Race Fail (Again)

6 Aug

This is not what I was planning to spend my weekend writing, but this popped up in my Facebook feed and I knew it needed a response.

Several separate responses occurred to me, none of them polite, but the simplest counter to this absurd argument is this – I’ve been submitting my work, on and off, since 2005 and I have never been asked my race. Never. They certainly never asked for a photograph! The only things I was regularly asked for were my contact details, for obvious reasons. Tell me – if the editors have no way to know if a writer happens to be black, how are they meant to reject their work on racist grounds? It’s a little hard to discriminate when there’s no way to know who or what you’re discriminating against.

Name, perhaps? Most of the black people I know (or have heard of) have names that are indistinguishable from white names. Will Smith? Noel Clarke? Samuel Jackson? (I had a teacher called Noel who was white (and from Australia). Background details? Someone who grew up in London could be white or black – there would be no way to tell. Sheer random chance? Sounds a little random to me.

Hell, one might as well assume that black authors are being rejected because editors – in their pointless search for diversity – are rejecting authors with white-sounding names, which would include all the black men I mentioned. But frankly, I think that’s a little absurd.

I have said this before, but it’s worth saying again. Very few readers take a book off the shelves and turn to the back cover, just to check the sex and race of the author. Readers are drawn in by the blurb, perhaps by the first couple of chapters; the average reader doesn’t care about who wrote the book, provided that they are entertained. People do not look for ‘great black author,’ they look for ‘great MIL-SF author’ or ‘great romance author’ or ‘great detective author.’ Writing skill is not dependent on one’s race or gender.

A publicity campaign that tells everyone that the author is a ‘great black author’ raises red flags – it suggests that the author only got published for being black. And this is poisonous, for the same reason that affirmative action is always poisonous. It is literally impossible to prove that an author was not pushed forward because of something that had nothing to do with his or her writing skill. Readers are turned off, sometimes unfairly.

The blunt truth is that the vast majority of first-time submissions are rejected. I know, from experience, that a certain percentage will be submitted by writers who didn’t bother to read or follow the submission guidelines. They are normally rejected automatically. Past that, there will be a number of submissions that simply don’t come up to scratch. They get rejected too, often without explanation. Even a relatively small publisher often has too many submissions to go through them and write a detailed response to each and every submission. At the very least, you need to be just below the ‘publishable’ level to get detailed responses from an editor – and the editor may not have the time to offer them.

Furthermore, each publisher has only a limited number of slots, some of which are reserved for established writers. Baen, for example, would be foolish to reject a manuscript from David Weber, a writer with a massive fan base. Even if you are a good writer – after years of hard work – it is unlikely a publisher will take you in place of one of their established authors – you will be far more of a gamble. You could be good – great, perhaps – and yet you might still be rejected, simply because there is no room for a new author.

The odds of getting published – whatever your skin colour – are very low. I would bet good money that, for every black author who gets rejected, there are at least ten white authors who are also rejected.

So, what do you do?

You keep going. If you have the writing bug, you write the next story and the next; you keep going, even though your books are being rejected. Writing is a learned skill. You’ll need to churn out hundreds of thousands of words before you get to the level where you will be published. A true writer is not deterred by rejection. I’ve had more rejections than I care to think about.

And there are other options these days. Put your work on Amazon Kindle. See what the public makes of it. There are no shortage of self-published success stories these days – including me – because the writers stepped around the publishing gatekeepers and took their work to the masses. If you think your work is great – if you think you were rejected unfairly – why not see what the public thinks?

What you don’t do is engage in self-destructive whining and give up.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing you were rejected because of something you can’t help – and no one can choose their skin colour. It’s easy to feel helpless because of it. But if the editors and publishers have no way to know your skin colour, how can they discriminate against you?

Much of the advice given in the article is dangerously naive, at best. To deliberately choose stories written by black authors would require the publishers to ask a person’s race – is that even legal? Even if it is, it falls straight into the affirmative action trap – you are rejecting a number of authors based on skin colour, rather than writing skill. Readers want writing skill, they want to be entertained – they don’t want social justice. They certainly don’t want to be told that anyone who doesn’t read a particular author is a racist.

But people want heroes who look like them, right?

Well, no. The hero of Rivers of London is a mixed-race policeman – and his series is very popular. The hero of Starship Troopers is Filipino (forget the wretched movie) and the book is staggeringly popular. And I can say from personal experience that Vanguard has done as well as most of the other Ark Royal books, despite having a mixed-race female commanding officer as lead character. My … one might almost think that having a non-white main character doesn’t have any effect on the book’s popularity at all.

What people want is to be entertained. And if your work is not entertaining, it will sink without trace. And your race – or gender or whatever – will have nothing to do with it.

29 Responses to “Race Fail (Again)”

  1. David Norlund August 6, 2016 at 10:18 am #

    I have to say I agree with this article having been an avid reader for all my life I have never looked to see the race or sex of an author if I like a book I will look for further books by the author and that is my only criteria. Positive discrimination is a canker at the heart of society it causes more divisiveness than it supposedly removes.

  2. Charles August 6, 2016 at 11:04 am #

    A friend was once asked what race he was, and he replied, “Human”. Best response ever, I think.

  3. JJ Reuter August 6, 2016 at 11:06 am #

    Stumbling all over yourself to prove you are not racist is showing that you are racist because race is your main criteria for judging a person. Being a perceived inferior and underclass reinforces that feeling on others because no matter how talented you are, others will believe you only succeeded because you are helped, not on your own merits. It is a ridiculous way of judging anyone. The current race issues in the US are aggravated by racebaiters who hold up high profile criminal examples as rallying points to energize a voting block by portraying the criminals as victims of societies prejudice, not the evil people they are. All races have evil people.

