The Irrelevance of Race – Christopher Nuttall

The Irrelevance of Race – Christopher Nuttall


[Author’s note – I’ve said some of this before, but it really needs to be said again.]

Back when I was 12, or thereabouts, my teacher read us a story.  (I have forgotten the title.)  A group of schoolgirls were visiting an old folks home, where they met a bunch of old ladies and chatted to them.  One girl sat down next to a sweet (and blind) old lady.  Unfortunately for her, the old lady – after exchanging some mindless conversation – went off on a racist rant about black people ruining Britain.  She praised the girl, told her she’d do well for herself and warned her to stay away from blacks.  And then she patted the girl’s hair …

… And discovered that it was springy.

I cannot say the story made a great impression on me at the time.  The boarding school I was unlucky enough to attend was pretty much a foretaste of hell.  Being, as I was, at the bottom of the totem pole, I was more concerned with avoiding discrimination against me than discrimination against others.  I could, and did, sympathise with people who faced discrimination.  But, at the same time, I was always wary about assuming that they were genuinely facing discrimination.  No one seemed interested in doing anything about my problems.

For what it’s worth, I consider the story to be quite believable.  I knew two girls in Manchester, both of whom were of Indian ancestry (but born and raised in the UK).  One of them had an accent that was perfectly Lancastrian, the other had a very pronounced Indian lilt to her voice.  And yet, the former was more wedded to her culture than the latter, who was practically culturally British.

I effectively forgot the story until the Fireside Report sprang into my awareness and its claim, that black writers were staggeringly underrepresented in published writing, sent hundreds of publishers and editors into a flurry of virtue-signalling.

I was not impressed.  And the reason I was not impressed was simple.

I have been writing for over twelve years.  I’ve honestly lost count of the number of submissions, mostly rejected, that I’ve made.  But I can say, with great certainty, that none of the publishers (or agents) I applied to asked for my race.  They asked for my name, address, email … and very little else.  There was nothing in what I sent them to suggest I was anything other than a WASP …

… And yet, I got a string of rejections.

Most of them were useless, from the point of view of an aspiring writer.  “Dear Sir.  Thank you for your submission.  However, we are unable to publish your work.  Good luck.”  Short, pithy, and completely useless when it comes to explaining WHY the book was rejected.   A handful were more detailed, but even they weren’t much use.  It wasn’t until I had been writing and submitting for several years that I got feedback worthy of my time.

And it wasn’t until I did slush reading myself that I started to grasp why this might be so.

The (few) publishers with open submission polices are deluged in pieces of writing that are utterly unreadable.  I started with the intention of giving every last piece of work a serious look and ended by feeling as though it was a complete waste of time.  I saw manuscripts that were unedited, manuscripts that were composed of nothing but MS edits, manuscripts that didn’t suit the publisher at all (or didn’t meet submission guidelines), manuscripts that were openly fan fiction (a big no-no) … I honestly don’t know what some of those writers were thinking.  I never know who the authors were – I never had the time.  All I could really do was write a short note saying why the items were rejected and pass them back to senior staff.

To prove that there actually had been discrimination against non-white authors, all other factors would need to be eliminated.  But the Fireside Report writers were completely incapable of doing anything of the sort.

For example, writers are not created equal.  Writing is a learning process.  A writer at the start of his career is going to make mistakes, many mistakes, while a more experienced writer will avoid them.  Were all the writers who submitted to a given magazine at the same level of experience?  I would be very surprised if the answer was yes.  It would be rather more likely that some of them were newcomers, while others were mid-range authors.  (The truly advanced authors don’t need to send in blind submissions.)

And, even if there was a policy of rejecting non-white authors, how could they be sure they were rejecting non-white authors?  Blind chance?  It seems a little unlikely.

Furthermore, it is terrifyingly easy to get discouraged.  You write a story, it gets rejected … do you give up?  Do you see the rejection as a chance to grow, to study what you did wrong, or do you try to find a way to blame it on someone else?  Writers are egoists, plain and simple; writers need to learn to balance their egos with a realistic assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.  Blaming a publisher for rejecting you because of your race – when said publisher has no way of knowing your race – is utterly unhelpful.

The blunt truth – which anyone outside Human Resources Departments and Social Justice Bully mobs will tell you – is that merit is far more important than appearance.  Publishing is a business.  A wise publisher will not choose his or her authors on race, gender or politics, but on their ability to write.  I have been told (I have no idea if this is actually true) that young black men are disproportionally represented in American basketball, because they are taller and have better hand-eye coordination.  Is there actually anything wrong with this?  Only a complete nincompoop would insist on a racially-balanced team when there are games to be won.

When writing is concerned, merit is a relative concept.  There is a military-SF writer I practically worship, but I don’t care for his fantasy, even though I love fantasy books.  Some writers are simply more comfortable in some genres than others.  And there’s a fantasy writer hundreds of people praise, but I don’t like him.  And someone must have bought all those copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and all the other romance novels published over the last few years, even though I wouldn’t dream of wasting my hard-earned cash on them.  One man’s favourite writer is another man’s despair.  (“They publish this crap, yet I can’t get a publishing contract?”)  No writer has 100% market penetration and no writer ever will.

