I’ve talked to so many other indy writers at events organized by the Texas Association of Authors … and they are unhappy with Createspace, et al, and eager to find an alternative … but setting up as their own publisher does seem a bit daunting at first. Long meeting yesterday with one of these clients – I had already done the formatting for his book, now as soon as he sets up his Bowker and LSI accounts, I’ll see to getting all the spaces filled in.

    I look back at how I did my first book as an indy author. Gulp. Almost ten years ago. There are so many more options for writers who want to plunge in now; I think I am helping by giving them a little push when they hesitate on the edge.

    • And the SJW response would be . . . “Well, that’s because the institutionalization of the patriarchy discourages women and PsOC from even writing science fiction because there are so few women and PsOC represented in the genre that OF COURSE you won’t see many works submitted, and those works that are submitted conform to the desires of the hetero-dominant masculinized culture so they do not truly represent women and PsOC!” Which is logic and reasoning so circular that even the ouroborus is getting dizzy.

    • Wow. A Tor employee said that?

    • I hope that article is saved and backed up somewhere.

      • Bibliotheca Servare

        Yep! http://archive.is/TggAu I didn’t bother to “update” the archived version of the page because it seemed to be up to date. As an aside, I use archive.is as my default “oooh! Make sure that this is still here when I want to link to it!” button, because it (unlike Internet Archive) doesn’t cooperate with retroactive robots.txt scripts. But I don’t really know what I just said (not sure it’s English, actually…) so I’ll clarify: Internet Archive deletes archived pages upon request. Archive.is doesn’t. Don’t try to archive videos with it though. It doesn’t like videos.

    • Synova

      Three years ago. Note the concern about being attacked by a mob for speaking.

      Nearly 20 years ago I was having conversations about how more women wrote but fewer submitted. Wondering if guys just tended to think anything they did was fabulous or women self-rejected. One of the people in our group was even an editor at a shiny new Web magazine. No One even suggested that the editors would reject due to sex or race.

  4. TRX

    > smash a hopeful writer’s career with a
    > single rejection note and a snide remark

    I sold a couple of nonfiction books and some magazine articles back in the ’90s. The magazine articles were interesting; mostly no reply at all, of course. Sometimes a check, with no explanation of what it was for, which made me find my list of places I had sent articles to in order to find out what article I had sent. (extra points for when the name on the check didn’t match the name of the publication or publisher…)

    One article, though, provoked the only actual rejection letter I ever got. A full-page screed by a Famous Editor at a Major Magazine, an all-out, foamy-mouthed, poorly-spelled scream of rage and braggartry.

    I don’t take rejection any better than anyone else, but my main reaction was “dude, you seriously need to see a doctor.” The letter is in one of the file boxes I need to go through; next time I see it, I’ll run it through the scanner.

    ——————————————

    As an aside, I’ve known a few compulsive gamblers. The kind who would leave work, cash their check, and then come back from the casino with their eyes glowing, talking a mile a minute about all the money they won… while hitting up friends and acquaintances for money to pay the rent. Because they only remembered the money they won; the money they lost – everything they had – didn’t register.

    Many writers – and I was one, back in the day – have the opposite problem. The rejections are what they dread and remember; the sales are just occasional blips on their radar.

    • Okay, I’d like to see that letter, because woah.

      See my comment below, about one of the ‘members of the entertainment industry.’

      • TRX

        Next time it churns to the top of the Archeological Filing System, it shall be done!

        • I’m still boggled that any editor would do that. The worst I got was being told I didn’t have a degree in journalism. Dad had been a police beat reporter in his post pre-med degree days, before entering the Department of Foreign Affairs. He grumbled that you don’t learn reporting in a classroom. When a reporter asked him particularly inane questions he proceeded to lecture about asking fluff questions unsuited for serious reporting and more geared to showbiz. He was …unhappy that the questions were asking about thoughts and feelings instead of asking for facts.

