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Demographic Realities of the Publishing Biz
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April 18, 2015, 09:29 PM
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Saeed Jones

In response to Buzzfeed’s book editor Isaac Fitzgerald’s feature “23 Writers With Messages For Straight White Male Publishing,” Paleo Retiree of Uncouth Reflections comments on the demographic reality behind the hate campaign:
I covered book publishing for more than 15 years as a reporter, up till the early 2000s, and during that time it was my impression that the editorial side of the business was about 3/4 female, and that many if not most of the men were gay. (It’s a very unappealing field for a straight white male to get involved in.)

And sure, IMHO at least, that fact definitely affects the kinds of books that get published. If boys are reading books less than they once did, that’s at least partly because books (especially fiction) have become a lot less alluring and entertaining (in a boy sense) than they used to be.

Another thing to recall: book-publishing gals don’t tend to be earthy, showbizzy, rock and roll, or motherly types. They’re English-major types, generally. Recall the smartest girls from your college Lit class — that’s the kind of person the book publishing industry is largely staffed by. In another era we wouldn’t have been shy about referring to many of them as librarian or even blue-stocking types. Not the sorts of people whose work is likely to attract the attention of a lot of irreverent, rowdy boys.

A few other demographic notes:

* Women moved into the business in large numbers during the same era when many of the old publishing houses were taken over by large conglomerates. Connection? I don’t know for sure … but maybe.

It’s almost as if laying off family men and hiring young women whose daddies pay their credit card bills is a good financial strategy for billionaires.
* There are very few black people in the business. The business’ values are about as NPR/PBS as can be imagined, so everyone in the field would love to see more blacks. And every five or so years people in the business put themselves through a bout of self-flagellation about the business’ lack of diversity. But blacks, although they have their own big verbal traditions, don’t have a big tradition of writing and publishing. (Don’t shoot me for saying that. Albert Murray and Ralph Ellison, great black intellectuals, both made the point.) And when they have verbal gifts and bother getting fancy lib-arts degrees they tend to go into more performance-oriented and potentially remunerative fields.

* There aren’t a lot Asians in the business either. When I asked an Asian woman publishing friend why, she told me that Asian parents, if they’re going to pay the big bucks for a kid to be educated at a fancy school, expect the kid to become an engineer or a doctor and make big money. She had to fight with her family a lot before they let her go into book publishing.

* There are indeed a lot of Jewish people in the business. Jews *do* have a big tradition of writing and publishing and, like educated Brits, who also have a huge comfort level with writing and publishing, they tend to do very well in the field.

* Back in the ’50s and ’60s book writing and book publishing were glamorous, adventurous, often money-losing, but a lot of male fun: “Mad Men” as it turned into the rock and roll era. Hard to imagine now, but book-writing and book-publishing could be ways for talented, brainy guys to show off their stuff.

You can see that in articles from 40 to 50 years ago by football and golf writer Dan Jenkins about his drinking buddies: the Manhattan writing-for-money business in 1969 was a blast. A lot of the most gifted writers of the era in New York City were hard-drinking Southerners.
As the business has become more dominated by conglomerates and more staffed by women, the testosterone thrills have gotten rarer and rarer. Talented and brainy guys who want to show off their stuff (and hope to make money doing so) became more likely to go into TV, movies, singer-songwriter-style music, and computers and videogames.

* I was once gabbing about these questions with a straight male friend in the business. He made a rueful face and said, “Thanks for reminding me what a pussy business I work in.”

And here’s a 2009 interview of interest on the publishing and media world.