A writer’s race is utterly irrelevant.  Why?  Because hardly anyone sees the author.

I have been reading science-fiction since I was five.  In all of that time, I have only ever looked up an author’s appearance once.  (I was going to meet him at a convention and I wanted to make sure I spoke to the right guy.)  I couldn’t help seeing a few photographs of various authors, of course, but I never deliberately sought them out.  Why should I?  And if someone asked how many black authors I read, I honestly couldn’t answer … because, at base, I don’t know what most of my authors look like.

No one judges a book based on the author’s photograph on the dust jacket, assuming there is a photograph.  They judge the book by its blurb, by its cover, by the words … by everything that actually matters.

We have been told that the shortage of non-white authors is a problem.  And we have been told that publishers are going to make a greater attempt, in future, to publish works by non-white authors.  And I can honestly say that this, far from being helpful, is going to be actively harmful.

The problem with ‘Affirmative Action’ is that it is corrosive.  It assumes, largely incorrectly (and, in the case of publishing, almost certainly incorrectly), that businesses do not hire non-whites because they’re racists.  People who believe in AA rarely realise that there might be other factors involved in the decision.  Bob might not have gotten the job because he has an arrest record longer than my arm; Jim might not have gotten that promotion because he was beaten by a better candidate.  Instead of working to tackle the root cause of the problem, they attempt to use the law to redress what they see as social injustice.

Their good intentions have completely predicable unintended consequences.  Those who appear to gain from AA are resented by those who don’t gain from AA.  If they happen to be poor at the job, their co-workers start whispering that the only reason they got the job was because of AA.  Those who are promoted above their (current) level of competence don’t get the experience they need to do the job properly (and, if they believe they honestly earned the post, they get a nasty shock when they discover they’re not ready for it).  And, worst of all, a poor AA hire drags down the reputation of everyone else who might have benefited from AA.

Humans are inherently tribal creatures.  As I have blogged before, people have a tendency to divide the world into ‘us’ versus ‘them.’  ‘Us’ is a group of individuals; ‘them’ is a vast hive mind.  This is obvious nonsense, but it’s the way people think.  People who appear to have benefited from AA fit neatly into the ‘AA Tribe’ and whatever negative feelings a person has towards one of them will spill over onto the others.  Why not?  If one member of the tribe is bad, why not the others?

The thing that makes this so dangerous is that it is both an emotional and intellectual reaction and thus extremely difficult to disprove.  Classic racism can be discredited because, at base, it is a purely emotional reaction.  But dislike based on the sense (perhaps correctly) that your boss was promoted because he/she/whatever is a member of a protected class is much harder to dismiss, because when the emotional reaction fades the intellectual reaction is still there, proving that you are actually right.  Your boss is incompetent.  You know you should have got the job.  And why didn’t you?  He’s a member of the ‘AA Tribe.’

And the fact you KNOW this makes it impossible for someone to talk you out of it.

To introduce AA – in any form – to publishing will be utterly disastrous.  If an author is marketed as a ‘non-white author’ (however described) it will convince readers that the only reason they were published was because they ticked a diversity checkbox.  Particularly, of course, if they don’t like the book.  You can market an author, perfectly legitimately, as a SF author, a fantasy author, a romance author, a detective author … you can’t market an author by something that has no bearing on writing skill.  And if you do, a single bad author – in the estimation of the readers – will damage the rest.  This is not logical, but it is often true.

And in an industry that is practically tailor-made to remove race from the equation!

The people who asserted that ‘people of colour swept the 2016 Hugo Awards’ were essentially missing the point.  The Hugo Awards are not (were not?) diversity awards – they’re awarded for excellence in SF/Fantasy.  Or at least they should be.  Skin colour and gender has nothing to do with writing skill – the gloating over the awards going to non-whites strongly suggested that the Sad Puppies had a point all along, that awards were being handed out for factors other than merit, factors beyond the writer’s control.  And this threatens to poison the careers of writers who deserve their awards.

It’s a radical suggestion, I’m sure, but maybe – as fans – we should concentrate on what unites us, rather than divides us.  I am a Babylon 5 and Doctor Who fan.  I have something in common with every other Babylon 5 and Doctor Who fan.  Does it matter, does it really matter, if the fan next to me at the con is black or female or wearing a cosplay outfit that conceals everything?  Of course not!  But talking about diversity only reminds us of the differences between us.  (Just as managers have discovered that mandatory diversity training in large organisations sends racism, suspicion and general discontent skyrocketing.)

I don’t care if a writer is white or black, male or female, young or old or anything else that can be used to draw lines between people.  All I care about is being entertained.  And frankly, I think that’s true for everyone.

Now, if you want to be a serious writer, how should you proceed?

First, write a manuscript.  Set yourself a goal – 100’000 words, perhaps – and write out a story.  The first time is never easy, but keep going.  Try to make sure the book is completely self-contained, even if you do plan a long series.

