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Colleen Oefelein is a former military woman living in Alaska. She is a chemical engineer with a degree in German from the University of Pennsylvania, but despite this, she has been working for years as a literary agent and writing, as literature is her true passion.
Oefelein began working with the literary agency Jennifer De Chiara in February 2018. She specialized in romance novels and young adult fiction, one of the largest niche markets in the United States. Despite her academic degrees, her preparation, and that she performed her job efficiently, she was fired “because of her conservative ideas.”
On January 25, via Twitter, the agency’s president, Jennifer De Chiara, announced that the agency recently became aware of Oefelein’s use of Parler and Gab, and she was fired:
“The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency was distressed to discover this morning, January 25th, that one of our agents has been using the social media platforms Gab and Parler. We do not condone this activity, and we apologize to anyone who has been affected or offended by this,” De Chiara tweeted. “The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency has in the past and will continue to ensure a voice of unity, equality, and one that is on the side of social justice.”
The tweets ended by mentioning Oefelein. “As of this morning, Colleen Oefelein is no longer an agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency”.
Oefelein confirmed her termination in a tweet.
“Well thanks Twitter and @JDLitAgency,” Oefelein wrote. “I just got fired because I’m a Christian and a conservative.”
In El American we spoke exclusively with Colleen Oefelein to learn a little more about the reasons for her dismissal, and the cancellation culture that is now also present in publishing houses and literary representation agencies, with a huge leftist bias.
Colleen you were fired from your job as a literary agent for having a social media account in Gab and Parler which is argued to be full of conservatives. My question is, what crime did you commit and what argument did they make for your dismissal?
I didn’t commit any crime, and I didn’t violate any of my former agency’s policies.
Is it now a sin to be a conservative in America? Is it forbidden to believe in traditional American values?
It would seem to be a sin in the church of Twitter and in the church of the American publishing industry to be not-on-the-left. Even folks like me, who used to consider themselves politically in the middle, are finding that what used to be “the middle” is now considered conservative or even “alt-right” by many on the left. It’s also considered racism and white supremacism if you’re not willing to be a left-leaning social activist. It’s quite shocking.
You worked at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, is that literary agency specialized in politics or what is the reason for retaliating against you?
As far as I know, The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency doesn’t specialize in politics. I represented fiction during my association there. A lawyer once told me that a literary agency is entitled to cater to their preferred clientele. If that clientele happens to be socialists or anti-Christian bigots or anonymous Twitter trolls, and if you do something to offend that clientele, they have every right to fire you. And so it could be that this boils down to the clientele that agency wishes to cater to. I don’t think it was personal, when they fired me, because I’d always had a good relationship with the agency president. I have no idea what was in her mind. It could be simply that I had offended the agency’s clientele by reaching out to Christian and conservative authors.
How do you see the publishing world from the inside today? It seems that the publishing industry is hijacked by leftist activists. Is there no more space to publish books in favor of capitalism, individual freedoms, and against progressivism?
I’ve received thousands of notes from authors who feel intimidated. Their messages are heartbreaking. They’re intimidated into hiding their Christianity, their conservative political leanings or the conservative leanings of their family. They’re even intimidated into silence when they see something that’s wrong. They badly want to stand up and say, “this is wrong” but they’re afraid they’ll be financially ruined by the left for simply disagreeing with them. Fortunately, there is space for authors and readers who feel they’re politically in the middle or politically conservative, and that space is with medium-sized publishers, small presses, and indie (self-published) authors. There’s a new trend, called New Traditional publishing, and it’s taking off outside of the “big publishing” houses, which unfortunately seem to be social activists for progressivism at the moment.
Have you witnessed from the inside that any author has been rejected or canceled because of his or her political stances or the way he or she addresses certain issues?
Yes. There have been several. And several that I hadn’t known about, who reached out to me privately when they saw the news that I was fired for creating a social media account on platforms that are popular with Christians, conservatives, and Republicans. I spoke up, but many of them have been intimidated into silence. These authors have had their books rejected, or cancelled, or pulled off the shelf, their dreams shattered, and in some cases, their livelihoods ruined.
In most American publishing agencies today the request is almost exclusively for LGBTQ stories, stories about racial minorities or “discriminated” people, explicitly there seems to be no interest in, for example, publishing a story about a traditional family, or about a society without rancor. Is this segregation based on race, gender, and ideology also being promoted by the publishing industry?
Yes. Agents chat with acquiring editors to find out what they’re looking to buy. When all of the big publishing editors are looking for the stories you mentioned, then the wish-lists trickles down to the literary agents. When the big publishers, which offer the most money for a book, want atheism, left-leaning social justice and progressivism, that’s also what the literary agents seek.
How do you see the future of the industry, do you think we may see a change soon, or will censorship of people who do not identify with the left continue to prevail?
I see change driven by readers who take their money away from big publishing and buy from the New Traditional publishers, which are medium and small publishing houses and indie authors. I do think it’s tough times for an author who doesn’t hold deep politically left convictions, who isn’t an atheist, who isn’t willing to publicly say (and to post on social media) that they support the BLM political movement, who isn’t willing to post on social media that they support violence in the name of progressivism, and who don’t always vote progressive.
After your dismissal, did agents or publishing houses contact you to take your projects forward, or have you encountered rejection from the industry?
Several agents contacted me, and several publishers (from small and medium houses) contacted me following my dismissal from The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Most were supportive. Many were business-as-usual correspondences. And yes, publishing houses did contact me with offers for my authors. However, several editors at the big houses and many agents I’ve known and worked with…some for over a decade…several unfollowed me on social media. Many left-leaning agents and authors have taken swipes at me for being publicly Christian and conservative. But some have contacted me in private to express their support. They just don’t have the courage to stand up in public and say, “this is wrong.” They know it could destroy their livelihoods.
Do you plan to continue working as a literary agent, what are your expectations for the future after this last incident?
Absolutely. I’ve received more queries from unpublished authors in the past month than I have in the past 2 years. I have offers from publishers for my authors. I know I can represent authors with courage and kindness, and I’m open to authors across the political and religious spectrums, because I believe the only thing that can bring true unity is more voices.
Emmanuel Rincón is a lawyer, writer, novelist and essayist. He has won several international literary awards. He is Editor-at-large at El American // Emmanuel Rincón es abogado, escritor, novelista y ensayista. Ganador de diversos premios literarios internacionales. Es editor-at-large en El American