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The Privilege of Connections

It seems only fair that I bow to the edicts of social justice and check my privilege before I go about poking motes of sawdust out of other eyes. I am a straight, white, cisgender male living in America during the internet age (though most of those demographics keep me out of the markets that interest me the most, that is my cross to bear). I grew up in a middle class household that fostered my genetic predisposition to writing and allowed me access to enough means and leisure to read many thousands of books before undertaking a career in the literary world. I have the talent, the drive, and the privilege to be in a field that rewards me while wrinkling its snoot at vernacular English from darker lips.

I could list all the ways I am not privileged, but what would be the point? If you are reading this, there is a good chance you can claim most of the same so it would come out as whining. I've got the large privilege boxes checked and so most of the rest can sort itself out.

I am aware of how blessed I am that I am in a position to be inconvenienced by events where I am ignored with a publisher who doesn't treat me as a star. The vast majority of writers never get that far, especially those whose undiscovered work deserves it more than my fantasy novels and anthologies. I am not yet in the position where I can expect frothing hordes of fans tossing their undergarments in the air at the mere mention of my name. At best, I get packed panels and a dozen books sold at No Such Convention. I am neither Neil Gaiman nor John Green, though I admit to having comparably untamable hair of the former and geekiness of the latter (we can presume that these are not their most salient characteristics).

I wish more authors would admit the truth behind our careers. We don't want the undiscovered writers knowing exact details, feeding them myths of success instead. We don't want other authors knowing how much or little we get paid (usually little), though I am open about the fact that my last royalty statement from Double Dragon wouldn't get me a fast food meal and buying a box of fifty copies of Flies to Wanton Boys to sell at events just cost me more money than all of my books combined have ever made me.

As unfortunate as this is to read, a good portion of getting published now is a combination of knowing the right people, dumb luck, and working hard without recognition. A better portion of surviving as an author is merely knowing the right people.

It is not as though I haven't tried to lean upon my connections in the publishing world. A friend read an early version of We Shadows and suggested that I get in contact with his friend who worked for a literary agency. The agency loved my pitch, salivated over my first couple of chapters, and went silent and cut off contact once I sent the whole book. This is the most attention any literary agency has ever paid me and it was only because I knew someone who knew someone. Similarly, I was only in Juvenile Justice because I am friends with one of their editors, who knew I was both an author and working a day job with adjudicated minors. Were it not for keeping in touch on Facebook, I would not have that credit on my bibliography.

I started blogging in mid-2001, describing my life as a way to force myself to write. By doing this, I unlearned bad habits, the sin of trying to sound like superior authors and using ten-dollar words where simple ones would have sufficed. It also made me aware of an audience that only piped up when I annoyed them.

The luck came into it when I argued with a friend on Facebook how I would be perfectly content having strangers pirate my work en masse because that as least meant I was worth reading. As if to prove my point, I researched the biggest ebook publisher I could find in my genre, Double Dragon Publishing. At the time, they advertised a six-month turn-around. I got my acceptance within three weeks. I had applied to more publishers than I can remember, except that my refrigerator was papered with rejection letters (which my then girlfriend found morbid but I took to mean that this was one rejection letter closer to an acceptance). If I had not gotten embroiled in that argument, I don't think I would have applied to Double Dragon and might still be unpublished (though my hope is that someone would have wised up).

I am often jealous when it comes to other authors, especially those whom I feel have unrealized and undeserved privilege. I can rattle off too many who only got where they are because they slithered out of or into the right lap, which does not lead to a fair literary field, nor one that allows me the diversity and cleverness I want from the books. Snooki's novels don't strike me as worth reading more than the scifi novel pinging around in my waitress's head. Though I won't deny that my primary goal is my own literary success, a distant second is that I want interesting things to read. I rationalize that a bountiful market for books might lead to a few copies of my own books to be sold, since reading begets readers and readers tend to keep seeking out new things to read.

I am a fan of some writers, in that I will likely be among the first to buy and read most anything they publish. They have the privilege of having loyal fans, one I seek for myself as soon as possible. Those who are kind to their fans earn my continued fondness because they are aware of their privilege and, at least in the case of those I like, it seems to be earned.

It isn't that I specifically begrudge those who exploit their connections-though I do-but that I want them to just for a moment acknowledge that they got their not because they really believed in themselves but because their father has the right golf buddy. If one has privilege, I would like to believe it is one's duty to use that privilege to uplift the less fortunate. However, that does bring me back to the issue with writers being feral cats. If that lucky bastard helps your voice be heard, that might be one less person who buys the bastard's book.

Many creative writers seem to believe that they need to invest themselves in a Master's of Writing not because it will hone their skill-though there is a chance it will-but as a literary version of only going to college to get a husband. They want to make the connections, to single out who in the department has the right privilege and then lean on them for introductions. Certainly, if one is willing to go into hock to hang out around the ritziest of classrooms, one may meet the daughter of dual editors for Simon & Schuster. However, I would like to believe this level of conniving isn't a necessity to make it in the publishing industry, all evidence to the contrary conveniently ignored.


Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.


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