Monday, November 13, 2023

"White Men Can't Get Published No Mo!"


Richard North Patterson wrote an op-ed piece in the WSJ (sadly behind a paywall) about how he couldn't get published anymore cause he was an old white dude.


After I stopped laughing, I realized he was serious.


There's a nice piece from Slate on the topic.


Richard North Patterson failure to secure a deal was NOT cause he was an old white dude.  His book wasn't compelling; his last book was ten years ago; and, he doesn't have a horde of fans slavering for the next book.


Social media is full about yammer blaming agents for gatekeeping and racism for their lack of a book deal.


Yes there are good books out there that don't get deals.

 It's important to realize that books by established authors (and oh my godiva there are many) are not published INSTEAD of good books by new authors.


There is never a moment in an agent’s office when she says "should I keep Felix Bestseller or go with Barbie New Girl."


Felix Bestseller has an established contract and has earned the agency beaucoup bucks.

Barbie hasn't.


Barbie might be added in addition to, but until Felix stops writing (or dies!) he's going to keep getting deals because readers are still buying his books.


Felix's readers aren't likely to pick up Barbie instead.

The publisher's marketing department knows this, and mercantile beasts that they are, communicate that up and down the food chain.


What's the solution?

Hell if I know.

I like Barbie.

I want to sell her books.

But I also need to keep my broom lubed and oiled, and the liquor cabinet stocked, so I'm keeping my mitts on Felix until he stops writing (or dies!)




So, what's the takeaway on this?

1. Drooling, slavering fans waiting for your next book is a big plus. That's why you have a newsletter.


2. Past success isn't a reliable indicator of future success, and it's less reliable with every year that has gone by. A bestseller in 1982 isn't much of a plus, usually. 


3. Don't blame racism for anything if you're a white guy. It's obtuse. 




As usual, differing opinions are welcome. Usual rules apply. No name-calling, no rants, and no personal attacks on other commenters.  If you want to bash me, take your best shot.


BJ Muntain said...

Getting published is hard. Staying published is hard.

It's easier to stay published if you continue writing books.

Mister Furkles said...

So, the article in Slate is by Laura Miller. Of course, she is a woman. Back in the day, men poo-poo women complaining about a glass ceiling and various victimhood things. Such whiners. Well, now we can all be whining victims. The world has improved. Everybody is equal. We are all whining victims.

But more important: how hard is it for fluffy cat to be published.

Steve Forti said...

That article was a bit of "they had me in the first half", where I thought she was going to agree with his complaint. But her conclusion was, "nah, your book just isn't good enough, dude." I get the desire to complain and point fingers anywhere else when you're not succeeding, but maturity means looking inward. It can be frustrating to see quite a few agents saying they will only accept submissions from xyz minority group while I'm actively querying. But I also know from the 32 rejections (and counting) that's it's simply "your book/query just isn't good enough, dude", not any bias that's the issue. A good enough book will always be welcomed.

Beth Carpenter said...

How many drooling fans make up a horde I wonder? (Not hoard. I won't make that mistake again. I hope.) I might have a fraction of a horde subscribed to my newsletter and interested in my books, but then again they may just be there for the recipes and freebies.

Craig F said...

I think that if an agent is interested in your query they will google you to get to know you a little more before requesting the work.

I had to think that because I have a couple of good queries for good things I have written and gotten no traction, hopefully it is because I don't have a blog yet.

I am contemplating it, but too many other things have gotten in the way. The only thing worse than no blog is a blog that doesn't get enough attention to be happy and healthy.

KDJames said...

He was so upset about his inability to get published by an *important* publisher (he did get published by a smaller press), he took his old white maleness and expressed his complaint . . . in an essay published in The Wall Street Journal.

Irony is dead.

Y'know, maybe consider the topic in a different way. Novels are entertainment. Sol Stein wrote (paraphrasing) that the purpose of fiction is to evoke emotion [non-fiction's is to impart information].

There are some topics about which I do not want my emotions evoked, regardless of who writes about them. Current examples include:

-The unspeakable violence and injustice heaped so casually by cops upon black people, often with impunity.
-People struggling to survive a pandemic.
-Corrupt fascist politicians trying to overthrow a government, from any perspective.
-The struggle of civilians trying to survive the horrors of war, again, from any perspective.

I don't want these topics in my fiction; they're all over the news already. They're not entertaining. My emotions are already evoked, thankyouverymuch. It's enraging and depressing and not something I'm going to curl up with to enjoy after a long hard day.

A writer's need to express something through fiction is not a guarantee that any reader is going to be willing to blithely follow along. Times are different from what they were 10 years ago. I bet a lot of people in publishing are aware of that.

In apologize for my inability to be succinct on some topics. Or at all.

BJ Muntain said...

I want to give KDJames a hug: (((hugs)))

Moral of the story: you can't coast if you don't have momentum.

And building momentum with flat characters is like building momentum on a flat road - it takes a lot of gas and the momentum doesn't last as long.

KDJames said...

Awww. Thank you, BJ. Right back atcha.

Dimitrius Harmata said...

Thank you for your insider view. Being a "white dude" (I might also qualify as "old," depending on who's asking) this is informative. I am a scientist by profession and I can certainly agree that time moves incredibly fast in this century, too - 1982 means next to nothing now.
Sure, most literary agents are women (based on my experience), but when I queried my first book - which turned out to be a practice & a learning experience - the best and kindest (it matters!) comments I got were from women agents, for which I am sincerely grateful to this day.

ben.w.miller said...

I can never accept these kind of "white man can't" arguments as being made in good faith when the math doesn't add up. If there was some kind of industry conspiracy to not publish white men, why are so many white men being published?

Vanja Vasiljkovic said...

I have to agree with Steve Forti here. When certain agencies started only accepting xyz minorities as he said, I felt slightly frustrated with that.
It seemed the world started getting afraid of canceling so bad that people are to scared to just be themselves and write good books.

Why I got upset with XYZ thing is because separating this minorities didn't improve anything, if anything it just excluded other people which is silly because when it comes to book writing what should matter is the quality of the book and not who I am or where I am from.

I have never mentioned my ethnicity, religion or gender in any query and if someone were to ask me that in order to decide whether my book is publishable, I would seriously consider whether I want to work with that agent/publisher.

My query is intended to sell my book, not my political views, religion, color or my incredibly charming grumpiness :)

mhleader said...

Can I just chime in on the "book isn't good enough" thing? I'm currently staying with a well established literary agent--helping her and her hubby through some serious health issues. She's been an agent for decades and keeps talking about "maybe I should shut down the agency."

Then someone sends her a query or (after querying or meeting her at conference ONLY!) sends her a full ms. And she reads it and LOVES it. And there goes the "shut down" thing down the drain. A great book ALWAYS catches her eye. A great query that intrigues her DOES cause her to ask for a full. She doesn't care who writes it--if the book is good enough.

So, yeah...your book just isn't good enough RNP. Suck it up and write a better one. Just like the stock market: Past performance is not an indicator of future success.

AJ Blythe said...

BJ, your It's easier to stay published if you continue writing books needs a mic drop. Perfect response.