Let's walk through the process by which most people in the publishing industry read, using two metaphors. I'm talking about actually reading the words in front of them, which are always secondary, if that. They're really irrelevant. These are the last people in the world who should be in charge of saying "This is good" or "This isn't." But before they read--in the instances that they even do--a different process takes place, and we should get that out of the way before coming to the two metaphors that are the point of this entry.
First they're going to check if the writer is Black, Asian, Indian--something they deem color based. They're going to check if the author is trans. If the author is female. If the author is gay. Most publishing decisions are based off of these factors. They're going to check if the author is just like them. The school they went to. How many followers they have on Instagram and Twitter. Not the content of their postings, if it's smart, witty, intelligent. None of that matters. Who is their agent? Are they a crony? Are they part of his preferred incestuous, diseased, inbred community of bad writing that no one actually wants to read?
Now, they put it in different terms. They'll say they're all about underrepresented voices, or something, but make no mistake, this is absolutely what happens. These factors are going to be almost 100% of what happens. These same factors also determine who gets the reviews in The New York Times Book Review and The Washington Post. If outlets like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly dish out the token praise that no one honestly means. They determine who gets the Guggenheims. Who goes into Best American Short Stories. Who has fiction in The New Yorker. What I've just mentioned is the entire basis of the publishing industry right now. And that's why 1. No one reads and 2. No one has any reason to. There is nothing that is about the quality of the writing. I can't over-stress. Nothing.
But I want to talk about what happens when most people in publishing--and again, if you're not one of these people, to you I'd say: lead; do something; be a solution--read prose. What actually happens with them. These people are taught that there is one form of writing. It's a basic, vanilla, lifeless form of writing. They themselves often write it (because many editors are writers). They teach it. They look for it. They award it. It's what they know. It's all they know. It's what they can handle. It's what they're surrounded with. It's what everyone writes. Because if you don't write this way--if you don't fall into this bland, vanilla line--you won't be a part of this community. You have to be a part of the community to get the things mentioned above, unless you are bigger than all of this, you take on this system, you have work that is better than all of the other work combined, and you prevail. That's me, and I will. You'll give up. You'll be drummed out. They won't support you. And by that I mean, they won't give you what they give other people as if those things were handouts and birthrights, which is what they're tantamount to here. You deserve it, but they won't provide them, unless they have to. By the force of your genius and the inevitability of the point you will reach or have reached. Your courage will play a factor in that. These people don't have courage. For anything. In even trace amounts.
If we are exposed to only one thing all the time, and taught to value it, that it's the best, we will warp ourselves to fit with that belief. it's not a real belief; it's a life lived as a giant lie. We'll self-devolve so that we can think that way, especially if it means a salary, likes on Facebook, expensive lunches with people who blow smoke up our ass, which is our preferred mode of interaction, given that we're too dead inside to handle anything else. That is the publishing community.
Here's how a publishing person then reads. Again, most. Almost all. If that's not you, you're not insulted. But you're also not doing what you should be doing, and I think you know this. Step up. Matter. It's like a person going out on a drive on a very flat road. There's no terrain to speak of. There are not mountains and valleys. Just this flat, straight rode. The publishing person expects to see the fancy restaurant at such and such a point. They expect to see a particular road sign at such and such a point. They expect to see a lake at such and such a point. There better be no curves. No surprises. No rises in the road, and no dips.
Let me give you an example of such a work. We could do this with just about all of it. But as I am going to be doing some entries on here about The Sun, and specifically Sy Safransky, The Sun's editor and a man of such pronounced bigotry that you will do a double and triple take when you read what I write, let's look at this story called "Sticks and Stones" by Erin Almond.
What Sy Safransky would want you to believe is that that is better than anything I have ever written. Does he think this? No. Does anyone? No. Nothing is more laughable, and nothing more false. There's not a more absurd claim that anyone could try to make. It's impossible to make it. Sy Safransky is a bigot, and he's also warped. He's crazy. We'll get into that later. But do you see how flat this story? Do you see how predictable it is? Do you see how anyone could do it? How there's nothing compelling in the language? In the action itself? How there are no emotional stakes? No humor? You see everything coming. You care about none of it. Do you see how it reads like something anyone could write in a Creative Writing 101 class? Do you see how it's soulless? Arid? Dead? Do you see how it's that kind of trip on the flat road I was talking about above, sans any dips, any rises? Do you see how it cannot make anyone feel anything at all? Do you see how even the title is a mindless cliche? For that, this person was paid thousands of dollars in what these people will tell you is one of the "best" outlets. Whereas Safransky, a bigot, and a broken person, who is warped, has discriminated against me for no less than--you ready for this?--twenty-five years.
It's like a building inspector. What's a building inspector do? They go into the house, and they have a checklist of how things are supposed to be. They take their readings, their measurements, and if they correspond with what's on the list, you're good to go. That is how most people in publishing read.
When they see anything new; anything fresh; anything roaring with life; anything true; anything real; anything surprising; anything that they couldn't see coming; anything inventive; anything that is not on their checklist of basic, vanilla expectations; this is what happens: They are totally lost. These people are usually deeply mentally ill. They're crazy. That's why they're here. That's why they've made this subculture for themselves, which is set apart from the world, despite everyone knowing what books are as such a basic thing. That's partially why they've killed off reading. When people don't care about something, they don't look into it. That thing, whatever it is, can proceed unchecked. It's not supervised. No one is invested in it, besides the people in that actual thing--that subculture. Most publishing people don't care about reading at all. Or literature. That's the last thing they truly care about. They care about--insofar as they care about anything--that they're a member of this community. Crazy people don't understand reality. The best writing--and it can be sci-fi, or have talking animals, whatever--shows us reality in a way that we've never been able to see it before, no matter how limpid our thinking. It shows us the meaning behind the veil of mystery of that which makes human life most essentially human life.
Publishing people can't handle that. You give them the clearest work, of the greatest genius, that millions of people could love, and that publishing person likely won't understand it at all. Or very little. It's so far afield from all they know--this toxic air they breathe. They'll be like someone in a forest on a moonless night, with a pen light. They won't know where they're going, what to do. They'll freak. Real life also triggers their myriad breakdowns, and their constant need to retreat from reality.
Let's say you invented the orange. Awesome fruit. Brand new! And you had the orangest orange ever. An orange of immense appeal. A historical fruit! And you walked across the street with your orange to a publishing person, knocked on their door, and offered it to them. Do you know what the publishing person would do? (Well, if you weren't the right color and gender and knew the right people, they wouldn't answer the door anyway, but let's leave that aside for the sake of this discussion.) They'd think you were holding a purple cube. Because it would be utterly foreign to them. They wouldn't get it. All of their deficiencies, their fears, their anxieties, would stop them from getting it. Now, they don't get anything else, either, but they do get that checklist. They get, certainly, all of those first factors--community, being like them, going to Yale, being a person of color, not being a straight white male under the age of sixty--and they get seeing the boxes checked off when they read.
As usual, the work does the work here. Because there is no one out of the many people who are going to see this entry, who are going to think that that story, "Sticks and Stones," in The Sun, is awesome. Not one person is truly going to think that. Because it's exactly what I said it was, and it is printed there for exactly the reasons detailed here. That is the industry, and that is how most of the people in it read--for lack of a better term--when they even do.