Editorial Ass’s Publishing By Omission

UPDATE: Great post here!

I don’t know if most of you have already seen this post at Editorial Ass, but it’s pretty insightful and interesting. The comments thread is also good.

The point is, we want our national literary culture to reflect our country–diverse, complex, and interesting in thousands and millions of ways, not on one very limited way. It’s in everyone’s interest to break down these accidental dumbnesses, and the first step is building awareness that there are problems.


  1. says

    Insightful. I like books. Good books. I like genre fiction the most. I can honestly say I don’t look at the author’s name or picture first to see if he’s white or black or whatever. I look at blurbs, perhaps a bit too much, and well, the strangeness of the subject matter. I haven’t really thought about who’s being given the big chance by the publisher. I’d like to think they’re selecting marketable fiction because the stories are worth publishing. I also know they want to make money. I don’t think a call for some kind of affirmative action is the answer though. In the long run it gets back to the early formative years of people in our society. Who’s learning how to read and write? Who’s having what put in front of them? What schools are emphasizing literature and the language arts? In my schooling, in predominately white suburban schools, there wasn’t an emphasis on say, modern dance or jazz, like I know there is in inner-city black schools (Ovation TV just aired a commercial for a New York school for the arts on the set behind me and half the images were black students dancing and playing drums. Weird? Ironic?). Let’s teach our children well. It starts there.

  2. says

    I think there is a much larger problem: not what race or sex the writer is, but what they are writing. The real problem with the publishing industry is that they publish “safe” books, just like Hollywood produces “safe” films—-those things which have a guarantee to earn a certain amount of money.

    The most important thing is for people to support writers and artists who are willing to produce books etc. that are not simply being done for commercial reasons.

    I suspect that many such authors are or would be from various cultural perspectives; but I think it all should start from promoting those books that go out on a limb rather than those that stay in a nest. Everything is meaningless if we don’t start from the actual quality of the work and get obsessed with the writer as a character. That is why Maupassant refused to have his picture appear in his books. He didn’t think it mattered.

  3. says

    Thanks for linking to this, Jeff. I left a comment on his site. I really appreciated hearing his perspective and reading the other comments. I am a black woman writer and artist working independently and often feel as though I am working in a bubble. Conversations like these cut down on the isolation. As writers, we are all family and need to support each other in getting our unsafe visions out there. I do find lots of inspiration from your experiences trying to get ‘City of Saints and Madmen’ published. I admire your tenacity and don’t know what I would do without ‘Dradin, in Love.’

  4. Jeff VanderMeer says

    Brendan–I certainly agree to an extent. But I also know there’s only so far a wider audience is willing to go, and only farther in specific directions. However, if an NY editor says there’s a problem re honest publishing of minorities, I think that warrants being taken seriously.

    Tiffany–thanks for that. I checked out your art. Awesome!

  5. says

    Jeff—I do take it seriously and it should be taken seriously. There is racism in all aspects of society. Not only in the US, but everywhere in the world. Writing however is unique in that generally, the editors never even see the faces of the people who are writing. They see the name, which can often be misleading. I have an Irish name, but on my mother’s side I am Jewish. So I get people telling me how bad Jews are, them thinking I am an honest Catholic.

    But seeing what stuff is lining the shelves of Barnes and Noble etc, I have to ask myself what the real problem is. Because frankly most of it sucks and is all sub-divided into strange little genres and groups that baffle me. So, right off you have an industry that is taking something beautiful (books) and turning it into a kind of brothel. Some of the best writers writing fantasy today cannot get a contract with a major publisher. So, I don’t doubt in the least that there is racism, but I think it is just part of the larger, fundamental probelem that publishers are to a large extent hammering down the written word to make it into a commodity, so we all get screwed, white, black, Hindu and Jew. And the people who get screwed the most are the readers. I think it is difficult to say how far a wider audience will go if the publishers don’t give them a chance. I mean, Faulkner is about as far out as anyone writing today, but in the 50’s he was one of the best selling authors in the US. So my feeling is, given the chance, audiences will go where the author is willing to take them.

    Ennis: Thanks!

  6. says

    Just a little after note: Basically, I think I am saying something similar to the Editorial Ass post you originally pointed to. The difference is that I maybe think the larger issue of what is the goal/strategy for publishers/booksellers has to be resolved before anything else can be, because it is all linked. Until compartmentalisation of fiction stops being used as a sales strategy, there will be an unpleasantness about the whole thing.