This article popped up on Facebook the other day. The headline is click bait nonsense. The actual content tries to make a point but has to make some really silly assumptions to get to it. Then their solution is ass backwards.
After reading this defeatist garbage I figured I needed to say something. This fisking is addressed toward the aspiring authors in the audience. You are trying to make it as a professional author. Lots of things are going to stand in your way. Don’t make up additional stupid new ones to hold you back.
As usual, the original will be in italics and my responses are in bold.
Science fiction publishing has a major race problem, new report shows
More than half of all science fiction magazines failed to publish fiction from black authors in 2015
By Andrew Liptak on August 4, 2016 11:33 am
Speculative fiction magazine Fireside Fiction has commissioned and released a report detailing an unwelcome revelation: speculative fiction magazines and online fiction sites are failing to publish stories by black writers.
OF THE 2,039 SHORT STORIES PUBLISHED IN 2015, ONLY 38 WERE PUBLISHED BY BLACK AUTHORS
Released last week, the report is damning: of the 2,039 short stories published last year across 63 magazines, only 38 were published by black authors. Cecily Kane, who authored the report along with Weston Allen, compiled the statistics that they worked from. While they admit that their methodology has some flaws — they largely worked from self-reported information from the magazines — they believe that the data is largely correct after consulting with an actuary. Sixty percent of the magazines listed had not published a single story by a black science fiction author in 2015, while the highest publication percentage is only 25 percent. The report compared these numbers against the US census, and found that there’s a wide gap between the population and those being published.
Interesting. Sounds pretty horrible, right?
I originally saw this article on author Chris Nuttal’s page, and in the resulting discussion a bunch of authors went through the many possible flaws in this survey (including some black authors who pointed out they never put their race on a query letter). Chris goes into it in detail here https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/08/06/race-fail-again/
Basically, there were supposedly 38 stories published by black authors in sci-fi magazines (a plodding dinosaur medium, but I’ll get to that) but how many stories were submitted by black authors? Keep in mind the regular publishing industry has something like a 99.9% rejection rate. I couldn’t tell you the actual rejection rate for magazines, because I didn’t come into the business that way, but I’m sure it is pretty cut throat too.
So without that key piece of info, who knows? If there were a hundred thousand submissions from whites, and a hundred from blacks, then that’s a kick ass ratio, but they conveniently leave that bit out, but hey, let’s hurry, assume the system is rigged, impossible, and have a giant freak out about racism, because getting published isn’t hard enough already.
Fireside Fictionnotes that the possibility for this to be random chance is smaller than that of winning the New Jersey Pick Six Lottery.
If fifty million black authors submitted stories, he’d have a point. Without comparative rejection rates those numbers are meaningless.
But hang on. I’m going to go in a different direction. Let’s go ahead and assume this is legit.
I know there is bias in publishing. Some unconscious, as in you deviate too far from their groupthink monoculture, and they wouldn’t read that trash, and only they know what sells. And some conscious, as in you didn’t kiss sufficient ass, or they just plain hate your guts.
There is no shortage of stuck up, snooty gatekeeper editors. So for this fisk, let’s assume that they are unfairly biased against black authors too.
Ironically, if there is a bias against black authors, just keep in mind that the vast majority of the publishing industry works out of ultra-liberal Manhattan, and is overwhelmingly run by Caring Liberals Who Are Never Racist EVAR, and by golly, they’ll tell you so.
How politically slanted is this business? Check this out. Go down and click on Publishing. http://verdantlabs.com/politics_of_professions/ Book Publishing is so overwhelmingly left wing and my side so statistically insignificant, that we don’t show up on the diagram. You really want to see bias in the publishing industry, let them know you campaigned for George Bush!
It is entirely plausible that some editors might be biased against black authors. Hell, lots of them are biased against anybody who didn’t drive their Prius with a Berkley Alumni sticker on it to their Upper East Side organic farmers market and drum circle to pick up some non-GMO, cruelty free range free trade vegan tofu snacks for after the Bernie rally.
The question then becomes what do you as an author do about these biased gatekeepers? You’re in luck, my friends, because my people are used to their elitist bullshit and have learned how to work around them. I’ll get back to that later because there is still a lot of angsty fear mongering to fisk first.
While science fiction can be found across novels, television, and film, the short fiction market is a particularly important marketplace to consider. It publishes a relatively high level of content, and allows newer authors to break into the field with their own fiction.
Eh… Sort of. In reality the short fiction market is a good place to get started because it is easier to finish a 5,000 word piece than a 100,000 word novel. Shorts are good practice but the pay is awful. I’ve known some of the most prolific and successful short fiction authors alive, and they don’t make enough off of it to live on. Also of those 2,000 short stories, probably half of them were written by the same 100 or so, already popular/prolific short fiction writers, which will further skew the stats.
