Publishing actively targets people based upon their skin color, sexuality, pronouns, and typically nothing else. Not on the writing. Not on quality. Writing is often not even secondary. Writing is often irrelevant, except insofar as it is preferred to suck, bore, and match other work that sucks and bores.
The white male writers being published are usually boring dinosaurs who have repeated themselves now for forty years, whose "prime" was the 1970s, or the right kind of hipster ironic type with no talent who knows the right people, took a certain academic path, and whose writing is detached and more like a dry exercise in Creative Writing 101 rather than an opportunity to have an actual life experience. Or anything that anyone has ever actually enjoyed.
Gun to the head, soul on the line, or the fate of one's family hanging in the balance, and the truth has to be said, or else bang goes the gun, damned is the soul, dead is the family, and no one is going to answer that they loved a Justin Taylor work.
(Satan, if you're listening: if I'm wrong, cook my soul forevermore in hell. Cook it for all eternity if I'm wrong. Because I know I'm not.)
Someone can say, "For a long time, white men had the run of it!"
I wasn't here. I'm a better writer than every last one of these people. But I'm not the right anything when it comes to skin color, sexuality, pronouns. Lack of originality. Lack of productivity. Lack of expertise. The things that are preferred.
What I would say is that when those white male dinosaurs were having their run of it, that was a status quo that did not work, which was an end result of monolithic laziness. Complacency. People thinking that John Cheever didn't suck at writing when he did. It was the same exact predictable thing every single time. But it wasn't targeting. No one was saying, "Get me a white male!"
But now, what you are normally dealing with is, "Get me a person of color!" "Get me someone whose pronouns are they/them!" "Get me someone genderfluid!" "Get me a queer person!" That's whose fiction will go into The Atlantic. That will be the primary reason. Women will also be targeted, because of #MeToo, and much preferred over straight white males, but not to quite the same degree of other groups.
Publishers are targeting those people. They are looking first--and often last--at those things. For those things. That's a prime criteria. The people who are getting those book deals are being objectified. They don't care. People can lie to themselves about anything. This is actual racism. This is actual sexism. And publishing in this century is the ultimate antithesis, in history, of a meritocracy. The prime value many people have to people in publishing is their sexual orientation and their skin color. The work is the last thing that matters. These other factors count for so much more.
The Atlantic accepted fiction of mine. Ann Hulbert then unaccepted it, because she was going to publish what editor Scott Stossel told me was, in her words, "A hot shit female Argentinian writer" instead. That was the criteria. When I said something--after a terse half-dozen word email from Hulbert--Hulbert banned me. I wasn't impolite. I didn't swear. I didn't show anger. But they just want to be able to do whatever they want to you, no matter how vile, no matter how little it has to do with what is right, what is good, what is better. And if you say anything, and you're not the kind of person they want you to be, you are done. They lock you out. And they will often tell other people to hate you. And those people will. Because that's the kind of person you're normally dealing with in publishing. That's what I've dealt with every day for twenty-five years.
The two things that good work creates in the current publishing system is envy and an absence of opportunity, because good work, by definition, is original, and the publishing system wants nothing original. It wants a "kind" of stock writing--it doesn't even really care how repetitive and barren that writing is, how cliched--so long as the person doing it has the right surface requirements. Many publishers and editors are writers. What they also want is to support people like themselves. There is no greatness here. No genius. Greatness is a threat. Greatness impacts their self-esteem because it further highlights to them how talentless they are. So does productivity. Range. Expertise. Being able to do what someone else can't.
That's a threat. A publishing person is not going to advance someone who makes them feel this way. There are very few secure people in this industry. Only a secure person of vision can get behind anything of quality. It becomes worse if it is by a white male. It becomes worse again if that white male can do in a day what they can't do in a lifetime. It becomes worse again if that white male makes it look easy.
The situation then becomes worse if the publishing people have created a network of hate across their entire industry against that person. If they have created a national embargo as an attempt to suppress what that person does. And they still keep doing what they do. They still keep going on. They still keep showing up. They still keep creating. Better. More. Better than anyone, more than anyone. They don't die. They don't go away. And that publishing person knows that that other person knows how dirty they are doing them. How corrupt they are. How envious they are. The publishing person knows, that author knows, and the publishing person knows that author knows, knows that it is true, and that makes that publishing person hate that author even more. And want--if it's even possible--less to do with him.
I don't think these people could hate somebody more than they hate that person after all of that has happened. Including a murderer. A rapist. A child molester. Someone who has actually done evil to them. They will hate the person with these virtues more. Because of how that person makes them feel. Eats them up inside. When that person of greatness comes along, there is no way, when they have the power, that they're going to advance that person.
You are usually dead from the cover letter, at some ridiculous literary journal that doesn't pay, that no one reads. You write, "this is who I am, these are some things from the last two weeks that have come out," and that person hates you. They don't have those things. They're not going to. It would be one thing if they thought you were like them, but they know that is not true. No chance. None. You have a better chance of flapping your arms and flying out to Cape Cod later today than you have of that person even considering putting in your short story that is better than anything else they have, from writers who are going nowhere in this world that their cronyism can't take them. And normally, that's just into a place like that lit mag, every now and again.
Should we start a series on here of naming names? Want to talk about Carolyn Kuebler of New England Review? Because I have a lot of material. Things that have been said. Written to me. Said to me. Knowledge of how things went in. Should we do some comparisons where up goes the text of one story, vs. the text of another, with the former being something you're ninth grader could do?
These are shallow people. Petty people. Toxic people. Who live on the surface. Who create on the surface. If that. Who lie constantly. Who lie constantly to themselves. And they are only going to look to other surfaces, and people who cause them the least amount of self-doubt. That's who they want. Not the best writer. Not the writer with the most to offer. Not the greatest chance at profit. They don't even want someone who can change the world. Not even a writer who isn't awful. Everything is perfunctory. Nothing is done for merit. For purpose. With vision.
That is an industry that can contribute nothing of real value to the world. That is an industry that needs to change completely. Or simply come down.