Skip to content

The Big Boys’ Table

Posted in Uncategorized

I’m talking to a male author at a signing event. He writes thrillers and horror and he’s standing in front of tall promotional banners bearing big-name praise for his books. He’s normal and personable and not braggy.

Which is what makes it worse when he says that his first contract resulted in a seven-figure advance.

He explains how much support he’s gotten from big names, the movie and television rights he’d sold. How none of his subsequent advances have been below six figures.

And how he’d gotten a lot of this attention because an indie book he’d published had reached sales figures that are fairly average to midlist indie romance authors.

“Anyone can do what I did,” he says of his marketing tactics at the beginning. He’s a nice guy and genuinely believes his good luck at stumbling upon a marketing tactic that worked is why he’s being handed big checks and bigger opportunities. He wants his fellow authors to succeed. He wants to pay it forward and help them the way he was helped. Because everyone has been so nice to him, so eager to see his star rise. He tells a story about one of the biggest names in the business flying him out to spend a weekend in his guest house and saying, “We’re going to get you a seat at the big boys’ table.”

It’s a story out of a writer’s wildest dreams.

It’s a story out of a male writer’s wildest dreams.

Those words, “the big boys’ table”, undoubtedly thrilled him in the retelling of the tale. Who doesn’t fantasize about having a rich, powerful person promise them that every dream they have is about to come true? But they didn’t have the same inspirational effect on me that he was probably going for. A moment before, I’d been listening to a fascinating story of an author who really, truly believes in himself and the power of our art.

A moment later, I was slapped with a reminder that these wild literary adventures aren’t for me or any other woman. Because there’s no seat for a female author at “the big boys’ table.”

This table, as I imagine it, is more of a conglomeration of high top bar tables crowded together with bowls of peanuts and pretzels and plenty of room for empty beer glasses. For the most part, it’s cis, straight, white men basking in the camaraderie here. They’re in the center. They’re the ones who can pass you the pretzels or the appetizer menu. If you’re not white or straight or cis or male, they have the authority to say, “Grab another chair! Join us!”

But for the most part, anyone outside the demographic will undoubtedly be told that the management asked them not to rearrange any more tables. That the gathering is unfortunately just wrapping up. That they’ve all just asked for their checks. The peanuts are gone and someone spilled their beer into the pretzels. We’ve missed out.

The male author I spoke to, the one who gets six and seven figure advances, the one who gives credit to his marketing and the kindness of other authors for his success, will probably never understand why a female author’s eyes glaze over upon hearing about his invitation to “the big boys’ table”. As time passes, someone will tell him to chalk up our sudden disinterest to envy. He may stop trying to reach out to help anyone who won’t fit in with the crowd at that table, believing all of us too jealous or bitter to help. It’s entirely possible that no one will ever tell him that the only competition he had for his seat was from other cis white men.

Does this mean his books aren’t good? No. I haven’t read them, but I plan to read his next release because it sounds incredible. Does it mean he hasn’t worked for the success he’s received? Not at all. He’s a hybrid author currently working on self-published releases alongside traditionally published ones, which is no easy feat. The problem isn’t this author or that he’s been offered a seat at the big boys’ table. The problem is that when another man is invited to that table, they forget why they’re there. They don’t notice the people who aren’t sitting with them.

And the men who’ve spent a lot of time at that table know this. They’ve carefully engineered the situation to be this way. And they’re going to tell you that it’s your fault that you’re not taken seriously. That if you wrote something more “literary”, if you used your initials or a male pen name, if you didn’t waste time on this or that publisher, there would be room for you. That it’s not them. It’s not the institution. It’s you.

How can we expect to be treated equitably in a business that openly sneers at its best-selling genre simply because of the people who write it and buy it? How can we believe publishers who insist that they’re giving everyone a fair shake while indulging in boys’ club terminology? Why are we told that men who’ve written fewer books and done half our sales have proven themselves and earned astronomical advances that our work pays to provide?

How stupid do you think we are?

As long as powerful people in traditional publishing describes success in such terms, there is no reason for the rest of us to court industry favor. The game is rigged, so there’s no reason to continue playing. No one is going to come right out and say, “You aren’t welcome,” especially when they can still make money from your work. But they clearly have no issue with acknowledging the truth in casual conversation.

There’s no neat wrap up to this post. There’s no call action. There’s just me, a female writer, sitting at a book signing and dreaming of burning a cheerful watering hole full of jovial male writers to the ground.

Did you enjoy this post?

Trout Nation content is always free, but you can help keep things going by making a small donation via Ko-fi!

Or, consider becoming a Patreon patron!

