The Occam’s Razor Theory of Literary Rejection

Nick Mamatas, who apparently has some preternatural sense when it comes to finding interesting characters online, points us to an aspiring writer who is apparently having difficulty selling his work to publishers, and has come up with a theory to explain his lack of success: There’s a conspiracy in publishing against men — fomented, of course, by women.

The statistics suggest that women purchase 60% to 70% of the books. They read more than men. But why? Are men less literate? Or is it that they are ill-served by the book market because it is dominated—dare I say, controlled?—by women. One look at any list of literary agents will confirm my assertion. There are certainly men among the ranks of agents, but it seems that too little fiction is written that is appealing to men… I guess women prefer not to read about them. Or am I mistaken and is it the feminization of the book business that prevents everyone from reading about them in greater quantity?

Yes, it certainly is difficult to find fiction written by men, and appealing to men.

This conspiracy against men is apparently aided and abetted by the author’s belief, expressed in his comment section, that the publishing industry doesn’t actually make money, nor apparently is intended to. Leaving aside the fact that this is an assertion which I suspect will come rather as a surprise to most of the editors and publishers I know, I’m not entirely sure I’m following the logic there. Publishing is controlled by women, and therefore it won’t publish work for men, and that’s why it doesn’t make money? Because it’s not supposed to make money, publishing is controlled by women, who won’t publish work for men? The dark feminist conspiracy won’t let men publish their work unless they check their testicles at the door, and enter the room bearing fruity drinks and amusing coupons for foot rubs? Something along those lines. It’s kind of confusing to me.

This fellow’s argument for a female publishing conspiracy against men is founded on an ignorance of the publishing industry and a clutch of logical fallacies, so it’s not terribly surprising that every published author who has come across it seems to get a giggle out of it; it’s almost charming how clueless it is. But the argument does serve to illustrate a point, which we might as well call the Occam’s Razor Theory of Literary Rejection, which is: All things being equal, the simplest reason that your work has been rejected is usually the correct one.

For example, let’s say I am an unpublished male writer whose work is continually rejected by publishers. Which of these two reasons is more likely?

1. There is a vast and grand conspiracy within the publishing industry, engineered by women, to keep men from being published;

2. My work isn’t worth being published.

The vast and grand conspiracy, of course, is the more emotionally satisfying answer; it removes the blame for my lack of publication from me and sets it on someone else, and not just someone else, an entire phalanx of clandestine queen bees, working subtly and stealthily to turn literature into a redoubt of femininity, leaving no room for the rough and ready prose of men such as myself. The problem with positing such a conspiracy is that it quickly runs into reality: Men are published all the time, and some rather successfully, writing books that are designed to appeal generally or even wholly to other men. And they’re even published by women: Someone should introduce this fellow to Toni Weisskopf, who was the executive editor and is now the publisher of Baen Books, perhaps the single largest stockpile of testosterone in all of genre publishing.

And while we’re talking about genre publishing, let’s note that of this last year’s Campbell nominees, half of them were male, including one guy who wrote military science fiction, the most “manly” of the SF genres; he won the award, too. All the nominees for the Hugo Best Novel award were also men. The winner of this year’s Nebula award was also a guy. So was the winner of the other Campbell award, come to think of it. So, all the major awards for novels in science fiction and fantasy this year were won by men, save the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, which hasn’t been awarded yet. However, inasmuch as five of the six nominees for that award are men, I suspect there’s a better-than-even chance it’s going to a guy, too (go, Hal!).

Basically, if there’s a cabal of women in publishing trying to stifle the presence and success of men in the field, they really really suck at it.

Rather more likely, then, that the problem isn’t the publishing industry, but what I am writing. All things being equal, it’s probably likely that what I’m writing isn’t up to snuff, but even if it is, sometimes even that’s not enough; as Teresa Nielsen Hayden notes in her justifiably famous “Slushkiller” essay, sometimes a writer can do everything right and still not get their work taken. It surely does suck when that happens, but even in that case it is not necessary to construct the existence of a conspiracy to hold down an entire class of people; it’s merely necessary to note that the book is, alas, not right for that particular market at that point in time. The simple explanation is usually the correct one.