    • PuffinMuffin August 6, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

      If you believe some people, us white males are living the “life of riley”, with 6 houses each, 3 Ferraris in the garage, squillions in the bank and actively oppressing everyone else as hard as they can. No, the reality is that most of are left to sink or swim without one jot of help. Meanwhile, if you are the right sort of person, look what happens.

      Oh, and we are somehow personally responsible for something terrible that happened 200 years ago, but is now long since stopped.

      • Jack August 9, 2016 at 11:09 pm #

        I have two ancestors who fought for the North in the US Civil War. One was killed outright, one blinded for life. Not one black person cares that slavery was ended by White people.

        Most black people don’t even know that white people ended slavery.

  4. the deposed king August 6, 2016 at 2:02 pm #

    Jason Montagne is a flat nosed brownie who whined incessently about how flat his nose was during the first couple books before he either got over himself or got too busy, lol. Anyone seen the picture of my wife on my author page? LOL one might almost think that I simply mixed the genders of my main character and his eventual wife as compared to my own and other than one guy saying essentially ‘come on we all know he’s from the philippines please stop harping on our noses over here’ no one seemed to care or comment. And FYI most of the whining my character does was taken directly from my wife and converted into a sci-fi format. hahahahaha And this is the MC of my most successful 10 book series.

    • Jack Hudler August 6, 2016 at 4:55 pm #

      Funny, I don’t remember Jason being so self obsessed about his nose. Yet it doesn’t sound out of character.

    • Yamamanama August 8, 2016 at 11:16 pm #

      If your 10 book series is as coherent as your post, I think I’ll pass, thank you very much.

  5. New Class Traitor August 6, 2016 at 2:06 pm #

    You brought up David Weber. His hero protagonist Honor Harrington is a female space captain of Eurasian parentage — but nobody cares either way because it’s incidental to the story.

    • imnohbody August 6, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

      Not only that but the ruling family of Honor’s nation is explicitly black, with references galore about skin being “dusky”, “ebony”, and other related terms depending on the specific Winton family member being discussed.

    • Yamamanama August 8, 2016 at 11:15 pm #

      Nobody cares because nobody cares about Honor Harrington.

  6. Thomas Monaghan August 6, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

    When you’re right you’re very right Chris.

  7. Rich Harrison August 6, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

    This is another futile attempt by the publishing industry attempting to remain relevant in the new era of self-publishing. If the publishing industry is rejecting your works, then self-publish. The barriers to entry in today’s world are possibly the lowest in the history of publishing. And for what its worth, not a single one of the new authors I’ve started reading in the past five years were discovered because a publisher.decided to “take a risk” and publish their work.

    • Yamamanama August 8, 2016 at 11:16 pm #

      Sure, if you want to read garbage like After The Blast and Van Ripplewink: You Can’t Go Home Again.

      • Paul Clayton August 15, 2016 at 9:47 pm #

        Thanks again for the mention (of Van Ripplewink). Why do you hide your identity? What are you afraid of?

  8. Glen Larned August 6, 2016 at 7:35 pm #

    Well said and very true! At least for me it is. I read almost 200 books a year and have yet to find myself profiling an author.
    To any new writers out there, just put it out there.. to steal and twist a phrase, “Write it and they will read it”

    BTW – Can i get an autographed photo or book? I seriously love your work!


    • chrishanger August 7, 2016 at 11:07 am #

      I can send a book . Drop me an email?


  9. Jacqueline Harris August 7, 2016 at 12:34 am #

    very good post chris

  10. Drowe August 7, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

    I don’t think getting worked up about that is worth it. The industry is driven by demand, people only buy books if they like them. Any attempts to interfere with that will lead to a consumer uprising. SJWs tried that with video games and failed, if they try it in publishing it will produce the same results. The regressive left has significant influence in the media, but that’s one of the reasons mainstream media isn’t trusted anymore. The result of their meddling in the gaming industry was that they were basically pushed out and lost most of their influence, I don’t doubt the same will happen if they push too hard in the publishing industry.

    Greetings Drowe

    • Yamamanama August 8, 2016 at 11:13 pm #

      Whenever I see SJW used in a pejorative sense, I think to myself that I could be reading something more stimulating, like the logolalia on a bucket I had once.

  11. Bret Wallach August 7, 2016 at 8:55 pm #

    Chrishanger wrote: “…just to check the sex … of the author. ”

    I check the sex of the author all of the time. I’ve learned that odds are I’m not going to like a book about a female main character written by a female author in the fantasy genre. Are there exceptions? Sure, but with amazon releasing about one-million books a year I don’t have the motivation to find said exceptions.

    I also tend not to love books with a male main character written by a male author.

    • Yamamanama August 8, 2016 at 11:14 pm #

      Maybe you’d be better off ignoring the self-published crap, not avoiding any fantasy with a female main character.

  12. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard August 8, 2016 at 11:28 pm #

    For what it is worth, I believe that “Yamamanama” is a known troll.

    Don’t bother responding to “him”.

    • Jack Hudler August 8, 2016 at 11:52 pm #

      Yep, he’s pretty transparent.

  13. shrekgrinch August 18, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

    Martian Lives Matter!

  14. Urusigh August 19, 2016 at 4:29 am #

    Well written and timely.

    Step 1: Write something someone will enjoy
    Step 2: Market it such that that person finds it
    Step 3: Get paid

    The only references to “white” and “black” that matter in publishing are “white paper” and “black ink”. (A line so good I had to copy it from another author)


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