  5. There’s some supporters of the socjuszealots doing the scolding over at Brad’s blog; and I’m vastly amused at the one who says he’s from the entertainment industry; he’s in the know, so supposedly the problems aren’t the leftists’ fault. Lovely extra doses of the condescension there – either we’re ‘mere audience’; or the ignorant right who don’t ‘get’ that bigotry still exists and it’s not free market wins only and we MUST support message goodthinky fic; or we’re not part of the industry, or writers aren’t ‘really’ part of the entertainment industry. or if they are, ‘just minor’. I can’t tell which. It is not unfeasible that it’s all of the above, because either way, ‘we don’t count’ somehow.

    • “Mere audience.” So he doesn’t really want my money because he’s producing “great works of aaht” for the discerning and in order to redress past wrongs instead of entertaining. Got it.

      By the by, has anyone else watched the trailer for the remake of the Magnificent 7 and checked off the PC boxes?

    • So your marketing strategy is to tell your potential audience, “I think you’re all stupid and evil, but if you buy my product I might change my mind”?

      [Tony Stark voice] Not a great plan.

        • I think he’s addressing the leftist idiot. (So, not you.)

        • No, that was my rehash of the argument over on the other blog. What’s his name from the Entertainment Industry just doesn’t grasp that people don’t like to be insulted by someone who is trying to sell them something.

          • Ah, thanks for clarifying. Its past midnight where I live and I was wondering if I’d put my foot in it. ^^;

          • ravenshrike

            The only time someone wants to be insulted while buying something is when going to a place like the Wiener’s Circle or buying modern art.

            • I’ve noticed some parallels between the client/entertainer dynamic in the “literary establishment” and in a strip club where I used to work. (On the door–I was never pretty enough to dance.)

              This sounds like a joke, but I am serious. There is a particular BDSM subset called “financial domination”. Without going into the psychology (which took me a long time to puzzle out) there are people, mostly but not entirely men, who crave being humiliated and shown contempt by someone to whom they are giving significant financial support.

              It’s not always–or not entirely–a sexual charge. Nor is it necessarily to assuage feelings of guilt over unearned wealth. But it is a very real phenomenon, and I think that both exotic dancers and celebrity artists learn to exploit it to their advantage.

              Honestly I believe that a lot of the White Privilege and Male Privilege talk that gets bandied about is mainstreaming of this particular kink. Which is fine for those who want to engage in it, but I object when other people want to make me part of their scene when I have not consented to it.

              • TRX

                I still suspect the underlying reason for a lot of social interaction is simply a desire for attention.

                • Granted, but desire for attention takes many forms.

                  And I think that the financial domination model explains how some people get large amounts of funding–crowdfunding, grants, or contracts–without producing anything. The people who make the decision to fund them don’t want a return–they get their emotional high from knowing the money will be squandered and the “artist” is taking money and giving nothing back.

                  Which is fine if it is their own money, but often it is ours, and that pisses me off.

  6. Good points Cedar, but I doubt there has ever actually been a VALID study conducted by anyone on the actual rejections. The reason I say that is, how many manuscripts have been submitted by (insert age, sex, genderID, race) to each publisher, and how many actually made it out of the slushpile to actually get read and rejected, vs. those that actually get a contract? I doubt that any publisher would willingly give out those numbers…

    Self-publishing allows ANYONE to publish, and it comes down to the reader to make the choices then. I would agree that good stories, REGARDLESS of the author’s (insert age, sex, genderID, race) are going to sell, because the readers LIKED those stories. I’ve read yours, Sarah’s, Amanda’s, Holly’s and Alma’s books and thoroughly enjoyed them for the STORIES!

    • I suspect there is no way to conduct a true study on the rejections. For one thing, I know that my name doesn’t signal my gender – I have gotten rejection notes addressed to ‘Dear Mr…”

      But above and beyond the opacity of the submission process to sex and race, there is the sheer number of submissions to consider, and the reasons for rejection, which often are simply ‘we don’t need another sparkly vamp’ story.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Besides the problem of “not enough women writers”, the SJWs complain about not enough “minority writers”.

          But how do the “evil” publishers “reject” minority writers when the publishers have no way of knowing if the submitted work was written by a white author or a non-white author unless the writer tells them. 😉

      • aacid14

        Dear tree, first let me apologize for the number of your brothers we have killed to make this letter…

  7. Write what you want. There is a market for it. It may be a small market, but it’s there. If you want to make a living out of it, you might have to appeal to a slightly larger market, but you can still write what you want, you might just have to edit it a little differently.

