This is a follow-up to the post Different Literary Activism.
I was reading a Trans and Disability inclusive Harry Potter fanfiction called Basilisk Eyes. I took a break from the audiobook, bookmarked another Blind Harry Potter series, and finally just turn my once active social media accounts, including Twitter, into updates only accounts. I’ll still post to social media using automation tools and human managers, but I won’t engage with users anymore. The final straw was actually two incidents I learned about in one day.
The Men scenario
The first incident involved a book synopsis for an upcoming book many people haven’t read yet. Just weeks after many bad things happened in politics for LGBT+ authors, in addition to having books by Trans writers banned in multiple states, Sandra Newman announced a new book on Twitter. It’s called the Men.
I’ve since read the book and choose to support another book instead. In truth, Manhunt was far more interesting to me.
I still choose not to partake in any public outrage. I am a quiet rage kind of person. I like to build a literary world by sharing other books I enjoy rather than just criticizing an author. The Isabelle Fall incident will always haunt me, and it’s made me never take part in any public outrage campaign, even if it appears justified anger. I’m always fascinated by how much authors receive online harassment, though. Ultimately, it’s taking justified anger at the inadequate and severely broken system and directing it towards individuals. Producing better art is more powerful, I think.
Ultimately, every reply, share, or retweet, keeps social media going. Twitter, and all other social media including Instagram, is designed for you to be a jerk online. I’d much rather starve social media of engagement and promote works I like, rather than tweet about books I hate. More importantly, I’d rather share other marginalized authors work if I love it anyway, because building a better network of books is better than just eliminating the problematic ones.
This is also why I read every banned book, ever. Even books that are classified as problematic or hateful. The common argument is that these are hateful thoughts and ideas, so why even entertain them. The reason why I read problematic books of all kinds is to make me a better activist, and it allows me to challenge my own privileges. I don’t share every book I read. Problematic books allow me to engage with and undo my privileges. By reading diverse art as well as problematic art, I’m unravelling multiple facets of my privileges. Nobody online deserves access to that process.
Even though that outrage made me tired, the above incident wasn’t the final straw that finally made me cut the social media cord. What did it for me was outrage and then harassment over Brandon Sanderson successfully, independently, raising money for a book related Kickstarter.
I admit, I don’t understand the outrage and harassment for this one. I understand the criticism, I don’t understand the outrage. An author that’s cultivated a strong fanbase independently raised money for a book series without one of the big five publishers taking a cut. I don’t read a lot of Brandon Sanderson books. I dip in and out. The only book series I’ve consistently enjoyed of his, so far, is the Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians series. I devoured all of the Graphic Audio versions of the books in a few days. The outrage for this incident, though, appears to be points more people should be making to the wider publishing industry, not an author that’s publishing books on their own, with money raised through independent means.
The outrage has a few key points to it. The outrage says A financially privileged author such as Brandon Sanderson shouldn’t be making that amount of money when there are so many marginalized authors struggling to get published. There’s also some side outrage about the new book series being racist and transphobic and bigoted, but the main criticism is more valid and worth talking about. The side outrage is a footnote to the main outrage.
Even though the criticism is valid, I still don’t understand the outrage. The outrage says things that definitely need to be repeated but it needs to be directed at the publishing industry as a whole. Not an author publishing books through Kickstarter. In truth, this should send a message to readers to start supporting more independent authors and independent presses trying to raise funds. This should send a message to publishing, that, actually, publishing should start treating it’s editors and literary agents better along with treating underrepresented and mid list authors better. It should send a message to publishing that valuing authors is more important than publishing wants to believe. Brandon Sanderson raised money, on Kickstarter, using just his readership and his fanbase. That’s good. Supporting marginalized and underrepresented authors is good. Both can be valid. Brandon’s Kickstarter has only grown. It’s surpassed its goal, and I don’t foresee anything bad happening to all those pledges anytime soon. So, I’d rather talk about what this means for publishing, and, in particular, what that looks like from Disabled writers like me. Firstly, a lot of people are cheering that this is going to shake up the publishing industry, and those old people will be dragged, kicking and screaming, to a new way of arranging pre orders and this will become the new way of buying books, probably! I’ve often found a lot of people that are saying this often don’t work in the industry, or just salivate at anything antiestablishment no matter the accelerationist view and ignoring or refusing to think about harm reduction.
