This post is for the writers or others who think that in order to succeed, they must first tear someone else’s success down: What in the hell is wrong with you people? And yes, before anyone else says it:
But I’m being serious here, dammit. Here’s what someone posted to YA author Ellen Oh’s Tumblr account: No on (sic) wants to read your shitty books. I hope you get fucked over by white men as bad as you are fucking them over you slanty eyed whore. (Oh has this account set where anonymous people can leave comments/questions in order to interact with fans. This was, naturally, an anonymous comment.)
I don’t know Ellen Oh at all. Don’t follow her on Twitter, haven’t read any of her books (sorry, Ellen). But you don’t have to know the author to be outraged over something like this. That comment is hateful, racist, and everything that’s wrong with free discourse on the Internet. If you don’t agree, you might want to go ahead and see yourself out the fucking door right now.
Posts like that, though, are part of a larger pattern I’ve begun to observe. I follow and interact with a couple of editors from BookRiot on a pretty regular basis, and looking back through their Twitter feeds, it is AMAZING the amount of racism and sexism they have to put up with on a daily basis. I couldn’t do it. Thankfully, they’re tougher than I am, because they have some really cool insights into 1) the world of publishing; 2) the reasons the publishing industry needs to represent diverse voices. Note that these women aren’t even novelists. They report and opine about the book industry. That’s all.
And yet they’ve been threatened, been told to shut up, been informed that their views aren’t welcome.
A lot of what I see–especially on Twitter–is white guys telling other races, genders, and sexual orientations to shut up, telling them that they have no right to their voice, saying that their experiences don’t matter, that their writing–their work–should take a seat in the back of the bus.
Fuck that, too.
And when these other voices refuse to be stilled or silenced, suddenly the white guys are offended. That’s when they back away and say “It was just a joke,” or “Oh no, you must have misunderstood me,” or “What do you mean you don’t feel safe because of what I said? What does that have to do with anything?”
Fuck that bullshit, too.
If you are a writer, another writer’s success or failure doesn’t define you. You are not threatened because a person of different race/gender/orientation is writing and publishing in the 21st century. You are not diminished because a writer of another race or gender got published and you didn’t. They didn’t take your spot at the table. You are not entitled to a spot at the table, motherfucker.
You want a spot at the table? Write your own novel. Submit it. Get it published. Or, if you want to be a critic, find something worthwhile to say, build a platform, and say it. Say it publicly. Attach your fucking name to it. I wrote opinion columns for a lot of years, and I put my name (and my photo) with every one of them. You know why? Because I was accountable for what I said. I was (and sometimes still am) a professional fucking writer, and I am responsible for the words which appear under my byline.
I get that white guys (why is it always white guys?) are feeling squeezed out lately. It seems harder and harder to get published. But EVERYONE thinks it’s harder and harder to get published. Those female writers who get signed? They’re good. They’re not part of some dastardly plot to squeeze out white voices. In fact, it’s probably still much harder for minorities to get published.
“There can be a zillion white authors who write [whatever kind of book] but if one marginalized author exists who does it, that’s enough,” YA author Malinda Lo writes on her Twitter account. “It goes like this: Publisher: We already have [name of black author]. We don’t need another one. Other black author … [emphasis mine.] There are also unacknowledged but real quotas, like a publisher will only publish X number of diverse books/authors. (Usually 1 or 2.)”
Again, I get it. White guys are having a harder time getting published. But diversity in publishing isn’t pushing you out. There is still room for you at the table, but you have to earn it. Everyone does. And that may be the key difference: Now unknown white guys may have to struggle a little more than in years past. Things were easier for white writers when the door was very nearly closed to women or people of color. I’ve had those thoughts myself: If only I’d been born in a different time, writing for the pulps or the Gold Medal paperbacks, I might have already published a novel (or series of them) … or I might not have. Who knows?
But all of this new diversity isn’t a danger to me, either as an author, or a reader, or a human being. I’m still a good writer. I still enjoy reading good authors. If you feel that diversity is a danger to you, you might want to look around you, at the people of color, the LGBTQ folks, the differently abled, those scary women … The world is a diverse place. All of those people have a voice. Trying to silence that wave of voices is like trying to hold the ocean back with a fishing net.
It’s an exercise in futility. And it’s wrong.