Some points of general interest.

This is not addressed to anyone in particular, though it is triggered by a comment or two — not necessarily negative ones, if you’re wondering, mostly just perplexing ones — that I’ve seen or heard in places, about me and mine. And me being the kind of girl who points at the giant stinking elephant in the room and says, Dear gods, what is that thing? — well, I felt the need to explain:

1. My editor did not know I was black when she bought my novel. She found out the first time we met in person — after she’d bought my book, when we had dinner in order to start getting to know each other and discuss the editing/marketing. I’m not actually sure she knew I was female until we spoke on the phone (to make plans for dinner), given that I use initials. She probably did, because my agent doesn’t try to use gender-neutral pronouns or anything, but I don’t know for certain because I never asked — I don’t care.

2. I also learned for the first time that she was a woman of color when we met for dinner. I certainly didn’t know she was (at the time*) the only editor of color in SF/Fdom — hell, I hadn’t realized there were any.

3. I do recall thinking, “Whassat, Greek?” when my agent told me my new editor’s name was Devi Pillai. That was about as much thought as I gave it, beyond WOO HOO WOO HOO WOO HOO and a bit of OMGWTFBBQ I’M GONNA BE PUBLISHED. (She’s not Greek.)

4. My agent submitted the book to something like six different editors, none of whom I’d met before. (I have met some of them since.) I don’t think any of them knew I was black. All the editors my agent submitted the book to were her choice — though we did discuss them — and I don’t know why she picked them. I don’t honestly care. I trust her judgment on stuff like this; that’s why she’s my agent.

5. I have, if you’re wondering, asked my agent not to share information about my race unless a potential publisher asks — not because I’m trying to hide it, but because I don’t want my race used to pigeonhole me (you may recall that I don’t like that). This doesn’t happen much in SFF as compared to other genres, but I just didn’t want to go there. It’s pretty much irrelevant now, but back when I was unpublished and not very public, it was helpful to me to know who asked, and who didn’t. (And also if you’re wondering, nobody’s asked thus far.)

6. Orbit did not buy my books after, or as a result of, RaceFail. Anybody who can count and read a calendar should be able to figure this out, but to make it clear — RaceFail was in early 2009. The Inheritance Trilogy sold in early 2008. Stuff in publishing takes a looooong time. If there is any publishing-related fallout from RaceFail that we can see and parse as such, it won’t start to appear until this year at the earliest, most likely next year or the year after. The changes I’ve seen thus far are more intrinsic and subtle.

Just in case anybody was wondering.

* The other that I know of is DongWon Song, also at Orbit, but he was hired after I contracted with them.

13 thoughts on “Some points of general interest.”

  1. this might not be something you want to discuss, but i’m curious so i’d like to ask: did you find out, in the course of trying to get published, that publishers had specifically asked about your race or gender?

    i’m a scientist, and i wonder but do not know how the race and/or gender of authors of scientific papers affects the review process, but it is something that i think about. i’m sure there must be an effect, because the names of the authors are included with the text of the paper during the review process.

    i have a close friend trying to break into the field of screenwriting. she was recently entering her scripts into a contest/job application, and we discussed whether she should use her middle name, “brett”, because it is not so clear which gender it belongs to. do you think that using initials or more gender neutral sort of names is a helpful method for making gender less of a biasing factor?

  2. If there’s a big stinking elephant in the room, much better to point it out, because, otherwise, well, it will take root and branch out and birth more (mixing metaphors, go me).

    I’m always amazed at how people don’t realize how LOOOOOOOOOOOONG publishing anything takes (probably longer in much of academia than elsewhere). I was pointing this out in my lecture on a reading for my class–that the conference where the special themed sessions had been given was 2007, and the special theme issue of the professional journal was out in 2009! Time, it takes time (and journal publication can be faster than book publication, though some journals are working two, three years ahead of the current time).

    Not gonna ask for specifics, but am fairly sure of the kind of weird little comment.

    And Jenmitch, there is data on how failure to use anonymous reading (draft anonymized, academic reader not knowing name of author) does affect publication. I was seeing some posts about this recently, on the feminist philosophy site, and will try to dig up some links if you’d like.

  3. I don’t have the reference on me, but I have read about studies which showed that when you give grants to reviewers, both male and female reviewers tend to give higher ratings to grants they *think* have been written by men.

    One problem with anonymity in scientific publications is that authors frequently refer to their previous publications in a pretty obvious way, meaning that its easy for the reviewer to find out who wrote the paper, or at least who the principle investigator is. I don’t know how the issue of anonymity is handled, I’ll ask my advisor for more details at our next meeting.

