Writing under my own name shouldn’t feel like a political statement. It shouldn’t make me lie awake and worry whether my work will be judged on its own merit or dismissed purely on the basis that I bear a female name.
But it does.
It sucks. It’s not fair. But it’s a real problem — even now in the Digital Age.
We live in the 21st Century, not the 1950s, and yet all the old biases against “minority” writers are back in full-force — assuming those biases ever went away at all.
I hate the word “feminism.” I hate the very fact that such a word needs to exist. People shouldn’t have to argue their value against perceptions based solely on what they do or do not carry between their thighs. Unless people are writing with their genitals (neat trick!), then a person’s sexual identity shouldn’t be a consideration in assessing their skill as a writer at all.
Yet it is. Gender remains an issue — and that’s to say nothing of what kind of struggle people face if their skin isn’t the right color, or they don’t come from a widely accepted socio-religious group, or they are attracted to people in a way that is not mainstream-approved.
In genre publishing, comics, gaming, and related fandoms, it’s gotten particularly nasty. From the Gamergaters to the Sad Puppies to this ass-hat who thinks women have no place writing science fiction, the reactions of a firmly-entrenched, whiningly-entitled, and blisteringly narrow-minded boys’ club are making news. There have been death-threats to outspoken proponents of diversity, one-star review hate campaigns, and — no joke — a petition to the White House to get Chuck Wendig to stop writing Star Wars tie-in novels (presumably because he has the audacity to write inclusively).
It’s nuts. With the state of the world, you’d think people would have bigger things to devote their energy to. Then again, maybe petty distractions like whining about characters that are not white enough, not straight enough, and not “male” enough provides the escapism that these folks need in a radically changing world.
I won’t lie. The trends worry me in a very personal — and admittedly selfish — way. I’ve worked long and hard on the Shadowside series. I’ve written characters who speak to me and who speak to the world that I inhabit — which pretty much guarantees that they will not all be white enough or straight enough or whatever enough for the vocal 1% who are absolutely sure fiction needs to return to the days when men were men, brown people were colonized, and women were busty damsels to be rescued — preferably in such a way that they could look both distressed and sexy on a full-color cover to help boost sales.
And, of course, in the midst of this dizzyingly toxic environment, I’ve not only written a series to be published under my female-identified name, I’ve had the gall to focus on writing action rather than romance.
No offense to anyone who prefers reading or writing romance. Romance is hard. Give me an action scene any day of the week. That’s way easier to write. But when EVEN ONE of my rejection letters focused on why, as a woman, I was writing action and not romance … well, it just speaks to the trends (for the record, it was more than one. And we’re not talking itty bitty publishing houses). Never mind the assumption that I identify as a woman on the basis of my given name. I’m intersex, so there isn’t a box I easily fit — but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.
Bottomline? I find myself wishing for a world in which all books were published with an author number, rather than a name.
Think about it — no author photo, no identifying characteristics at all that might detract from the meat of the book, which is the story between the front and back covers.
It’s a stupid wish. It’s supremely impractical, and it turns the whole “you sell more books because of your platform” idea right on its head. But wouldn’t it be great just to have a story speak on its own merits rather than be judged by readers and critics alike based on superficial vicissitudes like a name?
In a perfect world, we could strip those away, just like that.
Then again, knowing how humans work, it would take less than a week for people to develop both preference and prejudice for certain number strings. Longer numbers would indicate a more intricate story to some, shorter ones might be seen as swifter, more advantaged.
After all, that makes about as much sense as judging a wordsmith by name, appearance, or gender.