Diversify Or Die

Is publishing in the tech industry or the media industry? Perhaps neither, since it always likes to see itself as both inside and outside the paradigm at once. Books are ostensibly a technology, one of the greatest and most versatile inventions of all time. What they communicated, though, was art, or at the very least entertainment. But since the corporate takeovers from the 1980s onward, book publishing has become increasingly a media business. It’s about revenue, it’s about numbers and it’s about riding the zeitgeist, not creating it.

Publishing has always been about producing what is important, and each publishing house or imprint has always had its own mission statement. But if all of the major houses are going to start going the diversity route,  then I foresee an environment of same-same books.  The interesting thing to note is that it is the smaller publishers who have pushed this most forcefully, so much so that it has trickled up to the big guys. However, it should not be that publishing has to be forced to reflect society, no matter how mixed and muddled it becomes; it should be that as society changes, the books begin to reflect it, naturally. This still leads to the inevitable problem of trying to please far too many specialty groups at once.  And that is bad for the bottom line. Ironic, given that companies push for diversity thinking it will help business.

I’ve written about the push for diversity in publishing before, but now it has come home to roost. Yes, the CEO at work has instigated a Diversity and Inclusion committee, no doubt to be entirely made up of the most woke white girls in the office. I knew this day would come. Perhaps I should volunteer so as to undermine the whole project, accelerate the process as it may be. But no, I cannot drag myself through that. This push comes at the same time as we are seeing a series of incidents pop up around diversity within the publishing microcosm.

Specifically, the world’s biggest publisher is going all in. It wants to represent what the future society of Britain will look like. The Spectator article by Lionel Shriver has been contested, though I think on superficial points, but what Shriver really does is show how absurd the entire notion of identity has become. Race, sexual preference, none of this matters when it comes to doing the work. You should not be relying on quotas to fill a publishing schedule, unless you want to admit that the author’s identity is a marketable genre.  (Truth be told, it apparently is at this stage.) The new mission statement of Penguin Random House reads thus:

‘new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2025.’

Nothing Shriver said was wrong, just a little hyperbolic. The responses were then hyperbolic in turn. Shriver never says that minorities can’t write good literature, only that their identity should not take precedence. Of course her critics somehow infer that she means exactly this, as a straight white female.  She is slowly becoming unpersoned: she has even been removed as judge of an upcoming writing competition.  And yet for all this publishing companies are covering their arses. Authors have always had moral rights to their work, but now their contracts are containing morality clauses.  They are giving themselves protection in case any of their authors act out. Say, like Lionel Shriver.

But I digress from the issue here on whether publishing is tech or media. Let’s take PRH again. In their push for diversity, they are opening the field by not requiring degrees. Fine in theory, but I hardly see this opening up the field that much. The people who tend to want to work in publishing…tend to get degrees in publishing. And the entry level jobs are still going to be mindless grinds until you can get up that first rung of the ladder, degree or not. While it is clearly a branding exercise for the company to say ‘look at us’ there is something to it – namely that doing a degree in publishing is a waste of time. That might be endemic of the whole thing.

How much of the book business is useless? David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs looks at many of the factors surrounding jobs that suck the life out of us, and I think much of publishing skirts this. One of the reasons Graeber gives is that in the FIRE industries, there is so much money it pays to make up jobs:

The moral of the story is that when a profit-seeking enterprise is in the business of distributing a very large sum of money, the most profitable thing for it to do is to be as inefficient as possible.

The corporate publishers have a lot of money, and they tend to shuffle it around. We pay huge advances for authors that are never going to sell enough copies to earn out the cash. Unlike academia or finance though, we seem to have to cut staff if we don’t make appropriate profit. But that doesn’t stop us from punting on useless crap. Publishing is made up of committees of people pretending they know what people want to read, but actually having no clue. The best use of money that I never see happen would be consumer insights. Instead, decisions are made by middle-aged women and male directors. That’s not to say that great books aren’t published, but they happen in the cracks, in between the corporate bullshit and easy titles. The entire industry revolves around trying to convince a bunch of gatekeepers that certain books are better than others, but very few salespeople ask the people. That’s why most stand out successes are word of mouth ventures. Where tech companies try to make something people can use, more and more publishing is just an industry trying to advertise itself. And it feels bullshit, because as Graeber says, ‘A human being unable to have a meaningful impact on the world ceases to exist.’ Your impact in publishing is likely zero, or if there is some small impact, you aren’t even aware of it. How much impact do you have in your job?  (Don’t answer that, I value my self esteem.)