Second, when the book is complete, submit it.  Find a publisher who takes slush submissions and submit your book.  Follow their instructions to the letter, even if they want you to write everything in an obscure font.  You do NOT want to give the first readers any excuse to reject your book (and thousands of books get rejected because the author didn’t follow instructions) or to dislike you personally.  I was told, once, about a writer who noted that he would sue the publisher if his book wasn’t published.  There is no way such a lawsuit would actually get into court, let alone end in anything other than total humiliation.

Third, write another book.  And another.  And another.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll get your first rejection letter midway through the third book.  Keep going anyway.  The average writer needs to write at least a million words before producing anything publishable.  That’s ten 100’000-word manuscripts.

Fourth, when you reach the fifth or sixth manuscript, hire a consulting editor (there are some links on my site) to do a conceptual edit.  This person will be savage – and that is precisely what you want.  The edit will tell you what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it.  Learn from this.  Then continue writing manuscripts.

Fifth, when you reach the tenth manuscript, you may be getting somewhere with the publishers.  You can also try looking for an agent at this time.  If not, start putting your later books up on Amazon Kindle.  (NOT the first manuscripts.)  Try to use this to build up a reputation as an indie writer.  Prepare yourself for critical remarks because you will get them; keep a lid on your temper and DO NOT reply.  There are no shortage of stories about indie authors behaving badly.  Don’t be one of them.

Sixth … keep going.

It’s easy to get discouraged.  It’s easy to fall in the trap of believing you’ll never make it, or that ‘they’ are keeping you down, but keep going.  It’s worth it.

And no one will care about your race, your gender or your creed … only about your ability to write.


  1. Nobody has any objection to presses and publishing lines that are aimed specifically at American blacks, or at American black women, or at the books from them being written almost exclusively by black American women. But very few of the whiners want to mention their successful existence, or join their writers and readers.

    Sadly, I don’t think there is much paranormal, fantasy,or sf romance coming out from these presses. But it would not surprise me to see some.

    1. Yup, Harlequin has done some in their Kimani and Kimani TRU lines. So they are probably copying off some of the smaller presses. But somehow I doubt those ladies were solicited for SFWA membership by our literary and liberal superiors.

    2. Sadly, I don’t think there is much paranormal, fantasy,or sf romance coming out from these presses. But it would not surprise me to see some.

      Most of us, though, are never going to find these books if they exist, because the marketing for those books tends to focus on the race / sex / sexual orientation of the author. Much like story submissions, there are a lot of books out there, so we readers have to pre-filter books when looking for a new one to read. What they’re going to do with these books is they’re going to set them aside in a special section for African-American Authors, which I’m not going to look at because I’m specifically looking for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the section of African-American authors likely has such a low density of Science Fiction and Fantasy it’s not worth my time to peruse.

      On those rare occasions these days when I go into a physical bookstore, I can’t look at every book in the store. Most times, I can’t even look over every book in the Science Fiction / Fantasy section. I can check the new releases and those authors I recognize and remember. I then look at a random selection of other books that catch my eye, often because they’re by an author with a last name close to someone I read frequently (and thus next to them on the shelves), or because the cover catches my eye (I tend to recognize the stereotypical Baen covers as marking something potentially interesting). In total, I’ll pull maybe two dozen of the thousand books in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section and actually read the blurb, then buy three or four of the best looking.

      It’s easy to miss something, and I’ve bought some duds, but it’s the best option I have. There are times I go in looking for a specific book, normally by word of mouth. If I had a good word of mouth recommendation, I’d go looking elsewhere in the store for a good book. In times past, prominent awards would have served as good word-of-mouth, but the whole Hugo and Nebula kerfuffle has proven that to be no longer the case, to the point where I now consider the mere sight of ‘Award Winning’ on a cover blurb to be a strike against looking at a book without even seeing which award it was the book won.

      1. And if you do get a fantastic sci-fi book by an *ahem* Author of Color and/or Femininity from a Press for Authors of Color or Femininity, where do some major chains stock them? In the African-American or Ethnic Studies section. Which does a serious disservice to both writer and reader.

        1. I was pleased that someone at a Borders in Chicago got it right back in the day, when I saw Tananarive Due’s horror novels stocked where they belong: in the horror section. That’s as it should be; and the mystery writers I know to be black / Asian / Latino were appropriately shelved in the mystery section. I never would have discovered them if they’d been in the Writers of a Given Accident of Biology Sections; I never go to those.

        2. Exactly. Just like the “Local Author” section: it’s a ghetto, and never gives an author’s work a chance to be seen by people who are looking for a good read in genre / topic of choice. (I have no issue with “local author” endcaps, provided it’s not the only place the book is stocked – but when I go into a bookstore, I’m going to go directly to SciFi & Fantasy, or to Cookbooks, and so on. I’m not going to go to the local author section, or the Hispanic-American section, to see if they happen to have what I”m looking for.

          On the other hand, the “local author” endcap has sold more than a few books to me on local hiking trails, local ecology (birding guides, foraging plants, or local gardening), and so on – but then “local” was the topic I was searching for.

