J BUSH

Why The Publishing Industry Can Suck My Dick

I decided a year ago that I no longer want to publish books through the traditional publishing industry — even though that was my singular dream since I was nine years old.

The publishing industry is dead. Between ebooks overtaking print sales and chain stores dictating what gets published, the business is finished. It’s inefficient, outdated, bloated, corrupt, and it has willfully buried its head in the sand all these years, to the devastation of writers’ careers and literature.

It deserves to die. The publishing industry is racist, sexist, and it heavily favors white male authors over others, especially in literary fiction, which produces the next generation of American literature. If women and non-whites can’t get published and can’t get reviewed and can’t get on prize lists, we will not be able to contribute. For that reason alone it deserves to die.

Meanwhile, the rise of internet technology has brought authors closer to our audiences and given us the chance to give ourselves careers. No longer can an elite group of racist, sexist anachronisms shut the door to the rest of us. Any of us can make literature. The gatekeepers that kept so many of us out are failing because prejudice always fails — how can a business that limits the chances of large groups of people possibly succeed? Greatness always surges through.

I’ve been working on a new novel project that I’m very excited about and that will involve interaction and participation with readers. I’m not ready to publicize the project yet. However, Seth Godin’s announcement that he’s leaving traditional publishing behind is huge, and since I’ve already decided to do the same I decided I should say so. With a huge bestselling author like Godin going, the world will follow. I have no sympathy for big publishing. They had their chance, and thousands of young novelists like me had their careers thwarted or redirected because of their incompetence. I am very happy to have the T.V. and screenwriting career I have today, which I wouldn’t have had were it not for the inadequacy of the publishing industry. But now the way I feel about it is — they don’t fucking get to publish my novels. I will publish them myself. Because I’m better at marketing myself than they are. I’d rather sell ebooks than print — because that’s what I would rather buy.

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I just spent an hour searching the internet for statistics about the racism and sexism in the publishing industry. Couldn’t find any — I know I’ve read some before, so if anyone can send some, please do. However, anyone working in this business knows about it already. Here are a few pieces I did come across:

Literature Gender Gap. Majority of readers are women but 30% or less of books published by literary houses are by women: http://su.pr/2Ag3sO

Some male critics review male writers by a 3:1 ratio. http://www.bookslut.com/blog/archives/2011_02.php#017213

http://www.slate.com/id/2265910/pagenum/all/#p2

http://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2010/08/all-the-sad-young-literary-women/61821/

http://www.thefrisky.com/post/246-jodi-picoult-accuses-book-reviews-of-favoring-white-male-literary-darli/

http://amyking.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/why-weren%E2%80%99t-any-women-invited-to-publishers-weekly%E2%80%99s-weenie-roast/

http://www.complete-review.com/quarterly/vol3/issue4/sexist.htm

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And these statistics excerpted from an article by T. K. Kenyon (see link below): Percentage of book reviews for male authors vs. female authors for 2006 in major review publications: 56%:44% Percentage of book reviews for male authors vs. female authors for Jan-June 2007 in major review publications: 63%:37% Percentage of book reviews for male authors vs. female authors for at the New York Times Review of Books (very influential): 72%:28% Ratio of male book reviewers to female reviewers at the New York Times Review of Books: 2:1 Percentage of articles written by men to those written by women in the five “thought leader” magazines: 3:1 Percentage of male book buyers to female: 45%:55% Women constitute only 17 percent of opinion writers at The New York Times, 10 percent at The Washington Post, 28 percent at U.S. News & World Report, 23 percent at Newsweek and 13 percent at Time. Overall, only 24 percent of nationally syndicated columnists are women. From: http://www.bloggernews.net/112350

You Should Change Your Audience

When my Iraq pilot ends, I want the audience to be different.

They’ll be different because they shifted. Because the characters shift. The audience identifies with the characters, forms a bond with them that pulls them up and down through the piece, changes them as the character changes.

Stories help us feel what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes. They give us the gift of empathy, the gift of identifying from a different direction. A woman walks away identifying as a man.

You help your characters shift by making the powers that oppose them overwhelming. The more acute the opposition, the more we’ll feel the urgency of the situation, and the more vital and primal the bond we’ll form. That person struggles. I struggle. I understand how that person feels. A man walks away identifying as a woman.

In my pilot, male soldiers discover they have to work with women during active combat, and they feel dragged down, challenged, threatened, unsafe. The female soldiers feel unprepared, untrained, unwelcome, unsupported.

Most of them experience a shift. If the piece works, the audience identifies with them at the start and shifts along with them.

By the end, the characters circle near the feeling -

We are all women. And we are all men.

If the story works, my audience will feel that too.

I Am Thwarted

Just now I was curled up on my side in the bathtub, crying and repeating “I am thwarted. I am thwarted. I am thwarted. I am thwarted.”

For maybe five minutes: “I am thwarted.”

I needed to relax after getting all worked up over this article about how you should be male if you want to publish literary fiction. Stuff I knew from personal experience, but this stirred up my fear and seemed to confirm my experience:

Playwright Julia Jordan pointed me toward a recent study about perceptions of male and female playwrights that showed that plays with female protagonists were the most devalued in blind readings. “The exact same play that had a female protagonist was rated far higher when the readers thought it had a male author,” Jordan said. “In fact, one of the questions on the blind survey was about the characters ‘likability,’and the exact same female character, same lines, same pagination, when written by a man was exceeding likable, when written by a woman was deemed extremely unlikable.”

