Who Cares What You Look Like?

12 Dec

I wrote this in a hurry. It may be revised later.

So two interesting posts popped up on my facebook recently.

One was an article by Larry Corrira, fisking (once again) the Guardian, for whining that HP Lovecraft should be declared an unperson for not being politically correct. Read it here.

The other was an article whining (and I use that word quite deliberately) about the shortage of ‘people of colour’ among the world’s authors. Read it here.

So what, you might ask, is the problem with this?

Let me be blunt. The one thing that matters in writing is being a good author. If you can put words together that draw people into your writing, you’re a good author. The only subcategories that matter are genres. If an author writes in the genres I like to read, I will probably give him or her a chance.

It doesn’t matter, even remotely, what skin colour, or gender, or age, or sexuality, or anything else the writer happens to be. I don’t know what two-thirds of my favourite authors look like. And why the hell should it matter?

I’ll say it again. The only thing that matters in writing is being a good author.

The free market is what determines if you’re a good author, not a stamp of approval from an awards committee. If someone sells a million books, but gets laughed out of the Hugo Awards, he’s still a good author. It doesn’t matter what someone looks like – really, is there anyone in the world who looks at the picture of the author on the back cover to see if he’s a person of colour? – merely how well they write.

But – and there’s a very big but here – I’m not remotely impressed by merchandising someone as a ‘black’ author. Or any other person of colour author. It suggests, very strongly, that someone has already reduced the playing field in their favour. If someone happens to win an award for being a black author, I think of it as someone hitting a target painted to the end of a gun. This isn’t fair competition. This is arbitrarily eliminating a large number of contestants before the competition even begins.

This is not a way of levelling the playing field. This is a strong suggestion that the playing field needs to be tilted in their favour, as if they cannot win without having the game rigged in their favour. How racist is that?

The only thing that matters is being a good author. Colour is only an issue if you let it be.

Eric Flint said this – and it remains true.

Each author needs to write at least a million words before he or she gets published. He wasn’t kidding. I think I wrote at least twice that before I had any success at all. If you want to be an aspiring author, you have to work towards it. Or you can start complaining about how you were rejected because the ‘establishment’ hates you because of your race, sex, etc. But that really won’t get you very far.


7 Responses to “Who Cares What You Look Like?”

  1. Matthew W. Quinn December 12, 2014 at 6:57 pm #

    I don’t mind an emphasis on non-white non-male authors since they might have a unique point of view that gets overlooked due to the publishing industry thinking their work isn’t marketable.

    (J.K. Rowling had to write under an ambiguous pen name because the Powers That Be thought boys wouldn’t read books by a woman author.)

    There was a recent article about the top 20 SF/F/H books by “women of color” that included a really interesting looking book entitled WHO FEARS DEATH written by a woman of Nigerian background. She’s likely to have a much better knowledge of African issues/cultures/etc. than an American, either white or black.

    There was a big discussion on this in the Space Opera Facebook group that’s relevant:


    I’d rather not repeat all my arguments *again.*

  2. R Godfrey December 12, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

    the only thing that SHOULD matter is if you are a good author, but the world does not work like that. The idea that women should stick to romance or that ‘people of colour’ will only be bought by the middle class of the same colour is still strong.

    J K Rowling had to write under a pseudonym for that reason.

    • chrishanger December 12, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

      I’m surprised by that. I recall reading Enid Blyton, Dyane Jones and Jill Murphy as a kid.


      Sent from my iPad


  3. Dennis The Menace December 12, 2014 at 10:14 pm #

    ‘Let me be blunt. The one thing that matters in writing is being a good author.”

    The only thing that matters to the Social Justice Avenger crowd is the race of the author, period.

  4. misterjonez December 13, 2014 at 2:55 am #

    There was a great episode on The West Wing, an American political drama bout the White House’s inner machinations, which addressed the Equal Rights Amendment. The Amendment was specifically geared toward ensuring equality for women in varying capacities, and the lone critic of this particular Amendment was a right-wing lawyer, named Ainsley Hayes.

    Throughout the episode the entire cast is badgering her about why she opposes the ERA, and insinuating that no thinking woman could possibly oppose it. She ignores their jabs until near the end of the episode where she delivers a pretty great monologue which says, quite bluntly, that if such an Amendment was required then it declares, in no uncertain terms, that she (and other women) are NOT equal to men and must instead be made so via legislation. She considers herself equal, and is mortified by the very thought that so many people in the world would not consider her equal to the point that they would require special legislation be enacted, supposedly on her behalf.

    This is the fundamental problem with advocacy via legislation: it first must convince those on whose behalf the legislation is purported to be beneficial that they are in some significant way inferior, or unequal, to others. That is a dangerous, dangerous road, and it’s one that will probably never go away regarding race in the USA, sad as that may be. When you program people with the notion that they’re unequal and MUST receive outside assistance in order to succeed, you’re telling them that there’s really no point in fighting for that last couple of inches on the field of life. It’s sad that the majority of people seem not to recognize this is taking place, but it’s also essentially auto-programmed into American society.

    You’ve actually run into this on Facebook in recent weeks, I believe, like where you asked about a prospective title for an upcoming book (White Man’s Burden?) and immediately you were met with, ‘Not now, Chris…steer clear of that particular subject.’ The problem is, that’s how it always is in the USA. There is quite literally ALWAYS some event in the news which has been racially supercharged, and there are dozens of powerful groups and individuals like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and portions of the NAACP that fan the flames for their own benefit.

    And, for anyone who wanted to see a few scenes from the aforementioned episode of The West Wing, here’s a link to a YouTube montage called Ainsley Hayes on the Equal Rights Amendment

  5. lamparty December 15, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    What I am looking for is great Story Tellers! The ones that would be just as good around a campfire in the woods, as on a printed page, or in an eReader! Louis L’amour is one that comes to mind, and I normally don’t care for Westerns! Thank God their seems to be enough of them to keep my mind occupied these days! And yes they come in assorted colors, genders, nationalities and religious affiliations!

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