  2. I am less optimistic with regard to hidden bias among American publishers. For one thing, gender bias is a fact, and it made someone feel forced to conceal “J. K.” Rowling’s. And even if the author does not submit a photo – if her first name is Condoleezza, her race is anyone’s guess, which may already lead to premature dismissal.

  3. Wasn’t “Famous Writer” going on about how the Hugo win this year was a victory for people voting race over all else? That’s not how “Famous Writer” said it, but that’s how the thing parses out.

    Funny how you can’t tell “Famous Writer’s” gender or race from the book jacket. Could be Norman from down the street for all I know.

    The above two statements make me a RAAAACIST!!1! of course, an irony I never tire of pointing out. The other irony is I wouldn’t read that book if it was the last paperback on a desert island. It’s grotesquely depressing.

  4. Being, as I was, at the bottom of the totem pole, I was more concerned with avoiding discrimination against me than discrimination against others. I could, and did, sympathise with people who faced discrimination. But, at the same time, I was always wary about assuming that they were genuinely facing discrimination. No one seemed interested in doing anything about my problems.

    This section here finally crystallized something I’ve been trying to put into words. I grew up (and still am) a seriously introverted Geek and an Odd, back just before the video game revolution made Science Fiction and Fantasy cool again. (YMMV; the actual timeframe and cause of what made liking SF&F / video games no longer the mark of a social outcast may vary from place to place; I’ve seen it date back to Star Wars in some places and up to Harry Potter in others.) I was bullied for it, so much that at one point I had to switch schools, but I was also lucky in that most of the bullying was strictly verbal; the one bully that was willing to make it physical toward the end of my high school days, when it was winding down, found out the hard way that one of my then somewhat-geeky friends was also a black belt.

    To me, actively playing group politics seems to be a game for extroverts. You have to like socializing with people to want to be a leader. As someone that depends on socializing for your mental needs, you need to be able to have your values (or at least those you’re willing to express) fit in with the group. Introverts, on the other hand, seem to be better at holding unusual opinions or interests. In school, this leads to the extroverts being the popular people, and the introverts being the outcasts with unusual hobbies. Bullying extroverts is hard, because they have friends (though extroverts are vulnerable to peer pressure tactics). Still, it’s school. When these tendencies extend to the larger political sphere, things get nasty.

    The people shouting down conservative speakers on college campuses aren’t introverts. The people organizing campaigns to make Science Fiction more ‘inclusive’ at the behest of current fans aren’t introverts. They’re extroverts. They like wading into the fray and organizing campaigns to do stuff. (Introverts would be studying or reading.) If their tactics look like bullying, it’s because they are bullies, they’ve just picked a cause that allows them to be bullies without feeling guilt. The popular kids pick on the unpopular kids, and the popular adults pick on the unpopular adults, same as always.

    And now that they’re adults, they control the educational system, which is why modern anti-bullying programs are so poorly thought out: they’re the product of people that don’t understand the problem. Even well-intentioned, they’re written by people that weren’t the targets of real bullying, and don’t understand what it was like and the way it works. That’s why they focus on protecting groups with which they have political kinship, because it lets them feel good without admitting they’re part of the problem.

    I wonder if anyone has done a study on the relative lives of introverts and extroverts. I would strongly suspect that as far as happiness goes, extroverts are privileged. (On the other hand, I worry that I read too much of my personal biases into this.

    1. “If their tactics look like bullying, it’s because they are bullies, they’ve just picked a cause that allows them to be bullies without feeling guilt. The popular kids pick on the unpopular kids, and the popular adults pick on the unpopular adults, same as always.
      “And now that they’re adults, they control the educational system, which is why modern anti-bullying programs are so poorly thought out: they’re the product of people that don’t understand the problem. Even well-intentioned, they’re written by people that weren’t the targets of real bullying, and don’t understand what it was like and the way it works. That’s why they focus on protecting groups with which they have political kinship, because it lets them feel good without admitting they’re part of the problem.”

      I was one of the loners who (probably) didn’t even see what bullying was aimed at them, for most of high school. But I saw that sort of effect around me, and as I entered adulthood surrounded by that sort of “anti-harrassment” and “anti-bullying” attitude. If your point was DC, you hit the National Mall’s Reflecting Pool without grazing a tree! Dead-on!

  5. I was annoyed by the Fireside Press story — it never once occurred to me to tell editors what color or sex I am. The editor who called me from England could certainly figure by my voice that I’m a she, if she doubted and felt it was important to know. But her only comment on my identity was her happiness when I confirmed my first name is Jamie … as opposed to the French middle name I’d set for the headers for the particular e-mail account they had for me. I figured her reaction was a British thing 🙂

    Anyway, I’m hopeful that Fireside’s allies don’t go further than virtue signalling, rather than moving to action. I am just cynical enough to think their post was just clickbait. If they’re serious, they’d need to use photos to fulfill their scheme, and any random HR or employment lawyer could explain in two minutes why American companies don’t require photos of applicants, outside of modeling and acting jobs.

