Who will save the publishing industry?
I’ve complained about the current state of literature. My frustration with an overwhelmingly ‘progressive, female, city-dweller’ industry is well established. While I stand by my comments, there is a need for solutions. In this post, I will outline the need for intellectual diversity in publishing, and give suggestions on how to achieve it.
What Is ‘Intellectual Diversity’?
Intellectual Diversity refers to a group or industry having a variety of opinions. An intellectually diverse group frequently disagrees with each other, and understands the limitations of ‘acceptable’ speech. The idea of ‘intellectual diversity’ is to promote debate, discussion, free speech and the opposition of orthodoxy and dogmatic principles. Those who push for ‘intellectual diversity’ tend to oppose ‘cancel culture’, mob rule and censorship. They take pride in challenging presumptions, questioning the status quo and engaging in ‘wrongthink.’
No topic is off-limits: Religion, political science, gender, race, health and education are all fair game to an intellectually diverse industry. Because of the lack of dogma and ‘forced’ thinking, the quality of the discussion is better, too.
Why Do We Need It In Publishing?
Books are for everyone, regardless of who they are and what opinions they hold. Through debate and the exchange of ideas, society develops into a stronger place. Although certainly, ideas can be unpleasant (offensive, even) it is not bad to expose yourself to them. It’s through reading many perspectives can the individual engage in deep thinking.
We need different perspectives, because it’s arrogant to presume a subjective opinion is automatically correct. A humble society always seeks to better itself, and the best way is through the exposure of ideas.
It’s also troublesome for many ‘dissident’ voices to believe their only option is self-publishing. As self-published books run on different royalties, expenses, distribution, and exposure (aka economics) it is catastrophic for the economic status to differ between two groups of writers. Also, if mainstream publishing embraced ideological diversity, it may help soothe division and calm tension currently existing in Western politics.
How Can We Achieve ‘Intellectual Diversity’ In Publishing?
Achieving Intellectual Diveristy may sound challenging, but it’s not. With these simple changes overtime, there’s no reason why publishing can’t embrace multiple perspectives.
Here are suggestions:
Publishers Must Stand By Controversial Works, And Actively Seek Them Out
The fatwa over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is a common chapter in Anglosphere publishing. You can purchase Rushdie’s novel in any Anglosphere country, and the major publisher behind it, still pushes it. But what about the Jewel Of Medina, Sherry Jones’ 2008 novel dropped from Random House due to supposed ‘offensive’ content? Most know about the former, but few know about the latter. Those who say ‘Michel Houellebecq doesn’t exist in the English language’ are correct. I’m curious if an Anglosphere major publisher would release a book like Submission or The Kindly Ones. Not a translation, but in its original language.
It’s easy to laugh at the dramatic behaviour of Young Adult publishing. The Blood Heir controversy and the ridiculous promotion of ‘sensitivity readers’ is hard not to mock. But those who love literary fiction, historical biographies… you’re next. One of the most disturbing stories of censorship (genre: non-fiction memoirs) happened to a grooming gang survivor, Kate Elysia. She was told by her publisher to not describe her experience of rape and grooming as ‘racism’ because she was white. This censorship will continue, and only get worse.
And thus, the quality of published literature suffers. The range of ‘acceptable public opinions’ will only narrow. This is awful for art, society and the individual.
Publishers, editors, literary agents and writers must sum up the courage to tell the truth. You can’t wait for someone else to, because no one will save you from this awful situation. There’s the truth. No one is coming to solve this problem.
Encourage Reading Among Particular Demographics
Earlier, I said publishing attracts progressive women who live in cities. There’s nothing wrong with being a woman, or progressive, or someone who lives in a city. But such a narrow demographic will only produce narrow literature. My point isn’t to dissuade anyone from publishing books. However, I’d like to see more men get involved in publishing, as well as people from rural areas, individuals who don’t have MFA’s in creative writing, right-winger’s, those seeking a career change, sporty personalities, old-school feminists, people with financial backgrounds, etc. All of these different experiences and personalities contribute
The best way to do this is not via ‘diversity quotas’ or even through financial incentives. Rather, it’s encouraging reading for everyone. It’s difficult to not notice how Young Adult literature is aimed mostly at older girls. There are hardly any books for boys, and if they are, the books are quite niche. A book about a young gay boy (over the age of sixteen) may deserve to get published, but straight boys will not be interested in it. Racial / Gender diversity is all the rage in YA publishing, (and science fiction & fantasy), but publishers must be realistic about who these books appeal to. I am not saying certain books shouldn’t get published, but a wider range of books is needed.
There’s a wider debate about the downgrading of the humanities and the standard of education. Schools often fall to utopian fantasies and dogmatic political thinking, usually in the name of ‘thinking of the children.’ On the problems of children’s literature, I recommend this article from UnHerd.
If we promote reading for everyone at a young age, then publishing exists for everyone. It does not just serve a small minority.
No matter the politics of the person I’m talking to, I love talking about literature. There’s a universality to it, as if books communicate experiences and ideas shaping all of humanity. Yes, many ‘experiences’ and ‘ideas’ are political, but I value the common ground I forge with those who differ.
We need to stop treating people like cancer if they disagree.
Stop Firing Authors, Literary Agents & Publishers For The ‘Wrong’ Opinions
I can name two literary agents who have been fired for ‘wrong’ behaviour. The first is Sasha White, whose support for feminism (apparently that makes her a TERF, or whatever lingo the ‘woke’ uses today) and women’s spaces got her fired from the Tobias Literary Agency. The other is Colleen Oefelein, whose firing from the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency remains ridiculous. Her fireable offense? Using alt-tech sites such as Gab and Parler. Didn’t she know that Silicon Valley is the only option for social media? Sarcasm aside, Oefelein never posted anything hateful to those platforms. She understood (quite cleverly) that writers use them, and thus, she wanted to make connections.
Why fire them? Was it to ‘punish’ wrong opinions, or to avoid the outcry of a mob (made up of a very loud minority). I don’t know. But this behaviour is troubling, and worse, is the number of writers who accept it. It’s baffling how the go-to course of action in the publishing industry is to fire or to drop a contract. Is there no other solution?
Publishing promotes creative works, yet it’s not run in a free-spirited, experimental way. This stems into a wider problem of ‘cancel culture’ and the desire for others to suffer because they aren’t like you. Some want to avoid conflict, but they delay it.
I’m not optimistic these suggestions will be put in place soon. But I hope writers, publishers and agents take note of an increasingly out-of-touch industry, and move towards intellectual diversity. For myself, I will keep fighting for freedom of expression and intellectual diversity within and outside publishing.
Note: I am aware of the many agents, writers and publishers who support free speech and intellectual diversity. If you’d like to get in touch for a chat, I recommend firstname.lastname@example.org