The publishing industry has gotten so narrow-minded that it often won’t publish biographies of minorities written by whites, even if the publisher knows the biography would sell well, and the biography is well-written. Just because of the author’s race. That’s true, even if the white author shares the publisher’s progressive outlook, and the biography is favorable. Even more often, publishers are refusing to publish whites if they write about minority characters in children’s books or young adult fiction.
In the Dallas Morning News, the award-winning, liberal-leaning author Jonah Winter writes about this. He is the author of more than 40 children’s books.
Winter notes that when conservatives remove books from school libraries, that just makes the sale of such books increase, by drawing public attention to those books. (Two of Winter’s books had their sales jump after being removed from school libraries. His book about baseball player Roberto Clemente was removed by a stupid Florida school board even though it clearly did not violate any Florida law).
But when progressive publishers refuse to publish books in the first place, that has a devastating effect on authors — because the publishing industry is dominated by progressives, who essentially monopolize the market for children’s books and young adult fiction. Their refusal to publish is far more effective in banning a book than removing it from a school library is. As he explains,
What hurts a book or an author is the far more effective cancel culture of the left, by which I mean the small but vocal subsection of illiberal ideologues who’ve commandeered both liberalism in general and the publishing world specifically, often using their power to attack well-meaning authors in the form of social media pile-ons and the resulting cancellations, both of which I’ve experienced.
I’ve had two book contracts canceled because of my identity in relation to the subject matter. I am a white man. The irony of the big to-do being made over the banning of my Clemente book by conservative activists is that, were I to try and publish that exact same book today, I would not be able to get it published because of progressive activists.
In today’s world of children’s books, governed by the ideological mantra of “own voices,” I am not allowed to tell the story of anyone who’s not white or male. I’ve been told this point-blank not just by many editors, including the main editors I have worked with throughout my 32-year career, but also by my agent, who sees little point in sending out manuscripts of mine about people of color, because she knows what the response will be.
Here’s a response I got to my manuscript on Colin Kaepernick a few years ago: “I have a problem with the #ownvoices aspect of this manuscript.” And here was another response: “Given the emotional nature of the subject and its particular resonance in the black community, it felt very much like a story that belonged to them and should therefore be told by them.”
It matters not to the publishers that my books on Clemente, Sotomayor and Frida Kahlo are still selling well, years after their publication dates. Those books, were I to submit them today, would not be published. Nor would my award-winning book from 2015, Lillian’s Right to Vote, about the history of racism in America through the lens of voting rights and the eyes of a 100-year-old Black woman. The editor of that book told me, when I asked her, that she would absolutely not publish that book were I to submit it to her now — nor any other books on people of color or women, which account for most of the books I have written. One acquisitions editor suggested I look into writing about animals.
Which kind of censorship is worse for authors: The kind that increases the visibility of a book and sells more copies, or the kind that silences an author quietly, behind the scenes. The kind that restricts an author from writing about the subject matter he’s always written about, or the kind that robs a book’s right to exist. There’s no question mark, because there’s no question.