Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Know What Publication By Omission Is? Join The Debate!

Yesterday, the fabulous Moonrat over at Editorial Ass posed some questions that desperately needed asking about racism in the publishing industry. Here's the link: Editorial Ass: Publishing by Omission (or, Fighting Racism from Your Very Own Nightstand!) She explains it far more eloquently than I can, but the crux of her argument is that racism in publishing--as it is in most other industries today--occurs not with blatant attacks, but by the more insidious, subtle act of omission. In other words, projects from writers of color are systematically rejected in favor of more "marketable" work from white writers.

Here's my favorite quote from the post:

Writers of color aren't disadvantaged, per se; it's just that white authors are very, very advantaged. You know. No one's trying to be mean. (Or, at least, most people aren't.)

Personally, I think Moonrat's logic is spot-on, and she would know--she works in the industry, folks! But, as the guy from Reading Rainbow says, "You don't have to take my word for it!" Read the post and decide for yourself. Once you're done, don't be afraid to give feedback in the comments section. If Moonrat is right, what the heck are we all supposed to do about this?

I've been following the discussion since the post was first published, and I'm amazed at how insightful and (remarkably) respectful it has been. I'm learning a great deal from other writers' comments--even ones I strongly disagree with--and that's what makes these type of discussions so fascinating to me. I'm thrilled that we can still have a candid conversation about a difficult topic like racism without us biting each other's heads off.

Believe it or not, I'm convinced this is something every writer needs to think about, regardless of your race. The landscape of this country is changing. The election of President Obama was just the beginning. Experts say that by the year 2050, minorities will be the majority race in the U.S. Our world is more interconnected than ever before. As writers, we need to figure out how we're going to deal with these changes and whether or not they should affect our work. We can't afford to write 20th century stories in a 21st century world.


  1. How interesting. My question is, how would an agent/publisher/editor know the person's race by the content of the writing? I've written from the perspective of a black narrator before, and many others have to, and vice versa. Or in a male voice.

    I'd hate for racism to be playing any part in publication preferences. Some of my favorite authors and poets are black! Natasha Trethewey is one of my top 3 poets, and I dearly love Ernest Gains, Ernest Hill, and too many others to list.

  2. Very good point! I think someone mentioned that at some point in the discussion, but I don't believe anyone really had any answers. I know I don't =(

    My guess is that agents and editors somehow find out a writer's race during negotiations, and that's when those issues come into play.

    As Moonrat said, I don't think it's done on purpose at all, and yet, we've all seen the bookstore shelves. Clearly something is amiss!

    P.S. How cool that you write from other perspectives! I'd love to read some of that writing, if you don't mind :)

  3. I don't know the causes or answers regarding this issue, but I do know that when I was little girl, I desperately wanted to read a book by a Latina author or featuring a Latina little girl. Now, for sure I survived that wasn't HORRIBLE and it's not keeping me awake at night or anything, and there are more examples of diversity in today's books for kids, but it's still not enough.

  4. Anita,
    You're right, things have changed and gotten better, especially in the last generation or so. There's still a lot of progress to be made, but the fact that we're having this dialogue at all is a great start.

  5. I read your post and Moonrat's blog, and was a little disenchanted by this prospect. I know they don't mean to omit black authors over the 'sell factor,' yet I can't help but be a little upset over it.

  6. Michelle,
    My thoughts exactly. The thing is, it's not just black authors who are affected by this. The whole world gets shortchanged by never getting to see the work of talented people of color who deserve to have their voices heard. We need those perspectives, now more than ever.

  7. Very interesting, I really wouldn't have ever considered this as a possibility. Thank you to you and Moonrat for bringing this to our attention.

  8. Jenn,
    Thank YOU for being a part of the discussion :) I know it's not a fun subject to talk about, but I'm hopeful that things are changing, and that they will continue to change for the better. That's the most important thing.

  9. At some point people will realise that the world of literature is as diversely populated as the global community, and that all works of fiction need to reside next to each other. I've never understood why there are different sections for different cultural contributions to fiction (or to non-fiction for that matter!), as each book deserves to be with their fellow companions. As far as writers' who encompass a broader view of the world,... I am one who has always included a diverse array of characters, because I grew up in the melting pot of a city. It was simply a natural course to take. They say you write from what you know, and apparently, my world view stems from my childhood, where all cultures lived amongst each other, and interacted. I would be saddened to think that a person's origin or ethinicity had any measure of a weight to discredit their ability to become published, because to me, that is something that shouldn't even be an issue. The quality of story and the breadth of a person's work should lend the merits of publication...

  10. Anon 5:33,
    You're absolutely right. All authors should be afforded opportunities based on the merit of their work, rather than on their cultural/racial backgrounds. It looks like we're not there yet, but I know we'll get there sooner than later.

    I hope you'll continue to write about the diversity you've seen in your life. We need your point-of-view; it's unique and quite valuable =)