“Do better, publishing people”: an open letter to the industry

From The Bookseller:

I have to start by admitting that when I began writing this letter last week, I was boiling mad and ready to take everyone on. Now, in its tenth or twentieth draft (I don’t know which) I’m still boiling mad, but most of your gaslighting social media posts that sent me over the edge have gone, so I’ve calmed down a little. A little.

I am still boiling mad and I still think you need to know a few things. Firstly – and most importantly – you need to know: publishing is a hostile environment for Black authors.

I’m not talking about the inclusive indies, the ones who’ve been forging their way ahead, I’m talking about the major players in publishing. Yours is an environment that the world thinks is welcoming, liberal, ‘right on’ and intellectual, but in reality can be extremely damaging for Black authors.

Let me also be clear: Black writers do not want special consideration, we do not want special treatment, we want a level playing field, an equality of opportunity, the chance to write books and explore as many subjects and genres as our white counterparts. We want to look around and see other Black people being as successful as us in all different genres in all branches of the publishing business. And that is not the experience for most of us when we come to write our books or have them promoted or see them on the shelves.

When we try to enter the world of publishing, a lot of us already have so much on our shoulders. Black writers know that every word we write, every story we tell, will be taken up as speaking for every single black person that ever lived. We are often seen as a monolith and everything one of us does is often used to represent all of us.

. . . .

Agents are the first gatekeepers most of us encounter and we very often hear from them that they can’t connect with ‘Black’ stories, they don’t understand ‘Black’ voices, the story isn’t teaching them anything. And yet, we can see with our own eyes that they very often represent white authors who are telling stories about Black people and earning millions and accolades whilst doing it.

. . . .

Showcasing black pain? Tick

Willing to constantly talk politely about race and nothing else? Tick

Making white people feel comfortable? Tick

Teaching white people something about the ‘Black experience’? Tick

No one in publishing will admit this, but you can tell by the rejections you receive, the conversations that you have about a book, suggestions that are made that this checklist is – often unconsciously – there.

As we move through the publishing process, what do we come up against next? People who don’t ‘get’ Black voices so set about changing our words to fit the stereotypes in their heads. Editors who need subtle, modern-day ‘slave’ narratives added in even if it doesn’t fit the story arc. Those who ask you to find redemption for a white antagonist so as not to put people (read: white people) off. Publishers who want you to make characters racist because that’s obviously what’s missing from your rom-com. Editors who pick apart every single word to make sure you don’t get uppity and think you might just be good at this writing stuff.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

4 thoughts on ““Do better, publishing people”: an open letter to the industry”

  1. Black writers do not want special consideration, we do not want special treatment, we want a level playing field, an equality of opportunity, the chance to write books and explore as many subjects and genres as our white counterparts.

    Try Amazon KDP. Nobody is given a chance there. They take it.

    • The OP specifically mentions indie publishing as welcoming. He’s bashing the big “woke” publishers.

      Now, I’m with a lot of other people in that “Black voices” should stop beating their heads against a brick wall of publishers, an iron gate of agents. They should just let them crumble while they ignore them, and go around.

      Unfortunately, the writer apparently still feels the need for “validation” other than happy readers.

  2. Don’t know if it’s coordinated campaign or just the zeitgeist aligning, as with gluts of xyzflavor submissions… but Buzzfeed also apparently has something along these lines. Larry Correia at Monster Hunter has fisked it. His fiskings are always energetic and blunt.

    • Good tip.
      I checked it out.
      He really went to town on it.
      Some parts were funny but overall, I’d worry about his blood pressure.
      Remined me why I generally stay on the “Live and let die” side of those issues.

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