I'm proud to say my family is diverse. I'm the eldest of five siblings and between us, we are Hungarian-Jewish-Kiwi, Nigerian, Canadian, Black British, and mixed race.
The publishing industry has a historic lack of diversity, but self-publishing has enabled new voices to emerge. In today's article, Lucy Mihajlich talks about her experience with a book that doesn't fit into the usual categories.
When I started submitting Interface to literary agents, I received an offer of representation, but my agent asked me to add a romantic subplot. She believed romance was “crucial to keep readers invested.”
The main character of Interface is asexual.
When I refused to make Interface a romance novel, the offer was withdrawn. I decided to try Kickstarter, where my book was 122% funded.
White, het, cis, able men (and sometimes women) have been in control of the publishing industry for the better part of history, so the literary canon is typically white, het, cis, and able.
Self-publishing is changing that.
With options like print-on-demand, ebooks, and crowdfunding, self-publishing has become much more accessible even to those without big budgets. You can create an ebook for free with Kindle Direct, Smashwords and Draft2Digital. You can create a print book for free or cheap with CreateSpace and IngramSpark. You can crowdfund your book to find both your funding and your audience. I ended up doing all three for Interface. Here are a few of the things I learned along the way.
DON’T: Create a press release.
Actually, do create a press release, but…
DO: Create several press releases
Create one for local publications that focuses on your work in a community context, one for each of your niche markets, and a general one that ties your book into current events.
Interface is set in Portland, so I tried sending press releases to local magazines, like Portland Monthly and Willamette Weekly. My timing couldn’t have been worse. Katherine Dunn had just passed away, and Chuck Palahniuk had just started a Kickstarter for a film adaptation of Lullaby. With that kind of news, no arts editors cared about my book. I’d almost given up on getting any press at all when I received a response from a local feminist magazine called Bitch. They asked me to write an article about why I made my main character asexual.
Three days later, my Kickstarter was over 100% funded. The asexual community Tweeted, blogged, and pledged. Almost every time I thanked someone, I got a thank you in return for writing a story with an asexual character.
Your novel may have several niche markets, but if you’re writing about a minority, you already know of at least one.
That’s something publishers don’t consider when they automatically reject books about minorities. Our target audiences are desperate for representation.
DON’T: Approach people with your hand out for cash
I tried Tweeting about my Kickstarter campaign, but I didn’t have enough followers for it to make a difference. I’d heard some success stories from people who had asked celebrities for Tweet Outs, so I emailed half a dozen writers who I'd met at writing conferences and book signings. Only one responded (Cory Doctorow gets all the Whuffie). He had 400,000 followers, but it didn’t result in a single pledge.
DO: Approach people with your hand out in introduction
After my success with Bitch Magazine, I began writing guest blog posts. I did an interview for Gay YA and an announcement on Queer Scifi. I talked about my experiences as an asexual writer, and what it was like trying to publish a novel with an asexual protagonist.
Everyone has written a book, is writing a book, or is thinking about writing a book. If you want people to care about yours, you have to tell them the story about the story.
DON’T: Forget about intersectionality
When I began writing Interface, I didn’t put much thought into my character’s sexual orientation. I wasn’t trying to be an activist or make a statement. I was just writing what I knew. Since then, I’ve become active in the LGBTQA community. I joined AVEN, the largest online asexual community, and a local asexual meetup group. I attended my first Pride and volunteered for another one a week later. The day after that, I attended a vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. I protested a president-elect who’s spoken in
Since then, I’ve become active in the LGBTQA community. I joined AVEN, the largest online asexual community, and a local asexual meetup group. I attended my first Pride and volunteered for another one a week later. The day after that, I attended a vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. I protested a president-elect who’s spoken in favor of preserving “traditional marriage” and a vice president-elect who supports gay conversion therapy.
Since then, I’ve put a lot of thought into my character’s sexual orientation, which has made me more aware of the overall lack of diversity in the publishing industry and more likely to read and support stories by other members of the LGBTQA community, people of color, and people with disabilities. I benefited from the support of the asexual community, but I also realized that it wasn’t just about how I could benefit. It was about how I could be of benefit to others.
DO: Remember you’re not alone
Hashtags like #diversifyya and #weneeddiversebooks have been trending lately. A lot of people are fighting for diversity in literature, but most science fiction novels are still more likely to have a self-augmented cyborg than a disabled person with a regular prosthetic.
We do need diverse books, especially in young adult fiction.
We need diverse books because all children should have stories in which they are the hero.
We need diverse books, because the more we read about other cultures, the less they will seem like the “other.” I needed diverse books because I didn’t even hear of asexuality until I was in my twenties.
DON’T: Avoid writing about marginalized people just because you aren’t one
You can tell a story with minority characters, without trying to tell that minority’s story. Write a novel with a trans character, but don't write one about the struggle to identifying as trans. Leave those books for trans people to write (and then buy them and read them; you'll understand trans people better, and you'll be supporting them directly.) Read books written by minorities. Go to TVTropes.org for the Race Tropes, and stay for the Evil Overlord List. Ask a member of the minority you're writing about to read your work. If you don't know any, you can hire a sensitivity reader, which is essentially beta readers that focus on representation. After that, all you have to do is write fully-developed characters, which you should be doing anyway.
Read books written by minorities. Go to TVTropes.org for the Race Tropes, and stay for the Evil Overlord List. Ask a member of the minority you're writing about to read your work. If you don't know any, you can hire a sensitivity reader, which is essentially beta readers that focus on representation. After that, all you have to do is write fully-developed characters, which you should be doing anyway.
DO: Write about marginalised people if you are one
White guys have been telling their stories for centuries, and we've learned to enjoy them, even though they’re not about us. Self-publishing gives us the opportunity to tell our own stories. Maybe at the moment, we’re still just telling them to each other, but if we keep telling them, the white guys might find out that they actually enjoy our stories too.
What impact do you think self-publishing has had on the availability of diverse books? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Lucy Mihajlich lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. She's very popular on the internet, or at least her mother’s Facebook page. Interface is her first novel. Learn more about Lucy and her book at her website. You can also find her on Twitter @lmihajlich