Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Discussion: Even if we "get the rep right" ... should we write "the other"?

I'm here today on the blog to pose a question I've found naggingly absent from all the recent discussions on diversity in books.
Even if we get the representation right,  should we write the other?
Even if we get the representation right,
should we write the other?
{ image : pixabay }

Even IF non-marginalized authors "get the representation right" .. should they be the ones writing it?

To what extent is this helping diverse books at the expense of diverse authors?


Is there a difference between writing a diverse cast of characters and writing a diverse MC? Between writing realistic vs. sci-fi/fantasy?


Okay. Bear with me a bit. I want to unpack that a little more. And I want us to discuss. I feel like it's a question that too often gets skirted around, and those who try to suggest that the answer might be something we don't want to hear?  They're often run off the internet.

But this is too important a topic to ignore.

We need to discuss it. And I really hope that some of you'll do so in the Comments section of this blog post. I want to hear your stories and your opinions! It's also important to me that this be a space to share your perspectives without fear of having your own twitter/tumblr etc filled with people attacking you for your opinions. So please feel free to comment anonymously. 

Before we discuss, let's unpack:

There's an enormous diversity gap in literature. Very few books are published each year featuring Main Characters who are natives or persons of color, who are disabled, or are LGBTQIA+, who live with mental illness, or are members of marginalized cultures/religions. This is a problem. We need diverse books. But what do we do about it?

As readers, educators, and social media-lites, the answer is clear: we read and promote more stories featuring traditionally marginalized characters. We help expand the market.

But we're also writers, and the writer side of us wants to help too. 

So naturally, our first instinct (if we feel confident enough about our ability to do the work needed for this), is to write books featuring non-white, disabled, LGBTQIA+, mentally ill, and/or otherwise marginalized or diverse protagonists. Even when we, ourselves, are not these things.

Because do we really need another story with a straight, white, abled protagonist? Not really, right?
Because the end goal is to get more books on the shelves with diverse protagonists. Right?
More mirrors for those who haven't had them and more windows for the rest of us.
More opportunities for a child to see themselves in a story.

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

Often, the first thing we ask when deciding to write outside our lane is How? How do we do this well? How do we get the representation right? In fact, I wrote a very long blog post on one aspect of this topic:



But there is still the one question I keep coming back to, something only skirted around in all this discussion. And that is this:


Even if we "get it right" ...

Even IF we do our research
Even IF we hire sensitivity readers
Even IF we aren't being tokenistic, don't culturally appropriate, or fall into lazy stereotypes
Even IF we work so hard and we "get the representation right"*
                                              { *or at least "good enough" ... assuming, as someone pointed out,
                                                    that this is even possible,  which is probably a topic for another blog post!! }


Are we really helping? 

As we know, Publishing is Overwhelmingly White, Female, Cishet, and Abled.

We also are becoming increasingly aware that it's likely precisely because of this that marginalized authors often hear "your work is not a good fit" because editors "just don't identify with the character."

Agents can only sign so many new authors a year. Editors only acquire so many books. 

We know that they don't sign things that are "too similar to other projects on their list."

Historically, publishing houses have been hesitant to acquire many works with diverse MCs { though I hope, hope this is shifting??! }

Whites already write most of the books featuring protagonists of color. If "we" -- non-marginalized authors -- write "outside our lane" and submit those works to agents and publishing houses, are we helping the cause of diverse books, or:


Or are we simply taking up #ownvoices' seats at the table?
  • Are we effectively "elbowing in" on a slot an agent's client list or a publishing house's acquisitions plan that could have gone to a marginalized writer?
  • Are we getting a story into the hands of a reader who needs to see themselves represented NOW, or are we mostly just vying for a seat at a table that isn't really ours anyway?

Whew. I typed it.        

You can see why it's hard to talk about this.


Are there situations where it is more helpful? More hurtful?

Are there situations, stories, and genres where non-marginalized authors writing "outside their lanes" is more helpful? Less helpful?

For example: 

          - A Contemporary "Issue Book" vs. A Contemporary "Fun Book"
          - Contemporary/Historical vs. Sci-Fi/Fantasy
          - Writing a diverse cast of characters, but not the MC
          - Marginalized perspectives that are very rare (book-wise and author-wise) vs.
            Marginalized perspectives that have a lot of #ownvoices ready to tell their story already

In which situations are we helping by "writing outside our lane"? In which situations are we actually just hurting #ownvoices?

Okay. That's a lot to think about. Honestly guys ... I just don't know anymore. Am I overthinking this? Underthinking this? That's why I want us to discuss. If you want to read some more before jumping into the discussion, here are some links to other articles:

Further Reading:
Please keep in mind that many of these posts/threads are old articles.
The original posters likely don't have time to engage in new conversations about them
Be respectful of their time and read/listen only. 


Apologies in advance. For many of these articles, the bits most directly relevant to the current discussion may be buried. That's part of the reason I want to have this discussion. I don't see it being discussed enough:

Why I'm Not Writing POC POV Anymore   ||   "I Just Don't Identify with the Character"   ||   Your Manuscript is "Not A Good Fit"   ||   "Well, we Already Have One Black Writer on our list ..."   || Reasons NOT to ||   Dear White Writers: Just Because WNDB, Doesn't Mean YOU should write them   ||  "The Burden Can't Just Fall to Writers of Color" ||   "We Published Lesbian Last Issue"   ||   Speaking Out About the State of Diversity in Publishing   ||   Who is "We?" -- & "Already have a Korean-American Writer"   ||   Diversity is Not Enough -- "What if they don't get what I'm doing?" and "We didn't Connect with the Character"   ||   What's in a Number -- Or ... What Happens if we wait for change to happen "organically"   ||   Narrow-Minded Marketing & How White People Can Respond   ||  "There are quotas in effect -- literally"   ||   "It is infinitely harder for the work of POC to be heard/seen/recognized in the marketplace"   ||  White Writers: Don't Write Diverse Books. Read Them.  ||   "We Don't Relate to the Character" -- It's not yours to relate to!   ||

Must-Read Twitter Threads on this Topic:
Please keep in mind that these threads are dated. 
The original posters likely don't have time to engage in new conversations about them.
Be respectful of their time and read/listen only

When NOT to
Write-In-Your Lane: Differences between New vs. Established Authors & Marginalized vs. Non-Marg


So. Let's Discuss:

Note: I would like to keep these comments open and unmoderated for people to express their full thoughts and feelings on this (the exception being that spam / off-topic material will be removed). 

Because of this, I'm not asking anyone to play nice. I do ask that if you're about to post something that could be construed as aggressive or rude, you think about the effectiveness of your argumentation techniques, but I don't want you to feel restricted. It's a tough and potentially heated topic. Feel welcome to post your comments anonymously, if that's more comfortable for you.

tl;dr? Please let's not tone police or derail here.


The Questions Again:
  1. Even IF non-marginalized authors "get the rep right"... How much are we/they really helping?
  2. To what extent does writing the other help diverse books at the expense of diverse authors?  (By taking up #ownvoices' seats at the table)
  3. Are there situations where "writing outside your lane" is more helpful? More hurtful?

    For example:
              a. A Contemporary "Issue Book" vs. A Contemporary "Fun Book"
              b. Contemporary/Historical vs. Sci-Fi/Fantasy
              c.  Writing a diverse cast of characters, but not the MC
              d. Marginalizations that are very rare (book-wise and author-wise) vs.
                  Marginalized perspectives that have a lot of #ownvoices ready to tell their story already




I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Please feel free to post your comments anonymously.

75 comments:

  1. Here's a thought I always come back to as a white person - does it depend on our intentions? Do we have marginalised main characters to tick a diversity box? That's pretty calculating and not cool.

    Do we include marginalised people in our books because we know our work must reflect our diverse world? That's probably a better intention, but of course it can lead to patronising if we're not self-aware enough to say "Yeah, I know this is not my lane, but I see myself mirrored everywhere, so either I add to the white/straight/abled bias or I do something that's more accurate to the world we live in."

