The Wall is Down
Every time I hear there is no political color bar in publishing, I think of Reiner Kunze.
It must have been 1985, and the fall of the Berlin wall was still four years in the future, when my University asked me if I wanted to go to the German embassy for a reading by Reiner Kunze.
At the time I had never heard of Kunze and I was a little leery. After all, this was the same university who not only gave star treatment to the German professor from the DDR but didn’t keep him on a short leash in terms of political recruitment (which was mostly what he did.)
I no longer remember why I decided to go, except that I had the time and why not. I’m glad I went, as I ended up liking his work very much.
Turned out he was a dissident from the DDR who had just made it to the West (I think, though I no longer remember precisely, for a visit.)
In his lead up to the reading he defended himself from accusations of madness. Apparently the government of his country had been putting about rumors that he was insane.
Of course, the DDR had reason to assume this. In their ideology to reject communism and want a free market was madness. All their books of mental health talked ad nauseum about how the distortions caused by greed and a capitalist society causing everything from Seasonal Affective Disorder to schizophrenia. Since Reiner Kunze was, ipso facto, rejecting their benevolent rule, he was obviously crazy, right? And you wouldn’t want to read a madman, would you?
It works the same in publishing. Over the decades, it grew into an hyper-insular milieu, composed of people who not only went to the same colleges and all believed the same things, but of people who had a distorted vision of those they’d never met. Or thought they’d never met. I’m reminded of an ex-editor of mine telling me that libertarians wanted to ban the internal combustion engine.
Their view of anyone who didn’t believe exactly as they learned to believe in college was that these people believed differently not because another economic approach might work better; or they’d seen the results of some program; or even were philosophically opposed to state over individual, but because of some personality defect, like being racist, sexist, or having internalized oppression. It wasn’t that they disliked us — of course not — but would you want to work with a member of the KKK? Of course you wouldn’t. And these people were the equivalent of a member of the KKK.
The problem with such things — as with Kunze’s alleged mental illness — is that it’s a self-licking ice-cream cone. It can’t be disproved. Say Kunze protested vehemently that he wasn’t crazy. “You sound angry.”
The same applied to us, of course. If we protested that we were being discriminated against; not getting the same treatment as not-as-good-writers, etc, well… there were two points of attack: first, how do you know your writing is better? It’s subjective and we say your writing is shit. Second, “you sound angry.” And since anger is evidence of subconscious conflict, of course, it must be because of all your subconscious prejudices.
So, what do you do about it?
Nothing. There is absolutely no reason for you to do anything about it. None. You don’t have to. You don’t even have to have anything to do with traditional publishing anymore. Not only do I know people making a good living from writing indie, I know more people making a good living from writing indie than from writing for a traditional house.
And interestingly, one of the justifications for the polarization of the field, the one that drove me insane because it was a dozen misconceptions crammed into one, is no longer being trotted out.
This was the assurance that conservatives — being more conventional — were less creative, so of course, all the arts had more liberals.
This ignored the fact that the words used had bloody nothing to do with the facts, and that liberals had been in power certainly in the arts for my entire life. Being a liberal was — what is it someone bragged of having? — life on the easiest setting. You simply repeated what “everyone knows.” It was dissenting from that that brought about creativity (among other things to hide it, if you were in an artistic profession.)
However, since there were no (open) conservatives or libertarians in the arts (self licking ice-cream cone) it must be that they were less creative.
The fact that this no longer gets trotted out and instead we get the other excuses — hard to work with, angry, crazy — means that even in the insular world of publishing/the arts, the impact of indie is being felt. They can’t tell us we’re not creative when people of all political stripes are creative and thriving in indie.
If traditional publishing had even the survival instincts of a lemming, they would be trying to appeal to audiences across the political spectrum now.
Of course, they would also not be canibalizing their ebook sales to prop up hard covers, so forget I said anything.
I remember that day in 1989 when the wall came down, and we watched in disbelief as the wall so many had died trying to climb came down, under the power of individual’s hands. (Sure some had tools, but it’s amazing how much of it was dismantled with bare hands.)
Suddenly this big blockage that had been in people’s way was gone. And suddenly the opinions of the functionaries of the DDR about your mental health no longer mattered.
The wall has fallen. Sure, publishing can still offer contracts, and those are often advantageous. But they no longer have the power to keep you unpublished. They no longer have the power to push you to success either. Some years ago, when they said the push model was done, they weren’t joking.
Sure, they’ll survive, like the communist parties in Europe survive. Okay, maybe not that well, since all it took for the communist parties to survive was a fresh line of bullsh*t, while traditional publishing needs to radically reinvent themselves economically, and in efficiency and distribution, too.
Some of them will make it. But I suspect paper books will become a prestige thing. In the next ten years or so, they’ll be like those leather bound editions offered in the back of magazines.
Meanwhile, the rest of us? Believe it or not, we don’t actually care what your political color is. Unless you cram it down my throat (say, by naming the character’s cat after a mass murderer) I don’t care. All I care about is: is the story readable? If it is, you’ll have my money.
And a lot of people are finding this out and making money. Sure, they might make a point or a convert too (after all we write what we believe and what we are.) I don’t care, as long as I’m not being pounded on the head with it.
The (artificial) wall dividing publishing is down. There is no longer anyone deciding what the public can see. (They were never any good at figuring out what the public wanted.)
Sure, you had dreams of fame in the traditional way. But unless you’re one of those they’ll lionize — and even then, they don’t have much to give anymore — don’t bother.
Write. Publish. Repeat.
Tell me a story. Make it good, and I’ll pay you.