Writing Black in a White Publisher’s World

Writing offers it’s own personal rewards. But, what good is a manuscript if it gathers dust in the closet? One of the most popular topics during Lit Fest, at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, surrounds publication. The majority of writers are eager to begin the publication process, so they can see their name in print after taking so much time and investing so much effort into creating a work they can be proud to share. But for an emerging writer, this can become one of the most daunting parts of publishing.

First the writer must determine whether to self-publish or try to find a traditional publisher. There is one other option, and that is submitting their book to Indie publishers. I tried traditional before exploring the option of self -publishing. But first I had to find a literary agent to represent me, so my work wouldn’t end up in a slush pile that grows over time, and the manuscript eventually ends up in “file thirteen”, the trash.

That is where my challenges began, because almost every agent I queried replied with an answer that suggested that although they found the storyline compelling, and what they read showed promise, my novel did not fit into their specific market niche. Or, this was not what they were looking for at the time. And I must add that I could only find one African American agent in my search, and she quickly turned me down. That was when I learned that all the publishing industry talk about embracing diversity in literature is just that, talk.

Speculative fiction is another challenge. Especially for women and people of color. And the fact that the Science Fiction Writers of America – SFWA – are the ones who hold signgicant influence over what should be published in that genre is most disconcerting. SFWA is the organization responsible for presenting the prestigious Nebula Awards. The SFWA officers are composed of writers who are white. There is one member of Cuban descent, but once again, she is white. When faced with such disparities in the publishing industry, the task of finding someone to publish my manuscript became an exercise in futility, so I decided to self-publish.

My affiliation with the Black Science Fiction Society and others has taught me that I am not alone in this dilemma. In this organization I was able to find a support system that helped me keep focus on my longterm goal – to leave my mark, among many other black writers, in speculative fiction. I now have access to a network of talented and accomplished members of the literary world who face the same struggles as myself. People who have found ways of thinking outside the box when looking for help in publication. Members who are reviewers, editors, animators, and accomplished authors who have paved the way for others like me who struggle with the barriers presented when publishing while black.



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