The Backlist Is Not The Back Seat: On Indie Authors Appropriating Language

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The list of things that are comparable to the civil rights movement is a very short one. Actually, it’s just the words “the civil rights movement” and literally nothing else. We as a society where the voices of white people (as well as straight, cis, able bodied and so on) are amplified the loudest are prone to making the most ridiculous and insulting of comparisons. Such is the curse of privilege. You see this a lot when white people claim “reverse racism” is a thing or that the “homosexual agenda” is set to take over because gay marriage is becoming more common. Many characterise it as “political correctness gone mad” when such gross false equivalences are called out. It’s not. It’s just basic human decency.

This weekend, the Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention took place for another year, and the epitome of a storm in a teacup took place. Claims flew around Twitter that indie publishers and authors were being unfairly maligned and separated from the traditionally published authors in the giant bookfair. Courtney Milan goes into further detail about why the authors were divided in this way. It’s all to do with book sales and administrative business. This wasn’t explained so well to the RT volunteers and one made an unfortunate slip by referring to the indie section as one for “aspiring authors”. As RT pointed out on Twitter, the volunteer was quickly corrected and apologies were made. Matter solved, right?

Sadly not.

It’s unfortunate that there are now usual suspects when it comes to indie author drama. Indeed, people who were there have pointed out that this is what happened.

But that’s not how Hugh Howey sees it.

Howey, a man who has already had his fair share of controversy after a sexist rant he proudly published online, decided to take a stand against this perceived injustice to indie authors with a blog post entitled “Being Forced To Sit In The Backlist”. The obvious parallel that title draws with the plight of those who fought and many of whom died in the civil rights movement is hard to ignore. Even when a commenter pointed out to Howey that he had completely misrepresented what had happened, he dismissed them. Keep in mind that Howey was not at the convention.

He wasn’t the only author to draw this gross comparison when fighting in the corner of this total non-issue. Jamie McGuire tweeted this:

Jamie McGuire Twitter

“Segregation”. “Equality for all”.

When two white authors appropriate the language of the civil rights movement, or any minority driven movement for equality in a world that maligns and works actively to destroy them, that’s not only insulting, it’s dangerous. It trivialises generations of history for the sake of a cheap ploy of playing the victim. There is a huge difference between what happened with indie authors at RT (a business arrangement that nobody was for one moment forced to enter into) and what happened with people of colour over centuries. The backlist is not and never will be the back of the bus.

McGuire, when called out on this gross appropriation, responded glibly and dug a deeper hole:

Jamie McGuire Twitter 2

Jamie McGuire Twitter 3

McGuire says she wants to focus on the authors, yet feels the need to appropriate incredibly loaded language in order to do so. I have to ask this – who does that help? McGuire and Howey jumping to such insulting lengths while misrepresenting what happened detracts more from the issue at hand than anything else, and in the end nobody is helped. Whatever issues went down with authors at the signings, and many have made legitimate complaints that don’t rest on being so incredibly insulting, they will be discussed and dealt with in an appropriate fashion.

But it’s important to point out what is explicitly inappropriate in such matters too, even when it means giving attention to something you rather wouldn’t. There is no excuse for this kind of privileged appropriation of language, history and ideas. The indie publishing world is being taken seriously more these days and that respect will inevitably continue to grow because that’s the way the industry is heading. Some authors in that field could do well to learn from their traditional counterparts when it comes to public relations.


  1. The situation at the RT Book Fair was influenced by many factors – too many authors wanting to sign, too many fans, too little space, and a fire marshall with safety issues.

    Two years ago, RT hosted a separate signing for indies, small press, and comics so participants to could sell their books that are not normally carried by booksellers like Barnes and Noble. I believe the “indies” asked to be included in the giant book fair, creating the challenge on how to “check out” book through the Barnes and Noble store supporting the event. I believe the separation indended to make this possible. Perhaps it failed. Perhaps a volunteer misspoke. Perhaps readers and authors became frustrated. But I do know that RT attempts to support all authors who participate in the convention.

    That being said, RT hosted an inspiring Welcome Party that spotlighted diversity and humanity. By the time the trailblazing authors of color came to the podium, many readers had abandoned the party after eating their crepes. I sat through the two hour presentation that ended with Oliva Gates sharing how Romanceland came to her aid when she was not able to return home to Egypt during its grown violence. It’s too bad that those in Romanceland who seek “diversity” and “fairness” were not there to celebrate these milestones. I was and I am a better reader for it.

  2. When indie authors complain about not getting respect this is why. Holy crap what a stunning display of entitlement and unchecked privilege.


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