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16 October 2017

Comments

Ooooo, a good week in book news.

Thanks for sharing the news of the new Victoria Sweet book. Pre-ordered it just now!

And speaking of documentaries, have you seen "Obit," the film about NYT obituary writers -- it's really good.

Drew,
We have now passed the tipping point of "there's more stuff I want to see than I have hours left to live"--Brit TV, documentaries, Brit TV I want to rewatch...But thank you for the suggestion of "Obit." Does it talk about what's his name--gotta go look it up--Robert McG Thomas?

I always read "Macbeth" around Halloween.

And diversity in romance novels? Come on. I get it, but no one really has a solution to it. What are we going to do, force people of color to pursue careers in the arts? Diversity, if you think about it, really amounts to "ways to make people of color more white." Not that there's anything wrong with diversity, but the ways in which its implemented and talked about is funny to me.

Furthermore, what's the "diversity problem" in publishing? The article SAYS there's a problem, but I'm not seeing it. What, exactly, is the problem?

Re: 11 New Essay Collections for Fall:

I liked the cover of the Oliver Sacks book best. The John Hodgman cover sucks but so does John Hodgman Am I the only person who has figured out that he isn't funny?

I'm happy to see that The Romance of Travel isn't selling very well because that's MY turf and I don't like seeing anyone who isn't me on the best seller list. Also, I read the first paragraph on Amazon and it's deadly, not in a good way. In essence, the writer asks the reader: "How did I become such a complicated and fascinating creature?" because she likes to travel but she also likes to stay home, which makes her exactly like everyone else.

Brandon: I agree.

Diversity in publishing will be achieved when, and only when, there is money to be made selling books to diversity readers. If there is indeed a market for "diversity" romance novels outside of some do-gooders' attention-getting PR stunt, then someone will be smart enough to suss it and start printing them. I have crazy respect for romance novelists, as it is the romance writers who keep the book business in business, but they are not obligated to write according to demographic hypotheticals.

Brandon,
Macbeth, hmm. That is a good Halloween read. You've inspired me, but I will probably lazy out and just watch the modern remake of Macbeth...the version starring James McAvoy, but of course.

I think your statement about diversity really being a way to make everyone more white is probably the most accurate thing I've read on the Internets all year.

To some extent, yes, I think talking about diversity is a bit like "job creation"--if we're to that point, we're going about things the wrong way. On the other hand, there is no doubt that many different and misunderstood factors often go to creating a problem--like our good old Internets here (and conversations on it) being male-heavy because women get somewhat tired of being called bitches in the comments. (http://www.npr.org/2014/01/08/260757625/internet-harassment-of-women-when-haters-do-more-than-just-hate)

But as usual I don't have any real answers.

Vivian,
Hurry up and write another travel book already so we can get to work putting you on the bestseller list! I was so burned on the last essay/travel book I read ("Homing Instincts") that I will not be reading any more for a while.

John Hodgman doesn't do a lot for me, but then I also don't understand 90% of McSweeney's Internet Tendency, so I am most likely not the correct audience.

The people cited in the MobyLives article run an indie bookstore, so I'm going to be kind and dismiss their PR stunt as a "good idea to get their name out there." I'll forgive indie bookstores almost anything.

WARNING: RANT BELOW. THERE MAY BE SWEARS.

Brandon: "What, exactly, is the problem?"

The "problem" is NOT that there aren't enough writers of color, LGBT writers, writers of books that go beyond the usual bog-standard carbon copies of whatever title was "hot" two years ago. There are hordes of them out there. Nor is it exactly that there aren't enough "diverse" characters and plots, although that's certainly true.

The problem is that the industry -- the agents, the editors, the publishers, the marketers, the booksellers, and yes, the librarians, are overwhelmingly, disproportionately cishet white (also male, in positions of power; there's a pretty good representation of women in the lower ranks, mainly because book-related professions pay for crap).

So, when these folks think about their "target audience", their default thought is default white, default straight, default male. Everything that is NOT the default is automatically dumped into a specialized category of "diverse", which really means Not Like Me. Therefore you get "women's fiction / movies /music"; "LGBT fiction/movies/music"; and gawdhelpus, "DIVERSE fiction/movies/music" which means the above, plus anything created by or featuring either, or someone who is Black, Asian, Native, Foreign, etc. because all of those are just the same in experience and outlook and culture and interests and issues by virtue of being Not-The-Default.

