My upcoming book, The Glassman, is in front of reviewers – or will be shortly – both big and small. Pro reviewers mainly but a few smaller ones here and there.
It is quite the struggle.
1) First strike against me, I feel, is the fact that I’m indie. It does have a reputation of having terrible books (terrible covers, terrible editing, terrible storytelling, etc) so pretty much no one wants to touch your work because of that exact thing. If you’re not backed by a Big 5 (4? 3?), you’re pretty sunk. I have even pitched to BIPoC non-pro reviewers (book influencers) and I think only one or two bit. The rest did not, I contacted 100 total. For pro-reviewers, I feel like I have to sneak in my book among the traditionals. I feel like The Glassman can compete with those books but still, the second they know it’s indie, it’s out.
Hey, I tried hard to be traditionally published. What did they expect me to do, just not have my works come out and then they whinge about how there’s such limited diversity and won’t someone (that’s not them) make a change – oh, wait, that’s most likely the gameplan all along. The bottlenecking of BIPoC authors in traditional publishing and publishing in general isn’t by mistake, it’s by design. There’s no way, statistically speaking, that the vast majority of us Can’t Write.
At least The Glassman has made it into Locus’ Forthcoming edition so that’s a good thing, I hope.
Thus, there is that, I’m indie.
2) Then there’s the fact that my works are not White at all by any measure. I don’t waste my ink or my time trying to appeal to whiteness (I spend too much money on fountain pen ink for that dribble and bull. I’d be better off just winging my most expensive bottles against a random brick wall), I don’t bother with focusing on White readers – if any of them are going “Hey! That’s unfair! I want to be catered to!” a) actually, I’m unworking unfairness, you’re not that worried about focusing on diverse anything, that’s the actual unfair part b) go back to reading J.K. Rowlings and H.P. Lovecraft, they’re most likely your one and only speed for extremely obvious reasons – and I don’t focus on White readers because they’re frankly not important to me. They literally do not have representation problems, with the only exception of the fact that they have far too much of it while everyone else has so little and of that little are a bunch of nasty, inaccurate stereotypes.
I’m Black, I want to see Black people in fantastical elements. Not on drugs, not doing crime, not being the walking vessels of White Fear and chaos, there’s literally two billion of us on the planet and the best I’m “supposed” to see is a hood-trapped addict that listens to bad hip hop? That’s just completely stupid and super wrong and obscenely outdated. I like vintage but anything Jim Crow and revisioned blackface needs to stay in the past. Get out of the 17th century of race identity politics, it isn’t that interesting and every “genius” in that era was a literal monster of a human being. Putting a 21st century spin on it isn’t going to make it better at all. It’s still trash. I try to not have my works reflect that. There’s way more to the Black identity than extremely awful stereotypes invented and systemically solidified by people who hate us.
My ideal reader is some Black kid. If they’re not Black, they’re literally anything but White. The White reader is one I don’t care about much at all because why? Besides, White writers don’t care much about BIPoC readers or see them as totally invisible, ditto with White readers with BIPoC writers (and of the ones that do, a good chunk of them act as if they should get an award for doing the literal bare minimum, which implies that they aren’t reading diversely for the love of literature. It’s still a White-is-Supreme, Whiteness-Rules-The-World control thing.) It’s no secret that there’s a race problem in publishing but also in which books get reviewed. The Glassman, for example, is a book that is full of Black people, Afro-Chicanx people, Chicanx people but does not touch on: Racism, Police Brutality, Immigration, etc. It’s insanely possible to have an all-BIPoC work that doesn’t read like a bunch of Fox News and MSNBC talking points with fantastical elements thrown in.
Thus, there is that, my work doesn’t reflect Whiteness and does not want to.