    As a non-marginalised person, you have to know that you won't get it perfectly right, and you have *no right* to be held up as some kind of hero, like writing outside your lane is some kind of incredibly brave act. Don't be so freaking arrogant. You aren't being *brave*, and if you think that's what it means to write outside your lane, you need to rethink it ASAP.

    I just can't believe doing *nothing* is the way to go. I include diversity because our world is so much more than the way mainstream culture portrays it. Maybe it's naive to think I can make a difference, but that has to be better than throwing more white characters out there.

    I also think what we need in terms of diversity in our books is so dependent on the culture you yourself come from. As a British person, I come from an incredibly class-driven society. And, as a working class writer, I see a huge gap in diversity that covers a uniquely British issue. Race and sexuality certainly come into it, but class in this country is so ingrained in us it's hard to explain to someone who hasn't lived it. And *that's* how I know I have no place taking over from the #OwnVoices. Compassion and imagination are great, but living it and having a place to share those experiences is what matters.

    I shall continue to fight for diversity in my own ways. I will do whatever I can to hold up a mirror for readers who are marginalised. I will not get it right, but I cannot and will not have a cast consisting only of white people because that's not the world we live in.

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    1. So true. It's really not realistic to have a cast of all white characters. So do you find yourself gravitating toward writing MC who are diverse/marginalized themselves, or more a diverse "cast of characters" that supports the MC? (like Justine Larbalestier has decided to do?)

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    2. My current MC is mixed race, one of her best friends is white and the other is of Chinese descent. I didn't want to do the whole "diverse cast supporting a white MC" because we already see that so much. It's about giving readers mirrors. I've worked in education for 7 years, and I see daily how hard it is to find novels etc with marginalised protagonists.

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  2. The comment above is great. Very thoughtful. I hope to add something here as someone who is marginalized.

    Okay, here it goes. There is a huge difference between having diverse characters in your work (ALL FOR IT--rock on) and writing a marginalized (let's say person of color for short because that's where I'm coming from) MAIN CHARACTER.

    Your characters should all be well researched and well executed- that's a given. Should you write a marginalized MC when you are not? My answer is no.

    Yes, I know already about the indignant privileged reply of "I can write anything I want, etc. etc. etc." Sure you can- just don't be surprised by the blowback. Because here's the thing: your MC is the lens through which we see a story. Making your MC marginalized when you are not implies you can get into the head, experience of being say a POC. Take a look at #whitewashedout if you're going to write an Asian MC. Do you really understand what everyone is saying? Can you know what it's like to publicly be called a racial slur and respond with dignity? Have you been chased and taunted as a child for being different? My point is, if you haven't lived the racism and the microaggressions, what makes you qualified to tell it as if you have? You are claiming the head and hearts. Research only goes so far.

    Writing a POC MC, given the climate and how publishing is with quotas and lists, says "not only can I do this BUT I can do it better than an actual POC." It is seat taking. This is not okay. This is where #ownvoices loses its mind.

    Also WHY are you writing a POC Main Character given you can write literally anything else? Really sit and think about that and be honest because you'll be asked if it gets picked up. At this point it's probably to cash in on the diversity trend. And that will inevitably be at the expense of those who are actually marginalized.

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    1. I think that this WHY question is super important and it's also where, at least for me, the whole issue gets derailed a bit (for lack of a better word). Speaking for myself at least, this is how the rationale went for me as a non-marginalized kidlit writer facing the diversity issue:

      Problem: There are too few books with diverse MCs for children.

      Me: Okay. The solution is read and write more books with diverse MCs.

      Me: But I have to make sure I'm doing it for the right reasons. Okay. *Thinks* I'm I'm not doing it because it's "the trend" -- I'm not one of "those" authors. I'm doing it because it's a really really important issue and we have SO many white books already. If anything I should be asking myself why the heck I'm adding another book with a white MC to the pile? Right? Okay. I should write a POC Main Character.

      At least that is how the thought process went for me.
      Because if you're a non-marg writer who's actively thinking about these things, it's too easy to count yourself out of the "I'm doing it to cash in on the diversity trend" crowd because that doesn't feel remotely like the reason we chose to do this. And so we assure ourselves that we're doing it for the right reasons, and go ahead and do it. It's easy for us to rationalize the WHY question in our minds. And to get a little confused by it, to be honest.

      Why do it? Because it *feels* like the right thing to do.

      We're readers, we read diverse books. We're writers, we write them. It *feels* like a solution to a big societal problem. It *feels* like it's the right thing to do.

      ... Only I personally am not convinced it is anymore.

      But I feel like it's too easy for us (non-marg) writers to rationalize the WHY away in our own minds. If that makes sense? When really we need to be looking at / examining the reasons NOT to as well.



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  3. This is a really interesting and important topic and I agree it's glossed over.

    Here's my take:

    So I see it like, our world is diverse and books should represent that and while it's not my job to "show" the world a culture I don't really know, I do want to explore people in interesting ways and that is represented in my writing.

    Part of the problem with the lack of diversity is that it's almost implying that people only want to read about "normal" white people (publishing has definitely implied this in the past). Like we're all that matters. The most important. That's obviously not true. So while we shouldn't ever feel like were doing the world some favor by teaching them about whatever diversity were writing about, that shouldn't stop us from simply writing to represent the world around us. I guess, basically we should never think or act like we have some authority when we can't relate to the diverse aspects. We're artists exploring something. Raising questions. Not teaching the world anything.

    And I can't help but think that doing nothing, by only writing what we know first hand, would be very unhelpful. I don't know if writing diverse is super helpful but it's better than the other option. As for "taking spots", unless you're writing "issue" type books on something that you don't know first hand (when an #thevoice could have but now publishers won't double up the same topic) then I don't think that's something we can/should worry about, at least not as writers (publishers are a different story). Write the best book you can, in a way that is most interesting to you and that's all you can do.

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    1. #thevoice should be #Ownvoice, I assume autocorrect got that one lol

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    2. #thevoice should be #Ownvoice, I assume autocorrect got that one lol

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    3. So for you, where is the line drawn as far as where we should step back and let #ownvoices take the stories that are theirs? Is it at non-issue vs issue books, or writing only casts of diverse characters, rather than the MC? Or sci-fi/fantasy vs. realistic? Or somewhere else?

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    4. Regarding "taking spots" this goes for books that have nothing to do with issues. And why, for that matter, should #OwnVoices be given precedence only on issue books? Can we not write anything else? By the way, fantasy books about POC are turned down because the publisher already has a POC book. It's a science fiction book, but that doesn't matter. Your book about a POC mc is taking up that spot to satisfy a curiosity? When you could literally take any other spot, you take the only one a POC author could stand in? This happens. People can try and imagine it away but. it. happens. Whether people want it to or not. In my view, good intentions don't help. People may not want to negatively impact the industry, may want to do anything else, but that's what they do. If someone wants to help, they should include POC in their stories, of course, but let POC authors have their chance to be seen and heard. Writing POC as a non-POC proves to the industry that they don't need us, and they will continue to exclude us.

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    5. I think issue books if the "issue" is the diverse aspect because that story should be told by someone who knows first hand. I don't have the authority to show it, not when someone else can. I understand that sometimes a POC book is a "spot" taken within a publisher and that's a BIG problem with publishers, but as an author is that really something I can/should worry about? I should really not write about someone "other" than me in general just because publishers are weird about this? In my opinion the more good books out there with diversity the more likely this is going to stop. If all the non- diverse writers out there (there are a lot) stop writing diverse characters/stories just assuming someone else will do it instead, this will just perpetuate the publishers idea that "diverse" books are a niche, only written and read by POC etc. and there will continue to only be limited spots. If we reestablish books with lots of different kinds of characters as the NORM, this is much more likely to change (though likely not by this alone).
      I can't imagine not writing diversity into my stories just because I'm not diverse. Because I find diversity beautiful and interesting.

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    6. I guess what I'd say to that is, who IS to worry about the "slots" and the seats at the table about it if not authors? Until publishers start worrying and level the playing field, don't we have some responsibility in this too?