So IS there "indeed a market for "diversity" romance novels"? What the heck does that even MEAN? There's a market for romance novels about LGBT people (each of those letters, not to mention Q and I and U and A), and Black people, and Latinx people, and Asian people, and Native people (and elves and dragons and robots and aliens as well, but I digress).

I am part of that market, even though I am none of the above. (Nor am I a vampire or a Navy SEAL or Southern Belle - it's positively amazing the way I can enjoy books about people who are Not Like Me!) And there are lots and lots of potential readers in the romance market who DO fall into one or more of the categories above, and who would presumably enjoy reading about characters who reflect their lives, as well as fantasizing about the pleasures of being one of the privileged Default as much as I enjoy occasionally fantasizing about the pleasures of being a gorgeous immortal billionaire. And if current demographic trends hold, the number of Not-Default in the potential market will outnumber the Default very soon, if it doesn't already.

But the actual market? There is no current way to know. Because we book people just don't think about books that way. And as a result, we do not publish/promote/buy books that way.

The difficulties of acquiring books by actual elves and robots are perhaps obvious. But most of the books out there featuring "diverse" characters are by Default authors, especially mainstream publishers (but not exclusively - the overwhelming majority of so-called LGBT romances, mostly male/male, often featuring exoticized Blacks/Asians/Natives/etc., are written by straight white women). Not because of the lack of good authors, but because of this stupid Default way of thinking.

If the publishers or booksellers or - to my shame - librarians are presented with a Not-Default (or sometimes even a Default author who is trying to present Not-Default characters honestly and seriously), then they are automatically shunted into the narrow, specialized category of "Diverse Books." IF they're lucky, they might even become "African American Books" or "LGBT Books" or whatever - but that's an even narrower category (hey, HarperCollins publishes Beverly Jenkins, they can't be expected to make room for TWO Black romance writers, can they?)

And they don't get the attention. They don't get the marketing. They don't get the promotion, except being hauled out for book displays every February, along with THE HELP and DRIVING MISS DAISY "because we wouldn't have enough for the display otherwise."

tl; dr: the "diversity problem" in all media is not that we are fcking "trying to make people of color more white." The problem is that we assume that being White (as an author, as an artist, as a human being) is the default and "normal", and anything that isn't is "diverse".


GOD I am excited for the Roz Chast book. Don't tell anyone, but I am trying to conceal its existence from my mum so I can buy it for her for Christmas. Shhhhhh.

hapax: PREACH.

Hapax,
Now, you know perfectly well that rants and swearing are more than welcome here at Citizen Reader.
So thank you for your impassioned comment, which I have now read three or four times. (TL, DR my ass!) As per usual, you make excellent points, particularly about who the default is, and who makes the decisions in publishing. The question to me, even though I clearly do not understand all the issues both you and Brandon raise (although I write this blog, and try to understand trends, I actually know very little about publishing, collection development in libraries, what actually sells--my whole life, even personally speaking, I have never been able to figure out WHAT sells and WHY), is WHAT CAN WE DO? Put another way: where do we start?

Also, I may be completely misunderstanding you both, but I don't really think you and Brandon are as far apart as it seems. To me it seems that his statement of the drive to make everyone more white isn't really all that different from your statement about assuming white is the default.

But perhaps I misunderstand. I really should have waited to comment until tomorrow morning--I have at least a 50/50 chance of comprehension when I've just had my one cup of coffee for the day.

Jenny,
The secret is safe with me. Everyone....SHHHH. There is a Christmas surprise on the line here!

I can't wait for it either. I like her and I LOVE New York City.

Hapax--

Sarah's right--we're not that far apart. Being white IS the default. But I'm also thinking about the ROOTS of so-called diversity. For example, the president using the military to escort black students to segregated schools. Dig a wee bit below the surface and the message is, "Black schools are inferior. White schools, superior." Affirmative action? Well, you aren't good enough to get into this or that program based on merit, so we'll help you because you're a minority, and we have to hit our minority quota. (FWIW, SCOTUS ruled that ethnicity cannot be the ONLY deciding factor, but it can be ONE of the factors, if you happen to be part of a group that's historically been impoverished--black or Hispanic, in other words. So if you're black or Hispanic, and historically lacking in the same opportunities as whites, have no fear--your ethnicity gives you a leg up.) Diversity is glorified racism. Call it what it is.

