It makes sense that for a novel to have the widest universal appeal, it must offend the smallest number of people, not make people turn away from it because their politics or religion are different, their opinions about what scientific choices our culture are following are good, and which bad, about controversial subjects. It can’t be revolutionary, question societal norms, imply anything about government, trends, lifestyle, preferences. And somehow, a lot of books do manage to approximate that impossible “ideal” by strict avoidance of anything that could temp the authors to express individual thought.
But is it truly possible? What seems like a neutral book would only seem to a certain population, because they share world-views. If the book were translated and given to a shaman in an obscure primitive country, for example, the world view would seem very bizarre to him, and would not fit how he interpreted reality. Really, what book publishers are looking for when they require authors to avoid taking a stance on anything is that they want them to fit the status quo.
Here is a quote from Kindle Scout guidelines.
“To give your book the best chance of passing review and qualifying for all featured Amazon marketing, you should design a great cover while avoiding the use of:
– Representations of violence, including weapons, blood, or graphic gore
– Iconography, paraphernalia, or imagery that represents a distinct world view, point of view, or political stance
– Partial nudity or provocative imagery that is suggestive of sex or violence”
Authors, characters, books, and themes should have no distinct world view. No point of view. Think about that for a minute. Is that not a somewhat shocking and extreme concept? I’d be curious to hear what you think about that, not just for Kindle Scout. I have no beef with them, am just using them as an example of something much larger in the publishing industry.
Is not taking a stance, making a subtle recommendation through the action, drawing attention through the events to policies that could change, or should be more thoroughly implemented, showing how certain beliefs and practices would play out in narrative a great opportunity for authors? Isn’t that what a lot of people consider the mark of a great book, and the deepest role of an author in the context of cultural progress? Getting people to think?
True, the quote from Kindle Scout is only referring to the cover, but it has to apply also to the text itself, at least to some degree, and I feel it’s a common consideration. What does it mean in Literary Fiction to have no world view? To be a Progressive. To share the same political orientation as most others do within that niche, to be an atheist Liberal. Nothing wrong with that in the least.
But it’s just not — no world view. It just dismisses other world views as not something to consider. Maybe to be popular in that niche, the books shouldn’t have a protagonist whose atheism makes people think, or who confronts a religious person about his beliefs in a way that implies the author shares those ideas. Maybe Republicans, Greens, or Libertarians should not be protagonists. The protagonists’ personal qualities should make people assume they are Democrats, because that’s what the majority of the readers (which means other writers) are in the Literary Small Press enclave.
Vaccines should always be accepted, along with any other Big Pharma drugs, hippies should always be stereotypes, guns are bad, m’kay, anything CNN says happened happened, conspiracies don’t exist, getting drunk is great, all history text books are right, even when they contradict themselves, got it, buster?
But what about Genre? For Kindle Scout, that’s apparently just as much about fitting in and not causing a stir as the Literary books. There is really more leeway there in publishing in general, because there are more readers. If the book has an unpopular political take on the world, there are still more buyers for it with a subset of the population than any Literary book would have, no matter how it fit the dominant paradigm. But the Top 5 of course, would not put it out. That’s one wonderful thing that the self-publishing revolution in Genre books has accomplished — the allowability of personal or unsanctioned viewpoints. In other words, freedom of speech.
Kindle Scout talks about how to make the cover, and isn’t asking for professionally made ones. Where do authors go for that? Many use free photos, and even more use companies that go through pre-made images. Many professional designers also use the images offered out there rather than commissioning new ones. What are the choices?
Take a look at what’s available. Everyone is white. They all have conservative hair, other than the evil-doers. The women are thin and shorter than the men, with medium sized to small breasts and butts, unless they are sexpots, and then they have large breasts and butts. No minorities other than a few African Americans, but no Asians, no mixed, no Filipinos. Looking for an image of a Hispanic executive in stock photos? Good luck with that.
Do any women on the covers have a little pudge, dress down, wear glasses, have frizzy hair, or freckles? If they do, are they going to get the guy? Only if they are secondary characters there to add humor. Are any of people in stock photos unusually tall or short, are beautiful, exciting people in wheelchairs or with white canes? Do any of the male protagonists in the photos have hairy backs, uneven bald spots, moles, narrow shoulders and pale skin? If they do, take a guess at what kinds of roles they play and which they are excluded from. Are they ever shorter or thinner or younger than the women they’re with, unless that’s the point of the book?
There is a strong world view about who matters, who is acceptable for what roles in fiction, who we pay attention to as the protagonist and who is relegated to being in the subplot, largely because of money. The largest buyers for the stock photos have to be represented almost entirely, and advertisers target them. But my point here goes beyond the need for diversification. I’m really looking at an existential thing. “No distinct point of view.”
Seriously, what does that even mean? I would love to hear what people think. “No distinct world view.” Where would that leave Philip K. Dick? Where would that leave anyone? You, me? I mean, a robot, or a mind controlled slave, sure, they can have pretty indistinct world views. But people? How can that be, and what does that statement do to the psyche of authors who want to submit their books there, or to other publishers, most of which have similar criteria, just don’t spell it out. I’m glad Scout actually came out and said it.
We must all have the same world view that doesn’t make waves, or express individual passions and eccentricities, much less thoughts that a large minority of the dominant country have. The world view we share must not be stated directly to be up for dissection but only be understated, implied, so people don’t even realize it’s there, and accept it as reality.
This doesn’t affect only writers, but it affects how all the readers think too, and even people who don’t read fiction, who only see the book covers in the stands. This is social engineering on a macro scale, more effect than direct communication, but through the subconscious acceptance that the images we see on popular book covers represent “no world view.” And that, my friend, is a fiction.