All right, sports-fans - here is a fun fact.
Between 1928 and 1972, India won 7 out of 10 Olympic gold medals in field hockey.
Between 1976 to 2012, India won 1 out of 10.
Quickly, Robin - to the history books! What caused this abrupt decades-long crash from a country that dominated this sport for half a century? War? Military coup? Michael Phelps?
No, as The Atlantic reports.
...in 1976, the Olympics switched from natural turf to synthetic, which is far more expensive. All the Indian players who practiced on fields and grass patches were learning skills no longer suited to international competition, and only the communities with the money and will to build a synthetic field could train viable contenders. India has won only a single field hockey medal in the 40 years since it last competed on natural turf, priced out of a sport that had once brought it so much Olympic glory.
|Not in the budget for the Hyderabad YMCA.|
So let's say you've trained up to the top of your authorial game. You put in the 10 years of practice, wrote your million words of crap. What you have in your hands is a gold-star manuscript: fresh, gripping, original, and immaculately edited. With a spring in your step and a flutter in your heart, you decide to start querying agents. What happens next?
Well, if you're like my one friend, you get a pile of effusive, glowing rejections, gushing about how much they love the story but "have no idea where they'd send it" because the one publisher they'd normally submit to "already bought their lesbian novel for the year." (Which is a hell of a thing, considering your story is a straight-up thriller.)
If you're like my other friend, you shelve your dreams of a Mesoamerican fantasy that celebrates your origins, because Big Publishing is only interested if your book is loaded with gold and skin and feathers and the blood of human sacrifices.
If you're like my third friend, you sit quietly with your fresh fiction and your budding blog, and wonder whether you should even show your face on the Internet at all.
And actually, I'd like to stop and showcase her for a moment, because hers is a voice I don't think we hear very often. With her gracious permission, please say hello (again!) to my good buddy Shay E. Dee:
I hugely encourage you to watch her whole video, because she's warm and fun and real (and braver than I am, with her fearless vlogging self!), but also because her message is much bigger and broader than this little snippet I've transcribed here:
Even if you're looking just for an agent – you do tend to go around, and you will find, generally speaking, that there are a lot of fair [i.e. white] people in the publishing industry. I don't know if it means anything, but you do sit down and question what that even means, and because of that, you then question whether you even fit in there – if you should even be doing that.And I just can't even tell you guys how hard I think we need to be listening, here. Shay isn't Daniel José Older or N.K. Jemisin or Junot Diaz or any one of the hundreds of lesser-known writers who have hit the Straight White Wall of the literary world face-first and made it their mission to help break it down. Shay is just starting out. So when she speaks, what you're hearing is the voice of a writer who's brand-new - so new she hasn't even seriously started querying yet - and already wondering if she's not supposed to be here.
I'm sure agents out there don't really care, that they just want a book to represent and sell and make billions. I'm sure color doesn't really come into it. But then, if it doesn't, then... why is it like that?
And that is a damned shame. (She's not wrong, either - if you haven't been to a writers conference lately, scope out the AAR directory. It won't take you long to see the pattern.)
So why IS it like that? Why is it that decades after the Civil Rights movement, the Stonewall Riots, the ADA act, Cesar Chavez, Oprah Winfrey, and Captain Planet, that the traditional publishing industry is still so very... traditional? Didn't we get the memo from Sesame Street and the Super Friends? Shouldn't we have our demographic crap straight by now?
Well, here is a thought. (Which will be illustrated through the sci-fi/fantasy facet of the publishing industry, since that's the one I know best. Relevant fact: the Hugos are the SFF equivalent of the Oscars, given every year to a broad swath of authors, artists, editors, and other spec-fic publishing pros. The statue is a suggestively-shaped rocket ship instead of a naked golden ubermensch, because that's how we roll.)
Observation I: traditional publishing is something of a closed loop. Authors are also agents. Editors are also authors. From what I've seen of the business so far, it's fairly rare to find someone who only wears a single hat - and rarer still to find someone who's never worked outside their current role.
|WorldCon 1956 - New York. Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and others in attendance.|
Segregation is the law of the land.
Photo from fanac.org
|WorldCon 1978 - Phoenix. George R.R. Martin's first novel nominated for a Hugo.|
Segregation over; indoor smoking still the norm.
Photo from fanac.org
|WorldCon 1992 - Orlando. Bill Clinton newly elected; ADA act is two years old.|
Isaac Asimov died earlier in the year, but won a Hugo anyway.
Photo from fanac.org
(And I wish like hell that I could use this spot to post a clip of Hank Hill hiring a fellow white guy who comments on his Dallas Cowboys calendar over a Hispanic woman who couldn't pick Troy Aikman out of a lineup. Go take 20 minutes to watch the "Junkie Business" episode of King of the Hill - it's a classic.)
|Worldcon 2013 - San Antonio. Women are well-represented at the Hugos this year:|
Seanan McGuire, Mary Robinette Kowal, Elizabeth Bear, and others are honored.
Photo from demotix.com
And so we end up here: with a WorldCon 2013 group photo that's almost as monochromatic as its 1956 counterpart.
But the other thing I want to emphasize with all these pictures is how little torch-passing has actually happened in these 57 years. See that 1956 picture up top? Robert Silverberg won a Hugo that year for Most Promising New Author. Wanna know who did stand-up at WorldCon 2013? Yes indeedily.
And the young lady smoking in the 1978 photo is Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who's now a consulting editor at Tor Books (a Big Publisher for us spec-fic folks.) Did you know that she was excommunicated from her church for supporting the 1980 Equal Rights Amendment for women? I didn't until I sat down to write this post, and yet her story and her photo up there illustrate these two points perfectly:
1. If it feels like the face of publishing hasn't changed since the Mad Men days, it's because in many cases we are still literally looking at the same faces.
2. Older faces don't necessarily mean older ideas - but it's worth remembering that they did grow up in a world with different social norms and expectations, and that can still be reflected in the stories they choose to write, the books they choose to publish, and the people they choose to work with.
"Good job, Tex," you may here reply. "It's taken you 640 words to define 'good ol' boys club.'"
I know, right?! I thought that was pretty damned efficient of me! (Trust me: if brevity is the soul of wit, then we epic fantasy writers are its ever-churning lower intestine.)
But here's the thing, guys: this thing, this glacially slow passing of the industry baton? This is not just a temporary inconvenience. This is not just Tiger Woods feeling conspicuous at the country club. This really has, is having, and will continue to have a huge impact on whose voices we hear, and how loudly they have to scream to be heard. I'd like to look at that next time - because the more people know about these professional herd instincts of ours and their consequences, the better-equipped we all are to help move things in a better direction. (Optimism, Annie - I promise it's coming!)
If you could eat at Luly's with one of the following, would it be A) Jesus, B) Muhammad, or C) Golda Meir?