Last week, the professional review website Kirkus Reviews came under public fire after removing a positive review of “American Heart” by Laura Moriarty. They were pressured by an online mob of hate-reviewers who deemed the unreleased book problematic due to cultural appropriation, a politically correct code-term meaning a white person writing about any other race or culture. The book is about a young American who through friendship with a Muslim young woman learns to oppose U.S. government internment camps for Muslims.
Kirkus stated: “Kirkus’ diversity collections go beyond grouping by race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or dis/ability to consider the desired reading ‘experience.’ This consideration of experience—categorized as learning, cultural identification, or inclusion—is integral to the effectiveness of Kirkus Collections’ recommendations, as it addresses the demand for contextual information around diversity content.”
This means the author’s identity is more important than the content he or she produces. By all accounts, including Kirkus’s own original review, Moriarty’s work was about the dangers of internment camps and racial discrimination. It was inclusive and pro-acceptance, tolerance and diversity, everything a far-left ideologue in theory champions. Yet even that isn’t enough in the world of 2017 outrage hysteria. This is the end result of political correctness, and is the most recent chilling example of censorship due to identity politics.
Moriarty isn’t alone. The publishing industry is riddled with discriminatory practices against authors who identify as white, male, Christian, or conservative. However, like other entertainment media that place identity politics over good, entertaining stories, sales have decreased considerably over the last decade. The trend continued into last year, with book sales down 6.7 percent year over year, as reported by publishers.org.
As we’ve seen in Hollywood, television, and comics, audiences have been tuning out of the traditional platforms and seeking independent entertainment. Many of these trends begin in the science fiction and young adult markets, genres that purport to be forward-thinking and youth-oriented, which has come to mean delving into extreme left-wing politics.
As Goes Science Fiction, So Goes All Publishing
A large part of the issue in fiction publishing is a propensity for far-left politics to override other considerations. Science fiction has been at the forefront of the trends, with its oligopoly of publishers demanding forced diversity from authors’ identities for more than a decade. Sci-fi publishing’s internal political problems recently came to a head with the Hugo Awards, an honor once revered by readers as the Oscars are for film audiences. In the last several years, however, it has become little more than an outlet for social justice virtue signaling.
The awards first came to the mainstream public’s attention as a political propaganda arm in 2014, when the Hugo voters nominated a short story by the title “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love,” which didn’t offer much of a story, but a philosophical opining on turning a lover into a T-Rex. It was hailed by critics for raising awareness of LGBT issues, despite its lack of a cohesive story structure. This, among other political signaling, caused uproar among authors on the center-right to form a slate to attempt to bring fun fiction back to consideration and take politics out of the awards. As a result, the leftist publishing elite became incensed at sharing the award with non-ideologues.
Over the next two years, a culture battle of epic proportions commenced, with extreme-leftist writers using their platforms and influence to publish op-eds in friendly media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times to tarnish more conservative authors.
“It was surreal. Honestly, it was. Almost nobody attacking [us] as racist or sexist bothered to contact me. It was a complete fabrication, made with zero fact-checking,” said Brad Torgersen, an award-winning and award-nominated author involved in the Hugo Awards battle. “[It] was repeated and regurgitated eagerly by tabloid Internet media. There was no journalism in any of it. It was straight up slander.”
Over the next few years, those in charge changed the rules of awards nominations, resulting in a debacle in 2017 where only women received awards, most of whom had politically driven author platforms. The attempts at forced diversity resulted in winners with monolithic identities and politics, ostracizing a large portion of the author and reader community.
Big Publishing Stifles Free Speech
Beyond the Hugo Awards, social justice political narratives are overriding business sense in the industry. Overall sales have declined, but independent releases have been grabbing greater market share. According to authorearnings.com, the number of independent authors debuting in the past decade who earn more than $25,000 per year outnumber those debuting from traditional publishing by a factor of more than 3:1.
In addition, market share for independent authors has skyrocketed over the last two years from just over 30 percent to nearly half the market. It comes from an ease of being able to self-publish through Amazon, but also reflects Big Publishing’s relentless attempts to propagandize their politics to readers instead of releasing the best products.
There are numerous examples of authors who have had trouble with Big Publishing, but few have had it as bad as Nick Cole. Editors at Harper Collins told him he couldn’t publish a section of his book in which artificial intelligence determined humanity was evil because they eradicated their young through abortion. It was the driving motivator for the villains in the book, and couldn’t be changed without sacrificing the plot.
The editors told him he had to rewrite the book, or they would terminate his contract. Cole held firm, and they did pull his contract. He released his book “CNTRL-ALT Revolt” through alternative publisher Castalia House. It was a smash hit and went on to win the Dragon Award in 2016.
Cole has found writing outside the political constraints of big publishing to be much more creatively freeing. With co-author Jason Anspach, he recently launched a series he claims would never have been picked up by big publishing giants, also to enormous success. His Galaxy’s Edge series has made him an Amazon bestseller, with several of the books reaching top 100 in sales for all of Amazon’s products. He’s shown it’s possible to be a successful writer while not having to bow to the political elites who control mainstream publishing.
Propagandizing to Young Adult Readers
Science fiction isn’t the only increasingly extreme book climate. Publishers and critics of young adult (YA) fiction are also creating a toxic environment due to their extreme politics. The market is flooded with books promoting gay, lesbian, and transgendered characters to children.
Professional literary agent Steve Laube has been in the industry for 36 years. While he says the industry has always been geared toward women as readers, since a small percentage of the male population buys and reads books, the industry has also changed in recent years.
“The general market is aggressively pursuing LGBTQ stories for their YA books,” Laube said. “It feels like a prime importance of their publishing strategy.”
If it were simply a trend in adult books, it would be disconcerting enough, but pushing sexualized concepts on young readers is a trend, like in many other entertainment industries, that make it impossible for families to share good content with their children. It turns off mainstream audiences from reading while attempting to appeal to a niche demographic.
No Matter What They Write, Authors Can’t Win
In May, author Laurie Forest released the first book in her YA epic fantasy series, “The Black Witch.” Forest, a liberal from Vermont, set out to write a story about how prejudice against one’s neighbor can reverberate through a society for generations. The whole story is an allegory warning readers not to simply judge a person by his or her race or religion. “The Black Witch” firmly states we should be kind to one another as humans. It’s a simple and innocuous message.
Before the book was even released, however, Forest found herself having to combat more than a thousand negative reviews on the website Goodreads.com, and hundreds more on Amazon. Since the book was not yet released, they clearly came from fake readers. The fake reviews stemmed from fans of a book blogger who had received an advance copy and goes by the online moniker of Bookstore Babe.
She wrote an 8,000-word rant about “The Black Witch,” calling the book “the most dangerous, offensive book I’ve ever read. It’s racist, ableist, homophobic and is written with no marginalized people in mind.” Her reasoning? The story has a main character who is redeemed once she realizes her prejudices are bad. Even though Forest wrote an excellent, heartwarming story about inclusiveness, it wasn’t acceptable to the online left-wing outrage community.
Forest’s book isn’t alone in this drive-by treatment. A new YA book each week seems to be targeted on Goodreads for what politically correct censors call “problematic content.” Jodi Meadows recently released the book “Before She Ignights.” She was harassed by an online mob because she’s a white person whose book featured a black girl on the cover.
Censorship Is The New Normal
The selective outrage from reviewers and bloggers has given rise to a new form of censorship for authors. Big publishers are hiring “sensitivity readers.” The concept is to have people of specific identities comb through the books for any identity politics-related issues and point out what they find offensive, so an author can remove the content. Author Justina Ireland popularized sensitivity readers by creating a database listing of readers to provide those services, sortable by race, sex, sexual orientation, and disabilities.
Publishers claim this is to help authors reach their target audience, but this really makes certain topics off-limits for authors depending on their identity. Sensitivity readers and book bloggers are primed to attack any author who writes about minority groups without being a member of that group. Author K. Tempest Bradford wrote an article on NPR admonishing authors, calling cultural appropriation “indefensible,” and stating: “when artists appropriate, they can profit from what they take, while the oppressed group gets nothing.”
The point of art is not to be a charitable donation to what the cultural elites define as oppressed groups, but simply to create art for its own sake. An artist’s identity shouldn’t hamper what he or she can write, paint, draw, or sing about. It’s about communicating a human experience and creating an emotional response for the audience. When certain topics can’t be discussed or even touched, the works created don’t end up diverse at all, but monolithic. There is no emotion for readers when all books look and feel the same, which is the problem with the entire over-zealous politically correct publishing industry.
If publishing houses want to see their trends turn positive, they need to look at what independent authors are doing to gain market share. Thinking outside the box and creating something different from what others are doing in the field is what defines great literary works, not repeating the same thing because it’s the only safe space allowed for an author to write.
The times are changing as independent works and new platforms take hold. If the publishing industry doesn’t drop their politically correct charade, they’ll find themselves going the way of the dinosaur.
Correction: Nick Cole’s publisher who rejected his abortion storyline was incorrectly identified in the first version of this article.