Aside from many young people really wanting to work directly inside the publishing industry, the industry is, indeed, changing. It’s changing because workers are asking smarter questions such as why do literary agents have to take three jobs? Why is it that a junior executive never seems to grow with the company? These are good questions that more should be asking. One step towards meaningful progress is valid, smart, questions. I can guarantee you a lone Kickstarter isn’t the progressive shakeup many people believe it to be. I’m afraid, though, it will have an impact on marginalized authors, but not in the way many believe. First though, I’d like to draw your attention to a few folks that are far smarter than I am about the industry.
Print Run did a whole episode about what the Kickstarter means for publishing. While I agree with them, I’d like to tackle a few angles outside of the scope of that podcast episode.
First, Let’s examine success in the publishing world. To be successful, an author needs to cultivate, and keep, a loyal readership. Publishing wants readers because publishing wants to know that advance they pay authors will be recouped before they take a chance on their next book. Even hate reads are still reads. The worst kind of feedback an author can get is total silence. If nobody is talking about the book, that book isn’t getting read by many people. There’s a whole subsect of readers that sincerely want that worthy test to go away, and have works exist regardless of readership, which is a valuable direction we should be headed in, but I consider that to be a utopia we will never reach. So, for now, Let’s say progress means less value on a prepackaged audience.
For years, workers in the industry have been publishing different kinds of stories. Sure, diverse authors don’t get paid nearly a fraction as status quo authors, but that’s a symptom of a far bigger problem. Publishing wants to just take advantage of pre packaged audiences rather than helping authors build audiences organically. Basically, publishing takes less risks because publishing has to do less work by taking less risks. This is why an author is never guaranteed a publisher, even if their first book sells. It’s not good enough, the second book doesn’t get published.
Just because an author has a literary agent, which doesn’t mean that agent will be able to sell their book. Agents have all the connections, sure. At the end of the day, they are not the decision makers for what books get published. They are an author advocate. Their job is to stand alongside the author and guide them through this industry. They will give knowledge and tools how to thrive in the industry, but they don’t publish books. They are an author go between for key editors. This is often why agents are hungry for more diverse books. They are not risk adverse. They know diversity sells, and that audiences are everywhere if you just look hard enough. They explain to publishers why they love your book and why the publishing industry should take a chance on it. The agent and the author are a team. This is what makes them so valuable to authors that get agents. Agents and authors work in tandem on their careers.
Even with an agent, publishing is still risk adverse. Publishers don’t always accept a book an agent is gushing about on the phone call they’re having. Status quo authors don’t have this added barrier. Because the perception of Trans, Black, Disabled, indigenous, and or LGBT+ authors is so low, this battle of getting someone to even consider our work triples in magnitude.
Print Run posits that the publishing executive’s will take Brandon’s Kickstarter success the wrong way and make it harder, not easier, for diverse authors to be included at the table. As a Disabled, and gay, writer myself, I also fear that publishing will expect Kickstarter campaigns to do well before future contracts can even be imagined.
Brandon finding, and funding, publishing Kickstarters is the best thing he could have done with some of the money he raised. His Kickstarter has implications for marginalized authors. I fear his Kickstarter will become a jumping off point for publishers forcing marginalized writers to prove that a built in audience will arrive, prepackaged, with the author so that the publisher doesn’t have to do any work to help authors build an audience. Publishers are supposed to aid writers in building an organic audience. This Kickstarter gave more incentive for publishers to accept less from literary agents and expect more from writers if an agent pitches them a manuscript.
Literary agents are very good author advocates, which is why I continue to seek traditional publishing avenues. I’m also very glad that Brandon Sanderson understands his privileges and works to lift other writers up in multiple ways. The online outrage, though, doesn’t even come close to talking about the actual barriers that are beyond Brandon’s Kickstarter.
Anger drives social media engagement. Social media anger also stifles creativity and eats up my time. I’ve decided to just stop giving social media what it wants. Engagement. I now engage with art more, participate in many cooperatives, do lots of writing and reading offline, and work on improving myself and my ideas of an inclusive society offline. I listen to people more as well when they approach me to tell me something. In my first memoir, I was very happy to come back online after a month without it. Now, though, I’ve gone back to enjoying life offline. I don’t foresee myself craving social media, or online discourse, again.