      What you're saying about if all non-diverse authors stopped writing diversely is interesting. I feel like I can see what you're getting at, but I'm just wondering how that works out in a practical sense? Because it's not authors who are driving/controlling the market, it's the gatekeepers and consumers.

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    1. Sorry!! For some reason my blog double-posted your comments, that's why I removed one set of them!!

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  6. Also, I may add that as an author one of the best ways to help this issue is to help marginalized authors. Find someone to mentor if you can. We need more #ownvoices but they need to be strong books with strong writing. There are some out there, for sure, but if we make a point to support more of the newbies out there maybe we can get that pile even higher faster.

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    1. ^^^ A Thousand times this. :)

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    2. So is the suggestion here that #OwnVoices authors are not at the level that white authors are--as we're speaking about it from the color standpoint--and need to be helped by white authors to get our own stories right? I have to say this is the white savior trope on a whole other level and very offensive. We're not all newbies. We've been telling out stories longer than ANYone else. If anyone is new to the game it's non-POC authors. Publishing refused to take our stories. We didn't refuse to write them.

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    3. I feel like there is still this underlying current of "'they' need to be handheld through this whole process to succeed" because the belief is that we can't write well enough to sell on our own. It's like they're blaming the POC writer for every failure, instead of looking at their own biases and understanding not only is that part of the problem, but that it IS the problem.

      When Beth Phelan announced DvPit, and all those people rushed to give query and pitch help, I mean, that's great, but I couldn't help but feel like "do they think we can't do it on our own?" I had a lot of mixed feelings. I already have general writer "I suck I'm great I suck" angst, but on a bad day, I really believe I'm not good enough and people believe that for them to want to offer help so readily. But on the other hand, these people want us to succeed, which is why they're offering the help. I'm in a mentorship program myself, and I connected with one of the people offering pitch help, so you can see why I am conflicted.

      I'd love to see a mediocre story starring a "POC" (or other marginalized) Anastasia Steele type person take off and become a worldwide phenomenon, make the POC author super rich and famous so the quality undertones in so many #ownvoices conversations can stop.

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    4. El and Ronni- That is absolutely NOT what I meant (which is why I wrote "There are some out there, for sure," (as in there are great Own voice stories already out there) "but if we make a point to support more of the newbies..." So, as an established author of ANY race, sexual identity, disability, culture etc. we can help authors who are still newbies. We all know how hard it can be and I enjoy helping/teaching people in general (which is why I do pitch wars). If we can help and support own voice authors they may be more likely to find sucess, or find it quicker. I can see how pointing out own voices as needing help can come across as negative but it's more like "You story is IMPORTANT, so I want to help make sure it gets out there in the world."
      I want to help ALL writers, but especially own voices because I think they SHOULD be heard.

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    5. Stacey--I see your point, and that's why I am conflicted. Let me see if I can break my feelings down so I can make more sense of them for my sake. :)

      It was this sentence right here that got me riled up: We need more #ownvoices but they need to be strong books with strong writing.

      Why? There are tons of books by non-marginalized authors out there that aren't very strong, the writing is meh at best, and they're still published over and over and over. There are some with good concept, but terrible execution--but they go on to be huge commercial successes. I'm usually fine with that, because I value stories over execution myself, but #ownvoices books have to have a great concept, absolutely perfect writing, and not one single typo to even be *considered* for a spot at the table. So do you see why we get rankled when quality is brought up in the diversity conversation?

      I'm a black woman, but I also pass as biracial. And in my experience, when you're told, over and over, that you will never be good enough because of who you are, it's easy to be suspicious of everyone offering to help. Are they offering because they too, believe I'll never be good enough without their help, or are they doing it because they realize that writing is a tribal thing and want to help lead the way for a newbie author in general, set them up for success?

      And I think it might boil down to *what* mentoring is being offered. Craft mentoring? Mentoring on navigating the business? That's another way to clarify your intentions. If a white author says she is going to mentor me on how to write the black or biracial experience, I'd be suspicious. Now, if this author says, "Hey, I see some parts in your query letter that you can fix up so you can get your MS in front of as many eyes as possible," that would be different.

      I know for me, I go back and forth, but honestly, I think (in my case) this has more to do with my own writer angst than anything. I wonder--can I not do it alone because I'm really not good enough, or can I not do it alone because of the nuances of publishing in general? I want it to be the second, because that makes sense and is universal. But honestly, I will never know and I will always wonder.

      Here's the thing: I think we can agree that writing isn't a one-man show and we all need help with this journey to publication. If these people didn't want us to succeed, they'd sit back and watch us crash and burn. Maybe not necessarily because of the "quality" thing, but because there is a learning curve in the publishing industry in general. I'm totally OK with taking any leg up I can get!

      But having the quality thing thrown around so much colors my perception. Makes me defensive and even more angsty. Especially because there are so many mediocre books by white people getting published all the time, some of them going on to do very, very well. Why do we have to prove ourselves so much more? Why does "quality" even have to come into a conversation about diversity, if the implications of "they're just not good enough" aren't there? And I think that is where my conflict lies--because as I said, I beat myself up enough over my writing. To have outsiders (general, not saying you think this) assume I can't write as 'well' as a non-marginalized person because I'm a woman of color without even taking a look at my work adds insult to injury. And we're back at my first thoughts: "Are they offering to help because they think I'm not good enough, or because they know how this industry is and they want to set us up for success?"

      It's nuanced and layered and complex. And maddening, to go around in circles like this! :)

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    6. I was in the query trenches for years. Thankfully, I didn't realize how near impossible it is to actually land an agent. The sad truth is, 99% + of queries won't get an offer for representation. If one reads interviews with agents or follows #500queries or #10queries, it's incredibly rare to even get a request for a full, let alone an offer for representation.

      After 5 MSs, hiring multiple developmental editors and a copy editor, professional support writing my query and synopsis, and getting LOT of help from other amazing authors, I am fortunate enough to now have an agent. I've spent probably thousands of dollars getting that help over the years; while I'm sure that's not always the case, all of the agented authors I know got tons of help and support from others. When I signed with my agent, she had 24 clients. Thousands of queries a year, two dozen clients who are with her for years. I've been with her almost a year and a half. I could be wrong about this, but I've heard that even 60 clients is a lot for an agent, because how could they do all they need to do with so many clients and thousands of queries a year?

      Now, obviously there is an over-representation of white people that land agents, which is a problem. I guess my point is this. Landing an agent is harder than getting into med school and a clinical psych program combined for anyone, regardless of race or sexual orientation or able-bodiedness. And even harder if you are writing an MC from a marginalized group. I'm not saying this to make anyone give up hope, but I think it's also important to have realistic expectations.

      If I were still querying, I would take any and all help I could get (assuming it's quality help) because writing a query and first ten pages is both an art and a science that takes the perfect intersection of so many different skill sets.

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  8. Ok so I have a question though. I've seen people on Twitter ... I wont drag them into the conversation by saying who but I've seen authors from certain margins saying things like "I don't care if people write outside their lane because kids need to see themselves in books NOW. My fat/trans little brother NEEDS these books YESTERDAY." Things like that. So what about those situations ... where maybe there aren't so many authors writing from that perspective? Like even Simon Vs. seemed well received even though the author isn't gay, or male. Am I totally off base here?

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    1. I don't think you're off base and I see where you are coming from. If no one else is writing that story? I think whoever gets that idea should RUN with it. My issue lies with all the #ownvoices people who are writing the stories but getting shut out (due to quotas, "I can't identify with the character" etc.), while a non-marginalized author writes the same topic and gets the deal, the kudos, the starred reviews.

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    2. Ok, but how would you know though? Like probably there were lots of actually gay authors writing things LIKE Simon Vs. so why is it ok in that case but not in other cases? Is there a difference I'm not understanding?

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  9. whoops. accidentally deleted. here goes again :)

    Actually, I've been doing a lot of thinking about this topic, especially as I work on a novel about a Jewish woman. As a student of literature and as a Jewish woman, I have been examining this through a lens of Jewish women in literature. By no means are Jewish women marginalized in the way that the diverse populations discussed are, so this is definitely not a cry of "us, too!" But it has created some context and understanding for me.

