Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Is Big Publishing pushing diversity?

Image result for diversity comic

This was a question that came up on a writing forum. 

Popular opinion: "In the past, ONLY white male authors were given the chance to be heard. The industry still heavily favors them. This is nothing more than an attempt to capitalize on the diverse stories that could be told if diverse voices were actually allowed to speak. Especially after history silenced them again and again."

My take?

We shouldn't be obsessed with diversity; it should just be a natural part of life, and of books, as it comes and when it comes. Forcing an agenda is not the way. As a matter of fact, it appears arrogant - "we are the enlightened, liberal-minded publishers, and we will do our part in molding society as WE see fit".

Not long ago, I was browsing agents and there was one well-established agency whose website said, "we don't accept unsolicited manuscripts at present, but if you're #ownvoices, we promise to consider your work AND read your full MS AND send feedback."

Some quotes from Twitter, after searching #mwsl and #ownvoices:

"Anyone who sends me an #ownvoices query this week, will get a response with 24 hours. #mswl"

"While I wait for this lunch meeting to start: I want all the epic YA fantasy with intersectional diversity and #ownvoices. #MSWL"

"Agents, I am eagerly on the hunt for #ownvoices work by black writers in YA (any genre with a romantic plot or subplot) and adult romance. #MSWL"

"I'm still really looking for an amazing YA Fantasy #ownvoices manuscript based off Native American/Indigenous American mythology or tribal lore! I still really want this story written by a Native American writer. Where are you?! #MSWL"

I could go on and on. I won't post names, but these are major agents most new authors would be desperate to grab the attention of.
This isn't just about publishing, of course. It's about PC culture in general.
I have a 2-month-old baby and was reading some breastfeeding advice yesterday. The page kept referring to "breastfeeding PARENT". I thought it was just silly... I mean, what's wrong with "breastfeeding MOTHER"? I posted this on Facebook as a "haha" moment. Then people started pointing out that in some cases, transgender males have breastfed. So because of some outlandish cases, we are no longer allowed to refer to a group as the overwhelming majority of which it naturally consists.
Someone then said that the words "mother" and "father" are discouraged in some countries as being sexist. I have no idea if that's true, but, you know... Common. Sense.
Where has it gone?? PC culture is going on a crazy tangent.
I have expressed these views before, and got called "arrogant little WASP". Well, I may be W, but being Jewish, I'm definitely not ASP. 
I have read forum threads of people asking, "why are there so many Jews in the film and publishing industries?" I kid you not. This kind of voice does not gain momentum, because saying "too many Jews" is not PC, while crying out "too many whites", "too many men" is perfectly acceptable.
I don't think I, as a Jew, should be given extra points because Jews had been historically oppressed. I don't think I, as a woman, should be given extra points because women had been historically oppressed. I honestly believe that time is past, and now we can exist without taking so much of our gender, ethnicity, religion, skin color, and so on, into our professional lives.
Don't get me wrong, I am all for diversity of gender, culture, ethnicity, race, in books. But the big question is... would such a book only be published by Big Pub if it's up to industry standards? Or would it be given a leg up to encourage a minority?
The moment I come across a sub-par book promoted in the name of "diversity" is the moment I say this has gone a step too far.


  1. I've thought a lot about this. I agree that the PC culture has gone way too far, to everybody's detriment (even the people who propound it, I think). When I started looking for an agent for my novel (now again a WIP) I created a twitter page just for friending all of the fantasy agents I could find, thinking this would give me some insight into how to craft my query letter/what they were looking for. I saw so many hateful tweets by agents that I was hoping to work with that I had to cross several of them off my list. When one agent wrote that he'd gladly give Republicans enough rope to hang themselves if he didn't know they'd also hang children, I stopped using the account. Somehow comments like that have become PC while saying that mothers breastfeed is now the mark of an arrogant little WASP.

    All that being said, I have wondered a couple of things about the #ownvoices requests. First, is it publishers who are requesting these, or agents? I've gotten the feeling that it's mostly agents. That means they are still looking for work good enough to submit to a publisher, and also that publishers remain the gatekeepers and will only release books that will sell. Second, regardless of whether it's agents or publishers looking for #ownvoices, this is still their job, and while they can have multiple motivations for doing something, they still want to sell books and make money. Which makes me wonder whether some of the impetus isn't coming from a sense that readers want more #ownvoices books, in which case the agents are reacting at least in part to a market demand.

    1. Chase, it's all about proportion, IMHO. #ownvoices focuses specifically on minorities wanting to tell minority stories. This in itself is skewed, because it implies a minority writer gets the leg-up only if they choose to represent their group, so to speak. This is at odds with individual creativity.

      Certainly this is business, not just ideology. Agents and publishers won't want to invest time, money and effort in what won't sell, but they do have enormous resources to help a book sell. Two equally well-written books can have very different sales rankings depending on promotion.