Now, there’s no point telling this fellow these things; he’s already determined that his own writing can’t be at fault, so the problem must be elsewhere, and it seems unlikely that any application of logic will dissuade him from that opinion. And, well. Whatever. I hope he has fun with that. However, for the rest of you, it’s worth remembering the Occam’s Razor Theory of Literary Rejection. It’ll keep you out of the tin foil hats, and that’s a good thing.

And more than that, it should give you hope. After all, there’s very little chance that you could defeat a grand cabal designed to keep writers of your sex, race, age, religion or sports team preference out of the publishing world. They are many, and you are few; their organization is just too damn big, like the Vatican or Mary Kay. But you can work on your writing. Indeed, compared to battling a shadowy conspiracy, improving your writing is a piece of cake. So, you know. Get to it.

60 thoughts on “The Occam’s Razor Theory of Literary Rejection

  1. 1. A quick look at the bookshelf reveals probably a 50-50 split between male and female authors.

    2. Don’t know who’s viewpoint this backs up, but I don’t have the least bit of a problem with “women in combat” since I’m now convinced they can mostly all kick my ass.

    3. conspiracies that involve more than one person are quickly public information.

    4. Women who I don’t know are keeping me from being published by, ya’know, making me not finish my manuscript.

    DAMN YOU KRISSY!!!!!!

  2. I’ve already said all I want to about the original blog post in my own blog. What’s disturbed me the most since then is the number of otherwise sensible people who’ve made comments amounting to “actually, this makes sense.” Not in the sense that there’s a grand conspiracy against men, thank God, but there seem to be plenty of people willing to believe it’s easier to get published as a woman or if you write for women.

    People — wake up. The vast “takeover” of fiction by girly books does not exist. Most of the major awards in sff are still going to men, or at best to men and women equally. There are still more male authors than female ones. A quick eye run over the Locus “Forthcoming Books” list for this month reveals ten books with female authors and twenty-four with male. This week’s NYT bestseller lists has four female authors and eleven male ones. We’re not even at par yet, so it’s a bit early to go wetting your pants over the female invasion.

    There’s no doubt that more and more books are being put out with a female audience in mind, or at least given consideration by the writer. But if the idea of books being written for someone besides you is so scary, well, you may have worse problems than not getting published.

  3. a). Good post.
    b). I’m not always good about colloquialisms, but I was under the impression that a Queen bee is someone who demands the attention of the men, and eats her sister-siblings when they come into range.
    c). Someone should suggest that he should experiment with his conspiracy theory and submit his books under a woman’s name. Because theories are meant to be proven.

  4. Michelle Sagara:

    “I’m not always good about colloquialisms, but I was under the impression that a Queen bee is someone who demands the attention of the men, and eats her sister-siblings when they come into range.”

    Interesting. I wasn’t aware of the “attention from men” aspect, but the idea of a bunch of very powerful women protecting their own little publishing hive works tolerably well. Anyway, in this metaphor men aren’t drone bees, they’re little boys whacking at the hives with sticks.

  5. With regard to this link, I can’t say I know anything about the author or series, but the description doesn’t sound especially oriented towards men, although perhaps the fact that the main character is male is orientation enough.

    Anyhow, the interesting thing to me was that of the Amazon “Listmania” and “So you’d like to” entries, there were 6 in total, comprising of 2 women appearing twice, 1 woman appearing once, and one man, going by names.

    Also, while guys seems to be dominating the Skiffy Awards this year, and Kat above has noted their presence in the Locus forthcoming books section, only the NYT bestseller list seems like an overall “fiction” category. Perhaps the “fiction” market in general is more female oriented than the current speculative fiction market is. From glancing through the sample chapter, this guy isn’t positioning his work to be eligable for a Hugo. Then again, from the sample chapter it appears he’s positioning it for the literary equivilent of a Golden Razzie; the only think that keeps it from Bulwer-Lytton contendency is no one sentence is as bad as the ones that win that contest, it’s the preponderance of them. Or maybe I didn’t read closely enough.

    In any event, I will say that it’s not Occam’s Razor that justifies the reasoning that this fellow’s work isn’t selling because it sucks. It’s the plain and simple FACT that it sucks which justifies that reasoning.

    Finally, I have my personal opinions on the economics of the publishing industry, but those have absolutely nothing to do with targeting men or women or anything like that are much more with the “death of the midlist” I keep hearing about and the utter failure of the book industry to adopt portable electronic technology in any way resembling the ways the music or video ones have.

  6. Andrew:

    Carl Hiaasen is an author whose body of work definitely skews toward the guy end of the spectrum. Also, I can’t wait to get the book in question, because I’m a big ol’ Hiaasen fan.

  7. To play devil’s advocate, the original author’s complaint was emphatically not that men aren’t being published – it was that the books which are published are geared towards women. Therefore, examinations of who exactly is authoring these books is, well, missing the point.

    Also, looking at SFF for a contradiction of his point is a little unfair, in my opinion. SFF presumably has more masculine appeal than not, but it is a smallish segment of the fiction industry. (as I understand it)

    In any case, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with the guy so strongly – if we take as true that the majority of book readers are female, then it only makes sense that books written for females will get published in higher proportion than those for men. That is, if such a distinction even makes any real sense.

  8. Brandon:

    “To play devil’s advocate, the original author’s complaint was emphatically not that men aren’t being published – it was that the books which are published are geared towards women. Therefore, examinations of who exactly is authoring these books is, well, missing the point.”

    Not really. His opening paragraph rather says that Louis L’Amour would probably not be published “Because he is (was) a man. And he wrote books that men liked to read.” So he was addressing both. And as it happens, in my entry here I address both as well.

    “Also, looking at SFF for a contradiction of his point is a little unfair, in my opinion.”

    Why? The author himself declares his ebooks for readers of “genre fiction,” so discussing one of those genres seems germane to me. Also, of course, in his entry, the fellow wishes to suggest that all of published is afflicted with a female curse, or at the very least he doesn’t break it out. Suggesting that SFF is unusually male oriented (an assertion, incidentally, to which I don’t agree, especially in regard to fantasy) is precisely germane, because if it’s true it counters his general statement.

    “if we take as true that the majority of book readers are female, then it only makes sense that books written for females will get published in higher proportion than those for men.”

    Not necessarily; publishers might prefer books that appeal to men and women over books that appeal only to women (or for that matter, only to men).

  9. Apologies for being on a PDA, so can’t fetch the URL, but I spent some time today reading about another newbie author whose work was “unprofessionally” rejected by an editor who gave up after a couple of pages. How, this guy wailed, could judgment be passed without finding out what happened? After all, this guy uses proper written English and the manuscript was professionally formatted — there was NO possibility of typos or errors.

    *Smacks self on forehead* That’s the problem with my writing. Either I didn’t professionally format my standard manuscript format enough, or I had too many juvenile errors, or the editor didn’t take the proper time to read my story. (!!)

    No one could convince this guy he needed to write a compelling opening, because you see this was an important story that needed to be told, which the editor missed because he didn’t read it to the end. Oh, and the writer’s time was too valuable to check out an issue of the market in question. It met the guidelines, therefore it should’ve been bought.

    My head is still spinning regarding these two writers and their strange views on how their publishing world works. G’night!

    Dr. Phil

  10. John:

    His opening paragraph rather says that Louis L’Amour would probably not be published “Because he is (was) a man. And he wrote books that men liked to read.” So he was addressing both.

    The author was rather confused about his actual point. But that’s okay, I’m sure clarity in writing will never be useful for him.

    In any case, I’m pretty sure he meant what I said. And while I appreciate that you showed some authors who do write “for men”, that doesn’t disprove the theory that such writings may be harder to publish.

    Suggesting that SFF is unusually male oriented (an assertion, incidentally, to which I don’t agree, especially in regard to fantasy) is precisely germane, because if it’s true it counters his general statement.

    I fail to see how – if (just to throw random numbers out from nowhere) the SFF market is 10% of the total market, but 90% male oriented, while the rest of the market is 90% female oriented, the total market is clearly female oriented. It’s a weighted average thing.

    I think that this argument, poorly phrased and whiny as it is, could lead to an interesting debate – assuming that books fall somewhere on a spectrum where one end is femininity and one end is masculinity, are books on the feminine side more likely to be published on the whole? That’s the point I was trying to make in the original comment.