40 Comments

  1. Gretel
    Gretel

    “Which is what makes it worse when he says that his first contract resulted in a seven-figure advance.”

    I’m speechless. And a little angry.

    “And how he’d gotten a lot of this attention because an indie book he’d published had reached sales figures that are fairly average to midlist indie romance authors.”

    Still speechless, very angry now.

    When privilige is so normal to you, so part of the world’s default, the status quo of your whole existence that you can’t even see, even less conceive of a world where your experience is otherworldly to most people.
    (I’m talking of a general ‘you’, in this case people like the author and the author himself, not Jenny, just to clear things up.)

    Kindness coupled with ignorance and naïvity is suffocating. It’s what helps keep the system as it is. Blindness to privilege is nothing more than “We have to be nice!”.

    All the best to him but wow, he sounds so incredibly unreflective it’s enraging.

    August 6, 2018
    |Reply
  2. Drea Cranford
    Drea Cranford

    Many people get so tied in knots by the idea of privilege. I’ve heard so many people say “Well, not every cis white man makes it, so privilege doesn’t exist. That guy was just more talented.”

    No one is claiming that the person isn’t talented, it’s just that men like him are giving the chance to showcase that talent when so many women and POC aren’t. Other men mentor them, give them a ‘seat at the table,’ decide that their writing is “good” because it reminds them of their own.

    It’s such a little phrase, but it means so much when you’re on the outside looking in and when you’ll never be one of the guys.

    August 6, 2018
    |Reply
  3. Pansy Petal
    Pansy Petal

    I hear you. After chatting with him a bit, I was wondering why he was at such a small event. I adored meeting y’all. Did you notice though, that he felt a bit outside the the group. I mean really, all these female romance writers whooping it up and him wondering where the party is. I kind of felt bad for him until I visited his table and he started name dropping. Face it, we did have more fun! It was great meeting you!

    August 6, 2018
    |Reply
    • It WAS wonderful meeting you too, Pansy! <3

      August 6, 2018
      |Reply
  4. Your perspective is one I was too naiive to really comprehend at the time. It takes me more time to process events and apply emotion to them. In hindsight, I’m saddened by the way it seems “lightning strikes” male authors so much more often than it strikes female, especially romance, most especially WOC or GBLT romance writers.

    Being my first signing, I got caught up in the busy-ness, the socialization, the laughter, and the annoyance at myself over how many damn books I ordered for the event. It never occurred to me to be offended on behalf of female writers. Your perspective is hard-earned over YEARS of hard work and immense talent. There is a gaping hole where you should be enjoying the kind of success this male author is currently enjoying.

    HUGS to you, and here’s a match.

    August 6, 2018
    |Reply
    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      It’s like, I know this author whom I adore personally but who I fell in love with through her work. She has written what I believe to be THE gaslight fantasy series to end all gaslight fantasy series. And she’s not getting the movie deals. She’s not getting the huge advances. She’s no less deserving of this kind of thing, but nobody is giving her a hand and saying explicitly, we’ve got your back, we’re going to make you a star guaranteed.

      August 7, 2018
      |Reply
  5. I am SO curious to know more about his magical marketing voodoo…

    August 7, 2018
    |Reply
    • Failed Indie
      Failed Indie

      Meanwhile, I can’t step foot outside my proverbial front door without somebody trying to sell me their Super Secret Special Sauce Authorpreneur Marketing Technique(tm) for just $129.99 per webinar.

      Can we switch places?

      August 7, 2018
      |Reply
      • Nobody EVER tries to get me to buy a SSSSAMT(tm). Jamberry, LulaRoe, Pampered Chef, Youfuckingnique, Rodan & Fields, YES. But not SSSSAMT(tm).

        August 7, 2018
        |Reply
        • Failed Indie
          Failed Indie

          Hmmmmm… those things all make me pretty screamy too. Pass, then. 🙂

          (Seriously, though, any writing advice podcast or site other than the Big Damn Writer Advice column here. It’s all #content and #brand and stuff. Which I know is what works, etc., etc., I just want to get better at plots and “copy the book at the top of the Amazon chart” is not what I mean)

          August 7, 2018
          |Reply
          • Lol fair enough, FI. Fair enough! (ftr, I do very much enjoy the I Should Be Writing Podcast.)

            August 8, 2018
  6. CI-B
    CI-B

    Glad I didn’t have a mouthful of coffee while reading about those 6 and 7-figures; I’d have done a horridly messy spit-take.

    This is one of the reasons I love hearing big names mention how *lucky* they were, and how many other authors/actors/comics/jugglers/whatever they’ve known who worked just as hard or harder haven’t “made it” not because of lack of effort or talent, but just from pure happenstance (and the good ones always put those names out there to boost them).

