Friday, June 23, 2017

Someone will always gleefully tell you how hard it is

(a)Word on the street is that diversity gets double the rejection rate of a story that's not diverse. Several of my friends who are People of Color reported rejection rates from 100+ before getting accepted, while the people who wrote say straight white (cis) (males) often report reject rates around 40-50 average. This doesn't seem to matter on genre either.

(b)Given the larger rejection rates for diverse and highly diverse manuscripts in the industry and me hearing that it sometimes takes 2+! years to get through all of the rejections before getting a hit, is it wiser or less wise to send in more than 5 submissions per round per month. I'm tempted to double it considering the higher rejection rate, but equally nervous about burning bridges while doing so.

(c)Also, I have a habit of writing outside of the usual American gold standard for "What makes a story good" by borrowing from the cultures I'm writing in (Of course with extensive research). I figure my primary audience should be the real life people that are represented by the characters. However, I also recognize that often agents and (white) readers won't recognize those conventions up front and say NO, that's a "wrong" way to tell a story. I'm also semi-frustrated because reports from College Lit class students report that the "World Lit" section only covers things like "Greek" and "Roman" which doesn't really help. (And most of the time they don't hit up the diversity within those lits either. Like the LGBTQIA.) I'm aware this results in a higher rejection rate for me as most people probably reading my stories while professing to want diversity, probably haven't say, studied what a Dream Record (Korea) is. I have no idea if the agent knows what Kishotenketsu looks like. Never gotten to read outside of American (and maybe European) Lit. Is there a professional way to battle this misconception in a query, so they don't auto-reject and give the story a fair shake just because it doesn't fit the gold standard American Mold?

Kinda trying to battle the systemic prejudice within publishing here and would love some tips on how to get through it in a less painful way.

Thanks for any tips you can give.

For starters "word on the street" means writer anecdotes, and listening to those at all, let alone drawing conclusions from them will make you crazy. It's akin to "my cousin's hairdresser's boyfriend had his kidney stolen by organ brokers and woke up in the park with an ice pack and a note to get to a hospital." Unless you know the guy's name, and saw the note, don't be so quick to believe things.

There's simply no way to draw conclusions based on rejection rates. Those are not measurable, replicable numbers. And given "no response means no" has become the norm, you're using the absence of data as data.

My little math loving heart quivers.

What you CAN measure is books that are PUBLISHED. And yes, there is a stunning lack of diversity in published books. That situation is starting to change, but publishing moves at a glacial pace in every single way except author rodent wheels, so that change is going to take a while to see.

And there's NOTHING you can do about this other than buy and talk about books that are the kind of books you write and want to read.

Your question about increasing your submission rate from five queries a month to ten implies you burn bridges by sending queries out too fast. I can't imagine why you think that. Querying doesn't burn bridges. Querying gets your project in front of agent's eyeballs.That's ALL it does.

As to paragraph (c) I literally don't understand what you are trying to say here. You've got a reference to gold standard (which has nothing to do with writing or novels), college lit classes (which have nothing to do with trade publishing) and references to auto-reject (which is generally due to things like "fiction novel" not things we might have to google like Kishotenketsu.)

Bottom line: You're missing a key quality for someone who wants to be a professional novelist. That quality is die hard certainty you are the exception to all the stats, all the anecdotes, all the BBS denizens that say you will fail. You have to look at daunting stats (and while you haven't collected those stats properly here, the stats ARE daunting) and say "that will not apply to me."

Without that determination, you will always find a reason you didn't succeed.And there will always always ALWAYS be a cacophony of voices telling you how hard it is, how racist, ableist, out of touch; how the powers that be are stacked against you. And all of it will be true. That can't matter to you.

Every single time I read a query I'm not thinking "this won't be the one." I'm hoping just the opposite. Your job is to write the one that is.

And every single person in my office is looking diligently for underrepresented voices. I sit in those meetings, I beta read those manuscripts. If anyone tells you agents aren't looking for this, ask if they're in the meeting, or reading the manuscripts.Yes it takes a lot of rejection to get to yes. That's always been true. It will never change.

Here's the answer to your question (Kinda trying to battle the systemic prejudice within publishing here and would love some tips on how to get through it in a less painful way) at long last: There is no less painful way. This is the reality you're working in. It's going to be a battle. It's going to have very few victories. I don't know if it's better to know that going in, or discover the hard way via experience.

What I can tell you is this:  Don't listen to anyone who tells you that your book didn't get picked up cause agents are racist and insensitive and full of white privilege idiots. Yes, there are certainly some of those in the field. BUT, the biggest reason we don't take things we're actively looking for is the story or the writing aren't compelling.


Colin Smith said...

That last paragraph. One thing is true about agents, editors, reader, and critics, even if they are racist, insensitive, and full of white privilege: they love a great story well told. That's our job. Come up with a great story, and write it the best we can. It's as easy as that! :)

Now, excuse me while I rant at my rejections...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I think I'm on topic.

I find it odd that when someone is told their work is compelling, and a great read, we think the reader is being kind, polite even, as if they want us to not be mad at them because the work is crapola.

But when we’re rejected by a beta reader, an agent or Auntie Tilly, the retired English teacher, that person is clueless, has no idea what we are writing about, and should be pumping Slurpee’s at a 7-Eleven.

Getting your work, diverse or common, traditionally published is about as easy as giving yourself a manicure with a chisel and band saw. You must believe it is possible before you flip the switch.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

It's the writing. Yes. But also publishing is a business. There must be a market for a book for an agent and editor to put their time into. That is simple reality that sends my own rodent wheel into light speed.

