Friday, November 11, 2022

Balancing the Scales


Last week I attended the World Fantasy Convention in New Orleans. WFC was the first big convention I ever went to, back in 1994, and it too was in New Orleans. I went to WFC for several years after that until my first daughter was born and money became a bit tighter. But my kids are grown now, and I started going to WFC again shortly before COVID hit. I attended the virtual WFC’s during lockdown, but this year’s was the first face-to-face WFC I’ve been to since the pandemic began. Before COVID, I’d heard that WFC wasn’t what it used to be. There were fewer attendees and not as many writers, agents, and editors showed up. WFC used to be the convention for SF/F/H because everyone came, and a lot of business was done there, and older writers would mentor younger ones. Not so now. This year there were hardly any editors or agents present, and most of the writers were newer ones, still in the progress of building their careers. There was a lot of comradery (which was always true of WFC), and I got to hang out with friends like Lucy Snyder, Steve Saffel, Jason Sizemore, and Charles Coleman Finley, not to mention my agent Cherry Weiner, who works her ass off at conventions. I did some business, but not a lot, and while a couple book deals might result, there’s no guarantee. (Is there ever?)

One thing surprised me, though. I heard from several people (none of whom I named above), that editors are telling agents not to bother sending them work from straight white men. These were people in the SF/F/H publishing industry, not disgruntled white male writers looking for an excuse why their manuscripts were rejected. I am, of course, aware of the increased focus on diversity in publishing these days, and I think it’s an important – and long overdue – development, although there is still quite a way to go. What surprised me was to hear anyone talking about it. On social media, whenever someone white, male, straight or any combination says that they’ve never heard people make racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic comments or harass anyone due to their gender, race, sexuality, or gender identification, commentors are always skeptical. It’s around you all the time. You’re just not aware of it. But I honestly never see or hear anything like this. I used to, of course. I’m almost 59, and when I was a kid I witnessed plenty of sexist, racist, and homophobic behavior. I saw less when I was teenager, less when I was an adult in my twenties and thirties, and almost none in my fifties. I hope this is a sign of progress, but it’s possible that racists, sexists, homophobes, and transphobes don’t exhibit such behavior unless they’re around people who they believe share their views, or at least are sympathetic to them. If that’s true, then I’m glad they don’t view me as one who believes as they do. So when I heard people tell me that editors are saying “Straight white males need not apply,” I was, as I said, surprised.

A couple caveats before I go on. I only heard this from a few people, and even though they’re publishing professionals, that doesn’t mean their views are widely shared. None of these people were angry or resentful about the cultural shift. They simply presented their view as a current condition in publishing. Does that mean these comments didn’t come from racism on their part? Since I believe racism can be nuanced (we can be racist in some ways and circumstances and not in others) and unconscious, sure, it’s possible. But that doesn’t make their comments untrue. Especially since they reported only hearing this view from editors and agents.

Do I think it’s true? Probably. I see editors and agents post their manuscript wish lists on social media all the time, and they prominently post how they want to see work from writers who aren’t straight, white men. They may not say this directly, but they list all kinds of cultural, racial, and identity qualities that straight, white men don’t possess as qualities they want their writers to have, so I think the message is pretty clear.

So am I – a cishet white male (and an older one at that) – outraged by the fact I’m no longer desired by publishers, or at least not at the top of their wish lists? Nope. As I said earlier, I believe an increased focus on diversity is good overall for our culture and everyone in it, white, straight people included. Sure, I’m a little bummed when I think about it. Who wants to hear that they are less desirable because of factors about themselves that they can’t control? But I quickly remind myself that this has been (and still is to a great extent) the experience of women, LGTBQ+, and BIPOC writers for . . . well, always in publishing. If rebalancing the scales mean that there’s less opportunity for me in traditional publishing, then it’s a small price to pay, and accepting that price and supporting this change are small contributions I can make to the cause. But I’ve been writing and publishing for decades. I have an established writing career, so it’s easier for me to feel like this than someone who’s just starting out. What, I wonder, do new cishet, white male writers think? And as a teacher of writing, how can I best help students understand this current (and hopefully here to stay) trend in publishing? The easiest thing to do would be for me to keep my mouth shut about it, but I’m not supporting diversity if I do that, so that’s not an option for me.