As so many companies get woke, publishing, I think, might resist it, or at least not embrace it fully. Unlike movies and music, there actually aren’t too many people spoiling the soup. Books are still made by single authors, for the most part.  The people making the decisions still mostly like good writing, even if progressivism is the flavour of the hour. And readers are really liberal; there isn’t much to change. Counter-intuitively I think the majority of people in publishing don’t think there is that much to do. The danger is that this means it is very easy for those with the levers to push things in the direction they want. Diversity in a hum-drum and sanitised sense is inevitable.

But you know what? It’s perfectly possible to get diversity without forcing it, like with the English football team. Woo! This make it feel like everyone is just confused when the Spectator allows Lionel to decry enforced quotas, but the same rag praises the changing of an English sports team. Diversity here, not here. Patchwork when? As the diversity push grows and grows we are going to see continual need for separation.  And yet publishing houses want to become homogeneous.  Most books now have gay characters or gay themes. Abortion is all good. Fuck religion, right? It all feels so tepid, so samey. Yet another book about #TheResistance or a Trumpain dystopia. The medium of the book could push more and more readers into the progressive mindset.  But conservatives and religious folk still have some outlets, particularly in the States where religious publishing can still make decent bucks. In the end publishing companies have always been gatekeepers. We want gatekeepers, but these gatekeepers have to focus on quality, not the individuals. This fracas is also coinciding with another diversity debate, this time at Harvard.

Diversity is bad, full stop. As Bishop Robert Barron says in his book Catholicism, ‘If God is a great gathering force, then sin is a scattering power.’ Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have diverse groups, but mingling groups is going to end in misery.  Diversity expends energy and leads to entropy. What diversity does is precisely the opposite of what we should be doing. It looks for those on the margin not in terms of quality, like a work of genius, but those who just haven’t been given a voice. There is no predicate here that that voice is worth listening to. I know progs will agree with me and say that Nazis should be punched, not listened to. But they want to enforce their rules for their in-group, and not allow a healthy ecosystem. What really gets me is that if the West wanted diverse books, it would ask for them.  I can tell you right now that stories about African immigrants don’t fucking sell. The problem with letting in hordes from the impoverished, non-English speaking countries? They don’t read books, or at least ones written in English. Publishing is going to have to cater to every niche market – a different book for every reader! Publishing only works when it can appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

Diversity is just another power play. Publishing as a media business is merely putty in the hands of those who take hold. It can be influenced by the whispers from the HR department and the shouts of a handful of very loud consumers. But how do you counter power plays that are based on, essentially, kindness? Show that any supposed advantages are but illusions.  Diversity not only diverts energy and attention, but disperses any and all sources of energy. Publishing is 100% a media business, one that is inherently part of the Cathedral. Each publishing house is a lumbering beast that knows not what it does, only that it wishes to  please as it succumbs to a thousand cuts. and collapses to the left.

Unable to See the Majority For the Minority

As I keep noting on this blog, publishing is gripped by diversity mania. There is an obsession with inclusion and stories from outside the realm of White Man territory. The Man Booker Prize is not safe from this either, and indeed the world’s biggest literary prize is a locus point of SJW energy. And as usual it is The Guardian that leads the way with its ‘unique’ criticisms of authors, publishers and prizes.

But why is diversity such a big deal? Aside from the obvious acceleration towards ‘equality’ across the entirety of popular culture, the reason is people. The real question should be why it has taken so long for the voices within publishing to get so loud. Publishing is 70% female across the Western world, though men do make up a sizeable chunk of senior management. In the last few years young women with gender studies degrees have probably managed to get a foot in the door, and are starting to shift the focus at a faster pace. They bring with them the usual baggage of intersectionality and the need to have perfectly balanced gender ratios. I have plenty of my own horror stories from listening to these young female ‘professionals’. But despite ‘improvements’ it is, of course, never enough.

Literary prizes are the perfect grounds to attack white privilege. Not enough BAME authors are getting recognition. The situation is so bad that The Guardian recently posted an article titled How Many Man Bookers Must Writers of Colour Win Before They’re Accepted? (which kept in theme with last years article called Man Booker Prize Longlist is a Disappointment for Diversity). But I want to focus on the former piece and why exactly this is all madness.

