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.


TAD Photo Fun

People sending of their Android’s Dream photos:

Android photographed at everyone’s favorite amusement park: Radium Land!

Android: The choice of discerning cats everywhere. Discerning cats with messy desks, too.

Android has had a hard day. Now it’s time for sleep.

Thanks Roger, Terry and Matthew!

Also, someone sent me another infinite repeating TAD picture, but my e-mail ate it. Sorry. So if you sent me an IRAD pic, send it to me again; I’ll pop it up later.


Computer and Steve Brust Geekery

For those of you who were wondering what I was doing with myself yesterday instead of hanging out with all y’all online: I went shopping. Specifically, I went shopping for computer parts, because I had finally settled on what I wanted to do with my PC computing life and I drove down to CompUSA (which, as it is on the other side of Dayton from me, was not an insignificant distance) to see if they had everything I needed to build myself a bitchin’ PC.

To say I was disappointed upon my arrival is to understate the case rather dramatically: CompUSA’s selection of components pretty much sucked. For example, most of their motherboards are for AMD, which was not what I wanted, and those that fit Intel processors were not SLI-capable (or even Crossfire capable). They didn’t have any CPUs in stock, either. Basically, just a big fat waste of my time. I understand that people wanting to build their own computers are a relatively small segment of the market, but I would also think that those who do want to do so would want components that are at least up to date, so their home-built computers are not six months obsolete from the first moment they are switched on. This is what I get for wanting to give my business to a brick-and-mortar computer store; I don’t know that I’m likely to make the same mistake in the future.

Having thus been disappointed in my quest, I came home and started pricing out what I wanted and realized that for what it would cost me to build my own, I could get a computer maker to do it for me, and then it would come with a three-year warranty, whereas my own experiments would not. So I said screw it and ordered one online. For those of you who want to get your geek on the specs are: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600, 2GB DDR2/800 Dual Channel Memory, 350GB SATA-II 3.0Gb/s 16MB Cache 7200RPM hard drive (remember I have other drives I’ll be putting in as well), two SLI-compliant NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GS 512MB PCI Express x16 Video Cards (I went with less than top-of-the line here because as others have noted, DirectX10-compatible cards will be on their way soon; nevertheless, two of these babies working together will do me just fine), Creative X-Fi soundcard and 5.1 speakers, also from Creative, and then the usual bells and whistles as far as optical drives and media readers and so on. All for rather substantially less than I had budgeted to spend, so I’m pretty happy with that.

While I was out and about I also stopped at book stores to see if I could spot Android’s Dream in the wild. And lo, it was there: One copy at the Barnes & Noble, where I corrected its spine out presentation, three copies at Borders, where the staff had not only placed it face out but also put it on the top shelf in its own little presentation, so it was right at eye level, and none at my local bookstore, which is fine because, you know, it’s not officially out yet. Hopefully it will be there tomorrow. And if it’s not I’ll burn the place down. Actually, no, I won’t. They’re nice people and it’s a nice store and they have other books of mine, so, you know. Arson is not the answer. Now.

Thwarted though I was in building my own computer, I assuaged my need to contribute to the grinding gears of America’s economy by buying every single one of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels save Dzur. The first seven were helpfully compiled into three trade paperback-sized volumes, and Dragon and Issola were stand-alones. This was delightful for me because while I’m a big sloppy fan of Steve’s and particularly of the Vlad books, my own copies of the books have mysteriously vaporized over the years, and also a number of books have come out since I read the series, and I was always confused as to how many there were and in what order I should read them (Steve himself is notably unhelpful in this regard; he basically says to read them in whatever order one wants. Gee, thanks, Steve). But now I have them all, save Dzur, and I feel, you know, complete.

Why didn’t I also get Dzur, you may ask? Well, come on: I just bought nine novels. It’ll take me while to get through them, you know? Also, in buying these nine novels I pretty much depleted the Barnes & Noble’s Brust collection; I figured that taking Dzur as well would just be greedy. No worries, though; I’ll be getting it soon enough, I imagine. And don’t let me stop you from getting your own copy. Please, be my guest.

Now, let me get extra dorky here and say that what’s even cooler than buying a store’s worth of Steve Brust books is buying a store’s worth of books from my pal Steve Brust, because Steve and I have met on a number of occasions now, enjoy each others’ company and have a passel of friends in common. I’m still enough of a fanboy to get a hell of a kick out of the fact that I get to meet and spend a little time with some of the writers who were inspirations to me. Steve was certainly one of them and still is, so every time I see him, some part of my brain is still going coooooooooool. What can I say, I’m a geek. And it’s extra happy making that I’m now well on my way to catching up with his work. You can’t beat that, I say.

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