Successful authors such as Ken Liu, N.K. Jemisin, Charlie Jane Anders, and Paolo Bacigalupi each got their start writing shorter stories for a variety of magazines, which helped them as they began writing novels.
Yep. Good for them. Luckily for you there are a hundred ways to get into this business.
Short fiction also allows authors to experiment with form, style, and narratives which can have great impact on the field as a whole.
Uh huh. That sounds great and all, but it’s really kind of bullshit. Not the authors experimenting part. That’s cool. That’s how we learn. The “impact on the field” part, that there is some pretentious literati twaddle. Outside of a tiny circle jerk of critics, nobody cares. Your story probably isn’t got to blow any minds or shake the foundations of the world. Just write your shit, and if it is entertaining and good enough, people will want to give you money for it.
Barriers for specific groups of people hurts the field as a whole by blocking new voices and styles from reaching a wider audience.
Funny, when I said that same thing years ago I was the bad guy. 🙂
Fireside’s study focused specifically on black science authors, rather than the wider spectrum of authors of color. Kane noted, “We noticed several patterns — not limited to the short fiction field — in which “diversity” initiatives excluded black people and hid antiblackness.”
So much crap in one paragraph… Where to begin?
First, if you’re a “person of color” (which always blows me away how that is cool now but Colored Person is a slur) most of your readers don’t care. No. Really. The vast majority of people who read do so to be entertained. Adventure, comedy, tragedy, whatever. Make them happy or make them cry, you’re doing your job. Only a tiny percentage of whiny white guilt liberals buy books based upon the author’s race.
If you come from a different background or culture that gives you some unique perspectives that you can use to make your book more interesting, awesome. Run with it. The important thing is that the book is good.
So don’t be “an author of color”. Be an author. Period. Technically, I’m an author of color (warm beige according to these Home Depot paint chips) but that’s fucking stupid. I’m telling stories for the mass market, not for some little narrow band of humanity that happens to fit my socioeconomic-cultural-ethnic-religious-sexual oriented background. Because I’d go broke.
But we really need to talk about those “diversity” initiatives, because that is the most destructive piece of do-gooder stupidity foisted on authors that I can think of.
I know an author who is just starting out. He’s black. Last year we were at a con together, and he was excited because he’d been put on his very first panel ever. I asked what it was. And it was one of those Mandatory Diversity In Fiction panels.
What a waste. So you got a talented newcomer, so OBVIOUSLY they aren’t going to get his perspective on a panel for plot, or characters, or something actually related to writing… No. He’s a black writer. So he has to talk about race.
My advice was tell the con organizers that you aren’t their token, and ask to be switched to one of the many panels that fans actually go to and enjoy. (no, really. If you look at the people who attend any given con’s poorly attended Mandatory Diversity Panel, most of the sparse audience are white liberal senior citizen humorless scolds, because nothing says fun at a con like getting yelled at by a gender studies grad on the panel because your cismale oppression is the reason their novel didn’t sell well). Go get on the World Building panel in front of an audience of people who actually enjoy reading, and who will hopefully then get enthusiastic over what you say enough to later purchase your products.
“WRITE WHAT THE MARKET WANTS” IS CODE FOR WHITE CHARACTERS AND STORIES
What utter dreck. This line is why I had to do this fisking.
In his editorial, Fireside Fiction Company owner and editor Brian White points to a systematic structure of racial discrimination that has been built into the science fiction publishing community. Authors leave the field due to the lack of opportunities, while “subtle biases” contribute on a wide scale. “The advice to write “what the market wants” is code for white characters and white stories.
Owen Z. Pitt, not white. Ashok Vadal, not white. Yet somehow I’m a successful author and my core fan base is as red state, meat and potatoes, flag waving, clinging to our god and guns, regular America as it gets.
“What the market wants” is not code for White Stories (whatever the fuck that gibberish is supposed to mean). The market wants to be entertained. They want to have fun. They want emotion. They want to get sucked in because they can’t put the book down and stay up way too late reading. They want rousing stories. They want heroes and villains. They want characters they can cheer for. If you think all that only belongs to white people, fuck off, racist.
The opportunities to network, like six-week writing workshops or weeklong conventions, are really only open to those with the means to miss work.”
What elitist hogwash. Does that stuff help? Maybe. For some people.
When I started writing seriously I had two jobs, one of which was my own start-up company. I wrote most of MHI while working 70 hours a week, and because I was an owner, I got paid last and was usually broke. I was a self-taught writer, based upon reading a whole lot of books, most of which came from the public library. The first con I ever went to was after I already had my first publishing contract.