Not everyone reads and with all these electronics, the average attention span of the average American is that of a gnat. Most read less than 10 books a year. A good chunk read 0 books a year.

Trying to sell a debut book is tough no matter the genre. Best to write what you love, master your craft, and keep trying. And yes every agent and editor I run into are looking for underrepresented voices. I doubt that is the issue with the rejections. It seems to me publishing is trying and changing. But like our Queen often opines, publishing works at a glacial pace.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Opie, Do not allow discouragement to get the best of you. Keep on. Look at all the Reiders here. We're in various states of pubbed and unpubbed authorship.

And Janet's answers. So many to appreciate.

Bottom line: You're missing a key quality for someone who wants to be a professional novelist. That quality is die hard certainty you are the exception to all the stats... That courteous, determined self-assurance (let me not overshoot into arrogance) about the desire to read our compelling story.

And the other statement: There is no less painful way. This is the reality you're working in. We are artists. I persevere because I believe so strongly in what I write. My story is taking a long time and it may never approach New York Times Bestseller. In the meantime, I enjoy working at my professional job. On times off, I study the craft and write the story that my heart believes specific people in the world are eager to read.

Amy Johnson said...

"You have to look at daunting stats...and say 'that will not apply to me.'"

Ah, it's always nice to spot evidence of things working together for the good: today's post was timely for me. Earlier this week, I got an especially disappointing rejection on a full from a fantastic agent. Fortunately, I also got feedback! I thought about it, hard, that day. And the next day got back in my desk chair and began yet more revisions.

Janet's bottom line (about believing in being the exception to the stats) is big. I think it's also important to believe in what we're doing--in there being purpose to it. Had I known about the stats years ago when I started writing novels, I don't know if my faith would have been strong enough to embark on this. Now, I think what keeps me going is probably a combination of a still-faulty faith and the idea that I've put in too much to cut my losses. A person can give up an awful lot in this pursuit of ours.

Thanks, Janet. Great timing!

Amy Johnson said...

Melanie: Thinking and praying for you.

Sam Hawke said...

It can be depressing listening to anecdotes from other aspiring writers. You see it all the time. Oh, xyz genre is dead. You can't sell a book with X. Debuts have to be less than 100K. You won't get an agent unless you know someone in the industry. You can' won' will... etc etc. But Janet's totally right - even though the advice and 'evidence' mostly isn't malicious or even necessarily wrong, you HAVE to back yourself and believe that you're the exception, or you just won't make it. I know that's super frustrating, and particularly frustrating when it comes to systemic disadvantages suffered by certain people and not others. Those are real issues and they do need addressing. But you don't need to beat the system into a fairer state FIRST. You can keep believing in yourself, believing you'll succeed despite all the obstacles, in the meantime. :)

MA Hudson said...

Keep going OP. A great story, well told, will eventually find an audience. As others have said, on other occasions, it might not be your first book that gets you through the publishing door.

Sarah said...

I'd like to add my two cents as a published author and a high school math teacher.

The stats on publishing only work if say, 500 people have written the same book, crafted the same query, send it to the same agent, who sends it to the same editor. In that situation, getting a book published is a lightning strike out of the blue and (picking a number, here) 2 out of the 500 are lucky enough to see sparks.

Here's what keeps me going: if getting published is a lightning strike, I get to choose how close I stand to the storm.

I can choose to educate myself with blogs like this.
I can choose to to always improve my craft.
I can choose to find beta readers who tell me what I need to hear.
I can choose to hoard money so I can attend writing conferences and get an agent or editor's feedback.
I can choose to revise– even start over– based on good feedback.
I can choose to be so damn good that people can't ignore me. (STILL working on this, Steve Martin!!!)

I choose how close I stand to the storm, and maybe I'll bring along a set of golf clubs, too.

OP, there will be folks out there who dismiss the stories you write, but you can write an amazing story that can't be overlooked. You can persevere.

You can do this.

We're cheering you on.

Craig F said...

Can you have your cake and eat it too?

There are many things that you can be deluded about and be a writer. Some of the very best writers are way outside the box.

They do understand that it has to be a great story that reads enticingly. Try to male you writing bridge the chasm, don't stand on the other side and say that you don't wish to comply with the "Gold Standard". The only gold standard is the writing, making the story accessible to those who read your works.

Don't try to tell me that it is me that needs to change, that I need to broaden my horizons. I am already trying to do that by reading. Don't alienate those who do that.

Donnaeve said...

Gee whiz. Would this information ("word on the street") fall into the category of fake news? Maybe.

And on the other end of opinions about this post today, here comes sourpuss.

I appreciate the support shown here already by fellow commenters, but I'd like to give OP a good hard shake and say, "stop looking/making for excuses before you're really even out of the gate here."

It always boils down to the story and how it's written. I sense that OP is standing back, judging how their query is being perceived from afar and some of the information they have came from someone's sour grapes.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Melanie: I didn't see your comment from yesterday until now. Bless. And prayers.

CynthiaMc said...

Dr. Seuss said he was told books in verse don't sell. His were rejected over 100 times. The only house interested in Tom Clancy's submarine novel was a house of fellow sub geeks. Horror fans never thought sparkly vampires would be a thing.

I look back now at things I wrote that I thought were brilliant when I wrote them. Now I go "Yep. I see why that didn't sell." Craft is work turned into art.

Beware of what one of my Christian editor friends calls WRITING TO MAKE A POINT (i.e. showing how smart/ enlightened / morally superior you are to the cretins you expect to buy your book). Not saying you're doing this, but it's a common trap many writers with a cause fall into. Tell a story people can't resist, one they can't put down because they want to see what happens next to a character they care about.

Unknown said...

OP, do you want to write, or to get a book published? Those are very, very different motivations. To me, your comments sound like you want to publish without completing the full writing process, including the rejections and rewrites, and angst. Sometimes we do just have to admit, "I don't want to do this anymore." If that's the case, better to soul-search and realize the inner truth, than to blame other factors and never feel satisfied.

Dena Pawling said...

>>Kinda trying to battle the systemic prejudice within publishing here and would love some tips on how to get through it in a less painful way.

People who have battled systemic prejudice in any system have had a long and painful journey. But people of any gender or race can now own land and vote, serve in the military, and marry whoever they want to marry. It wasn't easy to get here, but perseverance and believing in the outcome earned the result.

No one promises a painless journey. Believe in your outcome. Persevere. You can be one of the people whose efforts result in the outcome, or one of the people who benefits from what the others have fought for. My guess is that if you're wanting the less painful way, choose option #2. But my other guess is that's not the option you really want.

Good luck.

CynthiaMc said...

Melanie - so sorry. Hugs and love.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Melanie Love and prayers for you and your family.

I only just read yesterday's comments. Boxes were holding me hostage.

Sherry Howard said...

Melanie, sending all the warmth the interwaves can hold your way. So sorry!

I had to leave and think about this post. It's very frustrating to wonder WHY your ms isn't chosen and to impute reasons. I think one important thing to remember when writing diversity, and including elements of a culture that may not be widely familiar, is to make the reader WANT to immerse themselves in that cultural difference. We can be guilty of a certain snobbery, and if we want to be widely read, we can't afford that.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is one of my favorite books. I'd have googled (didn't need to) a thousand tems because I fell in love with the story and the characters. That's what we have to do, make people care enough to learn new things.

Write or die!

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


Hugs and prayers for you.

Timothy Lowe said...

Thoughts and prayers, Melanie.

Megan V said...

Melanie I'm so sorry. You are in my thoughts. I can only hope that love and warmth finds you and helps you the best it can in such hard times.

As to the OP:

To an extent, querying is very like Sisyphus' punishment. You have to push the boulder up the hill. There is no alternative. There is no shortcut. The single difference is that you're not alone in your struggle. There are many others pushing that boulder. And the hope is that if you and other writers keep pushing that boulder, someone is going to make it stick at the top of hill. And then another. And another. Until the path up the hill is so worn that it becomes easier to push and keep the boulder in the place where it belongs.

Steve Stubbs said...

I am not clear what any of this means, but I can't help thinking that MANCHILD IN THE PROMISED LAND did well. Of course, the author is a genius, and that helps. ROOTS did well. OK, OK, another genius. Maybe that is the key. Be thee a genius and write what thou wilt. I can't stand HUCKLEBERRY FINN, but it is written entirely in dialect and - oh, alright, that was written by a genius as well. I don't buy the argument that diversity is the sloppy kiss of death.

Of course times change. This is the age of trump (the lower case "t" is intentional) and he exists because hate groups are on the rise, along with hate crimes, bigotry, and the like. The pendulum it is swinging.

I did not follow her career, but Cassie Edwards did quite well writing about Indians. Her career is a cautionary tale, because her books were researched for authenticity, and people with nothing better to do tracked down all her sources. They then argued that using factual matter that had appeared elsewhere constituted plagiarism and that was the end of Cassie's career. I have not studied this controversy in detail and cannot say if the plagiarism accusation has any merit to it, but one thing we can take away from it is that people are out to get you if you succeed. (Cassie made a fortune, as in MILLIONS.) They will enter your book into google one word at a time to see if they can come up with anything. So be extremely careful not to do a John the Baptist and let them walk off with your head on a platter.

If there is a grievous dearth of "LGBTQIA" books, that is probably because publishers are busineses and manage their risk rationally, which is to say, conservatively. Good for them. If their business plan is to manage a small press that started out as a large press and ended up small by publishing a lot of LGBTQIA, wish them well but expect them to have trouble getting funding from venture capitalists. If you know a strategy for using that material to make your publisher rich, come up with a compelling pitch. Assume your editor is working in a business and not curating an art museum.

Why not just write a compelling page turner that grabs the reader by the lapels on the first page and does not let go until s/he reads the words "THE END"? I vaguely recall something Michael Korda, former editor at S&S, once said, "You might as well be a success." Good advice from an industry titan. Why not just be a howling success, make everybody buckets of money, and don't worry about it?

Peggy said...

Sarah--hear, hear! My high-school-English-teaching heart loves the metaphor.

We can't control our talents or abilities, but we can control our actions. We can control how hard we work. We can hone our talents, develop our abilities, and make sure we're in the right place in case the right time comes along!

BJ Muntain said...

Umm... that 100+ is not uncommon among any writers, I'm afraid. And 2+ years of querying is going to be a lot longer if you only send out five queries per month.

There are those who insist on only sending out a few queries at a time, because they don't want to blow chances with a bad query, but they won't know if a query is bad until they query... This isn't true. You learn how to write queries. You get your query critiqued by people who know the industry, who know queries. Have agents look over your query at conferences. Take advantage of any agent who says they'll critique your query - one agent said on Twitter that he'd critique all queries he got on a certain day. I definitely took advantage of that, and got some good feedback from this agent. Query Shark is wonderful - read the archives, read everything, and you'll learn a lot about writing good queries.