One of the things I do is tell students that traditional publishing has never been easy. It’s competitive as hell, of course, but the odds were heavily stacked against anyone who wasn’t a cishet white male for most of modern publishing’s history – or anyone who wasn’t a member  the upper class and/or highly educated. The scales aren’t suddenly being weighed against cishet white males. They were already weighed in their favor. The scales are in the process of becoming equally balanced. Despite the blunt way of saying it – no straight, white males, please – publishers aren’t trying to put them down or shove them aside. They’re trying to lift everyone else up. I also tell students that increased diversity is an artistic and financial decision. Publishers have realized there are stories that haven’t been told, stories only non-cishet writers can tell, stories drawn from their lived experience and points of view, and that there’s a market for these stories. There were a lot of years when these stories weren’t being told in traditional publishing, and publishers are trying to fill the great void that neglect created.

I haven’t had a student come out and say they resent the current focus on diversity in publishing, but if one did, I’d tell them that they need to do what all writers should do: make their writing their very best it can be and keep making it better as they go on. That’s what makes your writing the most competitive. I’d also tell them that they have the option to self-publish in a way that didn’t exist when I was starting out. They’ll still have to compete for readers’ time, attention, and money once their books are out, but that’s true of all writers, traditionally published or indie. I’d tell them DON’T write under a pseudonym that makes it sound as if you’re not a cishet white male or claim an identity you don’t have in order to get published or attract readers. Yes, women have written under male names in the past, and more recently they may write using only the initials of their first and middle names so no one will make assumptions about their work based on their gender. But those tactics were ways of trying to overcome huge societal barriers that kept publishers from giving fair and equal consideration to women’s writing. Remember, no barriers are being erected against cishet white males. Scales are in the process of being balanced.

Are their downsides to publishing’s current focus on diversity? Sure. It may end up being a passing fad, and publishers will return to publishing cishet white males for the most part. I can imagine some non-cishet writers wondering if their work was accepted by publishers in part because of their background and not solely on the quality of their writing. And publishers might get into a quota mindset. I read a social media post the other day from a writer saying that, although a publisher thought their book was wonderful, it was turned down because they were already publishing a book by a Jewish author and didn’t want the new writer’s book to compete with that one. The publisher already had its one Jewish book for the year, you see.

So what do we do going forward? Well, like I said, I hope the current focus on diversity in publishing continues and gets even stronger. I think we should continue having conversations about it to promote greater understanding and continued growth for us all. I hope publishers broaden their perspectives so they won’t think they’ve checked an item off their diversity list because they’ve acquired a single novel by an author of a specific demographic. Most of all, I hope the world continues to become a better place, and that everyone involved with publishing in any capacity continue to become better people.

Including you and me.


We Will Rise Ebook Sale

For the last week or so, ebook editions of my ghost-apocalypse novel WE WILL RISE are available for 99 cents on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble! I have no idea how long this sale will last (no one ever tells writers anything), but as of this writing – Nov. 11, 2022 – the sale is still going on. So snag a copy before the price goes back up!


NOOK Book:

New Forum at the Keenedom

I’m still on Twitter, but since it could go the way of the dodo any day now, Brian Keene opened an old-style message board on his website for the horror community. Anyone is welcome to join as a member (but the waiting list for author topics is a long one!) I’ve got a topic there, and you can find it by following this link:

A Hunter Called Night Available for Preorder

My next novel for Flame Tree Press, A Hunter Called Night, will be released May 9, 2023. The hardback and paperback editions are available for preorder now. I don’t have the go-ahead to share the cover with you yet, but I’ve seen it, and it’s fantastic! I’ll share it as soon as I can.




A sinister being called Night and her panther-like Harriers stalk their quarry, a man known only as Arron. Arron seeks refuge within an office building, a place Night cannot go, for it’s part of the civilized world, and she’s a creature of the Wild. To flush Arron out, she creates Blight, a reality-warping field that slowly transforms the building and its occupants in horrible and deadly ways. But unknown to Night, while she waits for the Blight to do its work, a group of survivors from a previous attempt to capture Arron are coming for her. The hunter is now the hunted.


Flame Tree:



Barnes and Noble:


(Ebook editions will be available later.)


Bram Stoker Award-Winning Novella The Winter Box Now Available


Gary Noon, who recorded the Audible versions of The Last Mile and Eat the Night, has finished recording audio for The Winter Box, which won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction. Get yourself a copy at the following link:



Scheduled Appearances


Authorcon 2. Williamsburg, Virgina: March 31-April 2.


Stokercon. Pittsburgh: June 15-18.


Want to Stalk Me in IRL?


Want to follow me on social media? Here’s where you can find me:



Twitter: @timwaggoner (Until the platform dies!)


Instagram: tim.waggoner.scribe


YouTube Channel:


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