    Otherwise, Fireside and their fellow travelers would quickly learn an expensive lesson via the lawsuits they’d get from rejected writers who claim discrimination. If that happens it might be worth a bucket of popcorn.

    1. I was annoyed by the Fireside Press story because it was obvious pandering horse shit. -Nobody- sends a picture in with their slush submissions, and many use pen names. Fireside’s article was nonsense.

      It worries me that there’s a small chance they were serious though. That level of ignorance in a -Science- fiction organization is… disturbing.

  6. One comment on the “Blacks are better basketball players.” While maybe not quite a myth, the idea that it is because they are on average taller (that is just barely, when you look at the statistics), or have better native eye/hand coordination is not completely accurate.

    Consider where the majority of Blacks live – in urban centers. (Always true in the North, and more and more true in the South.) Urban centers have a high premium on land space. Basketball is a sport you need a minimal amount of land for – and you can even play a decent game on a half court. For every baseball field, or football (American or European style, either one) – there have to be a dozen or more basketball courts in the cities.

    So – the same as any other sport – or writing. Blacks are, on average, better basketball players mainly because they have put in a very large amount of practice. Just about every player in the NBA has been on the courts for hours every day ever since they were big enough to dribble. (This applies to the minority of White players, too.)

    Now, on Blacks not being represented in writing proportionally to their demographics – um, with the quality of inner-city schools, just how many of them do you think have been practicing that particular set of skills?

    1. um, with the quality of inner-city schools, just how many of them do you think have been practicing that particular set of skills?

      Thank you. It is quite possible in inner city schools to enter illiterate and leave illiterate. It’s not even funny. And don’t get me started on the low, low, so low that you-could-step-over-the-limbo-bar standards the kids are held to.

      When I was a kid we received an influx of new kids in our little town — so little there was no post office — starting in middle school and high school. They came from Detroit. I overheard one of the new girls telling her friend that if she gets a C at our school it’s like the A she got in her Detroit school. She was happy to finally get proper schoolwork and know where she really stood academically. It angers me that people think they’re “helping” by lowering standards: she could do higher level work, it’s just no one expected her to.

      It goes the other way, too. A cousin of mine transferred from a majority-black school district to a mostly-white rural district, and was frustrated by how far behind the rural school was compared to her old school. Keep in mind, her previous school district would later shut down because the schools were so bad. I have much younger cousins who also went to the rural school; I sat in on some school board meetings so I know they didn’t improve much.

      I keep thinking of my little nephew, who told me he hadn’t written stories lately because, “I don’t have as much imagination as I did last year, since I didn’t read as many books as I did before.” He knows how to read; I wonder how imagination is supposed to be expressed in someone who can’t read stories at all?

      If the virtue signallers want to really increase writers, they could start with the schools, and figure out how to make them not suck. I don’t see the point of worrying that editors who can’t see writers will discriminate against them; it would make a lot more sense to focus on the writers who don’t exist because they never learned to read, let alone write.

      1. “If the virtue signallers want to really increase writers, they could start with the schools, and figure out how to make them not suck.”

        That requires effort.

      2. It is just as possible in suburban schools to enter illiterate and leave illiterate. Way too many teachers care more about the student being able to parrot the info they have been fed rather than actually learning.

        1. This is why I am anti-standardized tests being the be-all-end-all of our public schools. Teachers aren’t teaching for learning anymore, they’re teaching to a test…and that information is promptly forgotten afterwards.

          1. I agree with you – but the standardized tests were instituted to help bring some objective accountability to demonstrably bad schools in the face of massive resistance to such by teacher’s unions.

            “Teaching to the test” is bad – but so is sweeping bad results under the bed. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. The sense I get is that teaching to the test reduces the quality of what good teachers can deliver – but actually can increase the quality of (or helps filter out) the very worst.

            Is it a net positive or negative? I don’t know. And I’m extremely uncomfortable with the idea of a federal-level standardized test. But I’m not convinced that the tests – in and of themselves – are total failures.

            1. How about, “If your students don’t learn, your pay gets cut. And if your next batch of students don’t learn, you get fired.”

              The high school I went to didn’t have enough desks for all the students; half a dozen to a dozen had to sit on the floor in some classes. There weren’t enough books; you had to leave the books in the room for the next class. There wasn’t money to get the heat fixed, so everyone was wrapped up in coats and sweaters.

              The school got a fat chunk of money. A big chunk went to higher salaries for the teachers. The feetball team got a new clubhouse and improvements to the feetball field. And they built a new, separate gym for the girls, after sharing the same one for 15 years…

              Because, obviously, salaries and spawrts were by far the most important things the money could be used for.

              A couple of years later when I left high school, there were still kids sitting on the floor and sharing books.

            2. I see zero value in the tests, to be perfectly honest. The SAT/ACT…maybe, but those are intended to value what you’ve learned in preparation for college.

