Diversity in Publishing?

Open Book With Words Clipart

There has been whining, in part in response to Mike Resnick’s recent death (Mike was one of the most respected editor’s in Science Fiction and had been for decades), about the need for “diversity” in publishing.  Apparently, somehow “people of color” were being excluded and we needed a publishing form of affirmative action to create opportunity for these marginalized individual.

Excuse me, but can someone gag me with a backhoe?  This is so patently wrong as to be beyond absurd.

I made my first professional sales in 1990 for stories and articles published in 1991.  I had fantasy, science fiction, and non-fiction sales practically on the heels of each other.  Indeed, close enough that while I made the science fiction sale first, the fantasy sale reached print first. And Analog, the magazine I’d sold that Science Fiction story to, was not one to sit for a long time on stories that they’d already paid for.

They way things worked back then, and had for long before that, (and did for may years afterward as well), the only thing an editor knew about the writer in most cases was the words on the paper, the content of the story–plus whatever the writer might say in a cover letter and there was no guarantee that was at all accurate–was all the editor knew about the writer. That’s it. That’s all the editor had to go on to make the decision.

Oh, and conventional wisdom (which, unlike much “conventional wisdom” actually was wise) was that “less was best” in the cover letter.  Title of the story you’re submitting.  Genre.  Approximate length.  A listing of previous publication credits if you have some (or a brief summary of relevant credits if your list is long).  Maybe some relevant personal experience related to the story–more relevant for non-fiction than fiction.  That’s it.  Your cover letter was never going to convince an editor to buy your story, but it might well convince him or her to not even look at it.  Less was best.

If you didn’t sell it wasn’t because of your skin’s melanin content, the texture and curliness of your hair, the shape of your facial features, whether you’re an “innie” or an “outie”, or how you prefer to connect up various protrusions and orifices. It was the story and only the story.  Who you are might have some modest effect if your name was known (to the publisher if you’d sold stories before or to the public if you were a celebrity).

There was no “I’m not going to give this person a chance because they’re black” (or a woman, or gay, or trans, or from Mars for that matter) because the editor would not know.  All the editor had to go on was the story itself and their assessment on whether or not it would please their readers.  Who or what the author was, someone they did not know and had not met, simply did not matter.

Online interaction was just starting to become a thing back then (with SFWA’s–Science Fiction Writers of America’s–then official presence on the GEnie online service) and even that was limited to text so we still didn’t know what people looked like for the most part.  And, again, people had no idea what you looked like or any of that other stuff.  The readers certainly didn’t.  The readers certainly didn’t.

So if there’s any bias against authors, particularly new authors (for non-new authors the primary bias is always “do you sell to the readers” although the “push” model chan affect that, but that’s beyond the scope of today’s post), for those physical features or what not, it has to be recent, with the rise of “social media” making it not only possible but convenient for people, including editors, to see the “person” behind the submissions.

There’s just one problem with that.  I can’t speak to other fields but in science fiction and fantasy publishing was strongly left wing when I was getting my start back then.  It was patently obvious in those early forerunners to social media.  It was even more so in the “back channels” of SFWA (why, yes, I used to be a member).  Exceptions like the late Jim Baen and the late Jerry Pournelle were just that, exceptions and represented only a small fraction of the field.  So if there was any “bias” based on who or what the author was rather than the words they strung together on the page it was by folk on the Left.

Personally, I never really cared much about who or what the author was.  Left, right, man, woman, gay, straight, whatever.  I’ve bought and enjoyed stories by all of them.  Tell me a gripping story.  That’s all I ask.

The words on the page. That was pretty much it.

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