    Thanks for the link!

  4. jenmitch,

    I can’t answer your question about gender-neutral pennames. I didn’t do mine to hide my gender, but because I wanted some separation between my dayjob career and my writing career. (But this was back in the days before Google search algorithms. -_-) And frankly I was far more concerned about the impact my race would have on my chances, than on my gender. Lots of women get published in fantasy, after all; not so many of them are brown.

    And I knew that if my gender did become an issue, it would take shape in other ways than simple exclusion — I might have a harder time getting reviews, for example. The sexism of unexamined assumptions, not so much the blatant stuff. That’s the kind of sexism that a pair of intials couldn’t protect me from. I know some authors have attempted it — K. J. Parker, for example — but it just seemed like a lot of trouble that I didn’t feel like dealing with. Plus too many people in the genre knew me already; wasn’t worth it to try.

    But that’s specific to this genre, and the literary field. I know nothing about screenplay writing or writing for media (other than books/short story markets), so I don’t know what the culture is like there. A certain baseline amount of sexism has to be assumed given patriarchy, but there are degrees. So your friend probably has a better idea of what her field’s culture is like than I ever would.

    Sorry I couldn’t help more!

  5. jenmitch,

    Oh, and like I said in the OP — no one has asked, at least that I know of.

  6. I just want to say I heart you so very much more for the Princess Bride quote.

    …you did mean to do that right?

    Not that it matters, I will still heart you for saying it anyway. :)

  7. rachel,

    ::giggle:: Yeah, it was deliberate. Slightly modified to accommodate multiple gods, but still. Princess Bride quotes are to be worked in wherever possible.

  8. I have to take a moment to thank you. I’ve been reading your blog since your agency chat, and I am so very glad for it! It’s given me a window into a perspective my background never included, and it’s already changed the way I approach stories and games. Just yesterday, I was building a character party with game software, and found myself tremendously annoyed that none of the avatars were anything but white automatically. Your thoughts and linked discussions are already making me a better writer, and a more aware person. It’s helped me navigate the conundrum of writing multicultural settings without falling into the trap of white-American-perspective cliches. Prior to your blog, I was too afraid of committing my own RaceFail to even try. Which generally meant my writing stagnated, because I refuse to use the same old boring Euro-Fantasy palette. So I and my WIP say loudly: Thank you!

  9. I’m reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms now and I think it’s fantastic. Who cares what race or gender anyone is, when they can write like THAT?

    But then, I thought the whole racefail flap was stupid. I’m Asian American, for whatever that’s worth.

  10. Amendment: I’ve started reading your post about racefail, and I agree that it was the impetus for good dialogue, more self-examination, etc. But Teh Stoopid was certainly contagious at the time. People were trashing books for supposed racism when they’d never even read them and got the books’ events completely wrong. And the amount of condescension on the part of certain parties crying racism really irked me.

  11. Scarlet,

    Hmm. Well, given the number of editors and published authors who declared that a) there was no racism in SFF; b) there was, but it wasn’t much; c) there was lots, but it wasn’t a big deal; d) there needed to be a discussion, but not this one; e) there needed to be a discussion, but only after a discussion of sexism or classism; f) there needed to be a discussion, but it should focus on white people because there weren’t enough non-whites in the genre to worry about; g) anyone who discussed it was just seeking attention; h) anyone who discussed it was blacklisted; i) anyone who discussed it was to be outed and harassed in real life; j) anyone who discussed it was racist for mentioning racism… and so on…

    that was the condescension that concerned me. There was condescension on both sides — the SFF “establishment” and SFF fandom. But only one of those sides has the power to control the genre’s future or status quo, and play gatekeeper over who and what gets to be published. Their condescension — which, if you’ll re-read the Logophilos summary, set the whole thing off — is dangerous. Anyone else’s condescension is frankly irrelevant.

  12. Our unconscious bias is what always trips us up. I know that I for one read/buy 80 percent of my books by female authors and have to push myself to also read more male authors — and yes I have some male authors that do appeal to me and that whose new books I await with glee. But I recognize that bias and then wonder what other bias I have in my reading habits. Euro-centric, American, etc. No zombies, very few vampires, no Jane Austen retreads.

    And I can try and push myself, but I won’t push myself beyond a certain comfort level either, to be honest. (Life is too short to reading boring books…I’m not sure who I’m quoting here, but it is a sentiment I with which I agree.)

    And then I read certain authors/books that are out of my normal range and some of them are just wonderful.

    So thank you for pushing boundaries.

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