Disproportionately Sucky

Claire Light writes about women and people of color not submitting to top magazines and anthologies. She's taking a lot of flack for a poorly phrased statement that such subs are "disproportionately sucky," but the rest of the article gave me a lot of food for thought.

Specifically, she writes that women and people of color tend to stay in their comfort zone of their own community. And while I never thought of it that way, I think she's right.

It takes a leap of faith and bravery, she says, to go from the subculture in which a writer first finds his or her voice into mainstream acceptance. Most never take that leap, she says, not because they aren't good enough, but because they never develop the skills/guts/knowledge to learn the rules and then jump off the cliff. You have to know the rules, even if you intend to break them.

I'm about halfway on her side. I see so many writers - most of them women, people of color or GLBT individuals - who are simply content to keep writing for the same small readership and the same small community, who are never going to take the leap for mainstream/New York publishing, or who eschew publication altogether, preferring to write for their small critique group and never risk the rejection that comes with the big jump.

And yet it's rather bittersweet for me, as I took a leap recently in the hopes of something better for myself… and fell flat on my face. And I don't know what I did wrong. Five books in and I haven't figured out the trick yet.

Is Ms. Light right? Am I breaking some cardinal rule I didn't have any voice in establishing and of whose existence I am unaware? (Possibly the rules of grammar as well, but I'm tired, shaddup.) Is there some hidden signal in my cover letters that screams GO AWAY to editors and agents? I know my slush subs have generally gone nowhere at the speed of sound, and many of my publications have come from editors who met me in person and then bought my work, or I was otherwise recommended to them.

Most of my acceptances are from women. Most of my rejections are from men. But not all - my editors on SETTING SUNS and THE COLD ONES were both white males, and my most recent rejection was from a woman. If there's a pattern here, it escapes me.

Unless, of course, I suck eggs. You don't mind if I try to pretend that isn't a possibility, right? Thanks.

Nick Mamatas goes the other way, says that women are "on average, better writers than men, probably because they read a lot more and perhaps because males who show an interest in writing and reading as children are often gay-baited or picked on." Yikes, really? That's a little bit of the male experience of which I was unaware.

Mamatas centers mostly on the "disproportionately sucky," which is an unfortunate statement. As I have never been a slush reader, I can't speak from personal experience as to any trends in the relative suckiness of women/poc slush. I'd hope that the gender differential would be about equal. I leave that to people who actually have experience to decide. I certainly hope the people who read my subs don't automatically think I must suck because I'm a woman.

Then again, I know at least three writers who publish under a gender-neutral name for this very reason: the presumption of suckiness.

I know my own goal: To someday have a publisher who can sell more copies of my books than I can myself. I do pretty damn well in self-selling. But I'm getting tired. And the salesmanship takes time that could be spent actually, y'know, writing the damn books. My publishers are wonderful; in partnership, we put together some great products. But they're small press, with one exception, and distribution is limited.

Is Ms. Light right, and I am violating some unspoken rule that keeps me from getting published? Is Mr. Mamatas right, and there is some other factor that keeps people like me from being accepted?

Or maybe I'm just disproportionately sucky.


  1. Anonymous10:52 PM

    Maybe the answer is a little of both?

    I've seen the "males who show an interest in writing and reading as children are often gay-baited or picked on" thing in action... so, IMO, there is a possibility that males who get into writing as a career choice, might be better writers than average... If you're getting negative feedback about your dreams, you had better be sure that you can be a success at it, because there are going to be loads of I-told-you-sos if you're not...

    So, it's a possibility that there might in fact be a disproportion in the amount of suck in regards to gender...

    And, I'm sure that there's a certain amount of sexism/racism/etc. in publishing - just as there is in everything else in the world...

    And because of all of this - it's probable to guess that some authors feel the need to stay in their comfort zone, because they believe they will be rejected otherwise... and why bang your head against the wall trying to "win the lottery" when you have bills to pay and can get a regular paycheck doing the same thing you always have...

    Self-referential cycle?

    Also - is there room for authors who don't want to write mainstream? Perhaps these writers feel they are making a statement by staying with a particular genre and small-press publishing?

    (And you don't suck - *playfully smacks you upside the head*)


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