1. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Taboos in writing

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Tesoro, Jun 5, 2016.

    Where I live the whole publishing business has become really coward recently, and if you've written a manuscript that is just a little bit unconventional as in values, themes, opinions, political standing of the characters etc, you might encounter serious difficulties to get it published my either a traditional publisher or even small press. All in the name of political correctness. In fact we're so politically correct that the books that are actually published seem to want to make it appear like there are no other opinions or values or if there are, it's always something negative and the people in the books that represent them are always the bad guys.
    I have a friend who's written this amazing ms where one of the characters belong to a certain political party, and even though the books is not about politics at all he is under the impression that no one will want to publish it because it will seem like the book is communicating racist beliefs (which it is absolutely not). And this is not the first time the same person has worried that his manuscripts will be turned down by publishers because they're not as politically correct as the ones they do publish.
    So is this something global or is it just my part of the world where freedom of opinion doesn't really exist in literature? Have you experienced that there are things you can't write about if you want to get published?
    In other words, what are the taboo's for writers in different parts of the world?
    I'm particularly interested in how the situation is in the US but also UK and the rest of Europe.
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's kind of hard to know, from the outside, what the taboos are.

    Most books that people submit are rejected, but it seems to be a lot easier for writers to say, "Oh, it's because I included a taboo topic" rather than to say, "Oh, I need to keep working on my writing."

    I'm not saying there are no taboos. I just know I've read a lot of authors worrying about taboos and then read their work and thought the taboos were the least of their concerns.
     
  3. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Two things:
    1. Your friend must have email, so s/he could submit to anyone anywhere in the world who accepts email submissions... which kind of negates having to submit locally.
    2. I have to know what part of the world has put such restrictions on publishing... so I can avoid submitting to anyone there. ;)
     
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  4. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know, that is why I wanted to hear if you had any experience in this.
    I think you might have a point there, but this is not an inexperienced writer but one with 4 books out on the market, all published by traditional publishers. And in fact there are not many published books about certain topics or that include certain elements, that seem to be a privilege of just a couple of acclaimed writers that were famous even before they started writing. It's a difficult topic but I'd really be interested in knowing what you have experienced yourself. Is there something you avoid when writing because you already know it would be a hinder when it comes to publishing?
     
  5. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes of course but we write in a small language spoken by not more than 9 million people. Guess it would be easier if one wrote in english in that sense :)
    Scandinavia!
     
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  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    A lot of the smaller romance publishers have a list of things they aren't interested in publishing. Most are what you'd expect... no glamourized rape, no incest, etc. I've never really been interested in writing those things, so I haven't needed to restrict myself.

    In my experience, publishers at the corporate level want to publish books that will make them money. They don't generally seem to be operating as political actors. But especially at smaller publishers, books are generally acquired by individual editors, and there's certainly a subjective element to their choices. Most editors I know are reasonably liberal people, so quite possibly they'd be seeing things through a lens that is harder on more conservative books? I'm not sure.

    I've never had a problem myself.
     
  7. JennaPeterson88
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    JennaPeterson88 Member

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    I'm not sure about manuscripts being rejected due to taboo content, but keep in mind that "most submissions are rejected" is true, but misleading. The vast majority of manuscripts that are flat out rejected are turned down because they've been submitted to an agent/editor who doesn't cover the genre, or isn't accepting submissions at the time. Most manuscripts submitted to the correct audience will at the very least get a personalized rejection letter, which will tell you why it was rejected, and is often a sign that you just need more revision.
     
  8. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you have any evidence to back this up with? It certainly hasn't been my experience.

    ETA: I'm not sure I've ever gotten a personalized rejection, and I only submit to places that indicate they're interested in the sort of stuff I write. The closest I've gotten, I'd say, would be a few R&Rs. Otherwise, form letters or just no response.

    The submissions my agent makes for me generally come back with at least a little feedback, but even then it's often fairly rote, without significant value.

    Where are you submitting that you're getting these useful, personalized rejections?
     
  9. JennaPeterson88
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    JennaPeterson88 Member

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    Perhaps that's unique to the sci fi/fantasy world, then, but I hear it over and over again from published novelists in the genre. Most recently I heard it from Sanderson, but again, I hear it all the time from SF/Fantasy authors.

    ETA- This is specifically for manuscripts (partial or full), not queries.
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2016
  10. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Of course they will, and in most places they do that by publishing a vast selection of stories, but here it seems that they publish the same stories over and over again while the stories that do stand out (both as unique stories and interesting execution) always come from abroad. There seem to be such little room for variation here and I know that quite a few of my author friends feel the same way, and rather turn to foreign writers than out native ones because of the originality issue.
    I also know that most publishers here are extremely politically correct. Is that an issue in other places as well? I mean, if you have a unique and well-written story but a controversial subject, will they still publish you?
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wonder how long it's been since Sanderson sent an unsolicited query? I'm guessing fifteen or twenty years? I get the impression that things used to be different, for sure. And you're right, I haven't subbed much in SF/F, so maybe things are different there?
     
  12. JennaPeterson88
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    JennaPeterson88 Member

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    Yeah, he broke out in the early 2000s, so at least 10 years ago, approaching 15.
     
  13. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    You guys have me curious about this ETA acronym. I've been trying to figure it out from context, but getting nowhere.

    I even Googled it and all I got was Estimated Time of Arrival.

    Would someone please enlighten me?
     
  14. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Okay, so my home country, which is separated from Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia by a splash of water, is still sort of okay with potentially controversial stuff, but especially after the migrant crisis and some 30,000 and counting refugees and economic migrants coming here (this is a small, tiny country in comparison to Canada, USA, and Australia), especially racial issues have become very touchy, and I can imagine that major publishing houses in particular don't want that kind of publicity, so a book that touches race or Islam religion and has not been written by a racial/religious minority in question and/or showcases even a dash of criticism would most likely be turned down. The shitstorm brought on by a small, loud group of people would be too massive, annoying and potentially damaging to deal with. It's possible race and religion have become semi-taboos.

    Other taboos: violence against women and men's issues. The former is problematic because any attempt to depict it can be easily deemed gratuitous ergo you're basically inciting violence against women. Granted, usually it's just feminists, not the majority of people, who are up in arms when something like that comes out. The 6th best selling novel of 2015 contained explicit sex and violence -- and it was about women by a woman writer. In fact, 13/20 of the writers of the best selling novels were women and at first glance it seems most of the books had a female protagonist. The target audience for novels is also women, so I'd imagine publishing houses need to take this into consideration.

    The latter can be problematic because men don't have issues, especially not white men, especially not in a country that's 95 % white, so any attempt to depict these issues (homelessness, suicide, lack of education, social exclusion) can be quickly characterized as whining or a plot to divert attention from real problems. However, this attitude isn't that pervasive from what I've seen and books tackling it would probably be well received. A book about a Somali immigrant would probably be even better received, and actually, I think that'd be really cool and interesting.

    A combination of these? The least wanted story would probably be a story of a white, unemployed single father whose teenage daughter has been raped by an immigrant. This is real life, but it'd be too hot a potato for any mainstream publishing house to deal with, as it could be used as a tool for racist propaganda.

    But I'm really just guessing here, it's all based on observations I've made, and I'm only talking about Finland here. It's an even smaller market than yours.

    I own only a few Swedish books, none of them too controversial. You guys seem to have no problem depicting Finns as angry, violent drunks, so I wonder if that's still cool in 2016. :whistle:
     
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  15. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    ’Tis a strange era to be a white male, even when your ancestry is littered with minorities. They see the name, they see the face, and look no further.

    From the sounds of things, your friend might be better off to do the work necessary to set this story on a distant planet in the far future peopled by alien races. ;)
     
  16. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    'Edited to add'.
     
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  17. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks, @izzybot. I can get on with my life now. :)
     
  18. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Those issues are very present even in Sweden, as you already know :) I think you nailed most of them. As you say, it's real life and happens every day (literally!) but it's too controversial in literature, while the opposite scenario (origin-wise) would be completely acceptable, probably even considered a really important story. And that's the strange thing here. A rape, if you ask me, is just as bad regardless of who the rapist is, but it's not ok to write about it picturing ourselves as anything but the "bad guys", like we can never be victims, at least not in literature.
     
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  19. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Of course it's as bad, but for fear of reinforcing stereotypes and inciting hate, even a realistic story such as that would probably not be all that wanted because so many people already express prejudiced views toward refugees and immigrants, especially on the internet. Add to that the reported amount of verbal and sometimes physical abuse immigrants and people who want to help them already receive, a publisher to be associated with that novel would probably receive so much bad press, I kinda start to understand their reluctance. If people acted more rationally irl and online, maybe we could have open, public dialogue of all kinds of experiences. However, mine was an extreme example. If your friend's book merely involves a character who's guilty of wrongthink or is associated with the wrong party (which one, Sverigedemokraterna? :whistle:) and that's enough for publishers to go, nope, this doesn't fit our narrative, that to me shows an unhealthy level of paranoia and lack of trust in their audience.
     
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  20. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    That is what I wish too. And I definitely can understand them as well, It's probably not easy to be a publisher these days either, especially in these times of extreme political correctness and the general lack of tolerance towards people of different beliefs certain people demonstrate.
     

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