    I’ve always found the “anyone can do what I’ve done” less than inspirational as well – it sets an expectation of something that just won’t happen for like 99.9% of people who do the same thing. Yeah, anyone CAN, but results may vary, even for the enormously talented.

    And yeah. Ugh. “Big Boys’ Table.” Bleccch. Word choices, guys.

    August 7, 2018
    |Reply
    • Dove
      Dove

      It’s especially bad because the implication is that everyone, including white cis guys, are little kids and not adults until they hit that random lucky break. He should be irked that the rich, white assholes were infantilizing him but he’s just so happy to be included that he didn’t notice.

      Also, I’m curious what that jerk who snuck into the women’s writing group would think of this. I’m sure he’d promptly change his mind about his “theory”, drop his female pseudonym, and attempt the same marketing tactic, without batting an eyelash.

      August 7, 2018
      |Reply
  7. Katie Emm
    Katie Emm

    His first advance was seven figures?!?! That book better have been something like number 1 on the NYT list (and get there fairly), or that’s beyond bullshit.

    Seriously, who the hell gets a seven figure advance from ANYTHING?

    August 7, 2018
    |Reply
    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      Neither a NYT bestseller or a USA Today bestseller. No #1 spots at all, it seems.

      August 7, 2018
      |Reply
      • JennyTrout
        JennyTrout

        And when I say “Neither a NYT bestseller or a USA Today bestseller,” he doesn’t seem to tout himself as having made either list.

        August 7, 2018
        |Reply
      • MyDog'sPA
        MyDog'sPA

        Wait. For seven figures it’d better be the next ‘Harry Potter.’ How does that happen on something not #1? Andy Weir got The Martian started, but his fans propelled him up to bestselling status and then the movie deal.

        Could it be this guy’s nose is 6 feet long?

        August 7, 2018
        |Reply
        • Dove
          Dove

          Omg what if he lied because he thought it would help him score? Pffft. 😀

          I’d believe that sooner, but then again, stupid rich people are bad with money so who knows for sure?

          August 8, 2018
          |Reply
          • Alex Silvers
            Alex Silvers

            …honestly, him trying to impress women/female authors with his supposed success makes a lot more sense than him making so much moiney yet coming to this small event.

            I mean maybe I’m wrong and he’s just what he seems, but… idk, that elreally seems like a ‘get in her pants’ tactic.

            August 8, 2018
          • MyDog'sPA
            MyDog'sPA

            If he’s really making 7 figures on his first deal and 6 on subsequent ones, he’d be the mainliner at a big publisher’s booth.

            Jenny wasn’t specific, but was this table his own or the publisher’s? Banners are cheap, $100 to $200 each. For 7 figures, the publisher is going to fly him out to the convention and set him up at their booth, not make him go to his own.

            Something does not compute.

            Also, why the 7 figures for the first deal, 6 for subsequent ones? That seems bass-ackwards.

            It’s possible, though, that he really thinks this and the ‘publisher’ hasn’t paid him yet. So they lied to him.

            A few weeks ago at SDCC an hour before closing a kid comes around to our small press booth bragging he’s a ‘big producer’ and wants us to give him a free comic so he can shop it around and make us famous. We’d seen the scam before, so we told him to go away. He was incredulous that we’d turn down such an amazing offer for instant fame. He didn’t act like any of the other producers who came by, was too inexperienced, and just wanted free stuff that would have cost him $35. If he really was a producer who could get things made, he’d have the $35 to buy it. We said ‘no.’ We don’t give our product away. We’re not that desperate.

            I wonder if this guy got scammed?

            August 8, 2018
          • MyDog'sPA
            MyDog'sPA

            Also, there are the very rare cases where a story captures the imagination of a studio exec and they believe in it so much they buy the property. Case in point: Dave Petersen’s “Mouseguard’ graphic novel (written and beautifully illustrated by him) Great story, great illustrations with impeccable detail, great characters. They didn’t pay him 7 figures, but the guy at Warner’s really wanted it. It’s in development hell right now, but at least it’s making forward progress.

            We’re very happy for Dave. But he has a very good product. So it can happen. It is very rare, but not impossible.

            August 8, 2018
          • Jenny Trout
            Jenny Trout

            The reason he was at the signing was that it was for an animal rescue. It was a charity thing we were all doing.