Six week writing workshops? Of the many working professional authors I know, I can think of a handful who went to something like that. Even fewer got English degrees. I do however know of a bunch of wannabe dilettantes who like to play at being writers who attend stuff like that. There is a whole subculture of people who won’t ever put in the work necessary to make it as a writer, but they love putting on the trappings of being a writer.
Weeklong conventions? Choose your conventions more carefully. Most of them run over the weekend. And most cons are fan events. If you are going to spend the time/money, make sure you go to one of the ones with really good writing tracks. Networking? Yeah. Networking is helpful. Practicing until you can tell a really good story is way more important.
That white guilt claptrap is silly. Do you really think that writing is the only career where not having free time, resources, and the ability to network holds you back? How about, uh, let’s say EVERY OTHER CAREER too. Just like the guy who went to Harvard has more opportunities than the guy who went to Weber State, or the kid whose dad is in management gets promoted faster than you do. Welcome to life.
The report also included an interview with author N.K. Jemisin, author of The Fifth Seasonand forthcoming Obelisk Gate, who noted that some authors that might have otherwise published through traditional markets have found other outlets for their work. “There’s a gigantic market of self-published and small press published black fiction that kind of eschews the whole traditional published market simply because back in the nineties when all of this really kind of kicked off … the traditional publishing industry basically treated black writers as if they were anomalies.”
Dear God… I just kind of agreed with something N.K. Jemisin said (Correia checks outside to see if the 7th seal has opened). Nope, no blood rain or locust plagues. Well, I’ll be damned.
This article is focused on sci-fi magazines, but they are a relic of an earlier time. I think most of them have gone out of business. This article says they looked at 63 sci-fi magazines. I was shocked there were that many. I’ve sold around 30 pieces of short fiction, and I could only think of like half a dozen sci-fi magazines off the top of my head (and most of those are really just websites).
If there are actually 63 sci-fi mags, I’m guessing some of them have readership measured in the tens of readers. And that’s only if you count the editorial staff. So I’m really not sure how much these marginalized authors are missing out on here. I wonder how many of those pay in “exposure”?
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.
Furthermore, the authors of the essays point to specific problems that authors routinely face while trying to publish their stories, such as being published only in specific volumes devoted to race, contending with the biases of editors, and so forth.
That there is funny… I actually agree with this one. Like, look, this special Mandatory Diversity edition of our magazine is all Gay Peruvians. Oh boy. I bet the Special Gay Peruvian issue is a huge hit. We’re striking a blow for Gay Peruvians everywhere! Gay Peruvians Destroy Science Fiction! Yay!
That shit is a trap. Because the vast majority of the market just wants to be entertained, when they see something advertised as the Big Gay Peruvian Extravaganza Issue, that sends up warning flags. Those stories could be brilliant, but the customer has been burned too many times by check box, social justice, beat you over the head nonsense, that many of them are going to go spend their money somewhere else.
If I was a gay Peruvian, I’d want to be thought of as a good author. Not a Gay Peruvian author. I don’t want to only get published when a Caring Liberal needs to trot out their show pony so they can brag at a WorldCon party about how super not racist they are. Don’t let some jackass editor stick you in a box.
“I’ve got a story to sell you, Mrs. Editor. It is really good!”
“Sorry, Pablo, we’ll have to save that one for Gay Peruvian Sci-Fi Volume 2.”
White noted that the report wasn’t intended to point to magazines and expose an issue. He wanted to point to the larger issue of the entire industry as a whole. For his part, he noted that his own magazine was part of the problem: in 2015 only 9.4 percent of their authors were black, and thus far in 2016, they hadn’t published a single black author.
I like when they break down ethnic groups to the decimal, like this is scientific or something.
When you submit something, the editor probably doesn’t know what color the author is. That’s not the kind of thing that you put on your query letter. Writers are self-employed contractors. We don’t have to fill out an EEOC form and check a box for ethnicity.
So of those percentages, how many POC (I fucking hate that term) authors got rejected, but the author never knew what color they were? I got rejected a hundred times. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because my last name has double Rs and too many vowels, but if I wanted to be a big pussy about it I could have added racism to the giant list of challenges all aspiring authors face, just to make the process seem extra daunting and insurmountable.
FUNDAMENTALLY, GENRE PUBLISHING WORLD HAS A DEMONSTRABLE TRACK RECORD OF UNDER-PUBLISHING BLACK SCIENCE FICTION AUTHORS
This tired argument gets trotted out every so often for the SJWs to freak out about. You can change Black to Female, Gay, Hispanic, Indian, Asian, Transsexual, or whatever they’re angry about today. Then you can just Ctrl H to find and replace which race and industry they are outraged for, and cut and paste in the same article. You can produce click bait way faster that way.
