It seems that anti-Semitic prejudice is impacting the publishing world, particularly in Europe, but here in the USA as well.
The publishing world today is extremely woke. And woke-approved manuscripts on Jewish themes must now pass a simple purity test: Thou shalt not portray Israel or Zionism in a positive light.
American novelist and former journalist Hesh Kestin was slammed with the dogma when promotional material hyping his Israel-positive 2019 thriller, The Siege of Tel Aviv, attracted a social-media mobbing, even though the mobbers had yet to read the actual novel.
Kestin is not some obscure amateur, but a well-established, brilliantly creative author. His magnificent novel about Jewish gangsters in 1960 New York, The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats, won the Independent Book Publisher Awards’ 2011 gold medal for literary fiction. Stephen King praised it and other Kestin books, including Siege, to the skies.
Accused on thirteen Twitter accounts of abetting Islamophobia (even though one of the book’s heroes is Muslim), and faced with defection from other authors in his stable, Kestin’s small-press publisher caved, parting ways with him. Kestin’s response to what would have been a disaster for less experienced writers was a middle finger to cancel culture, and self-publication of Siege on his website.
How are other Israel-friendly Jewish authors, some young and more vulnerable to marginalization, faring?
Not well, according to a rather grim investigation into the subject by Melissa Langsam Braunstein for the Washington Examiner, titled “Publishers against the People of the Book.”
The article I cited this morning refers specifically to anti-Semitic prejudice, but we’ve all seen examples of other prejudices that are non-publishable in the commercial world today. (Just try writing a book – fiction or non-fiction – denouncing the current COVID-19 hysteria and exposing its pseudo-scientific malarkey for what it is, and see how fast publishers and agents will flee from you!)
That’s one of the great blessings of the self-publishing phenomenon that’s grown up around the rise of e-books. We no longer have to be subject to the vicissitudes of politically correct publishers or “woke” agents. We can get our work out there where it can be read on its own merits. Unfortunately, we can’t yet overcome the conspiracy of silence that will be directed against it from the entire publishing industry, in an attempt to prevent word of our work’s existence ever reaching potential readers. That we still have to do for ourselves.
Even there, things are improving. Amazon Ads and other avenues are still accepting promotions for non-politically-correct books, and independent online venues such as Gab are setting up their own advertising structures to help us reach like-minded people. The venues won’t help us get beyond their own readership (which is sometimes substantial), but if our work is good enough to catch and hold their attention, their readers will slowly but surely do that for us by word of mouth. The quality of our work will speak for itself.
Also, the corollary is true. The quality (and quantity) of “woke”, politically correct books appears to be going down, not up. Readers are increasingly voting with their entertainment dollars and simply not buying books that preach at them. There will always be a “woke” market for such works, but on the basis of sales figures, it appears to be static or even shrinking, whereas independent books are going from strength to strength.
I’m noticing this particularly in the Western market, which publishers and agents tried very hard to “kill off” in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Leaving out the plague of romance and soft-core pornographic novels masquerading as Westerns (Yech! Yuck! Spit!), the majority of new novels in that genre appear to be from independent author-publishers; and they’re making a success of it. There’s still considerable reader demand for such books, and if they’re good, they’ll find buyers. (My latest Western novel, “Wood, Iron, and Blood“, has been the #1 New Release in Amazon’s “Classic Action & Adventure” category since the day it launched, more than two weeks ago.
It’s one of four Westerns in the top ten books in that category, which demonstrates that there really is demand for such fiction.)
So, if our work encounters prejudice, let’s remember that it can, indeed, be overcome. We don’t have to give in or knuckle under to the “woke” or the “politically correct”. There are alternatives.