              But no, sorry, you can’t tell me that a standardized test is a good thing for freaking FIRST graders. And I do not see that it ‘improves’ bad teachers in the least. If all they have to do is teach from a rote list…that’s still bad teaching. And having watched my mother get forced out of her job as a special education teacher because of politics–she was TOO good, and her students were actually improving and moving into regular classrooms and getting good grades–and because it made the *other* teachers (and, more to the point, the principal) look bad…no. It’s easier for administrations to force everyone to stick to the ‘teach to the test’ crap and be mediocre. And frankly, mediocre is worse than outright bad. Outright bad–that can be recognized, and counteracted by other teachers, by parents, even by properly motivated students. Mediocre across the board…well, you have no recourse and no other options.

              And when one reads about the fact that more and more public schools are having the admins ‘create’ a curriculum for all their teachers to follow–presumably because this curriculum will ‘improve’ their scores on the tests and thus increase federal funding, but also because politics–instead of teachers creating their OWN curriculum and actually, y’know, teaching…again, no. This is part and parcel of the ever-increasing importance place on the standardized tests. Which do not, in fact, measure what you learned–because if a student is ONLY “learning” things that are going to be on a test, and only for the purpose of taking that test, then they are not actually learning. They aren’t learning why it’s important to know how to structure a sentence properly (hell, they don’t even TEACH sentence diagramming anymore). They aren’t learning how to think, how to reason, or how to apply logic to arguments or everyday life. They’re just “learning” how to fill out a bubble sheet from multiple choice questions–and a disturbing number of them guess at it anyway, because why should they have listened to all that boring rote crap?

              Sorry, the execrable state of US public schools is a serious point of passion for me. If/when I have children of my own, I fully intend to–if at all possible–home school them. Because I don’t foresee them improving anytime soon.

              (And re: teachers unions–those are something that I think should be done away with, stat.)

              1. Getting rid of teacher unions won’t solve your problems, my dear neocon lady. Putting more money into schools will (as well as getting rid of the bloated military budget and making the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share of taxes so that said schools can be financed.) And how is this all on minorities anyway?

                  1. From what I remember hearing “neocon” started out as meaning “Liberals” who still supported a strong foreign policy.

                    IE Some of the people involved in the Iraq “nation building” were neocons as they were at one time Democrats who either joined the Republican Party or were just supporters of Bush.

                    However, I suspect this “individual” is just using it without having an actual meaning for it.

                    IE It’s just a term for people this “individual” disagrees with.

                    1. They aren’t neo-nazis, they just have an honest appreciation for the demerits of the Zioporcine bankstering establishmentals.

                    1. What a marvelous jest! You may as well ask why I hate being pulled on a rack, having my face burned or my fingers crushed.

                      Unions are organizations for collecting rents, whose legal influence has had the effect of preventing honest workers from being able to have jobs. Their political alliances with white supremacist terrorism and with the Soviet Union would put them at the bottom of any list I made of pits to burn money in.

                      If you cannot read what I write, your level of education is lacking enough to further impeach your claims of having sound judgement in assessing the future of educational institutions.

                1. Also bullshit on teacher’s unions. As for putting more money into schools, fuck that. Money has zero to do with quality of education. Coooooeee, are you an infant?
                  Guys, enlighten Mr. Neville Chamberlain, please.

                  1. I’m less of one that you are, in that I would never vote for Trump or others like him. Voting again my own best interests isn’t what I’d do. But you seem to do it a lot.

                    1. You sure do seem to know a lot about my best interests. But that’s how the ctrl-left rolls, telling other people what to do.

                    2. Given our historic first illegal alien First Lady, any opposition to Trump can only be motivated by nativism. Nativism does not motivate human beings, it motivates subhumans.

                      Seriously a) a vote for Hillary Clinton was a vote for white supremacism b) I do not concede that your judgement about my own best interests had any validity.

                2. Throwing money at a “problem” doesn’t fix a “problem” unless you understand what the problem is and how to fix it.

                  Sadly, I really doubt that you understand the real problems with the American Education System let alone understand how to fix it.

                3. Horseshit of the purest ray serene. Mo’ money’s been tried, and failed.

                  And as for your “minorities” bleat, the BIGGEST fans of school choice are minorities who want the same options Hildebeeste and Obama had to NOT send their kids to the cesspool that is public schools.

                  1. Hey, don’t defame honest ‘orse excretions like that!

                    But as to your point, I agree entirely. It does nobody but our enemies (culturally/societally/internationally/et c) to press for defunding of necessary government functions like, oh, national defense (by all means and a fine comb, AUDIT away though!) to pour the money into something that’s NOT a necessary government function (not UNNECCESARY, just not a properly GOVERNMENT function), which is so much more in need of ruthless and comprehensive auditing than the other.

                4. ‘All the money’ is a rentseeking argument. Which makes demanding such self impeaching given the teacher’s union-> Democratic Party -> department of education -> administrator’s-> teacher’s union influence kick back cycle that seems to compromise oversight in order to collect rents.

                  Spending on education that does not see a return can not be continued over the long term.

                  Pulling money from the business portion of the economy hurts jobs. Jobs are where education sees returns. If you spend x money prepping y people to do job z, and you don’t get* x money in taxes from them doing z job, you lose.

