Polarizing, Brutally Funny Attempt to Reverse Engineer Publishing

In a series of highly public missteps, the publishing industry has proven it is not a diverse or inclusive place. Laine Cunningham, a 20-year industry professional, has begun a reverse engineering process that can change diversity at publishing companies…and even our society.

By all appearances, publishing is an open-to-all endeavor. But for female authors and authors of color and LGBT authors, and for authors who write about women or people of color or individuals in the LGBT community, entry is all but barred. Now a provocative and polarizing–yet often deadly funny–look behind the scenes of the publishing industry by a 20-year professional launches a movement to change that dynamic from the ground up.
“God forbid you be female, black, gay, or any other version of ‘not a straight white guy’ and pick up a pen today,” says Laine Cunningham, a 20-year publishing consultant, “because gender, race, and the politics of power will shroud your words in obscurity.”
Independent studies have shown that publishing contracts, awards and book reviews woefully underrepresent women, people of color, and LGBT individuals. The New York Times’ 2011 book reviews were found to skew 90% white and 67% male, for example, while the London Review of Books was called out for reviews that leaned 89% male.
The books women write are treated differently from representation through to marketing and remaindering. Authors of color and individuals writing about LGBT characters are immediately relegated to niche categories no matter how universal or far-reaching their work. Until, that is, a publisher feels the need to prove a commitment to diversity.
“Diverse authors and diverse books,” Cunningham says, “exist in a shadowland where they are purchased, printed and pulped in a way that seems engineered to ensure that no one can hear them scream.”
Now she invites authors and publishers and readers and reviewers to fix the problems by reverse engineering the publishing industry. Her calls to action include:
Buying books by diverse authors…and buying them new to ensure the author receives both income and credit for the sale, which is important to their career.
Lobbying contests and awards to accept self-published authors because so many diverse authors are shut out of the traditional routes open to nominees.
Working with local bookstores and local news media to find and support diverse authors in their region.
Cunningham is producing a series of articles and books that address these issues. The first book is Writing While Female or Black or Gay: Why Women, Authors of Color, and LGBT Authors Need Not Apply. The introduction, “Dateline: Clusterf*ck,” throws an immediate punch at diversity in publishing today. Chapters like “P*ssy Pink Covers” and “What Color is Your Category?” delve into the adult market. Juvenile and YA categories are covered in “Goodnight, Pale White Moon,” while “The Gilded Penis” and “On Their Knees” examine contests, awards, and book reviews.
Easy calls to action can help reengineer publishing from the ground up. A project page has been set up on the arts funding site Patreon at www.Patreon.com/LaineCunningham. Information about the book is available at WritingWhileFemale.com.
For the past twenty years, Laine Cunningham has worked as a publishing consultant and ghostwriter through her company, Writer’s Resource. She has been quoted on MSNBC.com, CNN, FoxNews.com, and international media as a publishing consultant and author. She can be reached at 919-928-2245 or through her website LaineCunningham.com. 

Book Review: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

October 2015 Hogarth Shakespeare

This was a terrific read, one that I recommend. It’s a retelling (or, as the author calls it, a “cover”) of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. It’s part of a series of retelling of his plays by different well-known authors like Margaret Atwood and Gillian Flynn.

Now, normally this kind of idea sounds too commercial to me. It raises a lot of skepticism on my part. Just because an author works with their own ideas well doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to be able to make something out of Shakespeare’s works. But, Shakespeare was himself commercial. His plays were presented alongside bear-baiting, a horrible blood sport that centered on the torment of a bound animal. So no matter what we think of Shakespeare today, in his time he was the definition of commercial.

So, anyway, about The Gap of Time. The author sets up different sections here to help guide readers through the time jumps and jumps in point of view. I appreciated that very much. I don’t mind at all, and tend to like, when a work makes me think a little; at the time I was reading this, though, I was sick and couldn’t manage as much mental effort as usual. So the divisions really helped keep me settled in the world.

It’s a contemporary world in which a lost orphan–a foundling, really, lost and found through very nicely proposed means–grows up and reconnects with her biological family. The connections don’t come through any efforts of her own; as in Shakespeare’s chaotic worlds, nearly everything is out of the players’ hands and they are swept along on currents that threaten to drown them as easily as deliver them to new lands.

That’s all I’m going to say about this work. Anything else would be a spoiler. I will tell you that it won’t end the way you expect, that you’ll very much enjoy the ride, and that the protagonist will capture you. You will want her to triumph. Whether she will…you’ll have to find out for yourself.

4 stars

Book Review: The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry

Book Review: The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry

Released Sep 8 2015 by Dutton

In 1881, seven-year-old Jinhua has enjoyed a fairly good life. Her father has refused to have her feet bound and has shown her nothing but love. Then he displeases the emperor and is beheaded.

Jinhua’s wife is not interested in caring for the daughter of her husband’s mistress and sells the girl for a handful of silver coins. Jinhua ends up in a brothel where she is taught the “bed business” with poses like Fishes Eye to Eye, White Tiger Pouncing, and Silkworms Tenderly Entwined. But there is little tender about bed business, as she discovers when she is given to her first client at the age of twelve.

She is told repeatedly that her life is not her own. When she is bought again by a man who thinks she is the reincarnation of his former mistress, she accompanies him on his ambassadorial trips to the West.

I had such hopes for this novel. I requested an ARC from the publisher because the synopsis described a woman’s journey from culture to culture and eventually to herself. Although she does eventually lead her own life, she does so by returning to the brothel after the owner dies and the business passes on to her best friend. There she is raped during the Boxer revolution, her friend is also violated, and her friend gives up her life to save Jinhua’s. So she doesn’t really ever own her own life.

This I could have lived with if the writing had been stronger. The publisher described a fairytale like prose that promised a depth that rewarded a careful reader…exactly the kind of thing I enjoy, and exactly the kind of prose that can fit exceptionally well with historical fiction.

But here the execution is weak. The prose is too spare, and the details tend to be repeated. The repetition does not highlight symbolic or important elements, so it comes off as a weakness in the author’s research.

I’m begrudgingly rating this at 3 stars because, although I would normally rank this as a 2 or 2.5, I recognize that a number of readers will enjoy this a great deal. Just be aware of the flaws before you spend time with this work.

3 begrudging stars