Women and non-white writers say bestselling author James Patterson's comments that white men face racism in the industry are about as believable as his psychological thrillers.
"The myth that people of color have an easier time getting their work published is simply untrue and harmful," said Roseanne A. Brown, a New York Times bestselling author of young adult books.
Patterson, the 75-year-old crime and mystery novelist who in the past three months has published an autobiography and coauthored a book with Dolly Parton, said an interview with the UK's Sunday Times that he feared it has become difficult for white men to get film and publishing jobs and called it “just another form of racism.”
“Can you get a job? Yes. Is it harder? Yes,” Patterson said. “It’s even harder for older writers. You don’t meet many 52-year-old white males.”
Patterson apologized on social media three days after the interview was published, saying, “I absolutely do not believe that racism is practiced against white writers.”
But the comments made their mark on Book Twitter, where members of the book community fought back against his frustrating statements.
Brown told BuzzFeed News that Patterson’s comments “struck a nerve” with her as a Black woman.
“It's part of an insidious pattern myself and many BIPOC authors face, where a few gains by writers of color in our industry are seen as this overwhelming wave pushing white writers out,” she said
Instead the industry remains skewed toward white writers, and the majority of people working in publishing — from the editors to the sales and marketing reps — are also white, noted Brown.
According to the New York Times, 89% of books published in 2018 were written by white authors. The Diversity Baseline Survey found that 85% of the people who acquire and edit books are white as well.
“The idea that white people in publishing are suffering from reverse racism is nonsense,” said Margaret Owen, a YA fantasy author, who is white. “My feeling is, if you’re a white man and you’re having trouble finding work, reflect on whether some of that difficulty is self-inflicted."
Multiple people pointed out that Patterson once published children’s books from authors with diverse backgrounds under his Jimmy Patterson imprint, but now only prints his own solo or coauthored work.
“His whole ‘white authors are suffering thing’ comes after a ‘I want to profit off diversity’ thing,” Latinx graphic designer and writer Sandra Proudman wrote on Twitter.
Librarians noted that Patterson, who has written more than 200 books, takes up quite a bit of (literal) room in the literary realm.
“As a librarian, all I’m saying is that my library could replace half of our James Patterson books with books by marginalized authors and we would still have more Patterson books than books by almost any other single author,” @dirty_librarian wrote on Twitter.
Patterson is one of the richest living writers — the New Yorker just published a profile centered around how wealthy he is — thanks to more than 400 million books sold, his prolific publishing output, and his production company that turns those bestsellers into TVs and shows.
In contrast, Black authors — both historically and still today — regularly receive lower advances for their work. Brown told BuzzFeed News that the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe, created by author L.L. McKinney, highlighted that discrepancy.
“This is on top of dealing with racism and other forms of bigotry both in the lead-up to and after the launch of our books,” she said. “I'd like to see more energy put toward supporting BIPOC authors by way of livable advances, increased in-house marketing and sales support for BIPOC-authored books, and increased hiring and retention of BIPOC employees.”
Though much of the power to shake up the industry lies with the people who sign checks at publishing houses, Book Twitter hasn’t stopped roasting Patterson with statistics and memes. It was enough to draw a response out of Patterson, so maybe word will get around to the powers that be.