    Ah, Jewish female protagonists in literature. (There are too many to mention.) And I was marveling how many of them have been written by men. Marlowe's Abigail (The Jew of Malta) and Shakespeare's Jessica (The Merchant of Venice) both ended up converting to Xtianity. One is punished by poisoning; the other has her beliefs questioned because she is a pretty Jewish girl. I think about Molly Bloom (Ulysses) who has the final word in the novel, which is yes. Joyce once said that yes was a woman's word -- a sort of surrender (I'm paraphrasing; it has been awhile.) Bourgeois, materialistic Marjorie Morningstar -- oh, how I hated reading that one in college; she was the poster child for the Jewish American Princess stereotype. Or Portnoy's castrating mother, pushing forth another one-dimensional stereotype. All of the Jewish women I "met" through my studies were written by men. And all of them were products of imaginations that experienced the women but really didn't see them as fully-formed people.

    The breakthrough came for me when I read a wonderful book, The Bread Givers (Anzia Yesierska.) FINALLY. A Jewish woman written BY a Jewish woman who was so real, she could have been my grandmother growing up on the Lower East Side. Wow, I remember thinking. What a difference when a Jewish woman character springs from the imagination of a Jewish woman writer! Since then, I have encountered plenty of protagonists who I hate or love or feel somewhere in between; but so often, I find I feel the character is fully-formed when it comes from someone who sees her as more than a one-dimensional force.

    And so I imagine it is for people who are marginalized. How much better, how much richer it is to read about people who are different from yourself -- when they are written by people who ARE from those backgrounds. I have never been Asian. I have never been African American. And so on. We share the same biology, but I cannot pretend to know what it is like to walk in their shoes just as they likely don't know what it is to walk in mine. People will continue to write POC main characters, whether they are POC or not. But I'm a character fan -- and I'd like to think the richest, most vital portraits of people come from those who have walked in their shoes. And those, I fervently hope, will rise to the top because good writing is good writing.

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  10. A somewhat jaded comment :)

    That thing where a publisher won't take a book with X because they already have a book with X, the solution is actually for X to become so commonplace that publishers stop thinking that way. I say this because is how it has worked in the past. It's not so much taking seats at the table, as changing which seats are at the table.

    #ownvoices is a wonderful thing, because it brings a variety of voices and experiences to books. Writers should bring more of their own experiences to their writing, whoever they are. Although prior to #DVpit, there was some discussion that suggested (OK maybe more than suggested) that writers should ONLY write #ownvoice. Marginalised writers should only write about characters like them? F--- T---. Once you start putting people into boxes and telling them what they can and can't write, that's wrong; and really, that should apply to every writer. #ownvoices have an advantage writing about characters with similar experiences, and they should use that and publishers should use that. But I want to see people writing about people, all people writing about all people, and those who do it well should be encouraged and promoted, whoever they might be, so their books sell and published will want more of them, and that's the real way to get diversity in publishing. #ownvoices should be encouraged, but it's not the only solution. You writing about me doesn't lessen me.

    As for helping people, marginalised writers often are disadvantaged because they ARE marginalised. (e.g. I'm an autistic writer & I struggle with getting emotions into my writing because I don't think in those terms, and I can't tell if I'm getting it right, overdoing, underdoing; I don't have a network of readers to help, because I don't do the social thing very well; my income is limited & I live in a regional city so attending writing conferences/workshops is... difficult (and emotionally nasty); and paying an editor is not going to happen. That's not an uncommon experience.)

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    1. But you writing about me does lessen me, at least when it comes to the industry. This is something people REFUSE to comprehend. Writers will sweeps this aside and pretend these aren't the facts. Doing so gives the impression that they don't care, they're going to do what they want, and screw whomever gets hurt in the process.

      This is not the marginalization olympics where we shout "I'm worse off than you," and no one is saying "marginalized groups can only write about their particular marginalization," but a book will NEVER be rejected because a character is white. There are NEVER too many or enough white books on lists, so those authors aren't told "try somewhere else".

      And the sentiment about everyone should write everything is a nice one, but everyone can't write about everything and be accepted. I cannot do that. Other people of color and native authors can't do that. Saying things like this completely ignores that and us. I'm over here struggling to be seen and heard as myself while people who are not me are being listened to while they talk about. being. me.

      Also, I'm not at a disadvantage when it comes to craft because I'm black. That's gross no matter how it's alluded to, stated, what have you.

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    2. Oh yeah, I made up that thing about marginalised groups only writing marginalised because I couldn't think of anything else to write. Really.

      Now if you want facts, a fact is marginalised writers often are disdvantaged. Does mean this all? Does this mean you? Of course not. But what you said dismisses other people's experiences, which is the very thing you are asking other people not to do to you.

      The everyone should write about everything is not just a nice sentiment but it's something to work towards. It means you can write about black characters or whatever characters you want, and know they won't be rejected just because of what/who they are or their writers are. You can jump up and down because I'm not focusing on a particular sub-set of everyone, but as I said I'm jaded, I'm cynical, I've been there done that and I think the only way anything is going to change is for people to work together.

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    3. El, I appreciate your perspective. It is eye opening and I can see how that's frustrating for you (and I think writing Black characters is probably the hardest because publishers automatically label it "urban" fiction where as other races don't have as much of a central niche.)
      I want this to change for many reasons but I don't think white people never writing POC is the way to fix it.

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    4. El, I appreciate your perspective. It is eye opening and I can see how that's frustrating for you (and I think writing Black characters is probably the hardest because publishers automatically label it "urban" fiction where as other races don't have as much of a central niche.)
      I want this to change for many reasons but I don't think white people never writing POC is the way to fix it.

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    5. Ahh! The urban fiction thing burns me up! I grew up in the city, yes, but the urban experience is NOT my experience. I was the nerd out of the group, the one who loved rainbows and listened to the *white* radio station (I'm so glad music is so much more integrated these days--now am I dating myself? lol, I came of age when the musical genres were starting to crossover--I still have that episode of Oprah on tape!) and really did not fit in at my high school AT ALL.

      The urban experience is not all black experience, and I wrestled with this so much because it's like "Well, if I don't read/buy this, they won't publish anymore books with black girls on the cover" but on the other hand, it's like "I have NO interested in reading more books about drugs and gangs and teen pregnancies in the hood." Or books about slavery or sports.

      I want to read black and biracial girls having Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins type romances, so that's what I write and that's how I plan to dominate. :)

      As for the second part of your statement--I have mixed feelings. I want to see more POC in books, sure. But I want them to be done right. I want POC #ownvoices to have the chance to share their stories, bringing their lived experiences and nuances to the narrative. Right now, white people's voices over POCs are being accepted and that's not right. We should all be able to tell everyone's stories--if those are the stories burning so deeply inside us that it's painful not to write them, and we're willing to do the hard work to get them right. But right now it's not fair or balanced. *I* don't want to publish a book about a LGBT teen if there is an LGBT person who can do it better. I want them to have that space. I think *if* the quotas ever get done away with? Things can be looked at in a more idealistic way.

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  11. I'm going to ask this, and everyone can take it and answer it or not answer it or dance around it however they like.

    If you know that this is a problem in the industry why do you continue to cater to it? I said "You writing me diminishes me in the industry" because it does. No, you did not make it that way, but if you continue to write and be published while writing me, you still cater to that. That's what you're doing.

    I'm not asking people to stop writing, and I'm not asking white people to stop writing diverse main characters for all of eternity. I'm asking why POC can't be allowed to come up to the same level of exposure and equality so we can get to the point where all write about each other. Because we're not there yet. So, at the moment, writing about each other is not the answer, so long as one group is spotlighted more than everybody else all the time anyway. It's a moot point. So why not get to the point where were all equal and then have this everyone across-the-board can do everything.

    I'm asking people to at least understand and accept this. To stop masquerading as someone who wants things to change, but will still put what they want to do first. If you think my stories, or other stories of people of color are beautiful, then signal boost us.

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    1. I think, speaking from my own perspective, I didn't realize how much all of this is about "seats at a table" and "slots to be filled" until I got an agent and started thinking seriously about the acquisitions process at publishing houses. It just wasn't on my radar.

      I wrote the stories that came to mind, and didn't really understand what that might mean, in a practical sense, for other authors' careers, to whom these stories might be #ownvoices. I sort of mentioned in a comment up above in reply to Meredith, but I think for some of us (though obviously I can only speak for myself, really), we see the statistics on diversity in kidlit (I'm a kidlit author), and we think: okay, I will "help" not only by reading and supporting diverse authors, but by writing more diverse books. It doesn't *feel* like a wrong reason to do it. It *feels* like we're doing the right thing.

      But the thing that I didn't see when choosing to write it was how when it comes down to it, my story with a biracial MC is has the potential to go up against an ownvoices story on the acquisitions table. And that even though the ownvoices story would undoubtedly have better rep and ultimately be a better story, there is the chance that a white gatekeeper wouldn't see that because they are (like I am) used to looking at the world through the white lens, and hence that's the view that's often going to most easily resonate with them. So the playing field is far from level. But that is a thing that I didn't see until I got this far down the rabbit hole, if that makes sense?

      So for me, that's my story of why I wrote, and am now kind of un-writing that particular manuscript.

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    2. You could literally be me, with this response. I wrote my book in 2013, just when We Need Diverse Books was starting out. It is second world fantasy set in a seacoast I envisioned as Mediterranean--so lots of different looking people. My MC is biracial, because like you, it *felt* like the right thing to do at that time. I just thought, why ARE 99% of fantasies white people? When they don't really HAVE to be? Is there a good reason why there are (at the time) all these White Girls in Floaty Dresses on YA science fiction and fantasy? And there's not a good reason.

      3 years later I have a very particular vision of what that character looks like and what her two families look like, and it wouldn't feel like the same book to change it now. Which yes, this is sort of selfish. But at THIS POINT I think the best I can do is hope I did the best job I can (and I think/hope this applies slightly more to SFF because it's not based on a real world culture). Because what am I going to do-- change it to make her a white girl? Does THAT help? That is the only other option, and it just feels gross to me.

      Anyway the further I get along my publication journey the more I'm examining this. And worrying whether I'm helping or hurting, because I want to be helping. But for the exact same reasons you just said, I don't think I'd write the same main character again. I think my role in the future should be to signal boost Own Voices SFF.

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  12. I also want to point out, since were having this discussion, that when I said "you writing me diminishes me in the industry "the reaction/response I read was "I don't see how I can/should worry about that. "

    And I honestly have no response to this. You're writing me, for that person of color over there, and it diminishes us, but you don't see how or why you can or should worry about it. Wow.

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  13. That is to anyone who sees this struggle, and take that viewpoint.

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    1. Ah, OK. It wasn't a lot of sense in reply to me but it's well after my bed time.

      Personally I do care (and I'd never write an African-American character for the same reason I'd never write a white American character; way outside my experience). I have a lot of other things to care about too. One of which is going to bed.

      (Unsolicited advice: Just because people don't share all your views, doesn't mean they're arguing with you.)

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  14. I truly missed the part where this is an argument. It's a discussion. Arguments are loud, disrespectful, involve insults and the like most of the times. No one has called anyone out of their name, has called them a horrible person, is pitching a fit or anything. EVERYONE involved thus far has remained calm and respectful, from what I can see. If my asking these questions is seen as aggressive, that's on whoever looks at it that way.

    I'm being firm and assertive. As is anyone who voices their opinion on something. Or who voices a standpoint. Though now I am curious as to why what I'm saying is seen as being argumentative.

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  15. So El is also saying some really important things on this Twitter thread today. Re: reasons/instances why non-marginalized folks should NOT write books with diverse protagonists:

    Reasons Not to write a Diverse MC

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  16. I wasn't sure how or when to enter in to this, but I've read this post, and been reading these comments, and I guess I'm just a feeling rather frustrated, and I think I need to say something.

    This is my situation or as analogous to it as I am comfortable sharing in a public space. I hope you'll understand. :)

    I am a white writer. I live in the South Pacific. We'll say American Samoa. My niece is adopted in a transracial adoption. She is of Asian descent. We'll say Korean.

    Meanwhile, I have been getting more involved in the local elementary school, helping out there. There are a lot of local children who don't see themselves in stories. Most particularly in fantasy books. They are reading Harry Potter and Fablehaven, but those protagonists and those worlds are so white!

    For three years, I've been working on a story for them. It's a fantasy novel set in an alternate world that combines elements of both of these cultures. I didn't want to write just another white, western fantasy. I wanted to write something meaningful for them that I haven't seen anyone else writing. Filling a gap that wasn't there.

    But now what I'm hearing is I was wrong to do this? To spend hours and hours researching this and talking to local parents and grandparents about it?

    That I'm never going to get it close enough to being right for it to be worthy of publishing?

    That in all my careful consultations with people I'm doing more harm than good?

    Are we just supposed to wait for these stories to write themselves? How long do we wait for someone else more qualified to write it? Who else is filling these strange gaps? I know no one else who is writing a Korean-Samoan fantasy. Is it so wrong for me to, so long as I am very careful about how I approach it?

    I've just come so far, and worked so hard on this. And now what I'm hearing crushes me.

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    1. My first question would how do you know no one is writing this? How are you certain someone from that area of the world, who lives this life, isn't struggling to be heard and may be silenced if, eventually, they're told by a publisher that said publisher already has a book featuring this culture?

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    2. I suppose my instinct (perhaps not a good one) would be to turn that question around to you. How much research would be enough for it to be "okay"?

      I live in this area of the world (one of them anyway), and it's not a huge community. I've been working on this for some time and am involved in local writing groups. Word-of-mouth goes pretty far (as far as local things go). Beyond that, there are a many online critique forums that I've frequented over the years and I've never seen this combination. There are also the writing communities on twitter and the online contests where people share their themes. I've never seen something like my book.

      This is of course not to say that it's not there. It's to ask how much more research would I have to do for it to be okay? Apologies if this is incorrect but it seems that what you're implying is that NO amount of research would ever be enough.

      That I should always assume someone else will step up and write it. That I should never, ever write anything but a white, western fantasy. Even though I have lived in a non-white, non-western place for decades.

      Sorry, I don't mean to sound angry. I just have poured a lot of time and care into this, so it's frustrating to think that no amount of care taken would ever matter in the long run? That I should just give up, despite years of work.

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    3. My personal opinion is that nothing is going to make it "okay." No amount of research, no amount of good will or intentions. And this has absolutely nothing to do with you as the writer, but everything to do with publishing.

      If everyone was equal and all races, ethnicities, and cultures received equal treatment, focus, and support from the industry, then we could all write each other and whomever and it wouldn't matter. But the industry isn't like that and there is a CLEAR favorite where race is concerned.

      Right now, publishing favors white authors. White authors writing anything are picked up over non-white authors writing their own stories. Non-white authors have to go above and beyond to be acquired while mediocre writing and effort is acceptable from white authors. Again, this is no fault of the authors, but this is how things are. It's the world we all live in.

      In order to reach the point of equality, if that's what we're really going for, then changes have to be made. The changes won't be comfortable, but change hardly is. No one is saying white authors will only be able to write white stories forever, but if people want things to get better, or so they say, so they'll need to deal with it for a bit I think.

      With that, my next question would be why the idea of not being able to write that story is such a difficult one to deal with. And if it's so hard for someone outside of it, imagine how hard it is for someone who lives it.

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    4. That's also only El's opinion. I don't think you should give up on your dreams because one person thinks you can't write it appropriately. I would also say don't stop checking and researching unless and until you get published, and then you'd have to be okay letting an #ownvoice author publish that story if you found out they wrote it.

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    6. Anonymous with the Korean-Samoan fantasy: my heart is bleeding for you right now, because even though my novel is very different, I'm in a similar situation. I am a white woman who has written a novel set in antebellum Charleston. My MC is man who is 1/8 African. He (and his father and siblings) are "passing" as white. I have done research for a DECADE to make sure I know what it would feel like to be mixed race in this time and place.

      I had a seemingly promising interaction with a Writers House agent (who is white herself, judging by her Twitter photo). We exchanged several emails and had three in-depth phone calls in which she called my writing "masterful," etc. In one of these phone calls, she mentioned seeing a Facebook photo of me in which I am clearly pasty white. But in none of these interactions did the issue of race ever come up. I did an R&R (mostly for word count) and in the end, she rejected me via email. Her reason? "To be totally honest, I have some positioning concerns regarding selling a book that focuses so heavily on race and slavery written by a white woman."

      Do I know that no person of color has written a novel about a Catholic priest passing in Charleston? Of course not. But I wrote this story because it addresses issues I haven't seen addressed in fiction: passing BEFORE the Civil War and the intersection of the Catholic Church and race. What it's like to be neither black nor white doesn't get addressed much in literary historical fiction either (my beloved genre).

      My story isn't a black story. It's an American story. It's a human story. What I'm truly exploring is what it's like to be an outsider, especially when you're the only one who knows you are. I DO know what that's like.

      If I am being rejected not because of the quality of my work but because of the color of my skin, that's still racism. It's still the belief that people of different ethnicities are fundamentally unequal--that mutual understanding is impossible. That's a divisive and dangerous belief.

      So Anonymous with the Korean-Samoan fantasy, I am cheering you on. But it's going to be an uphill climb for both of us.

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  17. I know it's not exactly the same, but as a female computer programmer I'm definitely an underrepresented minority in tech. (Non-white, non-Asian people are even less represented.) We face an analogous problem to the "seats at the table" one. There aren't enough women going into tech. Those who go into tech are treated poorly, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. When they wash out it's just because they "couldn't hack it." Their ways of communicating are devalued and the good ol' boys club in tech has a lot of subtle ways of working against the women, and then the CEO of Microsoft says it's a meritocracy and women should just work hard and the promotions will come to them because it worked for him! Naturally he caught a lot of flak for that statement.

    I promise this relates, I will come around. ;) Women in tech have to work twice as hard for their work to be recognized, they have to be better than their peers to be counted equal. They have to play the man's game while acknowledging that doing so will make them seem like a bitch to both men and women.

    To fix the problem in tech, we're going to need men to step out of their comfort zones and help women. Mentor them, recommend them for promotions, find opportunities, go out of their way to help women, because there aren't enough women in tech for them to be the only ones helping. And that maybe means that a few men won't get as much mentoring as they would have otherwise, and maybe I feel bad for them, but also they'll probably still be fine. And it also means not helping women become more like men, but helping make it so that being a woman isn't even "a thing" anymore, just like no one bats an eye at a white or Indian or Asian male programmer.

    Now, in writing, white (straight, cis, etc.) writers have the distinct advantage right now. I think that means we have an obligation to go out of our way to help disadvantaged writers -- not because their work isn't as good as white writers' work, but because the deck right now is so stacked against them that they DO need to stand out more. It's hard to help them in a way that doesn't just make them more white, but we need to. The mentoring/help should still be offered and authors can choose to accept it, so not a forced "here you need help step aside," but it doesn't help marginalized voices to pretend like they'll be fine if they just do their best and wait for good to come to them. You have to play the game to change the game.

    I say that as a white writer who might get less help than I otherwise would have gotten if people weren't trying to help #ownvoice authors, but I know that I'll probably still be fine, so people who are in a position to help should go find diverse voices who need an extra leg up because of the current rules of the game.

    Also to answer the original question, I won't write a POC point of view character because I don't think I can adequately represent their experience. I write fantasy, so I have a little extra freedom to write ancillary characters in a rainbow of colors. I think this falls under "incidental diversity" -- this character is a magician, he happens to be black, because some people in the world are black -- which I think makes it realistic, but I'm not sure if that falls into tokenism then. (Look! Blonde white Thor has one female sidekick, one beefcake who overeats, one sarcastic redhead, one Asian, and a black gatekeeper!)

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    1. Wow, that looks a lot longer when it's not in the tiny Google box.

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  18. We had this discussion on the #ownvoices on twitter, so let me repeat my tweets there. 99% of novels by white/straight/able are being rejected by agents/editors/publisher but they have no venue to complain. Naturally even with the big push for diversity, over 95% of novels by poc/lgbt/disable are being rejected and unlike the former group they look for reasons to complain. Instead of accepting rejections as part of the publishing business, they blame the first group for stealing their stories. This is nonsense. 95% of their novels are rejected because they are not good enough. That's the true they are refuse to accept. I write a diversity novel that no one else is writing. I am not taking anyone else spot. It's time for poc/lgbt/disable authors to write better novels that will not be rejected, so they will not blame other authors. Most of them don't write with authentic #ownvoices anyway. Thy just say, my main character is POC or LGBT without writing about the psychology, life experience, thoughts and feelings of the main character as a POC/LGBT. At the end they just to prevent other authors to write books, in order to reduce competition. They support segregation, where each author writes only about main characters like herself. Segregation and prevention of freedom of speech/writing are wrong.

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    1. Have you read this:

      http://www.cbcdiversity.com/post/141153360148/i-just-dont-identify-with-the-character

      or seen this:

      http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/

      And then thought about what it would be like if YOU were in the position of an author in a marginalized group: trying to be heard but none of the gatekeepers ever "get" your story, because it doesn't resonate with them, purely because they don't live in/experience the same world you do?

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    2. Co-signed.

      I am always intrigued by the reaction of "why can't I write this/what does this mean about my writing" instead of "what can I do to help," which circles back to putting the non-POC or native author at the focal point. Amazing* to me. Truly.

      *not in a good way, if that's not clear.

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    3. LOLOL!! Of course here's the whole "there's no way 'they' can be good enough" argument again. Except there's the "This is wonderful but we already have a [insert marginalized group] story on our list, so we're going to pass" excuses that happen ALL THE TIME. So no, it's not that these writers are not good enough. It's that the publishers want to keep the status quo and not make more room at the table.

      Most marginalized writers don't want to take ANYONE'S spots. They're just asking for a spot of their own.

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    4. I offered help on the #ownvoices thread, telling you to follow the success of two black female authors and transform your story to make it more marketable for publishers looking for authentic black voice. Instead of listening you got angry, and blame me and publishers no taking your novel as it is. My offer of help is open, if you wish to accept. I'll give you an email to send 1 page synopsis and first 3 pages and I'll transform your novel to be more relevant. Publishing is very hard, where almost every author is being rejected. All the best to you.

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    5. Anon re: authenticity... I find it strange that you are suggesting that someone needs help to make their own voice "authentic" ... Because authenticity means that the writing is true to the original source and the original source is the author themselves, I would argue that the only person who is able to truly write their own voice authentically is that person themselves. That is not to say that others couldn't help with other aspects of writing a story. I think we all appreciate beta readers and critique partners. But the one thing they can't, by definition do, is help make our stories more "authentic" (i.e. more our own/more geniuine, truer to the original source). Since we are the original source of our voices and stories, we are the ones who can write them most authentically. That may not mean marketable, that may not mean publishable in today's market, but we can all write our own stories authentically. In fact it's difficult to envision a situation in which we could write our own stories unauthentically ... unless we tried very very hard.

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  19. I've read this before and it's not relevant. Check the New York Times best-seller list for YA novels. 2 of the top 5 are by POC authors writing about POC main character. They got published because they wrote great YA novels. Their agents liked it, the publishers liked it and readers liked it. My advice is to stop complaining and write better POC novels. Novels that agents want to represent, novels that publishers want to publish, and novels that readers want to buy. Good luck !

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    1. Saying "Look at these few exceptions" is completely ignoring the issue, dismissive of those speaking on it, and isn't that strong of an argument. In fact, the exception to the rule clause in publishing is that don't take said exception to represent the norm. Why apply it to POC and native voices in this instance? Other than it SEEMING to better serve your argument. Which is moot.

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  20. Okay, well I have thoughts this morning. And apparently they are so long that thy don't all fit in one comment field, so apologies in advance for the split comment! :oD

    This is getting back to the whole "just write something of quality and it will get published" argument. But I see some pretty big problems with this line of thinking:

    (1) Traditional Publishing does not publish works of "quality" it publishes what it knows will sell. It's a business. It wants to make money. That also means it is resistant to change. They publish what they know the market will read. And if the (U.S.) market is mostly white/cishet/abled women, and if the gatekeepers are mostly white/cishet/abled women, you can probably imagine what kind of books trad. publishing is going to keep pushing out. Regardless of "quality."

    Theoretical scenario: Two manuscripts with similar themes and premise, each by a different author, sitting on the acquisitions table.

    One book: Beautifully written and executed. The author spent years on it. Literary writing of the highest calibre. A quality manuscript. But the editors at the table can't always understand the Main Character's motives, and the plot is more reflective than action driven.

    The second book: The writing is sort of there but it needs some polishing. The author kind of slapped it together. But the plot itself is killer, and the main character's backstory is more relatable. Sure, the writing isn't as high-quality, but editors can help clean that up, and there are some overused tropes, but hey those overused tropes have sold and are still selling a lot of books, so *shrug*

    I think we know which book, more often than not, publishing is going to choose, given the choice.

    ... And at least for me personally, if I were the first author, I'd feel kind of cheated.

    So it all comes back to your definition of "quality" and of "better". Should we all try to fit ourselves into the mold that traditional publishing currently deems "most publishable"? Because that seems to be the logical conclusion of your argument. And that seems like censorship in and of itself. Isn't there room here to push the boundaries a little? Or do we never challenge the filter through which all trad. pub manuscripts come? Which brings me to my next point:

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    1. (2) Traditionally Published manuscripts are largely filtered through a white, cishet, abled, female (or sometimes male), lens. Those are the gatekeepers you have to have "get" your novel on such a visceral, intimate level. They have to "get" your writing, "get" your characters. They have to "get" you.

      So if you're not white/cishet/abled? You have an uphill battle. Sure you can choose to try and write to the tastes of the current gatekeepers. But if that's the only avenue, is that not effectively a form of censorship? Is that really what we want to tell everyone to do?? Can we not challenge the mold a little here?

      Sometimes I think it's hard for those of us white/cishet/abled folks to wrap our heads around this uphill battle and uneven playing field that marginalized voices face. I know it's hard for me anyway, so I kind of break it down like this, comparing it to something that I can relate to, because it's ME:

      Hypothetical situation:

      I write a memoir about my experiences throughout pregnancy, my struggles with sleep and work-life balance and keeping hold of my own identity and passion as a writer while devoting myself to tiny other being, and about the funny, quirky little joys of watching my son grow up into his own little person. So I write this book, and I pour my heart and soul into it, and I *know,* I just know that other moms, especially writer moms are going to love this book. In fact they've told me so because I've had it beta-read and critiqued and polished to a spit-shine.

      Problem? I go to find an agent/publisher and all the publishers are ALL single males with no children {because *magic alternate universe for hypothetical situation* okay? lol ;o) }. So what do they tell me?

      "Ahhh...sorry, I mean I can see some merit here and clearly you're a talented writer, but I just can't connect to the character."

      That's right! Because I didn't I didn't write the character for a single, childless male to connect to it. I wrote it for women with children to connect to it!

      Can I re-write the whole thing to cater to a childless, male, audience? Sure. Okay. It's certainly one option.

      Should I HAVE to if I want to be published? No. I don't think I should. And I don't think you should either.

      Which is why we're having these discussions about how to change the system so that the playing field is more level, and it isn't effectively censoring our stories.

      Big markets and the NYT Bestseller list are driven by mainstream readers. This makes traditional publishing resistant to change. Resistant to new stories told in ways that the mainstream doesn't always "get." You raised a cry about "censorship" and "freedom of speech" before. But I think before you point the finger at #ownvoices, you need take a hard look at the many ways that the current system of traditional publishing is effectively censoring and blocking the free speech of those marginalized voices.

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    2. The current system was against POC authors in the past, but now supports POC authors. Almost al white women editors in publishing are looking to publish POC authors and books about POC main characters. That is what they say. Problem is that POC authors refuse to accept what White authors accepted... that 99% of books are rejected, not matter what is the color of your skin. POC authors live in an imaginary world where they think that all books by POC auhors about POC characters should get published by major publishers. They must accept that 99% of books are rejected. But they don't.

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    4. I agree that publishing seems to be shifting toward including more books with POC main characters (and characters from other margins too). That exact phenomenon is actually what spurned this blog post.

      The thing I'm concerned about (and actually the original reason for this blog post), is that concurrent to editors expressing an increasing desire for more diverse books, there is also the issue that editors are still vastly white/cishet/abled.

      Because of that, there is a very real concern that given two books on the acquisitions table with similar premises, themes, and writing quality, a white/cishet/abled editor is likely to pick the one by the white/cishet/abled author, NOT the marginalized author. Why? Because they connect with the character and the lens through which the story is shown. Why? Because it's the same lens through which they see and understand the world.

      Can manuscripts written by marginalized authors make it on the NYT Bestseller list? Of course they can (and are)! That doesn't mean this phenomenon isn't happening. As I linked in the original post above, most books with POC main characters are still written by white authors. Editors are increasingly admitting that they harbor subconscious bias (which is totally understandable ... I mean to use the example from my "memoir" example above, *of course* a single, childfree male isn't going to "get" the memoir of a writer-mom in the same way another mom would. So of course it's understandable. That doesn't mean it's not a problem.). So until the playing field is more level and the publishing gatekeepers more accurately reflect the diversity we see in the world, I think this is a very real concern.

      Yes, publishing is hard, I don't think anyone who's been in this business long would argue with you there. What we're arguing is that right now it's still much harder for marginalized voices. Can marginalized authors defy all odds and make it to the top? Sure! Should they have to defy unfair odds and possibly pander to white/cishet/abled audiences/editors to do so? For me personally, I'd rather they didn't. But I tend to be (overly?) concerned about fairness.

      Like I mentioned in my response to a comment below, all of this assumes that you're here in this discussion because you care about diversity, and about readers being able to find authentic representations of themselves in books. If you don't, then the original intent of this blog post and its questions wasn't really leveled at you. Because in the end I can't convince you to care, unless that's what you're wanting me to try and do. :)

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  21. I never suggested to write "quality" books which are supposedly more literary. I advocated to write better books, more commercial books, that major publishers want to buy because they feel that they will be best seller. Given the choice of your example of author 1 and author, I always choose to be author 2. Author 1 is misguided thinking that because she wrote a quality literary book then publishers should publish it. Why should they? Publishers want to make money, not contribute to art. Author 1 should research what publishers want to publish before starting writing. Nobody promised her to publish her book. That's the risk she takes.

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    1. Oh I absolutely agree that being Author Type 2 is the "safe" route to go! That's why some people are choosing it.

      I was using the literary/commercial divide as a parallel example. What was trying to say, but perhaps came across muddled, is that currently what constitutes a "commercial" novel also means that it panders to a white/cishet/abled lens/reader. But while anyone can choose to write their work with more or less of a literary flavor, it is much, much harder and, in my opinion, much less fair to ask someone who is not white/cishet/abled to write from a more white/cishet/abled perspective if they want to be "more commercial" and get published.

      (I was trying to illustrate this in my second example with the memoir, but maybe I worded it poorly).

      All that said, the definition of what constitutes a "better, more commerical" book is a shifting one. And I think it is currently in the process of shifting, to include, like you (or perhaps it was another poster, apologies if I'm mixing people up here) said, NYT Bestsellers that feature diverse characters, sometimes written by authors who are not white/cishet/abled. So yes, I absolutely think the market is shifting -- perhaps a bit slowly, but shifting -- toward becoming more diverse and inclusive.

      The original question I had posed in this post is precisely because of this recent and ongoing shift in the market. My original question in this blog post ("Should Non-Marginalized Writers write the other?") was leveled really at a very particular audience: white/cishet/abled authors who already care about diversity and want to support diversity in books/publishing, and as a result are debating writing a book with a marginalized MC.

      My suggestion is that if you care about authentic diversity in books and publishing, but you are white/cishet/abled then maybe right now is NOT the best time to write a book with a marginalized MC because your book might actually just get in the way of a more authentic #ownvoices book.

      But if you *don't* care about diversity, and about readers being able to find authentic representations of themselves in books, then really the original question posed by this blog post isn't leveled at you. I personally care about it. I wish you would. That everyone would ... but that wasn't really the original intent of this post, and ultimately I can't *make* you care. Unless you want me to try ;o)

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  22. Not only I care about diversity, I tweeted to have more diversity books, especially for kids, so poc/lgbt kids can find themselves in books and be empowered. I write a book full with diversity, that no one is writing so I don't take anyone spot. My problem with authenticity is that many poc/lgbt authors don't write with authentic voice. I explained above what does it mean to have authentic voice, and many poc/lgbt authors don't do it. Diversity in books is more important than authentic voice. Having more books with poc/lgbt main characters is more important than having more poc/lgbt authors writing them. Let me end with the acclaim Italian author Elena Ferrante who refused to reveal her/his identity, saying that books should be separated from their authors. Once I start reading a book, I don't care who wrote it. I only care about the story, characters ect. That will be my last post in this discussion and good luck for everyone.

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  23. "I write a book full with diversity, that no one is writing so I don't take anyone spot."

    How do you know a marginalised person isn't writing a similar story? And you're filling that agent or publisher's quota?

    "My problem with authenticity is that many poc/lgbt authors don't write with authentic voice."

    What do you mean by this blanket statement? Authentic voices in writing is an outward expression of someone's experiences, struggles, happiness, thoughts etc...in essence reality.

    "Having more books with poc/lgbt main characters is more important than having more poc/lgbt authors writing them."

    While I believe the world needs more diverse books, how can a non-marginalised writer possibly understand what it feels like to be targeted based on ethnicity/skin colour/disabilities/sexual preferences etc?


    When writers don't write with authentic voices, #ownvoices, problems can ensue with negatively portraying non-marginalised folks, and can lead into the trap of stereotypes. That is damaging. I've seen it happen over and over.

    I've come across non-marginalised writer's who may have good intentions, but absolutely can not truly comprehend what marginalised folks experience. Unless a writer has lived it, they'll never understand.

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  24. So I have an idea, or I guess it is a question.

    After reading through all this discussion, I wonder if maybe there is still a place for .... ok I'm going to call them Bridging Books.

    If part of the problem is that editors and many readers in the market can't always relate as well to stories written by authors from minority backgrounds - then is there maybe a valid place for majority/mainstream writers to write good (researched, sensitivity-read, good/not harmful, sterotype portrayals) stories with minority main characters? To help build the market for stories with those kinds of characters? Or are we already "there?" Do we not need this kind of ... I don't know what to call it ... market-building help?

    I think I read a few published POC authors from somewhere saying something like this before. Like "don't make us build this market alone" or something like that. Now I can't find where that was. Ring any bells?

    What do you think about Bridging Books?

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  25. I'm a romance author, so I follow those circles more than YA, but this topic definitely gets discussed. I'm sure it gets discussed in #ownvoices, if you're following authors of color and not just white authors. It came onto my radar a few years ago after I did an interview with Suzanne Brockmann on diversity and LGBT issues. There was some criticism about white authors like us hogging the mic and blocking the door to publishing. Not just taking up space, but actively shutting out authors of color. I've since then talked less and listened more with regards to diversity.

    I agree that there are a finite number of seats in publishing. There isn't room for everyone in NY, and we can't all be successful in any format. So space IS limited, but I don't think editors pass on books that are too similar anymore. Readers love similar. They love familiar. In romance, especially. Also, someone just said to me that 10 people can tackle the same topic and write 10 totally different books. This is true. The idea that there can only be one book about x, and one person writing about x, per publishing cycle, is part of the problem. Getting readers familiar with diverse books is part of the solution.

    How do we do that? Popular authors writing POC & GLBT (sensitive portrayals) might help create that familiarity. Authors with large followings, like Sarah McLean, recommend diverse books in newspaper columns. We can buy, read and recommend authors of color. What is often missing in this discussion, in my mind, is that there are a ton of authors of color already out there writing diverse books! Any white author who wants to "help" diversity their genre should be aware of what's already available. Don't write diverse if you won't read it. Just don't.

    There was a comment above about white authors not being able to understand racism because they haven't experienced it. I agree with this, but I think you can feel it when someone you love is discriminated against. When someone makes racist comments to or about my husband, I feel it. When a friend said my daughter would grow up to be an "exotic" beauty, I had a lightbulb moment about that word. There are levels of understanding and pathways to becoming more informed.

    Another issue I have is with creating a diverse cast, but not allowing POC to be main characters. This happens in romance a lot and it disappoints readers. Romance readers want every compelling character to get their own story with a happy ending. When authors write a series with a team of men (firefighters, football players whatever) and every guy gets his love story/happy ending except the POC, that's not right.

    I understand that YA has different issues, but I just wanted to weigh in as a romance author. This is a great discussion.

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    1. Just want to say I love everything you said here, Jill!

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  26. I struggle so much with this as a White person. And my struggle comes from places of arrogance and whining and "Ugh." Because this is what I hear: "Because you're too young to have written a (good) book ten years ago, all the places for White female writers are taken at the YA table. Go do something else."

    YES, I know that's not what's actually happening, and that my chances of publication are still, for some weird reason, higher than they are for marginalized voices. The subtext to me says, "Your chances are higher. You don't deserve this. Get out of line and let someone else have your spot; it's the right thing to do."

    All of which is compounded by the fact that my MC is Mexican. I can't imagine writing her NOT Mexican, either. But I also can't imagine handing over her story to someone else to write, because much of her psychology and story are autobiographical.

    I didn't come to the comment section with answers, but with questions:
    1) Do I make my MC white?
    2) If I do, do I make her best friend, currently white, Hispanic, to make sure it stays diverse? Her best friend is a pregnant teenager, so wouldn't making her Hispanic perpetuate stereotypes in a way I have no intention of doing?
    3) Do I shelve this story and wait around for a story about a white protagonist to show up in my brain?
    4) Do I not bother trying to publish at all because people like me are already over-repped at the table of YA literature?

    As a reader, I know what to do. I WILL be/am reading diversely and marketing diverse authors to the best of my ability. But as a writer, I feel like I'll lose no matter what I do. (I'll publish a White MC and be berated for it, I'll publish a POC/diverse MC and be berated for it, I won't publish at all and feel like a piece of me is missing.)

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    1. Ugh. This is SO me right now. The book I wrote with a biracial character in a white rural area also comes from a very autobiographical place for me (having moved to same town its set in at an age similar to MC and feeling like an outsider b/c I was homeschooled). It's SUCH a difficult story to know what to do with now that it's written, because it's in so many ways the story of my heart. Do I:

      (a) Rewrite it with the MC as "yet another white protagonist" in the sea of white protagonists and lose some of what I think are the best parts of the story?

      (b) Like you said: shift these elements off onto the best friend and write "yet another" book with a best friend who is a person of color?

      (c) Find a co-author for my story who would be able to speak to the story as a true #ownvoices voice? (I'd love to do this, but honestly, who wants to help me with a story that's not just in its infant stages, but already written and edited three-times over?)

      I've literally never been so torn about a book in my life, and I have no idea what to tell my agent who is waiting for it!!!

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    2. Although there's a lot of me that wishes you had answers instead of camaraderie, I can't tell you how appreciative I am of the camaraderie. :) Mine is the book of my heart, too. I'm only almost finished with the first draft, but I'm already scared to share with with a POC for verification, even though that will be a necessary step during editing. I just really don't want to get it wrong...

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