Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Guys, it's not her, it's you.

As has been known to happen more frequently since the end of 2016, one aggrieved man on Twitter can cause a true fecal tornado.

No, this wasn't that guy, but one who will remain nameless, because I'm sure he was loving the torrent of attention his conspiracy theorizing received. What was his theory?

That "misandry in publishing" not only exists, but caused the 2008 Depression, the mortgage crisis, and is why agent Lauren Spellier rejected his book.
I didn't make any of that up, but I did reverse the order of what he blamed it for. I'm guessing alcohol was involved, or faulty logic by an uniformed man who believes that he can reason his way into becoming the next Isaac Newton, if he wasn't oppressed. You can read all the details here, where agent Spellier condenses it all nicely. Note that she says this is nothing uncommon. This just happened on a slow news day (remember those?) and blew up because of how ridiculous his claims became, blaming the global financial crisis on boys not reading, because there are "no books out there for boys."

Now, I have heard male writers complain that publishing is "overrun with women," and even that crime fiction is. If they don't say it outright, you can catch a whiff of what they're shoveling when they sneer at cozies, or amateur sleuths, domestic suspense, "chick lit," or whatever isn't manly enough to put hair on your eyeballs from reading the first paragraph. I like cozies and noir, personally. I've noticed that when Lawrence Block writes cozies about burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, who seldom swears, where the violence and sex are off-screen, and every single book ends with a parlor room mystery style gathering, "you're probably wondering why I brought you here," no one says "ew, that's a cozy." I wonder why that is?

"Oh, not him, I mean that other stuff. That stuff I haven't read, but the cupcake on the cover and the pun in the title casts a spell on me that shrank my organs." --Strawman guy

To each their own, not everyone likes graphic violence, and not everyone likes small town mysteries. It doesn't mean you're a prude or a misogynist dinosaur, unless you're a berk about it. (I do love me some Cockney rhyming slang). If you think the market is skewed toward "unmanly" subjects, blame capitalism. More women read. But that didn't stop publishing from releasing drivel by Sean Penn, a physically abusive human disaster. Time was not "up" for him, which you think it would be, if a Coven of Penis-Shrinking Witch Women ran publishing from a hot tub full of Nutella.

But the misandry guy had one point. New York publishing is extremely white and mostly women:
Survey of workforce at 34 book publishers and eight review journals in US reveals 79% of staff are white and 78% female

If anything, this has whitened the books we get to read, but it hasn't emasculated them. When I walk into my favorite bookstore, with its all-woman staff, I don't have to look far to see testosterone-soaked novels, covers out. My barbed-wire spangled cover for Life During Wartime: Stories is one of them. I don't think women in publishing have made it any harder for men to get published. I do think publishing has been playing it too safe for decades, but having worked in the ugly corporate world, my guess is that's due to the enemy of all humanity: too many meetings.

I wanted to work in publishing, when I graduated Rutgers University back in 1995. But I'll admit, I was a coaster. I do very well on tests, I can write an essay on the fly, I can pull trivia and historical tidbits out of my beard like a chipmunk from its cheeks, so I didn't work very hard in college. And I sure didn't dig too deeply researching the industry, and how internships were key even then, just as they began the great purge of assistant editors that launched a thousand literary agencies. So I'd missed that boat, and blamed the only person to blame: myself. Things worked out. I traveled west to Minneapolis for a tech writing job, just as they announced a hiring freeze, in the middle of a transit strike, which led me to a long and fruitful career in I.T., which makes journalists and fellow English majors glower at me when I opine, "I wish I'd started at a newspaper." But really, I do. I learned way too late in life that struggling is good.

I mention my martial arts background a lot, I know. I'm just a mat rat, a fight gym goon, a terminal blue belt (in BJJ parlance). I'm no pro, though I've served as their training dummies. But getting to that molehill of ability took me years and years. It takes me a long time to learn anything physical. I spent six months on the straight arm bar, the basic move of the grappler. And I still can't do it well, but I built a tool box that works for me, and as a now older gent, I know to trick the young fast technically better opponents and pit my strengths against their weaknesses. Too many of us aren't used to struggling, especially men. We are told to pursue what we're good at and then that becomes part of our self-image. I am good at writing. I have an English degree.