Then, once you have your query as good as you can make it, send it off to as many agents as you want. That doesn't mean you won't revise queries as you learn more. Just like you'll keep revising your novel as your writing improves, until it sells.

Rejection doesn't burn bridges. No means no, but only for this book with this agent. And there are even exceptions to that - if you improve your novel exceptionally, if your writing improves a lot, you can always try again.

There are hundreds of agents out there, and there are new agents showing up all the time. You will never run out of agents to query.

Julie Weathers said...

Word on the street.

Well, I'm about to go on a rant. Not a single one of those agents has a place anywhere they ask for the color of the author. As a matter of fact, if the OP is actually researching twitter for agent wish lists or the actual agents themselves or the twitter pitch parties, what you see over and over and over again is "Send me diverse stories!!"

"straight white (cis) (males) often report reject rates around 40-50 average. "

That is bs. I shelved Far Rider at 106 I think. 100 rejections is not uncommon. 60 is average for anyone, red, green, black, white, purple, male, female and all the varieties in between from what I pulled off a querying website just out of curiosity.

There has never been a better time for a talented writer for a person of color to be writing quality books. The problem is, the agents and publishers are looking for you and your stories, but they still have to be good. It's not enough to get their attention by saying, "I'm a person of color!" After you get their attention, you have to deliver. It's still a business.

I'll guarantee you if I write to an agent and say, "Hey, I'm an old, fat white woman and I wrote this book," the only thing the agent is going to do is say, Uh, "where was that block button."

Then someone writes in and says, I know many agents are looking for diverse books and stories set outside the Roman/Greco mythos. As a person of color, I think I may have what you're looking for. Agent hits open so fast their mouse squeaks.

Criminy, I almost didn't enter the last twitter contest because to a person the agents were begging for diverse books and fantasies set outside the Europan mileau. It's like when I was cleaning houses and one of my clients was a doctor. I asked his wife how their daughter did at the piana competition over the weekend. "Oh, it was brutal. They told them anyone who was playing _______, not to even bother to take the stage. Lucikly, Curly had chosen something else."

Julie Weathers said...


I am so sorry. I lived with my father in the nursing home the last few weeks of his life. I wish I'd been there at the very end. I know how tough this was for you.

I have offered up prayers for all of you. You have such a kind and loving heart. I wish you comfort in this difficult time.

RosannaM said...

Melanie,Joining everyone in wishing you peace and comfort.

Julie Weathers said...

Steve you damned well had to go there.

Of course times change. This is the age of trump (the lower case "t" is intentional) and he exists because hate groups are on the rise,

Yes, he does. I don't like the arrogant bastard, but yes he does. A lot of people got sick of the hatred towards police and the military and whites just because they are whites.

Just read the comments about the Scalise shooting. A professor at a college is mad because the EMTs saved Scalise's life because he's white. What do you think that bastard is teaching students every day?

Reporters are opining that the congressmen brought it on themsleves and deserved to be shot. Reporters!

Yeah, there's a culture of hate all right. Now, keep going there and show your damned ignorance.

Julie Weathers said...

Yes, I know my comment is going to be blocked and probably me. I don't care.

BJ Muntain said...

Regarding 'the stats will not apply to me':

Basically, the stats say it's almost impossible to get published. However, there are books published every day. There are many exceptions to the stats.

If you write well, if you keep learning, if you're professional and serious, you're already well ahead of most of the people who are querying.

Regarding what other writers say: A lot of writers - both successful and not all that successful - seem to not look beyond themselves. They can't get published, so no one can get published. Or they're having problems selling their published books, so their genre is tanking. Or they started out selling to small, unheard-of literary magazines then got published elsewhere, so selling to small, unheard-of literary magazines is the best way to get started in publishing.

Self-reported evidence isn't strong evidence - something that scientists are starting to realize.

Sarah: YES!!!!

Melanie: Thoughts and prayers going out for you and your brother. (((hugs)))

RosannaM said...

And once again it comes down to:
Tell a compelling story
Query widely

I agree with Janet that there is no painless way to jump into the publishing business and not gasp at its icy reception, but hopefully the writing itself feeds you. That part should give you joy and fill the creative urge.

Donnaeve said...


Brothers are so very special. All siblings are...they share your memories, and though feelings may differ between brothers to sisters, there's nothing so special as the relationship you have and share with them.

Peace, and love to you and your family.

Janet Reid said...

Ok you guyz.
Knock it off.
You know what I mean and you're all adults.

Casey Karp said...

Melanie, all the sympathies in the world to you.

Rosanna, I think you hit the proverbial nail in the usual place. One thing I'm noticing is that about three-quarters of Janet's posts boil down to "Write the best book you can and be persistent."

OK, so the blog wouldn't be nearly as much fun to read if that was all she posted, but that doesn't make the advice any less true.

Unknown said...

Melanie, I'm so sorry. Thoughts and prayers. It's so hard to live through. Thanks for letting us help in our little ways.

John Davis Frain said...

Opie, I may have stood beside you, but I haven't even walked a quarter-mile in your shoes. And I've never been on the other side where Janet hails from, so I can't offer a comment direct to your questions.

On the other hand, I can tell you that my overall experience doesn't appear to be a whole lot different in the publishing world, never mind the rest of the world. It's daunting out there. And even though five-and-a-half days a week, I'm that person who knows the world will be reading me one day -- that leaves a day-and-a-half every week (21% of my time for the math fans out there) where I'm the person who can't face the reality of continued persistence against every obstacle possible.