    • TRX

      I think Peter Grant found that out with his Western. It’d supposed to be a dead genre.

      “I’m not dead!”

      “Well, he will be soon, he’s very ill.”
      “I’m getting better!”
      “No you’re not, you’ll be stone dead in a moment.”

      “I think I’ll go for a walk.”
      “You’re not fooling anyone, you know.”

      • For Westerns, this comes to mind:
        “Who are you?”
        “Westerns.”
        “I thought you were dead.”
        “Not hardly.”

      • Sanford Begley

        The western is still a dead genre, Dead frogs can mimic life with the proper stimulation. Romance writers killed the western and staked its heart

        • fynbospress

          Well, if it’s heart’s staked, then we just pull the stake. After all, vampires are the original undead genre in that they’ve been declared “dead” by the publishers 3 times now, and yet they keep coming back by reader demand.

          The interesting question will be: what will the readers want? For decades, genres have suffered under disconnected editors who only deal with other editors, bookstore buyers, and their cocktail circuit. It’ll be very interesting to see what the market actually wants, instead.

          • Yes it will. I’m tempted to add a Western to my stack of ideas… sigh. No time!

            • I was looking at Hollywood’s recent “westerns,” and buying the full soundtrack to Silverado, and started thinking that what if you wrote the Silverado story from the barkeeper’s POV? *shrug*

              • Sounds interesting. I’d buy that.

              • Chrismouse

                One of my… not dreams, exactly, but flights of fancy, that I’ve had for a little bit now is to write or produce (or watch. I’d settle for “watch”) Westerns based upon or inspired by Marty Robbin’s gunfighter ballads and western trail songs. With the appropriate soundtrack, of course. Also involving say, Sons of the Pioneers and such like.

          • Uncle Lar

            Western romance may have died, but good traditional westerns are alive and well. Otherwise Louis L’Amour books would not be a high demand item in used book stores. Robert Parker did well enough with his western series that his estate has licensed another author to continue it. Shall see how that works out.
            And William Johnstone has literally hundreds of westerns published, everything from serious historical fiction to romp roaring western shoot em up potboilers.

  8. I am not at all sure what this means, but I visited the Wall Street Journal website and commented frequently and, because my first name is unusual, (one is supposed to register with their real name and I did) none knew my sex. I let this go on for a long time because I noted that males will be much softer on females. I didn’t want that. I wanted honest responses which I felt I would not be as likely to get if they though I was female.
    It was a good decision. I earned respect as I held my own with the males and took their best shots. They would not have given me their best shots if they thought I was female. When I finally “outed” myself, people were shocked to learn that I was female. I considered that a compliment.
    Somehow, I consider that profound and sad. I have no need to have my thoughts protected or my feelings considered with any greater sensitivity because I am female. I loved being thought that I was a man.
    That is a two-edged sword. I got much harsher criticism but, because I responded like a man and not a “hurt and sensitive” female, I got much more respect. I still do. The pattern was set before anyone knew my sex.
    Quite frankly, I blame modern Feminists for this. I was one of the original Feminists. All I wanted was a fair shake. We got it.
    Somewhere along the way, Feminists wanted to be treated as equals and “special”. Bull! I need no “special” treatment, thank you very much. You idiot modern “feminists” can go to you know where. I can hold my own. If you can’t, then you don’t deserve anything.

  9. Cedar, you may be interested (or not) to know that Crapestros Flopatron is using this piece of yours, at some length, to call Larry C a racist.

    I’d link to it, but who knows what kind of bit rot might follow the link back. Google will find him, verily.

    • Somewhat surprising since really all I did was quote a piece Larry had written himself. However, we all know that a certain kind of person can only see what they reflect in the mirror, and then they try to apply that to anyone they disagree with.

  10. Seems like a good place to say that your Pixie Noir series is one of the books I’ve been saving for my post-TC5 reading-binge prize.

    They are SO much fun! (Which I wasn’t expecting*)

    Thanks for a great read.

    (*topic, not writer)