Yeah, well maybe you're not good enough.

That doesn't mean you can't be. You just have to struggle again. Work harder. After you graduate school, that can be something you never want to do again. You get a job, you coast, you don't learn new things as the world changes, and you shake your fist and blame everyone else because you didn't want to struggle anymore. It's daunting. But it's not their fault, is it? You saw the writing on the wall. With books, it's disheartening. We thinking writing that book is the struggle, and once it's done, we get to lift it atop the mountain like the baby in The Lion King for all to worship and behold. Yeah, us and a hundred thousand others. The struggle has only just begun.

In Spellier's words:
...I’m not rejecting their books because I hate men. I’m rejecting their books because they aren’t ready for publication in my eyes, or because the book simply isn’t my cup of tea. And while that may feel personal, it’s not. Because here’s the brutal truth: not every book is ready for publication. Some books are overwritten, or ill-conceived. Others are simply not right for the market, or are too similar to existing titles. Some just aren’t very good.
     I  know that’s hard to hear. I’m an author myself, and that truth pains me even now. I wrote one of those “not good enough” books. In fact, I wrote three. But when the rejections came in, I didn’t take to Twitter and cry foul. I did what writers do: I kept writing. And eventually that work paid off when I sold my first book.
     But while it’s true that I worked hard, it’s also true that I’m a white, married woman living in America, and that affords me a lot of privileges. So while it was heartening to see so many people of all gender identities overtake the #MisandryInPublishing hashtag, and thus acknowledge that publishing has a long way to go when it comes to not prioritising male voices, we also need to recognise that this problem is even worse for other marginalised communities.

But back to "misandry" in publishing. At your first Bouchercon, you may notice that as in publishing, the audience is overwhelmingly white and female. The easy thing is to assume as a privileged guy, is that you will not be welcome, and to snark about all the cozy panels, say there's no room for dudes. There is plenty of room, you just need to get used to not being the default in the room. And "Bouchercon" isn't a secret cabal. Each city "bids" to run it, and a board of people elected by attendees chooses. They aren't putting it in Toronto to keep people with DWIs and other records out, the Toronto fans organized and bid best, and why shouldn't Toronto get their turn? If you want a con that doesn't move, there's ThrillerFest and NoirCon, Deadly Ink, Killer Nashville. Bouchercon still has issues of inclusiveness and sexual harassment--you'd think guys, being outnumbered, might police ourselves, but no such luck--and writers have successfully been elected to the board, to specifically to address these issues. That takes more struggle than coming up with conspiracy theories about misandry.

In the larger scope, I do think we need to get boys to read more, but I don't think the financial collapse was caused because the mortgage bros who invented derivative swaps were playing Xbox instead of reading Harry Potter. I don't have an answer for that. Schools have had to enforce recess, for a mere 27 minutes a day, because American public schools have been consumed by government-mandated testing. Maybe another 27 minutes for reading? But if you aren't reading by the time you are in pre-K, you're behind, and working multiple jobs can make it tough to sit and read with your kid, boy or girl, especially if you were raised without it as well. I was privileged enough that my mom read with me, but we can't blame women in publishing for children who don't have that privilege.


Dana King said...

About that guy who thinks he can't get published because he's a man: Using the word "misandry" is prima facie evidence of a men's rights activist, so fuck him and his red pill buddies.

I've found there is really only one way to deal with rejection: the book/story wasn't good enough. That's on me. All I can control is the writing, so I have to accept full responsibility. Anything else involves looking for others to blame, and that's not only unproductive, it inhibits progress as a writer.

K. A. Laity said...

Publishing is full of women because it mostly pays badly: look in the board room, suddenly the women are gone (and to head off uninformed argument: