Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Open Letter to a Publisher

Dear Unnamed Publisher:

One of your marketing people sent me an e-mail recently, offering to give me an advance copy of a "true story of autism" for my review.

I ought to have known better than to click on the "more info" link. After all, insanity as defined by Albert Einstein consists of doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results. And I've seen enough of the publishing industry's exploitation of autism so that the results of clicking on that link were all too predictable. Still, I had a tiny speck of hope that perhaps there might be something different this time—something other than the usual melodramatic litany of an agonizing disease with hellish symptoms, a puzzling and ever-worsening medical mystery, et cetera. That hope was, of course, promptly dashed.

No doubt stories like that are quite profitable for your company. You wouldn't be printing them otherwise. And of course, your readers would have no interest in a true story of an autistic person who was just as happy with his or her life as anyone else. They'd die of boredom reading about the very ordinary day I had yesterday: After work, I watered my ordinary suburban lawn for a few hours, pulled some weeds, bought a new pair of oven mitts, cooked dinner, and watched the first half of Monday Night Football.

Your shareholders probably would toss you out on your ear if you ever jeopardized their profits by considering the social implications of what you print. Like any other company, you're in business to make money, regardless of who gets trampled in the process. Why should you care if an autistic child gets excluded from school because the administrators, caught up in mass hysteria, are afraid to have him in their classrooms? It's none of your concern, is it, when an autistic job applicant is rejected because the hiring manager assumes that she is a tragic sufferer with hellish symptoms and would surely cost too much to accommodate? What does it matter to you if a landlord evicts an autistic tenant because of unfounded prejudices?

I'm sure that in a few more years, when the market for autism horror stories has been saturated, you'll cheerfully move on to whatever the next fad may be. You won't even give a moment's thought to the millions of people worldwide who will have to spend the rest of their lives struggling against the prejudices that you took part in creating. In fact, you probably stopped reading this letter several paragraphs ago because you decided that your time could be spent more profitably. There's always someone else to exploit, after all.

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  • sounds like you got the same email I did

    By Anonymous CS, at 5:13 PM  

  • That's awful ABFH, if you need a shoulder to cry on, I'm here for you hon.

    By Blogger Foresam, at 6:43 PM  

  • CS: Yes, we're probably on a lot of the same junk mail lists.

    Foresam: Getting desperate for female company, hmmm? I'll pass.

    By Blogger abfh, at 6:00 PM  

  • Yeah, and it's not like it has to be tragic to be interesting (whether true or fiction). I'm writing a novel right now that has autistic characters, of varying levels of disability, and they are just other characters in the book - unusual ones sure, but it's not about "oh, look at those poor creatures trapped in their autism".

    By Blogger geosaru, at 11:45 AM  

  • ABFH,
    Do guys only come on to you who are desperate? How many six packs will I have to drink before you look good?

    By Blogger Foresam, at 10:35 PM  

  • Geosaru: If they didn't sensationalize autism, they wouldn't be able to market anything as a "true story of autism" because that would be much too generic to attract buyers. They -- and their authors -- would actually have to use some creativity for a change.

    Foresam: Not being a drunk myself, I wouldn't know. You'd probably have better luck with women sans the booze.

    By Blogger abfh, at 8:31 AM  

  • Did you actually send that, or just post it on here? 'Cause if it seemed pointless to send it... well, it probably is, but I don't know - one intern at the publisher's office might absorb something from it, even if the high-ups don't...

    I can tell the difference between the people who know about autism from TRAGIC TALES OF WOE, and the people who know about it from more sensible sources. It's just comically easy.

    I mention I'm autistic, and perceptive members of the latter lot think for a while, and say "I thought you might be".

    The former lot? "No! You can't be!"

    OK... I'm not (?)

    By Blogger Oliver A. FP, at 9:17 AM  

  • Hope=insanity then

    By Blogger Mark p.s., at 7:53 AM  

  • Good letter. I know what you mean about hoping it might just be something decent, only to find it's more of what you called "autism horror stories."

    I reckon that my story about raising an autistic child who just gets on with doing the best he can, and whose parents and siblings don't feel has compromised their life in some awful way, would be as interesting to publishers as your story of a normal autistic life.

    By Blogger Sharon, at 10:22 AM  

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