  11. This particular conspiracy theory, like most I see these days, is pretty short-sighted.

    It reminded me of an instance during my internship at Tor, however. We received the cover for Temple of the Winds, and it looked great. There was a picture of the main character Richard Rahl on the cover in front of the impressive fortress-like structure.

    One of the departments (I think it was Sales, but I am not sure…anyway someone higher on the chain) said we couldn’t go with it. It had to be redone. Why?

    The cover had to have a female on it too. They cited some percentage of Fantasy readers being female. So my boss at the time had me send a description of a Mord Sith to the artist. And Goodkind rewrote that scene to include her.

    The cover was even better, imo. Not exactly a grand conspiracy, but these things do happen.

  12. if we take as true that the majority of book readers are female, then it only makes sense that books written for females will get published in higher proportion than those for men. That is, if such a distinction even makes any real sense.

    It used to be a rule in children’s books that girls would read about boys but boys wouldn’t read about girls (this is not very true any more, for a couple of reasons: the books with girls in them include more adventure books than they used to, and the culture has just changed in general: I suspect it was never as true as people made out, though). I think it’s probably still the case that there are somewhat more women who read boy-genre books than vice versa. So the women’s market is easier to capture, I think. For one thing, when it comes to the romance readers — there are women out there who will read a new, unique book a day, every day, all year, or even more. How many thriller and military sf readers are there who could say that?

    Did you notice that what I just wrote could support either position? I’m not sorry about it, either. Because I think genre fiction is responding to factors which are related to gender but not limited by gender.

    Another related thing. Some teachers had themselves observed in the classroom, for how much attention they paid the girls and the boys. They told the observers what they thought they were doing, and then the observers told them what they were really doing. These were teachers who were committed to equality and fairness, and considered themselves to be pretty sensitive.

    What they found out was that teachers responded to the boys more — ignored the girls more — even when they thought that they had been ignoring the boys and responding to the girls at a greater rate. To me, this seems just like this phenomenon here, where people can say they think women are dominating the field when the ratio of authors in a recent list is more than two to one men to women.

  13. Um … I haven’t advanced to the much longed for stage of getting actual rejection letters, but am I alone in parsing “I’ve been criticized by female acquisition editors for having “too much male fantasy” in my books” not so much as “your work, it is too manly for us!”, but more as “It’s normal and healthy and all but we’re not going to pay you to do it in public. Also, sentence fragments do not make you manly like Hemmingway?”

    I mention this only because that excerpt he’s got up makes me want to join the female conspiracy against his writing post haste, and you might be able to tell me where it meets.

    Is there somewhere I can go to be issued my t-shirt and red pencil and prepare to die for the cause? Or do I have to wait for WisCon?

  14. Well, when I receive a rejection letter on one of my stories… I blame my cats.

    The furry little bastards have been conspiring against me for years. (It must be true! They don’t deny it!)

  15. Methinks my Swedish publisher cannot be part of this “conspiracy” — she’s never asked me to “feminize” my SF novels. She’s more partial to Isaac Asimov than emo-ridden vampire fantasy.

    Maybe female editors are not clones with identical views and tastes, but *gasp* individuals…
    (*SARCASM*)

  16. Waaa! They have all the money and they won’t give me any! Waaa!

    And I hate to tell this idiot, but Amish women devour Louis L’Amour books (the Amish read a lot of westerns). These are the things you learn when you talk with librarians (Marian?). Also, comparing an individual book (5000 or 7500 sales) to lifetime sales (225 million)? “Warning, statistical error!” Flush. That’s as far as I made it in his diatribe.

  17. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that Mr. Borelli is saying that women are trying to keep men out. His point is a bit more insidious: he’s saying that because publishing is dominated (so he says, though he offers scant evidence for this) by women, and because they publish things that only women want to read, the publishing industry is losing money.

    In other words, women aren’t evil, they’re incompetent.

