In case the title of the post didn’t clue you in (it should have), today I’m going to talk about publishing, specifically some of the ways in which it is unfair. I’ve learned a lot about publishing in the last 2 years of blogging, though I’m by no means an expert. Basically, I feel that, as with most things, it advantages white English speakers who had the good fortune to be born in a MEDC and get a decent education. The more of those boxes you tick, the more easy it is to get published. This doesn’t mean that it is easy to get published, or that published books are all bad (or all good), but, as I’ve learned in AP Statistics, those who get published (and ultimately, those who read published work) are by no means a representative sample of human beings in the world. (note: I am aware that there are publishers who work in other languages, which is great. But English, and the countries who speak English, is dominant throughout the world, and it seems to me that English publishing has the most influence).
- Publishing is all based in the US. This isn’t exactly true. Not all publishing is based in the United States, but all major publishing houses have headquarters in New York. This means that more Americans work in publishing, and it’s easier for Americans to get published (compared to, say, South Africans). For a book to reach the maximum number of people, it needs to be published by a company with a big marketing budget, and that usually means a major publishing house situated in USA.
- Publishing requires agents. The nature of the agenting system is that many valuable pieces of work will be passed over in the ‘slush pile’—there are just too many submissions. Of course, there are wonderful agents, and they are really helpful, but chances are that your manuscript will be missed. I was talking with someone who has his own tiny publishing house recently, and he was saying that it’s basically impossible to get published by a *major* house without an agent, which means that a lot of great work (as well as a lot of mediocre work) is missed.
- Publishing requires access. To write a story that you can submit, whether to agents or publishers, you need a laptop and access to the internet. (As far as I know, physical submission is basically not a thing anymore). Without these things, you can’t share your story, and it won’t be published—biasing publishing towards the more well off people. Access to education tends to be important too—if you’re not literate, your magnificent oral story won’t be heard. All that hierarchy of needs stuff says that if you can’t afford to spend time or money writing, you won’t write your story.
- Within publishing, some stories are marketed and some aren’t. I can usually predict which books are going to be bestsellers, not by their content, but by how much I see marketing materials for them. Dedicated websites, blog posts, ARCs, book trailers—the more there are of these, the more the book will sell. Sadly, just having your book picked up by a publisher doesn’t guarantee success—publishers have their own ways of deciding which books to promote and which books not to promote.
- Diversity. If you haven’t heard of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, have you been living under a rock or something? Basically, this movement promotes diverse books in every sense of the word. But without more diversity within the publishing industry and among bloggers, it is harder to have diversity in publishing, because diverse voices don’t get heard, for all the reasons of access I listed above.
There are definitely more ways in which publishing is unfair, and this post is more of an opinion than something backed up by hard facts, but I feel like this list is enough for today. I’m not going to stop reading because publishing is unfair. I’m probably still going to mostly read books printed by major presses. One day, I might even try to get published, so this post is not trying to say that many of the books which I love are unworthy because of how they came into being, or that trying to be published is a bad idea. The unfairness in publishing is an inevitable result of a global financial system which systematically discriminates and exploits people—the system of capitalism. It is impossible to change such a big system alone, especially because we exist within it. I guess all I’m asking is that you be aware of it when you buy and read and recommend books. If you’re part of the publishing system, know its flaws, and maybe try to change them.
So I get that this post is controversial… but what do you think? Do you feel that publishing is unfair, and if so, in which ways? Have you read any good indie books recently? Let me know in the comments!