Editing speculative fiction and diversity panel – part 2

To reiterate, next week I’m giving a talk to Editors Toronto, the largest branch of Editors Canada (also known as the Editors’ Association of Canada) on a panel entitled “Editing Worlds: Speculative Fiction and the Editorial Process”. Tickets are available here on their website (free for members). Part 1 of post is here.

The Trump: Utopia or Dystopia book slush pile wasn’t that big, about 100 submissions. However, we still had to sort through all stories to pick ones we thought had potential of being great stories after some polishing. Our pay rates were token rates, which meant the editors would have to spend more time with writers as experienced writers would more likely submit to higher paying publishers.

While thinking about how to present the slushpile, I came across Neil Clark’s slushpile bingo blog post. He presents why Clarkesworld, his sci-fi magazine would reject a story.

Given we are speculative fiction publisher and not solely sci-fi, our version of why we would reject a story is slightly different. However, it gives writers an idea of why a story didn’t make it through the slushpile at Dark Helix Press.

Out of 100 stories here are the stats:

  • 100 submissions received (17 females, 83 males, 6 visible minority)
  • published 32 stories (8 females, 24 males, 4 visible minority)
  • percentage published/submission (47% women, 29% men, 67% visible minorities)

As a female and visible minority, with a mandate to publish as many diverse writers as possible, special attention was paid to stories from females or visible minorities.

However, at the end of the day, publishing good quality stories is the basic principle. If the story is horribly written, it doesn’t matter if you are from a diverse group or not, we just don’t have the time to rewrite entire manuscripts.

To make the odds of publishing diverse writers higher, they also have to send in more submissions. Looking at just our Trump book, by far, the highest number of submissions were from male, white writers.  I’m not sure what the stats are with other book projects, but I’m willing to bet they are similar, unless there were exclusion guidelines in place (eg. female only or LGBT only, etc).

Overall my co-editor Jen Frankel and I have been very happy with the authors selected and feel proud of this book even when people look at us in disgust that the main subject is Trump!

Now I have to go rehearse my talking points! Practice makes perfect!

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Editing speculative fiction and diversity panel – part 1

Next week I’m giving a talk at the “Editing Worlds: Speculative Fiction and the Editorial Process” panel to Editors Toronto, the largest branch of Editors Canada (also known as the Editors’ Association of Canada). Tickets are available here on their website (free for members). Here is a link to short quirky interviews with all panelists: Jen Frankel, JF Garrard, Dominik Parisien and Drew Hayden Taylor.

Jen Frankel, my co-editor for Trump: Utopia or Dystopia will be joining me in talking about the process we went through on editing this anthology along with the issue of diversity in speculative fiction. We’ll be touching on:

  • the realities of indie publishing, crowdfunding, editing, and world building (Jen Frankel and JF Garrard);
  • the lessons learned from panels on writing and pop culture about the need for diverse stories in literature, film, and media (Jen Frankel and JF Garrard); and
  • strategies for supporting authors of different backgrounds and identities while keeping their voices intact throughout the editing process (Jen Frankel).

For my portion I’ll be using PowerPoint and thought I would share some of my more interesting talking points.

To kick off the diversity issue, I’m going to present the findings from Lee and Low book’s 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey. This independent publisher conducted a survey with 40 publishers and review journals. They sent out over 13K surveys with a response rate of 26%, a bit over 3K responses.

The categories they surveyed included executives, sales, marketing, pr and book reviewers. The results found that nearly 80% of those surveyed identified as white.

Source: https://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the majority of the gatekeepers in traditional publishing are white. Going forward, if change is to happen, it’s going to take all of us, white and not-white to make the effort to change if diversity is truly an issue we all care about as a society.  However, it has to be done in a way to prevent “diversity branding” which is backlash with the illusion that things are fair and leads to bias against certain groups. Sometimes diversity programs lead to more negativity and it’s something that we all have to be aware of.