Think I’m exaggerating? Here is where I fisked NPR because Latinos aren’t in enough movies (they were confused because my kids don’t look like Machete or wear sombreros) https://monsterhunternation.com/2014/08/07/fisking-npr-about-latinos-in-the-movies/
Fundamentally, the genre publishing world — even amongst publications that have set out to be inclusive —
Inclusive my ass. The goal shouldn’t be to get included because you check a box, but because you’re good at what you do.
has a demonstrable track record of under-publishing black science fiction authors, who have gone out to establish their own outlets and means to get their stories out.
Hundreds of thousands of INDIVIDUALS of every imaginable shape, size, color, and belief system have gone around traditional publishing to get their stories out because snooty gatekeepers suck.
Justina Ireland noted that the solution is simple: “Acquire short fiction by black authors, especially fiction that challenges your comfort.” Taking active steps to ensure that black authors are included would be a positive first step toward making sure that the magazine market gets to a point where their portfolio of authors matches that of the country’s demographics.
That isn’t a simple solution. That is a stupid solution. Well, Pablo, this story is awesome, but we can’t take it because we are short .4% on Pacific Islanders this quarter.
Make sure your magazine’s portfolio statistically matches the country’s demographics? That is fantastic advice to give to a floundering dinosaur industry hemorrhaging subscribers, which is struggling to stay alive, and already can’t afford to pay its writers.
You know what readers love? “Fiction that challenges their comfort.” Brilliant. Do that often enough and you won’t have any of those pesky customers bothering you.
The actual simple solution?
Editors, understand your target market, then buy stories you think your audience will like enough so they will continue to give you money for them.
Authors, write the best stories you can and try to sell them. Be professional. Keep improving. Repeat.
There is going to be an MHI anthology from various authors next year. When we put together the list of authors to invite, I didn’t give a crap about the author’s sex/race. My criteria was simple. Are they talented? Are they a good fit to write in this world? Are they easy to work with?
Ironically, it turned out to be fairly diverse (way more diverse than the crappy stats in this article at least!) And not just stupid skin deep SJW diversity, but we gathered authors from a bunch of different perspectives and backgrounds. (you want real diversity, get a YA author best known for her princess adventures to write trailer park elves. The guy writing Franks is a self-proclaimed liberal, and his story is BADASS). At no point did I sit down with the US census data to try and puzzle out if it matched exactly. That’s going full potato. That’s ridiculous. It was more like, yeah, this story rocks. The fans will love it.
I brought up the number of submissions to begin with, because that is key. Recently a friend of mine was editing a project. Behind the scenes he had invited a roughly equal number of male and female authors to submit. A couple of male authors agreed to submit on spec, the female authors turned him down. He didn’t think much of it at the time, as he was just trying to get good authors by his deadline (actually I turned him down too, because of lack of time. Seriously, once you have a rep for being able to produce on demand you will never have a shortage of job offers). Sadly, when the project was revealed the editor was immediately attacked for his misogynistic hatemongery and attempt at excluding women from sci-fi.
Not everything is about sex/race, you social justice mopes. Sometimes individual humans just want to do stuff, or they don’t.
White noted that he wasn’t sure if Fireside would be able to publish a follow-up report. “It’s definitely an issue we want to continue to talk about. I am not sure if we will do a full follow-up by reviewing all of 2016 but we will be pursuing the issue as much as we can.”
In other words, the editor from this magazine you’ve never heard of is virtue signaling to the SJW contingent that he’s one of them, and please talk about his publishing house’s effort to be all diverse and stuff, and write more articles like this, because that’s great publicity.
You want more authors from Demographic X to write in Genre Y?
I talked about something similar in my fisking when I responded to Tor.com’s stupid article about how GenCon was racist, only that time it was where gamers come from, rather than writers. https://monsterhunternation.com/2014/08/19/no-tor-com-gencon-isnt-racist-a-fisking/ But the same fundamental principles apply. You want to make more writers from one particular group, get more people in that group reading, and make it fun.
Aspiring authors, I’ve said this before, there are only two deceptively simple steps to getting published.
- Get good enough people will give you money for your stuff.
- Find the people who will give you money for your stuff.
How you accomplish those two things is irrelevant, and there’s a bunch of different ways to do them, but that’s all there is to it.
Look, breaking into this business is a soul crushing pain in the ass anyway. Don’t make it any harder than it needs to be. Don’t get hung up. Work hard, be smart, be professional. If some editor is a biased asshole, skip them, and go somewhere else. You don’t need them. You’re not beholden to anyone but yourself.
No luck in short fiction? It pays crap anyway. Go write a novel. No publisher bought it? Self-publish. Market the hell out of it while you write your next idea. Treat it like your real job and eventually it will become one.