Writing in the Age of Cancel Culture
Representation in publishing is more important than ever.
How can authors keep up?
As of late, the publishing world has placed significant attention on the importance of representation in both the authors of stories and in the stories themselves. We want to see richness, variety in the worlds we read about, and if that diversity comes from diverse writers, all the better! But diversity alone isn’t enough today. I’ve come across a handful of stories in the news lately about diverse authors of diverse stories who faced backlash over insensitive conduct, either in their writing or in their day-to-day life.
Natasha Tynes, a Jordanian-American author, had her book cancelled after going on Twitter to call out a D.C. metro worker -- a black woman -- for eating on the job. Her publisher characterized her tweet as “policing [a] black woman’s body.” Tynes apologized, mentioning that she was not native to the United States and wasn’t aware of the implications of her tweet, but the damage was done. Since then, Tynes has faced a barrage of racially charged attacks and is suing her publisher for defamation. She remains unpublished.
Y.A. author Amélie Wen Zhao was all set for her debut novel, Blood Heir, to be published, but withdrew the work just months before publication after critics who read the book pre-release called her depiction of slavery blatantly racist. Like Tynes, Zhao acknowledged her non-nativity to the US and by extension, her lack of awareness of the weight of slavery here, as reasons for why she wrote what she did. Six months later, Zhao’s three book contract sits in limbo as her work undergoes revision. She remains unpublished.
Kosoko Jackson, a black and queer author, withdrew the publication of his book A Place for Wolves after criticism of his portrayal of Muslims and his treatment of war in the novel. The story centered on two American boys falling in love during the Kosovo War, and had initially received loads of good press for Jackson’s tasteful handling of the subject matter, but one critical Goodreads review triggered an avalanche of negative attention on Twitter. He remains unpublished.
Clearly, the sociocultural landscape of publishing is not insulated from the goings on of the world at large. Here, just as in film or music or any other artistic arena, creators and consumers of the products of publishing are not only molded by, but evaluated by the standards of the greater context in which they operate.
Calling out racism, sexism, and prejudice is the right and important thing to do, and I’m so happy that it’s becoming the standard, but you have to accept that the aim isn’t always on the right target. With the world the way it is today, and with the massive, sometimes unpredictable shifts we’re seeing toward a more enlightened progressive social consciousness, how can writers protect themselves from charges of insensitivity without sacrificing their artistic liberty? What’s a writer to do?
Letters from the Editor: On the opportunity in revision, the state of diversity in publishing, and more
Instead of Starting Over, Try Starting Fresh
The last thing any writer wants to think about when they're halfway through their novel is going back to the beginning.
I recently had a coaching call with a writer from which the main takeway was that there was quite a bit of development to be done, from plot to character and beyond. He was stalling out and couldn't really make any forward movement without addressing the issues in the ground he'd already covered. So, the advice I gave (which I'm sure was dreadful to hear) was that he should take some time to work on that development, fix the bones of his story, and then...start at the beginning. Scary, right?
I was expecting at least a little drama after delivering the news to this writer, but I was surprised by his reaction. Instead of being pessimistic, he was excited, invigorated by the thought of beginning anew. He viewed it as an opportunity not to start over, but to start fresh, and that made all the difference.
Letters from the Editor: On big things coming (I need to hear from you!), short-lived spelling bee dreams, and more
What Does the Word "Platform" Mean to You?
If I had to name the #1 thing writers ask me about aside from their manuscripts, it would be their platforms. There seems to be nothing else that strikes such fear in the hearts of anyone trying to get published in 2019; we all hear the stories of writers not getting picked up by agents or publishers because their platform isn't big enough. Yet there is also a lot of misinformation out in the world about what platform really means, how a writer can build theirs in a way to attract a publisher or sell their book, or how relevant it actually is in publishing.
Summer is for Building Momentum
There's no denying it: summer is here. Three months of longer days means more time to think, plan, do, make progress...but what are you focused on? What are you driving toward?
