Monday, May 21, 2012

Oh, Esquire. So close and yet so far? Or, wait...

My first thought on the headline "Esquire to Publish E-Books Devoted to Men's Fiction" might surprise some of you as you might think of me as mouthing off on sexism in the publishing industry. (Here's my piece from the Washington Post not toooo long ago.) And although I believe that equal praise for equal work is a systemic issue in the industry, I also know that fiction about men -- good, high-quality, literary fiction about men as well as male coming-of-age stories -- is harder to get published.

What? I hear you screaming at me. But listen, I'm saying that because women read the bulk of fiction, novels in which they're the lead and their concerns are prioritized are easier to sell to publishing houses. Talk to a literary agent. This is common knowledge. Ditto the male coming-of-age for teens and even the whimsy of middle-grade. You don't believe me, I know. You're yelling at me about the careers of male writers prized over the careers of female writers. You're talking about the literary canon so filled with men coming-of-age and going to war and surviving the wilds and the seas that you want to jab me in the head with a fork. You're shouting Harry Potter and Franzen and what not.

Look. I'm not talking about those things. I'm talking about books to market -- what makes it into those books. (Seriously, go up and click on the Washington Post piece if you want my opinion about what happens to these books once published...) These books do make it out there, but not in the same numbers that books about women do. And perhaps, you're saying, rightly so. If women are reading the bulk of the books, then the bulk of the books should prioritize them. (I still wonder what we're missing out on.)

My final thought after reading the article, however, might NOT surprise you. David Granger, the editor in chief of Esquire, defines fiction for me as “plot-driven and exciting, where one thing happens after another... And also at the same time, dealing with passages in a man’s life that seem common.”

Ah. Gotcha. (Double Agent and his Prostate, right?) After listing male writers they intend to first showcase and belittling the scope of those writers, to my mind, by this definition, he seems to be saying this is what male writers write (not women writers) and what male readers should read (if they define themselves as real men). All of this feels shallow and stupid and like honing in on a market that's pretty well taken care of ...

But wait -- there's a logic issue at work here. If these writers are being short-changed for their scope, then maybe we will get some good work after all -- hopefully something not just male readers will respond to. In that case, it's Granger's words that are off.

Is Chiarella at the helm of this endeavor editorially? I've found him to be a great champion of writers and good fiction.