In the wake of Marvel fans having a big blow-up at Martin Scorsese for not being a fan of Marvel movies, and now Sarah Dessen having a blow-up at a college student for not wanting a YA novel to be the yearly novel everyone at her college reads, it is time to have a chat.
Fiction publishing is a relationship industry. Whether you are published, where, and how your book gets publicity is largely driven by who you know and how much they’re willing to do for you, and it’s only getting more unequal. As a marginalized person, I think about this a lot. Socioeconomic status is an intersection of a number of factors– disability status, race, gender, education, etc.– but I want to talk today about specifically social capital. I’ll talk about what it is, how it fits into publishing, why it is vital to build it, and why the Internet’s not really a good place to do it. In Part 2, I’ll talk about potential strategies for marginalized creators to build it in the service of their careers.
Publisher’s Weekly recently started writing about the widening gap between front-of-list titles and the midlist (that is, bestsellers and everyone else; “backlist” refers to older books who publishers have the rights to which still sell reliably). Publishers are increasingly paying debut authors less and frontlist authors more.
Here’s the goddamn problem: nobody knows how to sell a book.
Communism is ultimately a Utopian project rooted in the idea that shit as it’s going now ain’t acceptable, and we ought to fix it, and as part of the conversation on what we ought to fix and how, some pretty fundamental things end up questioned. Like, should our work weeks be the same? Why not a planned economy? Why not get rid of pests? We are hoping for a renegotiation, for a reassessment in who is the recipient of violence, who may speak, how we live, and that means living in ways nobody has tried before. There will be failures.
One of the things on the table: what the fuck should art be, anyway? There was a recent Twitter… thing where I believe someone identifying as Marxist-Leninist declared all genre fiction fascist, sort of defaulted to “because it is” when pressed, and couldn’t articulate much more than that. The devil deserves a better advocate, even if he must lose in the end.
Let’s take a crack at it.
Writers are brutal self-critics. I’m part of a small chat of mostly writers, a Breakfast Club-esque group of six of us at varying stages of our careers and working in varying genres. Between all of us, we write fiction, non-fiction, academic articles, academic books, leftist political commentary, fanfic, short stories (spec and lit fic), memoir, sports writing, ad writing, YA spec fic, and adult literary fiction. Pretty broad. Every one of us has had times where we go in on our own writing, and the group has had to talk us down.
These self-directed Two Minutes Hates make up the bulk of our writing talk despite them not being frequent. They’re hard on all of us. I personally make a point not to share every rejection (and I get rejected frequently because all writers do). It’s not so much that it’s repetitive or unsympathetic or what have you. There’s an intense dysphoria I feel (and I believe other people feel) when I spend too much time talking about anyone’s rejections and successes.