As serious writers know, so much of getting published is about persistence (case in point: Julia Phillips, featured in the Books on Your Radar this issue, who queried 100 agents before striking gold). It's no small feat to become a published author, and the wall I've seen many a talented writer run into is losing that momentum, that drive that ends in success, before they're anywhere near where they want to be.
Letters from the Edtior: On knowing your book is ready, the textbook publisher merger from hell, and more
When is Your Book Ready to be Published?
I had a lot of really great questions come out of the AMA I ran a bit ago on Reddit, and a few of those questions sparked some reflection on my end. One question that stuck with me in particular was asking how you can know if your book is ready for publishing, and as I've been turning that over in my head lately, I wanted to share some thoughts with you all.
It's May at last! Summer is just around the corner, and with the energy that comes with warmer weather, I have no doubt people are getting ready to put all sorts of big plans into action -- both personal and professional.
I'd like to take this opportunity to caution us all against a rising trend I've noticed in the entrepreneur world of "you can sell anything."
Why you should write now, and think about publishing later
Without fail, one of the first things writers bring up on their initial call with me is how they'd like to be published. This of course makes sense; you want to know where you're going to end a marathon before you start, after all.
There's a problem when you start to focus too much on that end goal, though; you chip away at the simple beauty of creation. You begin contemplating rejection by agents and publishers, then you're thinking about sales and statistics, and suddenly you're feeling the pressure of getting published before you even get a running start.
When you think too much about your publishing goals when you're still writing your book, you enter a headspace filled with logistics instead of ideas.
I'll give you the same advice I give my authors: Think about how you might share your story for a limited time (half an hour of research every now and then, for example), and then give yourself over to the writing completely. Enjoy the creative process, the quiet solitude of writing before needing to present yourself to the world as an author, the simple joy of bringing your story to life.
Because being informed about the publishing process doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to write a better first draft, but it might mean that your first draft never makes it to the page.
FYI, you're a bit different than the rest when you're a writer.
The other day I ran across a post from marketing guru Seth Godin that really spoke to me. He said:
"Remarkable work is usually accomplished by people who have non-typical priorities."
He was speaking in a broad-based sense, but of course I thought of you all, the people who choose to write books. Anyone in today's modern world could have a million priorities that would be considered typical; getting your taxes done, buying groceries, or focusing on work that pays the bills all come to mind.
But someone who chooses to write a book is making a deliberate choice to make writing a priority. Writing a book isn't an immediate obligation like taxes, it doesn't feed you like groceries, and it doesn't provide like day-to-day paid work (at least, not at the beginning). You choose to do it because you're someone with non-typical priorities, who values things beyond what immediately feeds you. You're looking ahead, at what you can contribute to the world, at the legacy you'll leave for years to come.
And that, I think, is something worth celebrating. Here's to creating remarkable work!
Writers, Mercury is in retrograde and it's time to freak out.
Last week, I was in the middle of a meeting with my staff when I got a call informing me that the flight I booked for my upcoming Caribbean vacation had not been ticketed, which meant that I wasn't on the flight at all.
Let's break that down for a moment; the flight that I had booked as part of a package deal with the resort failed to inform JetBlue that we had in fact paid for the tickets. So JetBlue released my tickets, thereby releasing my seats, therefore taking away my ability to go on said vacation.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mercury in retrograde.
I don't necessarily believe in astrology, but one thing I've found to be true is that Mercury in retrograde is chaotic. Whether it's actually a planetary shift that causes mayhem on Earth a few times a year, or everyone's belief that it does (aka confirmation bias), it's times like now that make me question everything. Because there's nothing like a good meltdown to throw every decision you've ever made into the fire, am I right?
In an effort to make some sense out of what ended up becoming one breakdown after another in technology, travel, or communication, I did some research on what Mercury in retrograde really meant, and if I was in fact dumb for planning a vacation smack dab in the middle of it. That last bit is still up for debate, but I did learn something worthwhile in the process.
Hello, hello! We're a month into 2019 and things are buzzing here at LTSE, which is SO exciting -- it's only February and I'm already expecting this year to be the biggest and best yet. I didn't realize exactly how far this company has come since we first started up until I did a little New Year business review and pulled some stats.