3) Then there’s the fact that I’m not White. I have noticed that there are a lot of BIPoC books that are written by White people. Three I can think of are Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (never read it but I have threatened to rip it up in sheer frustration in a library because I asked for Black fantasy and this was what I got. I wanted Black fantasy by Black people, I’m tired of White people’s poor imaginations of the Black Fantastic. They can’t write it well 9 times out of 10. He’s in the 9 good and solid. They tried to give me Octavia Butler, I’m sick of “Racism as Fantastical Element” also. I demanded the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings of Black fantasy and they said it didn’t exist, which didn’t alleviate my teenage self), Cold Fire by Tamora Pierce (I own this book. I thought it was good but frankly, it sucks. She’s ok in writing Black characters but a Black person would have done it better), and Snowy Day by Jack Erza Keats (great book but it was disheartening to learn that the book was written by a White person – why did publishers think Black writers couldn’t pen the same? We’re also capable of thinking about our experiences that have nothing to do with prejudice and everything to do with enjoying a snowy day.)
There are a lot of what I call “sock-puppet books” – books that look diverse but are not written by the historically marginalized, particularly White folks – that fill the shelves, get publishing deals, etc, etc. There’s a reason trad publishers are willing to take on a book about Black people written by White folks (“Stowe books”, they can also be called, because Harriett Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom Cabin) but have to practically be cajoled into accepting Black books written by Black people – that are non-stereotypical and doesn’t focus on race issues. One reason is because if a White person is writing it, they know the BIPoC in the book will be exactly how they expect. The Black ones will be loud, harsh and murdered by cops or gangs, the Latin ones will be drug peddlers and English-adverse dangers that jump over the border “illegally” and with enough ease to worry both White conservatives and liberals, the Asian ones will be math robots that strain to be White but still manage to be the Other effortlessly, the indigenous ones will be full of drugs, misery and alcohol and stoke feelings of “Why won’t the injuns let us help them out their misery that they somehow put themselves in because we had nothing to do about that, riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight?” in White readers. Contrite crap like that. Sold loads of copies back when the idea of owning people as property was somehow considered okay (because the society then, which affects society now, was built by myopic, self-absorbed sociopaths that genuinely considered themselves good people and not walking terrors in need of a bullet) but gets complained about ad nauseam by readers of now. Especially BIPoC readers. But trad publishing still wants to keep publishing as White as possible.
Plus, it’s outrageous how little support BIPoC writers get, even the ones that eventually become household names. It’s outrageous how easy it is to not get published traditionally because your authentic viewpoint doesn’t match their racism and therefore they think you are wrong when really it is them. It’s total trash. But let some random White person come in with Anansi Boys: The Antsy Times, traditional publishing would hop on that fast. It’s just a bunch of phony sock puppet characters that hasn’t changed for centuries. And neither has traditional publishing.
Thus, there is that, I’m not White but who usually gets featured and reviewed (especially well-reviewed) is.
It shouldn’t be the case that it could be because I’m indie, I’m Black and that my stories are also that keeps me potentially shut out. Looking at Publisher Weekly’s track record, Library Journal’s track record and others, the math looks very much like I won’t get a look. In all fairness, I’m not much of a review person. If I see a book that is interesting, I look at the blurb, I check for any trigger warnings – I have trauma disorders so I’m in the crowd of people that need them – via Storygraph, Book Trigger Warning and Trigger Warning Database, and then I try to find an excerpt of it to read somewhere, usually on Evil Corp- I mean, Amazon. If I like it, I buy it on Google Books to put on my Pocketbook e-Reader. I usually don’t care about reviews because anyone can say anything nice about a potentially bad book. But they are a good way to spread word about a work. It is really difficult to slide up to bookstores and libraries one by one – and it gets frustrating when a bookstore shuts down after doing all that work – but at least having a work in a publication of some sort does some heavy lifting in reaching eyes of bookstores, libraries and readers. But seeking entry into these journals can also be for naught based on the reasoning above.
These are my current frustrations, especially since I do put a lot of work into making things as seamless as possible. I don’t want my works to come off looking stereotypically bad-cover-bad-format-bad-book indie. I’m doing all that I can except for pretending to be from a Big 5 (4? 3?).
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