The author, a creative writing professor, makes a number of spurious claims. The main gist of the piece though is that despite the last two winners of the Man Booker being black, readers still don’t recognise books written by minorities as literature. Of course, the reality is that there are much bigger issues at stake than her hyperbolic theory. She uses this study, a study that states that, ‘90% of people who have read a novel in the last 6 months consider that novel to be literature.’ Let’s keep in mind that about 75% of the general population has read ONE book in the last YEAR, and that men read far less than women. Here are some of the authors these people consider ‘literature’:

  • Jeffrey Archer
  • Danielle Steel
  • Lee Child
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Agatha Christie
  • Catherine Cookson
  • James Patterson
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Dan Brown
  • J R R Tolkien
  • Enid Blyton
  • The Brontë sisters
  • George Orwell
  • Stephen King
  • Jane Austen
  • Roald Dahl
  • J K Rowling
  • Charles Dickens
  • William Shakespeare

I’ve marked in bold those that are actually literature. William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens probably count, but at the time of their writing they were ‘popular’ literature. However, if you are looking at these results and complaining about the lack of brown people, you have an agenda. The true problem is that people read shit books by shit authors. They read the same authors over and over. The real problem is that if we consider J K Rowling, Dan Brown and Lee fucking Child as literature, then we as a civilisation are lost. (Oh yeah, and one twat called Reza Aslan a writer of literature.) If you look at the full list of authors, there are clearly some real writers there, and also some minorities. These names were probably given by REAL readers, ones who appreciate and understand what literature is. So the author of The Guardian piece is cherry picking the data and coming to absurd, and frankly frightening conclusions.

Is it really a surprise though? You are polling the general public, of course the results are going to skew towards popular literature. Look at the stats for the full list of authors:

  • 31% are female
  • 7% are Black, Asian or Mixed Race in ethnicity
  • 44% are non-British (mostly American)
  • 51% are living writers.

The fact is that most people are going to consider old, dead authors (who, shock of shocks, will be mostly white) as literature. Americans feature heavily because American culture is so ingrained across the world. 7% minority is pretty good given the statistics for readers (from the same study):

raceandreading

If you have fewer readers of literature, then you’re going to have fewer writers. The fact of the matter is that the majority of readers in Britain (and indeed in the Western world) are white, female and educated. Shockingly, this is also the largest demographic for social justice warriors, which I’m sure is not a coincidence.

The author of the piece has issues she wants to make relevant, so fuck the actual problem. She makes some infuriating claims, such as:

Without doubt, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens and many more men of letters have done Britain proud. But times have moved on.

Given she is a professor of creative writing, I find her beliefs disturbing. Literature is not a moving object, one that floats with the tide. It is quite fixed, in that what most people consider literature is writing that has stood the test of time (hence Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dickens). That’s what makes it capital L literature. And while the writer can make claims about the stupidity of readers and their inability to consider minorities as writers of literature, she herself is too dumb to read into the numbers, saying:

A misconception prevails that books penned by non-white writers have limited relevance to the population at large.

If the audience is mostly white, female and educated, then unsurprisingly books written by POC authors about POC themes are probably not going to appeal to all of them.

She then cites a 2013 study about literature and empathy, which of course is a line that geeky SJWs love to throw out at every opportunity. ‘Reading makes you a better person!’ the headlines scream whenever a new study linking literature to altruism/empathy/long life/better memory/clear skin comes out. Not only are the studies dubious (like most studies you find written about in the MSM) but the notion that you can magically read a book and become a Good Person is absurd, and is not a line that should be pushed by anyone, least of all a creative writing lecturer. That said, I’ve never met a group more self-righteous and sure of themselves than those undertaking or teaching a creative writing degree. Books do not make you more humble, it seems.

Then she tries to link this idea with real life events. Mentioning both hate crimes and Brexit, she actually has the audacity to pose the question that perhaps if more people had read literature by minorities the Grenfell Tower tragedy would never have happened. Fake news gets a mention, saying:

But judging from the lack of nuanced real-life stories in circulation about marginalised groups, cultural deprivation is a pretty apt description for the condition members of mainstream society find themselves in. Consider, for instance the report of the Christian girl fostered by a Muslim family spun into a far-right fantasy; a story fuelled by paranoia and an evident lack of awareness about the lives of others.

Correct me if I am wrong, but that is a true story that actually happened? Or is she referring only to the dumb Photoshop job by the paper that originally reported on it? Whatever. She decries race elitism while displaying her own elitism and disdain. The only conclusion I can draw is that the writer wants to eliminate white written culture and force minority writing on the majority. Perhaps she’s just mad she can’t get her novel published.

