The Demands of the Market
by Torange Yeghiazarian
Who gets to decide what will become a best seller? According to a 2015 industry study, more than 80% of executives and editors in the publishing industry are white and heterosexual; less than 1% is of Middle Eastern heritage. These decision-makers often cite “The Market” as the driving force for what is or is not published. In a New York Times article in March 2014, children’s book illustrator Christopher Myers wrote about “The apartheid of literature — in which characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass card to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination, or personal growth.” The publishing industry, people often say as if it’s a gigantic revelation, needs to make money and as such, it responds to The Market. “The Market is so comfortably intangible,” Myers writes, “that no one is worried I will go knocking down any doors. The Market, I am told, just doesn’t demand this kind of book… because white kids won’t buy a book with a black kid on the cover — or so The Market says, despite millions of music albums that are sold in just that way.”
By blaming an intangible force, the publishing industry absolves itself of any responsibility, when in fact it is very much in the business of manipulating The Market to its ends. “Those conversations happen without acknowledging that there’s a huge disparity in how books are marketed and publicized,” says Sarah McCarry, who worked in publishing on and off for a decade, most recently at a New York literary agency. “That money and attention overwhelmingly goes to what the industry has already decided is ‘marketable’—heterosexual narratives featuring white characters. A book has very little chance of doing well if there’s no marketing push behind it.”
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