Yes, I’m Bitter. But At Least I’m Honest.

Mpepper/ February 22, 2024/ Uncategorized

I’m about to say things that will probably make people angry. Keep in mind I am writing from my personal experience and observations. Yours may be very different! And I would love to hear about them, so long as you remain respectful.

Let’s start with why I left screenwriting and chose to focus on books instead. To get a film made takes a lot of people and money. A lot of “yes” from many different quarters. It can be incredibly difficult, and it’s as much (more, really) about who you know as it is about your talents or abilities. When I started out writing screenplays, I had initially good feedback. I placed well in a number of competitions, won one that sent my script to Sundance, had another of my scripts turned into a short film that went to a festival, and had some decent interest from various quarters. Alas, all that fizzled. And these days, indie film is a lot like indie publishing—you have to produce your own work, which is costly and time consuming. Many indie directors are writing their own scripts rather than looking for others’.

Meanwhile, I was also noticing that, when I was working on scripts with men, I was getting a lot more interest. A script I co-wrote got optioned and came close to being made… Except the guy I wrote it with refused to make the changes the producers were asking for. I worked with another two men on a script that also almost had a mid-list star attached. But those guys had big life changes happen and everything got dropped. No one wanted just me, or just my work. So I threw in the towel.

Recently, I noticed that an aspiring (male) screenwriter got tapped to run a screenwriting event of not insignificant size. He has no production credits. Just really wants to be a screenwriter, you know? (Meanwhile, my undergraduate degree was focused, in part, on screenwriting.) He was given this opportunity because… He knew someone probably? No idea. But it allowed him to extend his network and now he’s getting Zoom calls with managers and producers, etc. Cool, good for him. But he’s being handed opportunities that he’ll say he worked hard for—and he did, to some extent—but he’s also been given more for doing less than I’ll ever be given for working so hard. These men get doors opened for them but don’t want to hold it open for others; they are convinced they did it themselves and earned it, but what it took for them to “earn” it is a fraction of what anyone else would have to do to get even 25% as far.

Am I bitter? Yeah, a bit. That’s the double standard again: women are supposed to remain cheerful no matter what kind of shit they’re handed (or what they’re denied). Men, however, are allowed to throw tantrums over the tiniest slights, and are allowed to be aggressive in pursuing their goals. Women, on the other hand, should show excessive amounts of gratitude to just be in the room.

And, of course, all this goes as much or more for people of color and other minorities. Which brings us to diversity and the lip service creative institutions pay it.

I’m going to pivot towards publishing now because I worked in publishing and am still tangentially involved in it. There’s a lot of crying about the need for diverse books, but—and again, I’m sure there will be hate for this—I think many publishing professionals say it because they have to. I’m not convinced they are actually looking for diverse content as much as they say they are. And I don’t know if it’s because maybe sales numbers don’t support a push for diverse stories?

This is just me extrapolating, once again, from personal experience. About 50% of my books are LGBTQ+. But my best-selling books? Those are not my LGBTQ+ titles.

And it’s easy to point to popular LGBTQ+ books and say, “Well, those are hits!” But if there were a lot of them, why would these be notable? By which I mean, for example, if I were to say: “Books with blue covers aren’t very popular,” and you held up three bestselling books with blue covers, I’d be inclined to respond, “Okay, but three out of thousands isn’t very many.”

This is, I am aware, an oversimplification, and I do not have market data to support what is largely a hypothesis. But when I see the books that are gushed about, so many more of them are heteromantasy, or thrillers and horror with erotic (hetero) narratives, and things of that ilk. So many of the books look and sound the same that “diverse” does not seem to apply. And that’s on the industry, which is set up to produce and promote whatever is popular and trendy and makes money. And which is also set up to make marketers’ jobs easier by not challenging them by giving them anything unfamiliar. Would they know how to sell a Black sapphic techno-thriller? If not, they will pass on the manuscript. And so will agents because they know the publishers won’t buy it.

TL;DR: Creative industries have long been designed to accommodate sameness (read: white, male, hetero perspectives). They give lip service to diversity while doing the least possible work towards it because (a) they don’t know how to change direction, (b) it’s too costly to make those changes, and/or (c) they like preserving the privilege of their executives and stockholders. It’s enough to make people like me want to give up, and in some arenas I have—pick your battles and all that jazz—but to give up entirely would also let them win. We should demand more from these industries and take up space in them. Instead of being polite and grateful for crumbs, we need to get loud and disruptive. It’s okay to be bitter and angry. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.*

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