I stand by my post. But as you pointed out (and this is something I'd considered), there's no market for so-called diversity books. It comes down to money. Now, I don't know what it costs to publish and market a title, but I'm fairly confident that whites are the largest market with disposable income. Sure, there's a market for LGBT BDSM porn with black characters--but is the market big enough to recoup the cost of putting that book out?
Doubtful. Just because a niche market exists doesn't mean it's profitable.

Let's use an example. Let's say Audience 1 is 50%, and Audience 2 is 15%. Imagine you're a publisher looking to make a buck. Book 1 fits the market demographic of Audience 1, and Book 2 fits the market demographic of Audience 2. The cost of publishing each title is the same. Which book are you going to publish? In other words: which book gives you the best likelihood of recouping your costs?

Book 1, naturally. But that's publishing for you. It's all about sales. It's not about quality, or diversity, or fulfilling small to non-existent markets. It's about sales. Money. Narrow categories are not expected to make money. Whites probably aren't reading books like "Precious." I doubt "50 Shades" would've done as well if it had featured two men. A quick glance at the NYT besteller list reveals mostly white, established authors: King, Brown, Follett, Coben, Hoffman, Egan.

There IS a way to look at the market. Simply look at what sells. WHITE sells. Diversity? Eh, not so much. But diversity has been politicized ad nauseum. It's tiresome. I just googled "stephen carter interview" and clicked on the first result. Race comes up in the interview. "I am less interested in how racism influences their lives than how their own strengths and weaknesses do." Even a black bestselling author doesn't want his books to be about racism. (https://www.writerswrite.com/books/interview-with-stephen-l-carter-70120021) But if white is the default, then the non-white default is, "Tell me something about race and how shitty your experience has been." White people WANT their "diversity novels" to be about racism. They want their "I read a black author in February" badge. I'm sure bloggers gleefully recount reading "Malcolm X" for their good citizen award during black history month. I'm convinced liberals find this shit to be entertaining, in the same way certain people watch unpleasant movies like "Saw." I find it condescending, and that's really the heart of it: diversity is condescending, more so when you need to slap a label on it to get people's attention.

People aren't complicated. And it's even easier in today's "look at me" social media landscape. People don't care. The "libros en Espanol" section is pitifully small at your local B&N. We're happy to give blacks the shortest month of the year. I mean, come on: no one's doing jack shit to change anything; we just want to say what we think needs to change, and hope someone else has the cojones to put in the effort. This mindset became apparent in the last election.

We can bitch all we want, find issues in every little medium. And in rare cases, some little niche book breaks out in the mainstream. But if I'm a publisher, I'm going to bet on the largest, safest market--which happens to be your Default. Even Stephen Carter's legal thriller market is middle-aged white male!

If diversity weren't about making minorities "more white" (and I strongly believe this to be the case), then why the push to have more diversity in traditionally white jobs? You see this in education, careers. More women in tech. More black head coaches. More minority students. In essence, white liberals feel the need to help minorities to have to the same opportunities as whites. Is this bad? No, not at all. You're acknowledging a so-called problem (which again, I don't see--maybe the lack of diversity is simply lack of interest; maybe we don't see more women in tech because they truly have little interest in it?), but I think you're trying to solve the problem by filling ranks with talent/candidates that do not exist.

Or here's a real-world issue. My school (St. Petersburg College in St. Petersburg, FL) is actually mostly female. The school attempted to balance out the gender discrepancy by offering bachelor's degrees (which is something men traditionally seek). They actually saw female enrollment go up. Ahhh, the problem if you will, is that most of their bachelor's degrees are in traditionally female dominated fields: communication, nursing, education, healthcare. Now, I don't think this is a problem, but the example is that they'd attempted to increase male enrollment by offering bachelor's degrees in fields men traditionally aren't interested in. Point is, lack of diversity could simply be chalked up to lack of interest.

Thank you, Brandon. Your reply is a breathtaking illustration of why my doctor has strongly recommended that I stop reading the comments on the Internet. I will now observe her advice in the future.

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