Don’t use own voices writers as trophies

I’m going to take this opportunity to hope a nerurodiverse person’s voice actually gets heard for once.

I am a person with psychosis. That means, legally (in fact, as a matter of course), I can be locked up for committing no crime at all, but only because I might-at some point-commit a crime. I’ve been harassed by police, kicked out of businesses and public buildings for acting “weird”. My partner-also neurodiverse- was almost shot for having a completely nonviolent psychotic episode. My voice is not often heard. And I don’t appreciate that it’s being suppressed now.

So yeah. It was bad timing to bring this up now, because I don’t want to at all take away from the celebration (by AUTHORS and READERS) that an awesome Own Voices book got published. But my point is valid. Publishers shouldn’t be patting themselves on the back. And I have a right to say it.

Don’t tell me that I don’t have a right to my opinion, and that if I’m expressing that opinion I’m “talking over” someone else.

Don’t tell me that I don’t have a right to my frustration about continued bias in the gatekeepers of publishing. Nor am I “bitter” or “whining”. That’s a really privileged point of view. I’m standing up for myself, and for other marginalized voices. This argument sounds like a lot of the bullshit Trumpists spout about protesters and marginalized voices.

So yeah. Misinterpret me all that you want, and then don’t listen when I explain, apologize, etc. Threaten an Own Voices writer’s career for expressing her opinion. But realize that you’re bullying and suppressing a marginalized voice. That’s not discourse. It’s not promoting diversity or acceptance. You are, in fact, a HUGE part of the problem.

I’m taking out the reference to the book in question because people thought I was trying to say it shouldn’t be celebrated.

I apologize greatly for hurting people’s feelings. I didn’t mean to say people shouldn’t be celebrating today. I should have left this post for another day, because my points are still valid.

If anyone is still actually reading this instead of just responding to online comments, then I’ll be glad for all this wank, if maybe just one or two people  see the validity in my points. My point was never to say Own Voices writing shouldn’t be celebrated—in fact, I’ve said the opposite, a million times. Own Voices books are something special beyond just being”great” books.

But anyone who thinks I’m bitter about the publishing industry, I’m not. I’m speaking truth as I see it, and as a lot of people see it. Just because one great Own Voices book gets published doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem in the industry. A lot of people have approached me and told me stories very similar to mine about their experience with publishing “gatekeepers”.

A lot of us think the publishing industry has a long way to go, and that the PUBLISHING INDUSTRY shouldn’t be throwing itself a big ol’ party quite yet.

Don’t pat yourselves on the back for publishing a great book. That’s what you supposedly exist to do.

For every Own Voices book that gets published, there’s hundreds of other Own Voices books that don’t. Sure, some of those books probably need some work. After all, none of us were born knowing how to write, no matter how interesting our points of view are. But a lot of those own voices books are really good, and still fall through the cracks.

I’m glad that a lot of agents and editors are putting out calls for Own Voices books. This is a good start. But don’t pat yourselves on the back yet. I’m an Own Voices writer, too, and I—along with a lot of others—can see just how far the publishing community has to go.

Agents and editors read hundreds of queries a day, and untold numbers of submissions. They are the first ones to say that, if something doesn’t grab their attention right off, if they don’t love it, then they aren’t the right agent for that book. This is s big problem when we’re talking about Own Voices books. Most agents and editors are white, neurotypical, straight, cis, etc., and come from the sort of background that allows them to major in English. (I’m generalizing here, and I apologize. But the numbers back me up.) So is it any big surprise that they find it harder to identify with different points of view?

When you read something that’s so far outside of your cultural center, it’s probably going to make you uncomfortable, or even defensive (I may not have neurotypical privilege, but I have white privilege, so believe me, I know what that defensiveness feels like. We need to fight it and just listen). These points of view might be jarring to us, or even seem unrealistic. Agents, when reading Own Voices submissions, probably won’t even take time to quantify why they’re having the reaction they do. They’ll just toss the manuscript aside as “not for them”. The Own Voices submissions that the agents do like might be relatable for them in some oblique way. The writing might have been toned down on purpose by the author to be more accessible for other audiences (yes, this happens. I’ve done it, and I’m not the only one). Or, they might just be written a million times better than a book the agent would usually sign by someone with a similar viewpoint as them.

Before anyone starts calling me a snowflake and telling me I’m just bitter because I don’t write well enough to get published, and/or that I want “special treatment” for Own Voices writers…check yourselves. For one, I am published (that’s one of the reason I’m writing this: I’m standing up for a lot of other Own Voices writers who aren’t yet published, and either aren’t comfortable standing up to the publishing community for fear of getting blacklisted, or don’t yet have enough confidence in their skill to be sure of the bias in publishing). For another, none of us want “special treatment”. We’re trying to get the same quality of treatment that those more advantaged than us have. We’re trying to get people to listen, because it’s so easy to drown out our voices as “unrelatable” or “unlikable”.

I do, however, want agents and editors to consider giving Own Voices submissions more than the once-over a “regular” submission would get. Ask yourselves why you’re not relating to the writing. Is the character voice too different? Do you feel disoriented by their way of life or outlook? Does the tone seem too dark for you? Does the plot take turns that are atypical, perhaps because the character interacts with their environment in a way that you’re not expecting? Are you uncomfortable with how the main character views people who are more advantaged than them? Worse yet, do you already have a book on your list with an x-type of character, so you think there’s no room for one more? These are all reasons that I, and a lot of other Own Voices writers, have been given for why our books were rejected. Perhaps you might want to give those books another chance, to see if perhaps you’re missing out on a great book because of a bias you weren’t perhaps aware of.

Yes, we know publishing is a difficult business. We, as Own Voices writers, know this as much—perhaps better—than anyone. And we’ll keep trying. We’ll work so hard at our craft that one day we’ll be good enough to be successful, even if that means we have to write a million times better than a non-Own Voices writer. But, meanwhile, stop congratulating yourselves for publishing Own Voices books, and instead just congratulate the author for writing a great book, and yourselves for doing your job—just like you would with any manuscript. Because Own Voices writers aren’t “trophies” for you to display on your list to prove you’re open-minded. We’re not here to fill a quota, and we’re not here to parrot your own worldview back at you and make you feel good. We’re here to tell our stories, and we’ll keep doing that, whether you like it or not.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t use own voices writers as trophies

    1. ❤ I never meant to say it wasn't worth accolades. I actually said the opposite. And I shouldn't have posted this today, or probably ever mentioned THUG, even to point out that it seems like one of the books that's a million and a half times better than it should have to be to get published, because it's from a marginalized point of view. But my point stands.

      Like

      1. I know. I agree with your critique about the industry, and disagree with the flack you’re taking about it because I don’t think most people responding actually read the whole thing. They got emotional about the mention of THUG. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

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