Literary Privilege

So here today’s thought, and it’s a rant I’ve had for a while.

Recently I attended a writer’s conference where they offered a seminar on how to pitch your book. The seminar leader- a local publisher- started it off by saying she’s read science fiction and fantasy, but she doesn’t sell it. This was not a problem, nobody can specialize in everything, so I settled back in my chair anxiously waiting to learn for the next 90 minutes.

So much went wrong with that seminar I would need a flip-chart to go through it all. Primarily, they discussed marketing, not pitching. But here’s my biggest beef. Whenever someone said they wrote science fiction, fantasy, or some other form of speculative fiction she got very dismissive. If anyone asked about any form of literature that required world building, she would roll her eyes and wave her arms as if she was trying to shoo the attendee away. I think it was a cue to the loudmouthed guy in the front row to start speaking at length about how he marketed his many, many books. I think he was supposed to be our cue to be really, really impressed with them. Or something.

I finally rose my hand and politely asked if she could walk me through a pitch. You know… bring things back on topic without being THAT person in the room?

“Thank you for this great information. Could you please walk us through a pitch? What happens when you first walk into the room?”

“What do you write?”

“I write science fiction, fantasy and superheroes.”

Some of the audience laughed. Some groaned. By this time, she had rolled her eyes so many times that she was starting to remind me of Mad-Eye Moody from the Harry Potter series.

This is not the first time something like this has happened to me. Years ago, I took an online writing course that required us to review five fellow students chosen at random. I submitted the first chapter of my then WIP. One review was, “Ok, first of all, you write fantasy, but that’s fine. You opened up with a party which will help the reader relate to your world.” Because they don’t have parties in fantasy worlds. Or something.

There is a definite hierarchy in the literary world, particularly by those people who believe themselves to be in the upper tiers of it. If your world is powered by magic or if you travel the stars, you are clearly are a part of a lesser crowd. It’s compounded even further if you are a woman or a person of color. It’s literary privilege and it has to end.

Part of the problem is the elitists don’t compare like with like. They compare Jane Austen with some fan-fiction piece of trash. There is crap fiction and there is good fiction in every genre, including the literary genre.

A few years ago, Pat Rothfuss did a magnificent tear down of this idea. He did it because a college student was assigned to go listen to two readings by authors but her professor told her fantasy authors didn’t count. You can watch the two minute video here. It’s brilliant.

When I hope that you will read something I wrote, I’m not competing against other authors. I’m competing against television, movies, theater, video games, household chores, jobs, and family obligations. That’s enough to worry about without figuring out who gets to sit at the cool kids table and who doesn’t.

What do you think?


2 thoughts on “Literary Privilege

  1. Great musings! (Spoiler alert for other commenters, I was also at this presentation.) I think there’s something that that small publisher forgot to talk about at all, and that’s your audience. Imagine her trying to say these things at GenCon, GaryCon, any ComiCon, etc. She’d be booed off the stage! I think we can rely on our audience (hopefully our future fans) to outnumber attitudes like this.

    One thing that always reassures me is that I can fall back on my friends and my fellow fans, who would scoop you up in their robot, superhero, or magical arms, and say “fuck the haters, we’re gonna go fly among the stars.”

    Like

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