Keep chugging, Opie. You'll be better for it. (Ha! At least, I'm trying to convince myself of that.)

Stacy said...

Melanie, I am so sorry. Godspeed.

On a side note, I volunteer at a horse rescue, so I share your love of horses. My few hours at the rescue on Sunday evenings has become my sanctuary.

I appreciate the support shown here already by fellow commenters, but I'd like to give OP a good hard shake and say, "stop looking/making for excuses before you're really even out of the gate here."

Right on, Donnaeve. It's amazing all the head games that writers can play--tripping themselves out without anyone else's help. OP, don't look for reasons to quit. The only way to know whether your book will be successful is to finish the book and get it in front of agents. That's it, really. And if it doesn't work, try again, only better.

Beth Carpenter said...

Melanie, you and your brother are in my prayers.

OP, wishing you the best of luck. It's going to be hard, regardless. I see why you're considering how to explain why your manuscript is unconventional different in the query, but I don't think that matters. If it's so different the agent doesn't feel like she can sell it, she'll reject whether she's familiar with the traditions and forms of literature around the world or not. If it's different in a compelling and original way that will attract a gazillion readers, she'll snap it up. At least that's what I'd be doing if I were an agent.

Julie said...

Melanie: Thinking of you.

All: Hi, all. Quick remark to oldies - had islet cell transplant 1/11/17 and made it for my first walk outside this week, so I'm recovering. Hope that's both brief and happy enough to be "blog-okay!" ;)

Blog-relevant: What's the current thinking on writing minorities outside one's own group? I'd love to have my current MC have her mom be from Puerto Rico, but I'm 100% Brit-Mutt, and I don't want to invite the tempests of the appropriation gods for appearing to claim to be that which I am not.

If you see what I mean.

Thoughts? (Typed too fast and that initially came out as "Thugs?" LOL...)

Hope y'all are doing well... Glad to be coming back!


Lennon Faris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Hey Julie,

Glad to hear you're recovering.

As a member of a minority group (God, I hope they come up with a better term for "us" in the very near future), I have no problem with having authors write characters from my culture as long as its not the negative stereotypes that define that character.

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


When white authors get my culture right, it actually feels good to read what they wrote. A tip I have for you is write in a positive or funny cultural quirk into the character like a high standard for coffee or cigars or the use of a local swear word. I love those.

I definitely don't mean that you guys should pander to the minority groups. But since we live in this weird culture of inequality every day of our lives, it's nice when writers afford us a bit of a breather in their fiction.

Timothy Lowe said...

New rule for writers: be bulletproof?

Lennon Faris said...

OP, if your mission is more diverse books, don't forget about the readers. Write a compelling story to snag an agent of your own, but also read, buy, and promote other (already published) diverse stories you love.

Lennon Faris said...

Melanie, I've been thinking of you & your brother. My heart breaks for you. I hope he passes on in peace and I wish I could give you a real hug. HUGS

Julie - good to have you back. So glad to hear you are recovering.

Megan V said...

Off topic:

I wonder how many Reiders are not what would be considered adults? I know there have to be some. After all, I didn't start off as an adult Reider (I think... or it would have been just barely. It's been a long time and technically I started off at QueryShark and lurked for years before commenting here). Something I shall have to keep in mind when commenting.

Welcome back! Glad to hear you are recovering and I hope that all goes smoothly.

Colin Smith said...

Megan: A good reminder. All the more reason to model courteous and respectful dialog... even when we disagree. :)

french sojourn said...

Great post, and the comments are as usual superlative.
Melanie, I'm sending you hugs from France. Stay strong, and know you are loved by this community.

Cheers Hank

Abby said...

Hey team,
Saturday's blog post is delayed.
Technical issues.

(posting under my friend Abby's account)

Sherry Howard said...

Hey Janet

You know us so well! I couldn't find the blog this morning so read through the last of yesterday's comments just to feel like my day got started right!

(Written from my own account)

Steve Stubbs said...


I don't have a clue as to what your post is about. But the Trust Fund Kid could be relevant to publishing, IMO. The Kid won't admit it, of course, but he personally is not that important. He is just the tip of an iceberg, and the iceberg is important. With numerous hate crimes committed in London and Paris in the past few weeks and hate crimes on the rise here as well, something is happening.

Some analysts on CNN seem to think the iceberg created the Kid, and that the Kid did not create the iceberg. If that is true, he could resign tomorrow (Glory!) and the iceberg would still be with us.

If I were a publisher and trying to assess the Zeitgeist with the intention of keeping my investment strategy conservative (in the sense of cautious, not in the political right wing sense) I might be more reluctant to take books that are "out there" than I would ten years ago when the trend seemed to be going in the opposite direction.

A few years ago someone wrote a novel about a major religious leader and devotees of said leader threatened to firebomb the publisher's offices. People who did not work in NYC and therefore were not targets of firebombers courageously criticized the publisher for pulling the project.

An iceberg took down the Titanic, you may recall.

Just something to think about. No reason to get your nose out of joint.

John Davis Frain said...


Can I bring you a cuppa joe? I just happen to be toting around my manuscript and I have an extra cup of coffee that I'm dying to get rid of. Thought I might drop in and, um, meet you. And whoever's hanging around, ya know.

Frain's ms

Donnaeve said...

Ha! Does this mean...John's ms has, as they say in the publishing world, legs???

Damn thing is walking itself around. Howzaboutthat?

Timothy Lowe said...

*has brilliant stroke of inspiration*

*begins drafting query from the POV of the ms*

*wakes up with cold sweats*

"Damn you, Frain!"

BJ Muntain said...

Yay! Welcome back, Julie!

I'm probably not the right person to answer your question, but my feelings are it's not cultural appropriation if you want to include a diverse character, even if you're not diverse. You just need to make sure that your character is authentic and not a stereotype.

Which, I see, is exactly what Cecilia said - someone who is the perfect person to answer your question. :)

Janet: I can make a pretty good guess at the kind of technical issues you're having if you're posting from Abby's account. Hope you get it worked out soon!

Claire Bobrow said...

The blog is officially "Abby Normal" today. Put zee candle back!

Melanie: I've been out of pocket for the last day or so. I'm so sorry. Sending big hugs to you and your family.

Kim Yoonmi said...

OP Here. I did this by watching surveys over 10 years on writing forums--not all designed by me. People asked in an open writer's forum... How many rejections did you get and what did you write?

I don't think telling someone worried about systemic discrimination is the same as say, telling a book in rhyme. There is thousands of years of history there. (Kinda have to point out Dr. Seuss was racist, too... so it kinda stings double) Both examples were white males, BTW.

By and large the people who wrote diversity got double the rejection rate of those that didn't. It's not a big secret in writing circles. The 70-30 spread on PoC is no joke (YA reports, which tend to be more open-minded than the adult demographic)--with it not getting better in the last 10 years by statistics in newspaper articles (There are ones every year). The only shift in percentage is majority Asian over black one year. Is that really improvement if the shift didn't budge from 70-30 in 10 years? The LGBTQIA spread only marginally got better by 1-2% (Asexuality is still ranking in 0% as far as I know). I'm looking at reasons this may be. The implicit bias that could create such high rejection numbers. Shouldn't you question why it hasn't shifted in 10 years?

This can be subtle, such as word selection, grammar, story structure, etc doesn't fit Standard American English (technical term). Or the blatantly prejudiced agent/editor.

I get there is a "Suck it up" model within the industry and people who complain about it to some extent are told, "Oh you're just not invested enough." Maybe I'm THAT educated and that invested that I want to challenge the industry into getting better. Make agents and publishers more aware of the issue of people NOT reading widely enough outside of White Abled Straightness and gut rejecting. And maybe the standards for what is a "good" story vary by culture a lot more than you think. Some PoC story telling traditions are older, but still the snobbery exists. But shouldn't we try to understand more widely if you're asking for diversity? Actively looking for it? How do you know, if you don't read widely enough and find it? With the US becoming more than 50% PoC in the near future, and publishing's top people still by majority white straight male, this is kinda problematic--it means a missed market. What about the PoC readers out there that would celebrate seeing their story conventions in front of them? But those stories are getting skipped by a white editor/agent who thinks that's not the "correct way" to tell a story? What about not on the nose diversity like slavery for black people. Or the coming out story for LGBTQIA? Hire people from those traditions and diversity to read it? "But, but.... Good story is universal" Isn't story a product of culture and expectations? Don't PoCs also read? Don't diversity people also read?

People who are diverse writers also complain that they feel like they have to write the stereotype to be published. (NK Jemisin said something similar--that she could not be daring writing PoC until the first wave of the diversity movement hit.)

I'd think sitting up, and thinking this through is more important if you truly are for diversity in this industry, rather than telling me that I'm not passionate enough. I'm prepared to swallow 200 rejections for writing diversity, but not everyone who writes diversity is willing to face that sort of systemic discrimination. There is fall out from PoCs and LGBTQIA and disability more than other writers, which means fewer writers submitting. But couldn't agents and editors do more for us? There is a huge market being glossed over and diversity readers and libraries waiting. The market is there. So why not help and open the door for us a little. Crack it open and widen what you think is a good story through education.

Donnaeve said...

Kim, first of all good for you on stepping forward and commenting further.

I'm sure you've done the fact checking, but I trotted out to the internet to look at Census info, b/c I wanted to see about the breakdown of the US population. Currently, it's comprised of 12% Black, (39M) 16% Hispanic, (52M) 4.7% Asian, (15M) and 63.7% (207M) Whites.

The way I'm thinking of this, each of the non-white groups have individual cultural interests, history, etc. By stating a collective 50% of the US population is soon going to be PoC lumps all of the non-white groups together. But, each writer of a certain ethnicity writes for their own individual, simply by the numbers, the ratio would be off, even if there were some sort of mandatory 10% publishing mandate across the board for each of these groups.

My point, the numbers do matter.

I also found it interesting you said, "How do you know, if you don't read widely enough and find it?" Maybe that was a rhetorical question, but if not, my question would be, how do you know what Janet or any of those editors/agents read?

I poked around on the internet, plugging in things like "Diversity in writing," and "Asian American authors" (because of your name), and found tons of information that seems go up against what you're saying. I'm not sure I'd be listening as much to the writer forums as much as I'd want to do my own research before I formed a conclusion.

Here are some of the places I visited before I replied.

Census Data


Asian American Writers Page

BJ Muntain said...

Kim, it's great that you're passionate about getting diverse messages out there. But you are insulting a lot of agents and editors who are PoC. And a lot who are, yes, white, but are asking for diverse authors and characters. Sure, the top guys are pretty much straight white male - those are the people at the top now, because they started at a time when 'straight white male' was the default in business. But more and more agents are PoC. More editors are asking for diverse submissions. Diversity is a recognized need these days.

Not having seen the surveys you mention, I have to wonder if 'what have you written' vs 'how many rejections' is really a fair basis for judgement. 'How many rejections' relies mostly on how many queries/submissions you sent out, not necessarily on what you write. If you're passionate, you'll be putting out tons of rejections. Many people - as you noted in your original question - only send out maybe 5 per month, which is quite low, if you ask me. Doing that, they're not going to get as many rejections as people who put out 15 or even 50 queries per month. If the people with diverse messages are more passionate, putting out 70% more queries every month, of course they'll have more rejections.

I'm not saying it's not difficult to break into publishing - it is. I'm not saying that diverse people and stories haven't been at a solid disadvantage for a long time they have. What I'm saying is, complaining about agents and editors 'not reading diverse books' isn't going to help anyone or anything.

Amy Johnson said...

I'm saddened that what could be a respectful discussion now includes name-calling. Calling someone a racist is name-calling. It is. And it's an extremely big deal when someone makes such an accusation against another human being. Without offering supporting evidence. Without the accused having a chance to defend himself. (He's deceased.) I so hope we don't continue in that direction. Please.

Craig F said...

My problem, today, is the same as I had yesterday. The way you wrote both your original post and this secondary explanation make me feel that you are looking down your nose at me because I don't share your agenda.

To me the writing business is one of those that is not really discriminatory. It takes more than just a born with talent to be a writer. It takes vision and the ability to be relative to your readers. After you blend those you have to market yourself. Being able to do all three of those things is discriminatory in itself but that is not systemic.

Yes there is systemic discrimination. It started when Mog spied Og across the waterhole. Religion built it up and capitalism ran with it. The writing business has always been a place that occasionally railed against it. It is the haven of free thinkers.

Julie said...


Are you sure this was meant for me? Hmmmmm? :D

-Nemo (Julie)

Colin Smith said...

Craig: Religion built it up and capitalism ran with it. Think about what you just said in light of the fact that there are people here who are deeply "religious" (I would argue we all are, but that's a subject for my blog), and who are firmly capitalist. Your comment implies that discrimination exists with those who express a faith, and those who support capitalism. In other words, those things are inherently bad. Isn't that discriminatory? :)

I'm not looking to start an argument. Just asking that we all think about what we're saying before we put finger to keyboard.

Casey Karp said...

Kim, I'll admit up front that I'm a straight, white male. If that predisposes you to ignore what I'm about to say, so be it.

Yes, it's true that people and stories of color historically have had a tough time breaking through in this business. It's also true that they still have a tough time breaking through.

On the other hand, there have always been those who have succeeded. And there are more agents and editors specifically looking for those writers and those stories than ever before.

Progress is being made. Maybe not as fast as it should be. Clearly not as fast as you want it to be. But it is happening.

But complaining about the inequities doesn't help. You can't force agents to represent you out of fairness, nor can you force editors to buy your stories out of fairness.

What you can do is tell your stories as honestly as you can and then either put them in front of the agents and editors who are looking for those stories or self-publish them (note: that's the same decision every single one of us has to make). The best way to increase the publishing industry's demand is to supply the material. Each success creates more demand--everybody wants to sell what people are buying. Just ask Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan (to throw in two reasonably successful non-white, non-male names off the top of my head).

Donnaeve said...

Ha Julie of the H no, that would be the "other" Julie of the W and of the wondermous stories.

Glad you're visiting though...! (Pls, no more selfies of the goopy eyes, okay? I was eating. :) )

Donnaeve said...

Oh, and one last thing, Kim, then I'm over and out...

I'd like to brag on my own publisher. If you don't think diversity is supported, then you should take a look at this/them. They publish a lot of PoC, and here is how their current FB looks:


Everyone have a good night.

Craig F said...


I did pay attention to what I said.

Can you refute that most wars through history have been religious in nature?

Can you refute that the New York Diocese has spent $2.1 million to lobby against New York's Sexual Victim's Act?

Can you refute that slavery happened because of profit in a capitalistic system?

How about the reason why there are Child Labor Laws.

I am a capitalist. I am self employed and work for the money. I am not against it but know that it needs to be reined in to thwart the unscrupulous.

Unknown said...

I had no problem understanding section C of OPs question. They are saying that what is defined as "good" is culturally defined. Readers and writers in America were raised to study a specific literary canon-- we were told what was "good" and only recently has that canon been expanded to include a wider array of voices. It is great if agencies are looking for diverse voices* but novels are extremely subjective--agents pick up stories that excite them personally (same for editors) and that they believe to be marketable. There are plenty of books that are well written that get rejected. What defines compelling is subjective. What is "marketable" is often basically whatever the beholder makes up with no data to support it-- people assumed that viewers would not come to theaters to watch female superhero movies--they were wrong. Minorities have been told that their books are not marketable (either because "[insert group] don't buy books"--untrue--or the incorrect assumption that nonminorities do not want to read books that aren't about people like them. pretty offensive to nonminorities.) The reality is that audiences have been wanting things for years that publishers (and hollywood!) just haven't given us yet because they are scared to take the risk. I'm a minority writer- I don't 100% agree with everything the OP said, but before you wholeheartedly accept the idea that good writing doesn't get rejected, and before you form an opinion about this post, ask yourself how long and how extensively you have talked to minority writers about their experiences in pure listening mode. (I just heard yet another story from a friend who got the "I love your book but I already have a Latina client" rejection). Do I think that people have hit reject specifically because of my race? in my own personal opinion, no. Do I think that I come from a weird perspective that is entirely different than a publishing industry that does not look like me? Yes. Let's not pretend that doesn't matter. It is a real, meaningful issue that a publishing industry that is 90% white and overwhelmingly straight gets to curate which nonwhite, queer etc etc books get published.