                  The more money spent on education, the higher salary of the job needed to recover a positive return. Jobs cannot be simply wished into existence. Fund people getting the education for a market basket of jobs which do not exist a) you will defraud the people taking the training, who will seek work they cannot get (they aren’t getting the time back) b) the money will be wasted.

                  STEM is a fad now because that training has retained its value better when the other alternatives have been debased. There is still reason to think that STEM jobs are fewer than the people trained for them. There is also reason to think that pushing marginal unsuccessful people into STEM training does not fix their lives.

                  For these reasons, it can be argued that we already pull too much money from business into education.

                  *This is at least because friction.

    2. I also present it as a plausibility scenario. You practice those things that you think are going to lead to better things; suburbanites often have a lot of models for success in front of them, which means they’re not as likely to have a laser-like focus on one. But if the only success stories you’re familiar with are sports stories, <iof course you’re going to practice those hard.

      It’s pretty simple math. If X percentage of all teens have a skill level at athletics that could be pushed to pro level by practice, but demographic (sub) has not only a lot of models for success but lower consequences for failure, the portion of X that actually focuses on athletics is going to be small, say X/90. Demographic (urb) on the other hand, not only has fewer models, but higher consequences for failure, so the portion of X that focuses on athletics is something like X/2. And practice is essential to bring out inherent skill, so you see over-representation of the (urb) demographic in the pro levels of the sport.

      As a side note, though a lot of schools treat the term “student athlete” as a joke, many colleges do care enough to actually give meaningful degrees to their students. So athletics success may also be the only way someone can go to college, which is an added incentive.

      1. Excellent point, “plausibility” is almost certainly another factor.

        I never treat people as simply being dumb animals that follow their “genetic program.” Whether you say some group is “genetically advantaged” or “disadvantaged” – you are going the way of the eugenicists. Of whom we have all too many current representatives.

        1. /Nitpicking/ It’s only Eugenics if you try to do something about it. People aren’t to be bred for desired traits like horses. They have free will.

          Noticing that different groups have different aggregate traits, that’s called being observant. Breaking those traits down by nature/nurture cause is for someone with a higher than average tolerance for pain and frustration.

  7. Some years ago there was an attempted stink about most NASCAR drivers being white males. There was the attempted shake-down, which NASCAR responded to by dropping donations to the organization complaining, because this is NASCAR, not the NFL. None of the complainers nor the news noticed the obvious: anyone with a racing team can compete. All the complainers had to do was sponsor a driver. I don’t think any of them did.

    The complaint about lack of “diversity” in SF and F takes the same backwards approach. Want more “diverse” authors? Encourage more “diverse” SF & F writers. Unless someone has a “diversity” policy, my guess is that the mix of published writers is roughly the same as the mix of submissions.

    Is the mix of writers roughly the same as the mix of readership? Don’t know.

      1. Hey, Neville:

        You don’t remember when Jessie Jackson tried to shake down NASCAR and NASCAR dropped their donations to Rainbow? And you haven’t heard about Terrance Cox of Diversity Motorsport’s lawsuit, and NASCAR mulling suing him for defamation?

        Maybe that info is just more prevalent around here where kids learned to count by going “1, 2, Earnhardt.”

      2. Please do not feed the trolls. The dragon down on level 17 already consumes over fifteen percent of the monthly budget. Revenues from wandering adventurers is down for the eleventh straight quarter. We simply cannot afford more. Even the low grade, rejected-for-dogfood meat and meat byproducts they live on.

        Oh, that reminds me. My month of cleaning up after the dragon has ended. We need a new ‘volunteer’ while I recover from the acid burns.

    1. That’s because they’ve long since passed the point where “color blind” is an acceptable notion. Indeed tolerance is viewed as a bad word.

      Now we are not only required to be accepting, we must CELEBRATE. And woe be unto those who do not celebrate hard enough.

      To suggest that competence be the basis of judgement is hopelessly racist. Please report for re-education immediately, comrade.

      1. Indeed. SJWs tend to get very angry when people talk about color-blindness. The idea of being judged as an individual is very threatening to them.

  8. No disagreements with the race stuff, of course. Publishing is not color-blind, but in the current atmosphere touting yourself as a “writer of color” is likely to get you a second look. The complaints seem to me to be unfounded.

    Some issues with the advice at the end. Yes, practice will make a huge difference. But I don’t see how playing the submission game for years or even decades is all that beneficial to writers in the current climate. Or getting an agent (agents are as likely to work against your interests as for them: a quick search through The Passive Voice blog will uncover reams of evidence for this statement). The publishing industry routinely mistreats authors regardless of the quality of their submissions. Mentioning going indie almost as an afterthought seems disingenuous to me, especially from a writer who has been very successful self-publishing.

    For one, regardless of how good your book is, the chances a publisher will accept it are still minimal. Yes, slush piles are full of crap. But the underpaid interns or low-rank agents sifting through the crap are not very good at finding quality, either. And they *are* prejudiced – not against POCs, but against other things: conservative points of views, classical adventure stories (i.e., “male-oriented”) and anything that isn’t the flavor of the month.

