Sometimes it feels like I haven’t done much this year, but I read. By read, I mean, I went through a metric ton’s worth of books (THANK YOU LIBRARY). And because my TBR is endless, I’ve made it a rule to prioritize books by marginalized authors when borrowing or buying. This has been soooo rewarding. I’ve been a lifelong fantasy reader, and this has blown up my world in a big way. The same old tropes feel fresh again!
But you know, even if I am a POC, there’s no way I understand the nuance behind every marginalization or every culture. That’s an impossible task for anyone, which is why I think that when you are reading books by marginalized authors, reading with generosity is the key.
What does that mean?
- Acknowledge that (even if it is a culture or marginalization that you share), everyone’s experience of it is different, and no culture is a monolith.
- If a story makes you uncomfortable, reflect on why. Is it really that the story is bad, or is it your mood right now, is it written in a style or tradition that you’re unfamiliar with, or are you simply not the target audience?
- Stories by marginalized authors don’t have to teach you anything about a culture, or a lived experience. Let them be fun or playful or scary, or whatever genre they are. There does not have to be a reason for a character to be a POC/Disabled/Queer. If you learn something, that’s extra. Joy is as valid as pain. And even if a book is not explicitly #OwnVoices, an author’s culture/experience/point of view still influences the story in big ways, so it is still just as important.
- Remember that the diaspora is it’s own thing, therefore it has its own concerns and audience. It will not speak to the same issues as the source culture, and it’s unfair to expect it to.
OKAY, so yes, some books by marginalized authors are not that good, or contain problematic content. Yes, we can still acknowledge that, just like we do for other books… but it’s good to check yourself first.
One last note! Before I started tracking what I read and who it was written by, I thought that I read more authors of colour than I really did, so even I fell into that trap. If you’re serious about diversifying your reading, I do recommend keeping a record of the books you read and author demographics. I just use a spreadsheet.
I am still a work in progress. Sometimes I get frustrated, and have to say “This is not for me” when I dislike a story. But I know where my blind spots are, and trying to do better is worth it, because authors are working so hard to throw open doors and windows to worlds we haven’t been invited into before.
(One day I’ll have time to get back to doing book reviews, but not just yet.)
I started this blog a decade ago and a handful of short stories published, many trunked novels, one agent come and gone, and two children later, here are a few things I’ve learned on the publishing journey since:
- The most important thing is to know why you want to be a writer and what you want out of it.
- Everyone is on a different timeline, but other writers are not your competition. Cheer for your friends that make it first and help the ones behind.
- You can make true and lasting friendships.
- Have friends outside of writing, because they’ll keep you sane.
- Some people will leave you behind. Sometimes it’s just that they’re busy, but sometimes they were never really your friend and are out there chasing status. Don’t be like the latter.
- You can often tell someone’s character by the company they keep.
- Trends are usually over before you can write to them, so write what you want. You might have to wait to sell it, but nothing is ever truly dead for long. Timing is a matter of luck.
- Many people have more than one agent in their careers, but don’t talk about it. Even if you do your due diligence, sometimes it doesn’t work out because you don’t know what you need until you’ve had one.
- A typo in a query or your manuscript is not the kiss of death.
- If you can’t condense your story into a quick pitch, it might be difficult to sell. Pitching is a skill you’ll need for your whole career, even after you’ve gotten an agent, so take the time to practice.
- Most people get an agent cold querying, but there are other opportunities and unconventional paths. Make the most of what you can. Pitch wars, #pitmad, and #dvpit are all good.
- Agents appear and disappear from the industry. So do editors.
- Everyone knows everyone so don’t be an asshole. It’s a small industry.
- Conventions are not always welcoming or safe spaces for marginalized people, but they can also be a way to meet new people and catch up with internet friends for real. They can often be expensive. It’s a mixed bag.
- Rejection is inevitable and frequent. No matter how many you get, rejections still hurt, but you will learn better coping mechanisms.
- Sometimes it’s good that you’re rejected. You will learn better, and look back in embarrassment. Some ideas don’t age well.
- Leveling up in writing feels a lot like frustration.
- There’s always more to learn and what you need to work on keeps changing.
- Read current books in your genre. If you’re doing comp titles use books published within the last 5 years and not mega best sellers.
- Read books outside your genre, so you don’t just sound like everyone else.
- Beta reading and critiquing are skills that requires practice. Your goal should be to help the writer tell their story more clearly – not to tell them how to do it. Suggestions can be bouncing off points, but shouldn’t be solutions. The writer knows their story best.
- Whatever social media you choose, pick what you enjoy and play to your strengths. You don’t have to do everything. Blogs are apparently dead (so write them only if you like them). Newsletters are apparently the thing now?
- You don’t need to get involved in every Twitter beef, meme, or scandal. It’s actually better to wait a day or two to get the full picture before weighing in.
- Social media etiquette evolves. Know that your power is situational, and ever shifting. Even if you think you’re nobody, you can still have impact.
- Social media platforms come and go, so have a platform you control, even if it’s just a website with contact information.
- Not everyone is genuine online, but others are exactly as they appear. Mostly, what you get is carefully curated parts of their lives rather than the whole, and some people are more careful with curation than others. People are allowed to set their boundaries of engagement.
- Don’t put people on pedestals because no one is perfect and contradictions are part of the human condition.
- This industry is not financially viable for most people.
- Publishing is not a meritocracy.
- The diverse books discourse continues to evolve. You need to try to understand the areas where you’re not as knowledgeable, follow people who talk about them, or read books, take workshops, or just listen. It’s impossible to know everything, and it’s not someone else’s job to educate you. If someone takes the time to point out your errors it’s an act of trust, not an insult.
- If you are BIPOC you’re also more likely to be paid less, face identity policing, tokenization, microaggressions, harassment, and racist reviews (but that’s the same for a lot of industries). Find your people to help you through.
- You can do your best, but you can never please everyone even when you’re writing from your own experience. There is no such thing as perfection and culture is not a monolith. What one person wants isn’t what everyone wants, so write your truths.
- You will mess up, but it’s better to mess up than not try at all.
- Learn how to apologize well.
- The only way to break in: Don’t quit and keep challenging yourself to do better.
What would you add to this list?