Similarly, I’ve been having a debate with another indie publisher about Dark Helix broadening it’s subject matters from only multicultural subjects. At the end of the day I want to be known as a publisher who provides great stories to readers and be inclusive, regardless of race or gender. To brand my company as solely for diverse authors is excluding other populations. This touches on the diversity branding mentioned earlier.

As a business, by being too niche, it’s very difficult to sell to the general population. In being more inclusive about writers and broadening subject matters, I hope to attract new readers to my publishing house who will then take a chance on the multicultural titles I have to offer as well.

But to publish more diverse writers, they also have to send in more submissions. In Part 2 I’ll talk about the slush pile for the Trump book and stats gathered from the making of this book.

Diversity Is For The Next Generation

Lately I’ve been asked a lot about why I do what I do by other writers and random people I deliver talks to.

Recently I participated in a panel about The Ghost In The Shell Controversy at Anime North and had originally written initial thoughts here – comparing the movie to a sub-par hamburger. Before the panel started, a fellow panelist whispered, “I’m glad that we have a token Asian on this panel!” Yup, I was the only non-white person on a panel which was about diversity.

Originally I wasn’t sure if we had enough material to fill an hour criticizing this Japanese manga based movie, but the audience filled the air with questions. The audience was very respectful and really wanted to understand why there was a controversy. A few panelists believed that nothing should change and things were fine. It was a bit disappointing, but I thought it was good that they had a forum to voice their opinions.

I was impressed that another panelist said that their issue was that the movie was about an Asian girl who grew up to become a white female robot and they found this horrifying as well as sad. That being Asian was not perfect and the worst! After they said this, black girls in the audience started snapping their fingers in the air!

We were asked again and again why there was a diversity problem in this movie. Finally I blurted out, “The issue is that the Asians in Asia don’t care about the Asians in North America!” An Asian girl approached me at the end and thanked me for that.

The Asian culture has been well established in Asia. But Asians in North America that don’t consider themselves Asians from Asia. This is a new phenomenon. Well, not that new, given the railroads were built in the 1800s and all. The new generations of Asians or “bananas/coconuts” (white on inside, yellow/brown on outside) grew up in a different culture and are outsiders in North America and in Asia. We are discriminated by our ancestors’ culture and in the culture we live in. We aren’t good enough for either sides.

The diversity issue is important to us because we know we don’t want to go back to Asia and want to contribute to the society we live in currently, outside of Asia. We want to share our insights and add to the arts. However, when you are told over and over again that you are not good enough to contribute anything; while being told that yes, you are an equal in society (since you pay taxes), you become angry at the hypocrisy.

“You’ll never be seen as a Canadian,” my father told me once. “People think you are from China.” He was telling me to stop believing that I fit into Canadian society and to accept that there was no equality here. He always thought that I was a naive optimist who dreamed too much. If there is no change, he is correct, we will never be able to fit into society we live in.

The other day I met with some famous Asian Canadian writers to invite them as guests to speak at a future Asian literature conference in Toronto. I had to bring my toddler with me because my husband couldn’t babysit last minute. Anyhow, these two men (both had no kids) were asking me why I was planning a conference when I had a child to take care of. What was my motive? 

I do what I do for the next generation, was my answer, as I held my wiggly toddler who was kicking me in the shin the whole time. He’s half Asian and half Caucasian – he’s not going to fit in anywhere as a halfie (or hybrid as some people tell me). Sometimes I feel guilty because I think life would have been easier for him if he was fully Caucasian. That somehow my Asian blood contaminated his future. I know this stems from an inferiority complex, of being told everyday that you aren’t good enough…Fighting for equality is draining and there are days when I just want to give up.

But, I can’t give up, I don’t have a choice. By bringing more Asian literature and diversity debates into the world, the next generation will not have to fight as much to have their voices heard and perhaps live in a better world we envisioned for ourselves when we were younger.

Heck, to be honest, I don’t want to waste my time debating about being Asian or what not either. Until everyone is on equal footing, these conversations will continue. As I mentioned in one of my talks at Anime North, there are more robots and aliens on book covers than Asian people! Somehow, that doesn’t sit well with me, which is why I speak up as much as I can.