            August 8, 2018
        • Jenny Trout
          Jenny Trout

          While it would be nice to go, “Oh, he’s a liar, that doesn’t happen,” the fact is that it does happen and this was all easily verifiable. It’s 100% legit. The worst part is, he wasn’t even really bragging, or at least, he didn’t come off that way to me. He just seemed really eager to share his success with another author and be like, hey, this is something anyone can do. He probably didn’t realize how that would sound to someone who’s been in the business for close to fifteen years now.

          August 8, 2018
          |Reply
          • Dove
            Dove

            Ahh, understood. Yeah, it’s disappointing because he didn’t realize that 1) anyone doesn’t mean everyone, 2) true randomness means there’s almost nothing that can be done to increase the chance of success, and 3) rich people in power are the ones that dictate who else gets rich in situations like these, notably others who are similarly privileged. I mean, that’s everything you said but I felt like breaking it down. 😛

            August 9, 2018
          • Dove
            Dove

            Forgot to add, good on him for going to a charity event. (I shouldn’t have assumed he was a jerk.) I’m glad you guys at least had fun, btw, and I hope a lot of funds were raised. 🙂

            August 9, 2018
  8. Catlinye Maker
    Catlinye Maker

    Seven figures… Is he counting the decimal places?

    August 8, 2018
    |Reply
  9. Dove
    Dove

    Mydog’spa, on my phone, so harder to copy, but i’m thrilled to hear that a Mouseguard movie might get made! Sad it’s in development hell tho, i hope they don’t kill it. I’d also be happy with a tv series. Fingers crossed.

    August 8, 2018
    |Reply
    • Dove
      Dove

      Forgot to add, as far as a potential scam goes, that would also make more sense, and i’d feel sorry for him if so. Then again, I wouldn’t be telling people about an advance if I didn’t have it already. That’s not an advance until it’s in your bank account.

      I agree, it’s not impossible, but this guy looked left out when it came to just hanging out and was bragging without seeming like it… sounds like he has good technique and enough knowledge to be in the right place at the right time but not enough sense to pick a good dialogue for his humble self. I bet he was a Nice Guy tm.

      August 8, 2018
      |Reply
    • MyDog'sPA
      MyDog'sPA

      Dove, ‘development hell’ is probably too strong a term. It’s not in turnaround or anything, they are making progress, so I suppose it’s the standard ‘development.’ At least it was when I talked with Dave at Wondercon earlier this year. It just takes a long time, and he has a champion in the exec tower rooting for the project. So as long as that guy stays around, Dave’s story will make forward progress.

      Fingers crossed!

      August 8, 2018
      |Reply
      • Dove
        Dove

        Awesome, more hope in that case. His comics are like Redwall but with less bias and more drama. I’d love to see that in animation too.

        August 9, 2018
        |Reply
  10. SaintSithney
    SaintSithney

    I find this really discouraging. I have severe performance anxiety with my writing, and it’s made worse by the fact that I have severe physical disabilities that prevent almost any hob-nobbing. If it’s so hard for a talented woman writer to get noticed (and nearly impossible for her to be appreciated), it seems impossible for a disabled, asexual, agendered butch-female-presenting writer to even be acknowledged.

    I’ve talked to a few people at conventions (behind my allergy filter mask), and they’ve all said that my story about EMT’s IN SPACE sounds really cool and fun… but I keep psyching myself out from writing it.

    August 10, 2018
    |Reply
  11. Crystal M
    Crystal M

    Wow, Jenny, that sounds enraging. What makes it worse is that I see wealthy white male politicians on TV proclaiming that because “this is America,” anyone can achieve anything they want just by working hard like they did. Everyone should be able to have a mansion and ten yachts, with a little effort. If you are poor, it’s because you’re too lazy and not trying hard enough. It’s a media narrative that I really hate. Of course, those men can get those things with a “bit of effort” because of their privilege, and the luck of being born into a rich, important family.

    August 11, 2018
    |Reply
  12. Boy do I feel this… talked about so many times. Having to perform at 2-300% to get mediocre results, while those who fit the bill do hardly anything and get praise heaped upon them.

    Frustrating. Working hard should net results, not a ‘don’t compare, just work harder’ response. I do compare, because I’m assessing my platform and what I might be doing wrong. That’s part of business. What I come up with is: the powers that be are conspiring against me to keep me unknown/unseen, or institutional sexism and implicit bias are keeping me back by insinuating by my appearance and gender that I am not to be taken seriously.

    Exactly how should I look to inspire confidence in my work? This is bull shit. My credentials should be enough (mountains of enough), but they’re disregarded or sneered at. My appearance, I’ve noticed can often inspire hatred (for what else could make folks assume I’m the worst by just seeing me, never knowing me?)

    It is a fucked up world, for sure. #topsyturvyday

    August 26, 2018
    |Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *