We live and die by words. The lives of men and empires are shaped and bound by stories. There is a mysterious power in this. Perhaps one of the greatest there is.
In the summer of 2000, I was so mad at the Army—for what it was, and what it wasn’t—that I committed myself to putting my experiences on paper and to shout from the rooftops telling the world all about what the military was really like.
However, over the course of serving in an infantry unit, falling for a girl, going downrange, getting wounded, and coming home, that story changed. In the end, I was left with something far more meaningful than what I’d initially envisioned, and with the military as a staple of media ranging from movies to video games, to say nothing of there being an actual war on in which real people were killing and dying, I knew my audience. The hard part would just be writing the thing.
I was wrong. In the world of books, there has been a battle for what stories are to be told. There is nothing new in this. As Russell Kirk said, “Culture arises from the cult,” and the older I get, the more I find that to be true. The question then becomes, “Who is the cult?”
The modern day publishing cult
One can chase theories all day long. However, something recently happened that allowed me a small glimpse into the world of the gatekeepers, and given the recent dust-ups from #GamerGate to the Hugos, I thought I’d pass it along.
After more than a decade of shopping my book around and receiving probably about 1,000 rejections along the way, I finally received a message from a literary agent I’d approached who really liked my book, agreed with almost everything I said in it, and was interested in representing it.
However, there were some things that he thought needed to be changed to help it get accepted by a publishing house. Some of it was formatting-related, but most pertained to key parts of the plot toward the end and I told him that I couldn’t alter them because that was the way that things had happened. In light of that, I had to decline.
During our conversation, the agent went on to say something that confirmed an observation I’d made early on about the business. He said, “Sam, one thing you’ll need to understand is that the publishing industry is almost entirely run by women who studied things like Creative Writing in college,” and that most would hate what I’ve written.
He then told me about how an Afghanistan and Iraq vet had written a book, made it through the slush pile, and was in the process of review by a publishing house. Made it through almost all the hoops. Then, at the very end, the senior editor was offended by something in the book and said, “Eh, fuck it, he’s an asshole. Who cares?” And with her words the project died.
We continued talking about why the industry seems to be so focused on just playing to the tastes of upper-middle class women in New York City, and I then told him some things that Sci-Fi author Larry Correia had said recently in a podcast concerning the Sad Puppies-Rabid Puppies controversy, and how it struck me that by pursuing their current strategy the publishing houses are ignoring huge markets of people willing to buy books and are cutting their own throats.
He broke in saying, “I know, I know…But look, Sam…you gotta stop thinking. Just stop thinking! Thinking about all this will drive you crazy! Don’t go to bookstores, if they even still have any where you live. Don’t look at other books. You’ll just wonder how in the world this thing even got published,” and then told me some more anecdotes about how the sausage is made. He then quoted Otto Priminger, saying “Nobody knows anything.”
It was sad. He’s a good man, and was just as frustrated about it all as anybody, but he’s stuck fighting a literati who only look for books that support the current narrative, and is left trying to sneak in what stories he can, however he can.
All of this no doubt confirms something you already know: few in any significant cultural institutions give a damn about you. Notice the scattered inquiries into why men are “dropping out” and bolting from family formation, university study, and civic responsibilities in general. They ask why men aren’t shouldering burdens, rather than what do men want.
Consider the attacks leveled at sites like this one. How dare men have preferences, desires, and concerns that deviate from the Ministry of Culture! They clearly haven’t educated themselves enough about privilege, insecurity, outdated masculinity, and Authoritarian Personality Disorder!
There is truth to this. What’s odd, though, is that my biggest sales to date came from a write-up by Ann Sterzinger and several of my best reviews have been from women. It may be that this is less an issue of the battle of the sexes, but more of a battle of ideas, and if that’s the case, we may have more allies than we know.
There is a solution
Make no mistake, the publishing industry, like the rest of the media, is captive to the decaying zombie gestalt of modernity’s isms. Most people will drink whatever flavor of Kool-Aid is poured. And this ain’t gonna change anytime soon.
However, there is reason for hope. As military theorist Dr. Martin van Creveld has argued, “the guerilla way is soon to overtake the conventional way.” Much like the majority of 21st Century conflicts featuring non-state actors, Davids are beginning to take the fight to the Goliaths on their terms and make their enemies fight the battles they want them to fight on the ground of their choosing.
Blogs, games, podcasts, books (even David Mamet is self-publishing now), cartoons, movies (I swear, there’s even a group of veterans working to make a “tactical comedy“); frontiers are opening up. We now have more avenues to network, learn, and create; more ways to explore opportunities and forge new loyalties, as well as the potential to rediscover a patrimony taken from us in the name of setting us free. The results may not be as big (not yet, anyway) but they’ll be ours.
Y’all keep your heads up.