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This exposé of a crime writer is a damning indictment of the way publishing treats women

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Sarah Shaffi
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Authors Night At East Hampton Library EAST HAMPTON, NY - AUGUST 11: A.J. Finn attends Authors Night At East Hampton Library on August 11, 2018 in East Hampton, New York. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for East Hampton Library)

Dan Mallory’s rapid rise through publishing illustrates the privilege within the industry.

AJ Finn is a bestselling author, whose debut psychological thriller The Woman in the Window was bought in a two-book, $2m (approximately £1.5m) deal and became a bestseller that’s been adapted for the big screen.

Before his success as an author Finn, whose real name is Dan Mallory, worked at some of the UK and US’ largest publishing houses.

Now an exposé by the New Yorker has detailed a series of alleged deceptions by Mallory, including that he lied about his mother’s death from cancer (she’s still very much alive) and his brother’s suicide (he is also still alive). 

But while the story makes for incredulous reading, it is Mallory’s rapid rise in publishing that has received the most attention: he went from an assistant to an executive editor on a salary of $200,000 (approximately £153,000) in just a few years.

ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2019 JAIPUR, INDIA - JANUARY 24: AJ Finn during Woman in the Window session at ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2019, at Diggi Palace, on January 24, 2019 in Jaipur, India. (Photo by Amal KS/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Dan Mallory, who writes under the pen name AJ Finn, at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2019, talking about The Woman in the Window.

Twitter users have said the article is a damning indictment of how easily and quickly the publishing industry elevates men while women, especially women of colour, have to work much harder to find success and are held to higher standards.

The UK publishing industry is around 70% women, but the latest list of the 100 most influential people in the trade, compiled by The Bookseller, contained just 46% women.

The four biggest publishing companies in the UK are all headed by white men, and there are few women of colour in top positions at large companies – exceptions include Bonnier Publishing CEO Perminder Mann, and Sharmaine Lovegrove, publisher at Dialogue Books, part of Little, Brown. 

Author Laura Sebastian tweeted that the New Yorker story was “wild and hilarious until you remember that young women of color are leaving publishing in droves while mediocre white men continue to find enormous success while making subzero effort and creating hostile work environments for their coworkers”.

According to the New Yorker article, Mallory started as an editorial assistant at Ballantine, an imprint of Random House in New York, where he was suspected of leaving plastic cups filled with urine in and around his boss’s office. Mallory, who quit the job, has denied responsibility. A few months later, he used a credit card belonging to his former company, but insisted this was in error.

When looking for a job in the UK, he described himself as a former editor at Ballantine rather than an assistant, and also said that he received a doctorate from Oxford University. These claims - both untrue - weren’t checked by his employers, and Mallory got a mid-level job as an editor at Sphere, an imprint of Little, Brown in London.

An editor at Ballantine told the New Yorker that they recalled feeling that Mallory “hadn’t done enough” to get the job. 

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Mallory left Little, Brown for a job at William Morrow, part of HarperCollins, in New York for a starting salary estimated to be at least $200,000 a year.

In a tweet thread Ruoxi Chen, editor at science fiction and fantasy imprint Tor in the US, said that the story of Mallory was “damning & illustrative” of the privilege and gatekeeping in the publishing industry.

She compared Mallory to Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland, saying that he “didn’t even have to be GOOD at lying to fail up” from editorial assistant to executive editor.

“I know brilliant women who have been stuck at the same title while doing all of the work in the same amount of time,” she added, asserting that “most women in publishing have a story about a Dan Mallory type”.

US-based literary agent Kurestin Armada said Mallory’s story illustrated the “glass ceiling” faced by women and how often men’s career paths were accelerated because of a “feeling” that they would be a success.

Wei Ming Kam, who works in digital marketing at UK-based Oberon Books, said the story was “one of the most unsurprising and embarrassing accounts of how a mediocre white man will get away with so much in publishing”. She added that publishers in the UK and US should be thinking “very hard” about “how many other Daniel Mallorys are working in the industry RIGHT NOW”.

Writer Gwenda Bond asked: “Could anyone imagine a woman getting away with this? (No.) Could anyone imagine someone from a less fortunate background getting away with this in publishing? (No.)”

The film of The Woman in the Window, starring Amy Adams, Gary Oldman and Julianne Moore, is currently in post-production and, according to the New Yorker, Mallory is planning a second novel that he wants to then turn into a television series.

It seems, as Bond tweets, that society is not yet done with shielding “rich white guys from consequences, almost without exception”.

Images: Getty

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Sarah Shaffi

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.