*it is great when agency websites say they are looking for diverse authors, but realize that if you are currently not representing any diverse authors or have no diverse employees at your agencies, it may be harder to attract more diversity. I know--vicious cycle.

Colin Smith said...

Craig: I'm not looking to start an argument. Just asking that we all think about what we're saying before we put finger to keyboard.

We could argue your points, but a) OT, and b) that's not the purpose of Janet's blog.

Craig F said...


AJ Blythe said...

Late to the party today, and have just read through all the comments. WOWZERS! Not sure I want to dip my toes into these waters now because they look choppy.

Just going to stick in my pinky... I used Dr Seuss to teach my kids a lot of life lessons when they were younger, one of which was to accept diversity:

Don't give up.
I believe in you all.
A person's a person
no matter how small
(Horton Hears a Who, 1954)

And because I think it's needed, here's something to make everyone smile.

John Davis Frain said...

AJ, without benefit of a phone booth, to the rescue!

Nice pic. Great note to end on.

Doh! And now my dilemma -- If I post this to compliment you, your pic will no longer be a good ending note.

PEOPLE of Janet's Blog still reading: Stop reading my comment and go back to AJ's picture at the end of her comment...

CynthiaMc said...

Janet/Abby - thanks for the update. I was worried.

Kim - I used Dr. Seuss because he and Shakespeare were my favorites when I first learned to read and speak poetry. While the other kids were reciting nursery rhymes I was doing Full Fathom Five thy Father Lies from the Tempest. I loved Dr. Seuss's books as do a lot of kids years later. I never heard anything about him being racist. I used him as an example because an agent told me Dr. S's story to encourage me when he had rejected my Civil War book. "I really like this book but Civil War isn't selling. Send me something about Scotland. But then again, Dr. Seuss was told books in verse wouldn't sell, so what do I know?" It was meant to encourage you as it encouraged me.

I knew Tom Clancy (a little). His agent gave him my Civil War book to read because he wanted his opinion. Tom liked it and also took the time and trouble to let me know. I thought that was very kind of him. He also told me how hard a time he had getting The Hunt for Red October published and had it not been for the sub geeks like him, he would have still been selling insurance. I appreciated hearing that. He told me to press on, he enjoyed the book and thought it would find a home.

Yes, Kim, I gave the example of two white guys on purpose because the tone of your post was that white guys don't struggle. Yeah, they do. The tone of your reply was also that I was too stupid to know that.

BJ Muntain said...

So what is the first thing out of my mouth when I saw AJ's picture?

Ohhhhhhh, the PUPPEEEE...

Yes, I am a dog person. I even look like a dog (my dog and I came in second in a dog-owner look-alike contest. He's been my online avatar ever since.)

Not to, however, change the politics here from diversity to dog vs cat people. Although if you'd rather go down that road... well, I have friends and family who are cat people. They're okay, I guess. But cats make me sneeze.

Mister Furkles said...

BJ: Cats do not make you sneeze; you choose to sneeze. "There's pills for

Seriously, the kitten is a Maine Coon and the pup is a Golden Retriever. Maine Coons get along with other pets rather well, and especially like friendly dogs. The friendliest dog is a Golden Retriever. Our Golden lives in fear that there may be, somewhere in the universe, a creature that doesn't entirely approve of him.

BJ Muntain said...

Ah, but Mister Furkles, if I can avoid the side effects of the allergy medications (and find some that agree with the other medications I have to be on), then I don't have to sneeze. But right now, the only kind the pharmacist says I can take is juuuust outside my price range. And who wants to be taking allergy pills all day long because you live with something that causes allergies?

I'm good with dogs. Especially small dogs. They love me, and I love them. Sometimes I'll look after my sister's cat while they're out of town. All well and good, until I stop to pet the cat, and then it's explosive sneezes and get out of there fast.

Julie Weathers said...

I apologize to one and all, but especially to Janet. This blog is not the place for misplaced rants and I broke her number one rule.

BJ Muntain said...

(((hugs))) for Julie, and everyone, actually. I love group hugs.

Steve Stubbs said...

Julie Weathers wrote:

"I shelved Far Rider at 106"

Well, I feel compelled to say this. I've said it before. If you want an opinion why that happened, pass it on. The fact that the Civil War is a politically supercharged topic may be part of it, but I suspect there are other reasons as well that are technical in nature.

I don't buy the idea that 60 rejections is normal. If I get 2-3 rejections I start looking for reasons. I start finding them, too.

Far Rider may ride again.

Julie said...


That is all.

Julie Weathers said...


Thank you for weighing in.

"Well, I feel compelled to say this. I've said it before. If you want an opinion why that happened, pass it on. The fact that the Civil War is a politically supercharged topic may be part of it, but I suspect there are other reasons as well that are technical in nature."

Yes, you shared your opinion of the technical aspects of my writing here before I believe. However, Far Rider is my high fantasy. When I finally had an agent send me a rejection with some detailed comments he suggested it would work better as a YA. At 130,000 words it's far too long for YA. It needs the world building expounded and the magic system and some of the characters need to be delved into deeper.

I'll be reworking Far Rider as a YA after Rain Crow is done.

I had three small presses offer to publish and declined.

As for The Rain Crow, the Civil War novel, it may be written in a technically inept fashion also, but I have a publisher who has already offered to publish it should traditional publishers decline. He's in love with the story and my writing. There's no accounting for taste, I guess.