I try to be careful about what I think about and talk about repetitively. My friend points out if you say something over and over, it becomes a mantra. I believe in the magic of daily life. I believe we create the world around us. I believe there’s power in our spells.

I fear the danger in giving in to this kind of grief: indulge in grief, and you create a world in which you are grieved.

Let yourself break down in the bathtub — let yourself say out loud those terrible, magic words — I am thwarted — and you feel relieved in the moment. It’s a catharsis, an emotional release, an acknowledgement that you exist and you matter and your reality deserves to be stated, or repeated over and over in a dramatic manner. But the fear is that if you indulge this way — or God forbid make a habit of it, let this become a way of life — the grief, the acknowledgement becomes your reality –

I am thwarted.

Did the words come first? Did I have “I am thwarted” inside me — did I believe in that mantra and then use my internal magic to create “I am thwarted” in my life? This is the question that keeps me up at night — the question that scares me. Because if I can’t tell, how can I keep it from happening again?

What’s worse — having these terrible words inside me and not giving voice to them, or having them inside me and giving voice to them and seeing them become reality? Is there a way to not have them inside me at all?

Perhaps they’re not even true. I know the truth is not only am I not thwarted, I am thriving. Many people are thwarted. I don’t want to diminish their suffering by taking it on as if it were my own.

What brought on the sobbing and the volley of “I am thwarted” was this — I posted about the article on Twitter. I don’t talk about this stuff very often in public because I’m afraid of how I’ll look — in the male dominated industry I work in, I am afraid of looking bitter or difficult or man-hating or whatever stigma might apply to outspoken feminists. But –how we live shows up in our writing, and how we write shows up in our lives. To protect my writing, I have to be honest, present, and emotional.

We live in the future, but women writers work in the past. It’s true that some women writers succeed, but shouldn’t the successful be more successful? Where are all the women showrunners, directors, working screenwriters? Pointing to fields where women get ahead like chick lit, rom-coms, and their TV equivalents as evidence of us succeeding reminds me of the women who were allowed to be film editors because it was a lot like sewing.

I don’t know the stats on women getting literary fiction published, but the male-exclusive lists and prizes certainly tell a story. And my experience tells a story: people loved my first novel. They should, because it’s good. And all the editors raved about how good it was — but said the main character was too unlikable. Or it was too original and Barnes & Noble wouldn’t know how to market it.

Many women writers don’t talk about this for fear — consciously or subconsciously — that talking about it will affect our ability to get work. I think women in Hollywood have Stockholm Syndrome. We know who we need to please to get ahead, so we pretend sexism isn’t as significant a force as it is — subconsciously, we identify with our captors. Our captors are not men, it’s thousands of years of bio/cultural forces that makes women and men feel like a woman cannot create A Great Work of Art. She can run a studio because that job seems like a glorified assistant — it’s less mythic. But there’s something so epic about making art that at a gut level most of us still feel like women can’t do it.

I have been afraid to speak about this publicly because I don’t want to drive away people who can hire me. The fact is — as a young woman trying to get writing jobs in Hollywood, I feel less afraid to write publicly about sucking the dick of some married Hollywood guy years ago than I do about my fears surrounding this industry’s sexism. I know I’m sticking my neck out here. But that’s my job. I stick my neck out, then I stick it out further.

When I get raw and emotional and vulnerable and honest, this is me practicing in public what I do when I face the script.

I am thwarted.

So when my friend on Twitter said that female authors sell much better than literary fiction authors do — and when I pointed out that I AM A FEMALE AUTHOR AND I WRITE LITERARY FICTION — he amended to say he meant pop versus literary fiction — and I responded — My point is that as a woman, I’m allowed to write pop books. I’m not allowed to write literature. I am an artist. I am thwarted.

Saying it in public is what sent me to the bathtub. It felt dangerous — like by saying it out loud, I was making it true. Conjuring the mantra. And waving a flag to the world — this is who I am. I am thwarted. But it felt good too. I felt recognized, I recognized myself. Because I matter, and my reality matters. I deserve to tell the world what my world looks like. And I think that’s why it came out over and over in a flood — it felt so good to say it publicly, I couldn’t stop saying it.

I am thwarted. I feel thwarted.

I hope I’m neither. But if that’s what I turn out to be, you’re gonna fucking hear about it.

How I Write: Dreams

Had a dream where my back was turned and someone stole my couch, coffee table and computer.

Wrote in my journal: “I couldn’t believe they were able to take such big stuff so quickly.”

This line resonated with me. I’ve been working on a pilot about Iraq that’s affecting me deeply. I felt this line spoke to my experience writing this pilot and what I imagine to be soldiers’ experiences over there.

I decided to develop a scene where my female combat soldiers are outside the wire for the first time with their Marine comrades. The Marines leave them to guard the Humvee while they rip apart a house to find an insurgent. Iraqis create a diversion on the street, distracting the females just long enough for the Iraqis to steal something big — haven’t figured out what yet. A weapon, something significant. Maybe even the translator they were guarding.

When the Marines return to find they’ve lost something their first day on the job, the females are humiliated (though they shouldn’t be considering they were never trained for missions outside the wire). The main character says some version of that line from my journal later to her girls — “I couldn’t believe they were able to take such big stuff so quickly.” In the end, this line might be too on the nose, and it’s certainly awkward as written in my journal, but for now it stands as an emotional placeholder — a way to go deep.

The scene rings early on in the script as a warning bell for what they’re going to lose on the inside.

 

 

 

 

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