    Now, going indie isn’t a panacea. There is a steep learning curve and requires you spend time (and in many cases, money) on things other than writing, and the odds of success (assuming a book that is decently-written) are only better by comparison (call it 1/100 versus 1/1000 via trad publishing). No guarantees in this business.

    Definitely agree on the last point, though: keep going.

    1. When the article is on complaints about lack of “diversity” in trad-pub, should I not expect it to focus on trad-pub?

      I agree, though, that trying to break into trad-pub is (and always has been) a mug’s game. The advice is sound, though, whether you tilt your lance at that route to success, or stay indie.

  9. Also, side note: skip shipping your first novel out to an agent. If you have to write a million words to write something publishable, go somewhere you can get instant feedback. Either go indie, or do fanfiction–and the latter might actually be better practice, because you can get instant feedback, and people will tell you if you mess up and will often tell you why.

    1. But beware that fan fic gives you some handicaps also found in authors who do a lot of media tie ins. To wit, you have to remember when going non-fan-fic that your characters don’t have the strength of the other characters behind them, so you have to learn to flesh them out more. Aside from that, dang right.

      1. I confess, this is one reason most of my fanfic (especially the Star Wars stuff) is original-character based. But those get read less, alas…

    2. But yes–aside from the weakness Sarah mentioned, fanfic can be a good practice ground for getting the crap out of your system.

      I personally recommend picking a big-sandbox universe (Star Wars is good for this. So is Trek. Firefly isn’t bad, either, or B5, or Tolkien, or…well, there’s lots of options out there) and creating original characters to play in it. That’ll help offset what Sarah mentioned, regarding ending up with weak characters. The problem, though, is that it’s harder to get reader feedback on OCs, sigh…

      1. Which, confession, is what I tend to do. I don’t want to write the author’s characters over again (with a couple of exceptions), I want to fill in the gaps in the ‘verse.

        1. RPG universes are good for this; the background is there, but everyone expects more or less original characters…. and you can polish up the plot and setting and sell it as a secondary market game module.

          1. One of the best examples that I’ve seen was a story somebody wrote based upon the Starblade Battalion Mekton campaign setting for the Mekton RPG. The author read the same relatively-short, graphics and stats heavy book I had read, but he went and created a novel-length work mixing the few characters described in the RPG book with original characters.

          2. I agree that RPG universes are a good starting play ground, but you never own the IP, which for me is a deal breaker: disclaimer I was at one time a FASA free-lance writer who wrote the stuff for the Clan 2C mechs in the 3055 Technical Readout.

            1. Check with a lawyer, but a lot of RPG properties have gone to some form of common licensing just so people can work on modules.

  10. Somebody spoke of Tananarive Due here. Well, she has what could be considered a rebuttal to this blog post, an excerpt of which I’ll post here:

    And this is a message to all TV: Since you now love featuring actors of color because of the shifting Nielsen demographics, add more writers of color. Hire more black showrunners.

    Stop the lazy line “There aren’t any black writers who write horror.” I have appeared in anthologies full of black horror writers, I know other black horror screenwriters, so there are many. Look around. If you must, do a national search like “Saturday Night Live” did.

    You’d be surprised at the gems you can find when you stop denying and decide it really matters.

    The toxic racial imagery in Fear the Walking Dead — and why Black Lives Matter on TV too

    1. Ms. Due is deliberately ignoring the distinction between actors, whose job is to be seen, and writers, who can do their job perfectly well without their audience ever seeing their faces. In the case of an actor you almost* always know what race they are — in fact, you can’t avoid knowing. But in the case of an author, unless he or she deliberately informs the reader of his or her race, the reader won’t have any idea.

      Ms. Due knows this perfectly well, yet chooses to pretend that the race of an author matters — because it would get her a lucrative contract or two. Saying something that you know to be false is called lying, and she is lying for no better reason than to get herself hired instead of some other author. Lying to get an advantage over your competitors is particularly despicable — and if I had been inclined to read Ms. Due’s work, I would now be inclined to avoid it. (Since I don’t like reading horror, though, this will have no practical effect on Ms. Due’s income, as I wouldn’t have been reading her books anyway.)

      * There are a few exceptions, of course. For example, what is the race of the guy who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy? Trick question: if you say “black”, I’ll inform you that David Prowse is white. If you say “white”, I’ll inform you that James Earl Jones is black. But more to the point, the audience never saw Prowse’s face, so most people would probably answer “black” to that question, since they recognize James Earl Jones’s voice so readily.

  11. Sarah,

    “Fourth, when you reach the fifth or sixth manuscript, hire a consulting editor (there are some links on my site) to do a conceptual edit.”

    Sorry to be as dumb as a bag full of hammers, but I looked on your site and couldn’t see the links. So obviously an epic fail on my journey to become a novelist.

  12. Always on the lookout for good authors, when you said “There is a military-SF writer I practically worship”

    May I ask which author you are referring to?

    Still reading through your books as well. 🙂

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