 

Tracking the Decline #2: Diversity in Literature

The previous Current Year wasn’t a great one for literature. First of all, let’s take stock that America publishes basically one new book per person. That’s one totally new book for every living person in the U.S. of A. That doesn’t include books published elsewhere (though of course issues of translation come in). That definitely does not include the endless dirge of self published titles that continue to be churned out. So, all in all, there are more books than ever and of course that means it’s harder to make it than ever. Average Is Over.

But what’s going on in publishing? First, the goldmine that was self-pubbing seems to be in decline, for a variety of reasons with the quantity being a main one, and Amazon being dodgy buggers being another. If you look at that report indie authors are actually suffering, and Amazon seems to be making the most gains. The glut is over, as was inevitable.

So we have a huge diversity of books, right? Well, no we don’t, apparently. The problem is that there are just too many books by White Males. UK publishers are getting ‘slammed‘ for a lack of diversity. Publishing risks becoming irrelevant if they don’t start publishing more books by and for POC and LGBTQWIFX. One publisher (Kamila Shamssie I believe) suggested having a whole year where not a single white male was published. It’s all too much. Of course, the only reason the English language market would become irrelevant in this sense is because of the Western immigration plan. Quelle surprise. Pandering to minorities is an absurd idea in this industry. Take Australia. Still a largely white population, POC books just don’t sell in great quantities. Shit stories don’t sell, and people don’t care about your identity politics. If you’re in business you want to sell to the largest demographic. Publishing profit margins are already pretty shithouse, and trust me, publishers take bigger risks than they should. I guess in the UK that the market is increasingly not white English speakers, but that’s a whole something else that plenty of others have talked about.

We don’t even want a diversity of books, especially when it comes to raw numbers. For one, you tend to get self-published authors pumping out generic stories and becoming marketing whores. There’s no diversity there except for the amount, because formulas work. This is not an environment that is conducive for literature or original thought. Sure, those types of books still get made, but they do tend to get drowned out. Very few of the best are both lucrative and thought-provoking. This is a worldwide problem where literature is largely ignored. People don’t read. They are on their phones, they are watching Netflix or they are getting hideously drunk.

It seems to me that publishing thinks that diversifying will somehow be a magic bullet. That if they publish and promote books by POCs and cover topics that are bound up in social justice and identity politics they will finally make great sales. The entire industry is complicit.

Kirkus Prize 2016: the book that won the fiction category is a bloated postmodern mess that links horse racing with race (genetics and class). The non-fiction winner deals with trans issues. Need I say more?

Man Booker Prize 2016: The Sellout definitely did not deserve to win, and indeed the only reason I can think that it did win is that a) it’s humorous and satirical, so ‘something different’, b) it’s postmodern, the aesthetic of decline and c) it’s about racial inequality in America. It is not a book for the ages, nor even a particularly pertinent one for the moment. The shortlist as a whole wasn’t outstanding, but for The Sellout to win shows that the judges do not care a white for quality.

National Book Awards 2016: Again, plenty of good books to choose from, but of course the book that deals with an alternative history of slavery in America won.

So three major prizes where the books won because of politics. You can’t say that there isn’t an agenda. Even in science fiction the politics is real. The Hugo winner is by a black woman, and by all accounts it’s a good book, but science fiction has clearly been appropriated by SJWs and liberals, something the stalwarts tried and failed to fight. The Arthur C Clarke award was also political. Children of Time is a good book, but didn’t deserve to win (Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson wasn’t even nominated for the shortlist, which kind of says it all) and indeed it probably won because of the political ‘niceness’ of the ending.

This doesn’t feel like diversity to me; this feels like collusion.

So writers, publishers and almost everyone in the industry are entirely for diversity of numbers when we really don’t need more books, and diversity of race/gender/*insert minority here* so long as it pushes the liberal agenda. But when it comes to publishing a book by Milo Yiannopoulos something that is merely a different opinion, it must be shut down. Authors don’t want to be published by a company that supports freedom of speech. Personally I think that is a helluva brave publishing decision given the political climate. It’s a bit of a gamble, and I don’t think it will pay off immensely, but I also don’t think it will bomb. This is another example of the group think in the mainly liberal industry (and at the same time 1984 is again a bestseller).

The awards, the discussions of diversity, the outrage over Milo: these are all examples of the industry floating ever Leftward. Education is where minds are won, and books are part of that.