Ask An Editor: What submissions do I want in my slushpile?

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This is one of, if not the most, asked questions agents and editors get.

What do you want in your inbox?! What submissions do you want to see more of in your slushpile?

And I bet you’re expecting me to start listing genres and tropes I gravitate toward, right? Cos I could totally do that. Or maybe you’re expecting me to give the groan-inducing but equally true answer most editors or agents say, “give me a good story, a solid plot and strong characters, genre and everything else is incidental!”

I’m going to say neither.

The thing I most want to see in my inbox is what I most want to see more of in real life: equality. Obviously not all authors (or editors) are interested in using fiction as a social justice medium, but I’m not that editor. For me, yes, stories can be fantasy, but they also have power and they also speak to our culture, both reflecting it and pushing it forward. So since I recognize that not everyone wants their fiction to be inclusive, I make sure mine is.

I don’t acquire anything with a consent issue that’s not easily fixable in edits. I don’t acquire anything that has blatant double standards or isms in it. (I mentioned this in my first AAE post, but it’s important enough to me to give it its own post.)

The thing is, I work in the romance industry. It’s a women-driven industry. Women are, you may have noticed, fairly marginalized. So when our books present equally damaging portrayals of men and women as other, male-dominated media, I scratch my head and ask, what are we doing to ourselves?

As a marginalized group, I want more diversity and representation of other marginalized groups in my fiction (especially my romance). Many marginalized people, like queer, overweight or disabled people, are told they are unloveable because of who they are. It saddens me that whole swaths of people lack representation in my industry who most need the message that they can find real love.

I love romance and love. So do many people. And yes, there are niche presses and self-publishing so that more representation is happening. But it’s still hard to find and frankly, it’s hard to wade through to find the good stuff. Just because something is tagged “GLBT” doesn’t mean it provides a healthy depiction of someone.

I sometimes have to call out authors for accidental discrimination. They’re lucky to have an editor who does this; not every editor will notice or care, and self-publishing is, of course, a whole other story.

So what do I want in my inbox? Books featuring real, diverse characters. And while I’m at it, I want an industry that supports the healthy portrayals of these characters within mainstream media. Don’t relegate them to a search term.

While reading about trans representation (or complete lack thereof) in the romance industry it struck me that what gets labeled as GLBT is sometimes code for “double the penis for straight lady readers” (same with Menage, aka “bisexuals”). Representations of homosexuals and bisexuals in these books can be fetishized or unrealistic. (Not always–Samhain tries very hard to put out quality fiction in every genre, although I admittedly have not read everything we publish, and we are expanding our GLBT category! So, if I CAN answer this question with a genre, send me GLBT of any kind!)

I know the arguments for mainstream versus niche publishing and for fantasy versus reality. I know these things. (I have to or I wouldn’t be a professional in my industry). But I don’t think it HAS to be this way. We can be inclusive in our GLBT categories (in ALL our categories–I’d love a paranormal disabled heroine whose disability isn’t some secret tie-in to her paranormal badassery). With the way people find books through review sites, browsing, and search terms, coupled with, you know, appropriately labeled marketing materials like back copy, it’s not as though books will get any more lost than they already are on giants like Amazon, but it would mean that people who need more romance can find some.

And if we as women, who are marginalized, make room for other people with similar struggles, we can reach common ground and maybe they won’t be so marginalized either. Media–books–have this power. We just need to start using it in a visible way, rather than forcing those who need it into their own smaller boxes.

(This answer brought to you by Julia Serano’s EXCLUDED: How to Make Queer and Feminist Movements More Inclusive.)

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