It is difficult to talk about race and stressful and awkward and exhausting. To my mind, one of the reasons these conversations are so difficult, particularly between white people and people of color, is because, so often, white people question concerns raised as if the question is not “how do we solve this problem,” but rather, “does this problem exist.” This is not a debate about whether there are racial and class (and gender and sexuality) disparities in publishing. These disparities exist whether you (choose to) see them or not. Instead these kinds of discussions are intended to function like a magnifying glass on a problem so big it should not require a magnifying glass.
And yet, the magnifying glass is clearly needed.
Mooney for scale.
Hey, writers! Where are you in the publishing process?
Denial: I think maybe I’ll write a novel. I have a really great idea for one. My friends think I’m a pretty good writer. I once got a rejection from The New Yorker that referred to the “obvious merit” of my fiction. Sure. I’ll write a novel and then send it to an agent!
Anger: No one is publishing me because they don’t understand how amazing my work is. They just don’t get it. Philistines. Agents won’t even look at my manuscript. The whole system is corrupt. You have to be one of those New York elites to get a book published. You have to be from money. You have to know people. You have to get an MFA. Publishing is a racket.
Bargaining: What the heck. I’ll go ahead and get an MFA. It might be fun to hang out with a bunch of writers like myself—people just trying to figure out how to get their work out for the world to see. It’ll be fun. I’ll learn some stuff about my craft. Maybe I’ll get into a huge argument in a workshop!
Depression: Even though I have an MFA, Knopf has not yet given me the big, Jonathan Safran Foer-esque, two-book deal. This sucks. Why have I been wasting my time? Publishers are only interested in turning people’s mildly funny conceptual blogs into books. Why the hell didn’t I just take a photo of my cat wearing a monocle, and then ask other people to submit photos of their cats wearing monocles to me? I’d have a book contract right now.
Acceptance: You know, it’s actually surprisingly easy for me to just do this myself. Maybe I’ll just start my own small press.