Is it really March 1st already? Wow. How time flies when I’m revising a manuscript!
This isn’t the first time—and probably won’t be the last time!—that I’m trying to completely rewrite one book while promoting another that’s headed out for public consumption.
Here’s that new book, with its incredible, provocative cover design by Emily Harris:
I’m one of those weird authors who find the big book release day to be somewhat anticlimactic.
Writing a book is like a summer fling. We spend so much time together for that year or two of drafting and revising over and over again, that all of my emotions get complicated and heavy and conflicting.
I love my books because I created them, because we have this deep and nuanced understanding of one another. But they’re also needy and troublesome and need a ton of time and attention.
But then, one day, the relationship abruptly ends. It’s probably for the best—by then, I’m as tired of reading the same manuscript over and over again as the manuscript is tired of being read.
So I move on. I slog through the final proofreads, worrying in the center of my gut that what I’ve just written might not be any good.
The proofreads come and go. The ARCs are printed and sent off to reviewers.
Then, one day, you get an email about the notable mention you just got from Booklist:
“Burkhart nails all of the tense, ugly elements of sexual assault and its aftermath, from slut shaming to victim blaming. An intense look at rape on campus, this social media–savvy novel is a must-read.”
Maybe the thing I wrote is actually pretty okay.
But it turns out the up-and-down emotional roller coaster of publishing a book doesn’t get any better from there. There are good reviews and bad; moments of excitement and moments of sheer disappointment.
I remember worrying when Trump was elected, “My book isn’t going to matter if a rapist president can get elected. People don’t care at all about the difficulties that victims face.” It felt like the years I’d spent planning and writing Honor Code would simply disappear into the abyss.
The problem of institutional privilege and victim silencing in publishing
But I wasn’t the only one who felt so helpless in 2017. Then our helplessness turned to anger and fury—and it has boiled over.
Only a few weeks ago, the world of children’s literature exploded with anonymous victims revealing their experiences with sexual assault, harassment, and abuse from prominent members of the children’s book community. It wasn’t the first time that victims within the community had come forward. Poet and illustrator Charlyne Yi had come out publicly with the story of an art director, Giuseppe Castellano, pressuring her into having extramarital sex—but at the time, the story didn’t get nearly as much traction as it deserved.
We had always falsely assumed the world of publishing books for children and teens was safe. But it’s just as rife as any other with stories of privileged men abusing their positions of power for personal gratification. (Non-male abusers were also named, which is important—but the majority were men, usually best-sellers with movie and TV deals.)
And a gripe that many of us have had over the years emerged into the public eye like a multi-headed hydra: despite the overwhelming majority of women in the industry, the few men who write in our field are still given the more privileged speaking positions, better book deals, and generally treated like “rock stars.” And they are protected vigorously by the institutions that benefit from their names in conference descriptions, and the readers who love their work. Even men who had been secretly reprimanded in the past for sexual harassment and misconduct were still around, still getting work, and still making big sales.
Until now, we have relied completely on “whisper networks”—that is, the process by which women tell one another about the men to avoid. Since we’re rarely believed, and even more rarely is action ever taken against transgressors, we’ve learned how to warn each other in private places.
But whisper networks are exclusive—that is, only people in the know will know—and the rest are left to fend for themselves. The public silence means that there will continue to be victims, until someone is finally able to step forward.
As long as rape culture endures, it will never be ideal. A lot of people were frustrated with the anonymous nature of the emerging accusations. But what that anonymous platform allowed that was really revolutionary?
Those who lived in fear of repercussions could finally speak. Could finally share their horror stories, outside of the exclusive whisper network. Now anyone could know. Anyone could be warned. Anyone could avoid them.
Some agents, publishers, and conference leaders started taking action. Agents dropped clients, publishers cancelled book deals. The industry started showing the world that men who preyed on others would actually face consequences—something we rarely get to see.
Only then did some victims feel comfortable attaching their names to their accusations and owning their stories. For the first time, victims had evidence that their claims might be taken seriously, and their harassers kept out of privileged positions.
(Of course, we still have men like Daniel Handler hiding behind defenses like, “Well, that’s just my kind of humor. Get over it.” As long as men’s accomplishments are elevated above everyone else’s comfort and safety, they’ll keep getting passes for bad behavior.)
It is so rare to see any kind of justice, that on the day of Honor Code‘s release, I’m finding myself hopeful for the first time. That as slow and painful and arduous as this process is—of speaking up, of distancing ourselves from abusers, of cancelling book deals or delaying publication dates—there is some ground being gained.
There will always be things I wish I’d done differently; lessons I learned on this long journey that would have been nice to already know at the beginning.
But I’m so grateful for making it here, for all the help I got along the way, and the amazing friends, fans, and authors who have said nice things about my little baby of a book.
Love you guys. Thanks for all the fish.