    I don’t think there’s a lot of need to get all worked up about conspiracies here, either the Female one to dominate publishing, or the Male one to keep women down. Neither of them are in evidence here. The only thing we have is one guy who (like many, many people before him) can’t get his work published, and who looks for a reason other than himself to blame it on. It’s very human. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the same litany, albeit with different faces. I’ve read that there is a conspiracy against men, women, blacks, whites, Jews, non-Jews. There’s a conspiracy against poets (actually, this one exists. People don’t publish poetry because NOBODY BUYS IT, which is kind of a grand conspiracy of Everyone), sci-fi writers, gay leather romance novelists, writers of left-handed cozies involving rodents… and on it goes.

    It’s very human to blame someone other than yourself. Because, as John so correctly points out, if you acknowledge that there is no conspiracy, the finger, then, points back at you, and there are many people who don’t like that.

    Having read Mr. Borelli’s excerpt, or as much of it as I could stomach, I would say that there is no need for anyone to talk about any sort of conspiracy here. If the excerpt is representative of Mr. Borelli’s work, I’m not at all surprised that he hasn’t been published. To be blunt, it’s awful.

  18. Brandon:

    “In any case, I’m pretty sure he meant what I said.”

    And I’m pretty sure he meant what I think he meant, too. These are the terrors of poor argument.

    “And while I appreciate that you showed some authors who do write ‘for men,’ that doesn’t disprove the theory that such writings may be harder to publish.”

    Well, you have it backward, Brandon. It’s this fellow who has to prove his theory. If he wants to make the argument the publishing is either biased against men or biased against writing appealing to men, then it’s incumbent on him to make a good argument for it, which he hasn’t done. This fellow needs to explain, for example, how all those hard-boiled murder mysteries, techno-thrillers and military SF books, almost all of which are oriented toward a male audience, not to mention all those military history books, football biographies and books by right-wing talking heads in non-fiction, all of which skew male in authorship and readership as well, somehow had a difficult path to publication. There certainly is no lack of reading material by and for men.

    All this fellow has going for him is his sense of persecution and a unsourced stat that suggests that 60% to 70% of books are purchased by women. But this does not mean a purely male readership is not adequately served. For one thing, his stat only suggests that women are purchasing the books; it does not suggest that women are only buying books that appeal to them, i.e., some percentage of that book buying activity may be gifts for men. I’ve certainly gotten enough books from my wife that anecdotally this seems evident. Likewise, the percentage of books sold to women is not equivalent to the percentage of books published each year that are intended primarily for men or women readers.

    Even if we were to grant that 60 to 70 percent of the books published were intended primarily for women (which seems dubious), leaving 30 to 40 percent primarily for the men, that’s still not saying that the male market is either underdeveloped or underserved. In 2004, for example, there were 190,000 hardcover and paperback books published in the United States; 40% of that number is 76,000 books. I’m interested in the argument that suggests an audience with such a huge number of titles available to it annually is somehow underserved, or what sort of conspiracy it is that allows 76k titles for men to slip through its long-nailed figures.

    “I think that this argument, poorly phrased and whiny as it is, could lead to an interesting debate – assuming that books fall somewhere on a spectrum where one end is femininity and one end is masculinity, are books on the feminine side more likely to be published on the whole?”

    A better question — and the one implied by this particular author — is whether if more books are published that generally appeal to women, are they being published at the expense of books that generally appeal to men (and if so is it due to the machinations of a cabal of women agents and editors). This guy appears to think they are (and that there is), but we’ve already established that he really hasn’t the slightest idea what he’s blathering on about.

    Personally speaking and coming from a rather more informed place on the matter than this fellow, I suspect that the books appealing more generally to either sex are put into the publishing pipeline roughly in proportion to the market for each.

  19. It’s all Operah’s fault she and that estrogen laden book club of hers. I say men need an equal voice. I submit for your consideration my nomination of John Scalzi as the Anti-Opera (not to be confused with Auntie Opera). Who will second? Chang? Now we need a name…a motto…and badges…yes shiny badges.

  20. John, the mutual cancellation feature only activates on contact. While the particles in general will seek each other out (a reason you were on the show perhaps), only when they finally connect is the energy released and the nullification happens. So the question would be, did you actually touch The Oprah? :)

  21. AH-HA!

    Let’s see… motto, motto? Hmmm.

    Avast ye curvy, beautiful, soft… uh, no.

    We are Manly Publishing Men! Hmm, doesn’t have that bite and way to close to “We Are Men in Tights.”

    Fragile X Press? No, no, no.

    “Men, men, men. It’s a ship all filled with men. It’s HMS not PMS. A ship all filled with men.”

    Sigh, okay, I’m not good with mottos. Shiny badges? We don’t need no stinking badges.

  22. Brandon sez:

    To play devil’s advocate, the original author’s complaint was emphatically not that men aren’t being published – it was that the books which are published are geared towards women. Therefore, examinations of who exactly is authoring these books is, well, missing the point.

    Well, the internet was boring this a.m., so I went and read the writeups for all the stuff on the NYT bestseller list. I would categorize eight as “male-oriented” (and, incidentally, no less than 3 are about CIA agents. What’s up with this?) and five as “female-oriented”. The leftover is a book about a rich lawyer ripped off and abandoned by his vixen of a wife, which really could go either way.

    Of course, this is a pretty useless statistic. There are plenty of women who enjoy reading such gritty, male-oriented fare as CIA agent thrillers and cop-vs.-serial-killer mysteries (my grandmother, for one.) And there’s plenty of men who think Janet Evanovich is damned funny. But I am still not seeing a screaming lack of books for men here.

    Now, what the original poster wrote was a book that left no room for the female viewpoint — the women, at least as far as the first chapter, were oversexed caricatures. And yes, with the greater number of women reading books, there is less tolerance for this than in the good ol’ days of Robert E. Howard and Ian Fleming. Publishers these days do expect that you treat half the human race as actual people, which I admit may be a crimp in some people’s writing styles. Even more annoyingly, many men also enjoy reading about women who aren’t interchangeable with blow-up dolls, crimping certain artistic spirits even further.

    It’s just hard for me to see this as a bad thing.

  23. Now, what the original poster wrote was a book that left no room for the female viewpoint

    I’ll say what John said in the original post: apply Occam’s Razor. There is no need to look beyond the quality of the writing. Men, women, phases of the moon, none of it matters because even if the patriarchy were in full flower and there were troops of hairy Brut-splashed gender-troopers going around oppressing women in the streets, this guy’s book wouldn’t be published because the writing is bad. Awful. Juvenile and hackneyed and stilted and all around bad.

    The gender angle is a gigantic red herring. I started reading the first chapter of FATA!, and I gave up when I realized that I’d rather gouge my eyes out with dirty teaspoons than read another word.

  24. Years ago, I read an APA survey about book buying. The data was taken in 1999 (??? I think), and the survey published in 2000/01. And yes, in their sample, women bought more than 75% of the books.

    Of course, they went on to explain – as John did above – that they bought books for their friends, their children, their spouses, etc. in addition to those they bought for themselves.

    Does this qualify me for a shiny badge?

  25. John wrote: “the fellow wishes to suggest that all of published is afflicted with a female curse…”

    This explains why publishing gets bloated, cranky and craves chocolate once a month.

  26. Not to distract the conversation, but as I got bleary eyed from reading some of these discussions, I thought I’d drop this link to SFReader Forums under Gripes! for the other newbie rejection complaint I mentioned somewhat above:

    http://forum.sfreader.com/default~f~9~m~18027.html

    This goes on for 151 messages over 7 screens — and eventualy goes far afield. And it’s from July. But I read things like this post or that forum, and read the slush letters which Gordon Van Gelder brought to the 2004 Clarion workshop, and marvel at the tenacity of editors. (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  27. The notion that women rule the world is supposed to come as a shock?

    (“Misogyny!” screams The Blogosphere Echo Chamber.)

    Fine, fine. While men and women differ in many key areas, let us agree that both genders are equally capable of becoming assholes.

  28. The odds that you are going to make it as a writer, artist or musician are low anyway, so just write to please your muse. Sad truth is that with or without the conspiracies, the odds that he would make a good living off of writing are low. He’d be better off honing his skills as you said and working on some sort of subscription or tipjar thing on his website.

    Of course… if he’s using a LJ, chances are he’s too cheap to learn how to make his own site with those features…

  29. Good grief, haven’t any of you female-enslaved fools directed the poor guy to Publish America, which is probably the last island of freedom in the publishing world *not* in thrall to the sinister Protocols of the Elders of Estrogen?

  30. Heh. A (male) friend of mine pitched two books to an editor at Worldcon, and she said, more or less, “Hm, I’m not interested in the first one, and I would be interested in seeing the second one if you were a woman.” (He then pitched them to another editor, and she thought one sounded hilarious and asked him to send it in.)

    None of us assumed conspiracy–we just joked about sex change operations the rest of the weekend. The particular book happens to be from a female point of view with a setting and concept that sound like they would appeal more to female readers. The characterization would be harder to pull off convincingly for a male writer, and it would likely be more marketable to women with a woman’s name on the cover of the book.

    How many men write romance novels for today’s market without using a female pseudonym? No, I don’t think there’s any conspiracy, and lots of female editors buy books from male writers and vice versa. But there are gender-based considerations which are legitimate factors in the market for certain kinds of books.

  31. Dean sez:

    I’ll say what John said in the original post: apply Occam’s Razor. There is no need to look beyond the quality of the writing…. The gender angle is a gigantic red herring.

    But… but it’s such a *fun* waste of time to be driven into frothing-mouth rants over the ravings of idiots! And they’re so endearingly incompetent, how can you miss? It’s like playing chess against yourself: you always win.

    Of course, you also always loose….

  32. I went and read a portion of the poor fellows ‘work’, and it became unfortunately clear why nobody is buying his work. I did not even want to read it for free.

  33. If this guy wrote a book as a satire of Dan Brown, using his conspiracy of women in publishing, he might actually find a publisher. It is funny and whether intended as such or not it would make a fun read in novel form…that is, IF he can write like Dan Brown…a task most girl-hating fifth grade boys are not up to.

  34. I used to work as an editor. When the male editor quit at my company, we spent weeks and weeks hoping a man would apply so we could have a male perspective on the by-men-for-men books we handled. In the end we hired a woman, because no man did.

    Our friend Borelli says he’s been:
    ‘criticized by female acquisition editors for having “too much male fantasy” in my books. Translation: men having sex with women from the man’s point of view.’
    I think that quote demonstrates two ways at once why he doesn’t understand women. To begin with, his chapter has WAY too much ‘male fantasy’, because it’s full of wish-fulfilment in which women act in implausible ways – they keep pressing ‘voluptuous bodies’ against him in, y’know, an attempt to be nice. The fact that he doesn’t realise this is silly is one problem. But it also shows a lack of understanding of female forms of courtesy. When a woman tells you there’s too much ‘male fantasy’ in your book, it’s a polite way of saying that next time you write, you should try typing with both hands. It’s a really major criticism. I guess he didn’t pick that up…

  35. Ahh.

    “Professionally, Mr. Borelli has worked for New York City based major corporations and financial institutions his entire career.”

    Have a look at Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s essay on the politics of rejection by management types of the kind Mr Borelli seems to be: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/005631.html

    “Still [says TNH], when when I looked at the writers who reacted to their first few rejections with a sense of massively affronted entitlement, followed by the swift conviction that a publishing industry that gave them that reaction must be broken, it was remarkable how many of them belonged to that class.”

    More proof for Ms Nielsen Hayden’s thesis?

  36. Why does Anonymous there find it necessary to use a pseudonym when mentioning that old essay of mine? It’s not a terribly dangeous piece of writing, more’s the pity.I’ve gone and read a chunk of Nicholas Borelli’s novel. Since I’m female, he won’t be listening to my remarks. This leaves me free to say that his novel is dreadful, a fourth-generation copy of cheap commercial fiction. (Not that I have anything against cheap commercial fiction; I just dislike Nicholas Borelli’s version of it.)The simplest theory is the true one.

  37. TNH:

    “Why does Anonymous there find it necessary to use a pseudonym when mentioning that old essay of mine?”

    It may not have been intentional. For some reason it’s really easy to accidentally leave one’s name off comments here. Almost everyone’s done it at least once.

    Re: Mr. Borelli’s sample chapter: Yeah, I got about six paragraphs in and I decided I wasn’t motivated to read more.

  38. I left a comment over at Mr. Borelli’s blog explaining that as an editor, I could think of several reasons to reject his writing, and gave him a sample of what I’d tell him if I were doing an evaluation or a reader’s report of his work, based on an attempt to read his sample. (I didn’t do more than attempt, because I read proto-slush for money.)

    (I did not refer him to my essay Losing my Faith in Humanity, One Manuscript at a Time, in which I explore the nature of male fantasy in proto-slush. Perhaps I should have.)

    I also pointed out that editors want to publish books that will sell, preferably lots and lots of copies. They get pretty good at guessing which books have a chance of selling. Tom Clancy sells. Wilbur Smith sells. Clive Cussler sells. Mr. Borelli’s work would not sell.

    I am unsurprised to note that the comment has not passed moderation.

  39. OOPS: I lied. Apparently Mr. Borelli did accept my comment, and responded to it.

    He even thanked me for my critique.

    Then said “yeah but,” as he has said to any commenter who pointed out that maybe his prose wasn’t so hot.

    Not that I expected anything different.

  40. It’s pretty clear Mr. Borelli has decided he could not possibly be at fault for his work’s rejection.

  41. When the beer hall revolution comes and we have installed him as our Prime Minister, his books will become required reading. Strangely, this will remain true well after our regime has fallen into infamous disgrace.

    {grumbles the History Minor who had to read Mein Kampf…twice…}

  42. for several years i’ve been listening to a named author who shall remain nameless (oh, what the hell — John Norman) make this same exact anti-male, female publishing feminazi rant that mr. borelli does on every panel i’ve ever seen him on, no matter what the original topic. he claimed this conspiracy kept him from publishing his latest novels. i pointed out to him at one occassion that perhaps, like dresses, suits, and cravats, his prose might simply be out of style currently. he dismissed my comment as being “feminist”. some people will claim bias and conspiracy no matter what the real reason. which is more likely the one put forth by those here who bothered to go and read any of mr. borelli’s prose. thanks for making the sacrifice so the rest of us don’t have to.

  43. Hi Ms Nielsen Hayden – sorry, that was me posting; it came out anonymous because I fumbled the keyboard. Incompetence rather than anything more strategic. :-)

  44. Like jennie, I was going to offer a little critique, but decided not to for the same reason editors do not engage rejected authors: he will just argue.

    I’ve had experience reading slush. On a scale of 1-Good God My Eyes Are Melting to 10-Good God This Is A Guaranteed Bestseller, this guy’s work is actually a 5. I’ve read much much worse. Note, this a 5 on the slushiness scale not a 5 on a quality scale. Oh, and the slushiness scale is logarithmic.

    The problem with so many writers is that in a literate country like ours, most anyone can put a sentence together. Somehow, far too many people think that simple skill means they can write novels. Yet, if that same person was a decent cook, they probably wouldn’t think they were a chef (there’s a pun lurking in there somewhere about eating one’s words, but I’m going to skip it).

    Then there are the ones who were praised in high school writing classes, completely missing the fact that they may have gotten all that praise because they were being compared to others whose writing made one question whether they had opposable thumbs. I have college professors friends who can attest to this.

    It always amazes me that so many people a)think writing is easy and b) getting published should be a snap. Is there any other professional industry that is perceived this way? It’s work and a business.

  45. MarkDF, “Is there any other professional industry that is perceived this way?”

    Graphic Designer. No, you’re not one no matter how much “clip art” you own.

    Our host ain’t bad with a little photoshoppy, but I don’t think he would demand to illustrate his own covers or set his own books in type.

  46. Steve B,

    Good one. I’m a visual person and understand graphic design (which is different from executing it), but I don’t go around redesigning the poor materials at work. I don’t blame our graphics person–she’s produced some good, attractive pieces that inevitably get “fixed” by the more superior design skills of the MBA and JD up the hall.

    John, “distinctly” is too modest. You’ve seen what Steve’s talking about!

  47. I couldn’t get past the first few paragraphs…Really spork-in-eye worthy. In this situation, I would DEFINITELY say it’s the specific writing in question, not some vast feminist conspiracy holding “the man” down…

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