2016’s industry reports confirmed what many of us already knew: These markets ain’t easy for anyone–but especially black folks. Racism is mixed deep into that mortar, so that an inertia-sustaining quotient of mainstream (aka white) people are incapable of seeing it for various reasons. Authors, agents, editors, marketers, cover artists, all with the same institutional blind spot, all telling us “it’s hard for everybody.”
We knew this.
And every time we are confronted with a reality that attempts to lessen our very being, our right to exist in humanity’s shared pantheon of imagination, we will do what we’ve always done–punch it in the face. That’s why Fiyah is here. That’s why you are here. That’s why we continue writing, regardless of how laughably preposterous our chances are to receive that vaunted acceptance letter–let alone forge a career from this glorious craft.
The numbers are brutal. So we want to take a moment of collective introspection–as authors in this shared pocket of spacetime. Let’s share our experiences and frustrations, our best practices, our victories. How do we respond to dismal odds, well-intentioned allies with their suspect advice, and our own crippling self-doubt…?
Folks who responded to our survey dropped serious gems about their experience, which are encapsulated below. For everyone who responded–thank you, for speaking out toward our mutual benefit. Let’s coach each other up, build up what we’ve learned, and then go. Go write our asses off. Go impact someone’s heart, inspire someone’s ambition, be somebody’s fire. We’re all in this together.
Experiences on the roadblocks encountered in the marketplace.
“I understand that breaking into these highly competitive markets is a struggle for any writer, and have always considered the rejections to be based on normal craft concerns. Until I saw the Fireside Report. I don’t think any of my work is perfect, but I can’t help but question the evaluation of the extremely exclusive sci if fantasy magazine community. I look forward to receiving a rejection and knowing for sure it’s the story that’s the problem, not my unabashedly black voice.”
“Once got a rejection because the editor said the scenario was unrealistic and unlikely to ever happen (the scenario was, in fact, based on true events in Nigeria.)”
“The market is full of white people who get multiple chances to write uninspiring, clueless, by the numbers speculative fiction, and these white people are often published gleefully in SFWA-qualifying markets that pay professional rates. However, when it comes to black authors, everything that we have to do has to be better than everything else. Black writers cannot be average. We have to be superstars.”
“To be honest, the lack of taste representation in magazines–the lack of stories that I want to read and enjoy in most of the major short story markets–is more discouraging than any other factor. I dislike how few authors of color are published but I also dislike how rote and trope many of the stories that do get published are, which makes me hold back from submitting because I feel as though my writing is often too weird for major markets. There’s a lot of “safe” choices that aren’t particularly compelling getting published and I just don’t know if stylistically I’d be accepted in some cases.”
“Once got a rejection where I was told they already have a black writer.”
“I’m a new writer and by no means well versed in this side of the business…however, when I see people who are more experienced, more imaginative, and more tenacious than me go unpublished it’s disheartening.”
“What makes me frustrated is that when an editor sees quite a lot of merit in the story (from all those personalized rejection letters,) that they then don’t say ‘let’s take a chance on this writer and help her get it to the next level’. Maybe they are not doing this for white writers either, but I find that hard to believe. I also think with all the effort POC writers are now making to submit and also “out ourselves” in our submissions, I wonder if the industry is really responding or just will continue to say “that’s not what I want/didn’t connect to the story/not strong enough writer” and feel satisfied that now they are receiving more materials from diverse writers, but are just fine rejecting them.”
“Although there is a rally to publish more Black speculative fiction writers in magazines and journals, there is still a sense of editors wanting what’s “comfortable.” Don’t be too radical or revolutionary; don’t criticize white supremacy tactics directly or overtly. At times the call seems like a marketing ploy rather than a true challenge to the system and bias.”
*Staff note: Fuck anyone who says your black isn’t black enough, commercial enough, authentic enough. WE ARE NOT A MONOLITH.*
Many of us only submitted to one-shots (POC Destroy, Take Over, or Are Otherwise Segregated-type themes) when solicited, or not at all.
“I don’t submit very much, because I don’t write as much as I should. And when I do have stories, I prefer to wait until I’m directly solicited to send in anything.”
“When I do Caribbean scifi stories, I don’t sell. But I write few stories and stopped submitting regularly years ago (got discouraged) so I can’t be sure. I just figured I wasn’t good enough as a writer to sell regularly yet, even though I have sold one novel, which won an indie award. Perhaps my concepts aren’t good enough. I can’t know for sure.”
“Almost all of my works have WoC protagonists and I think that especially works against me when submitting to ‘hard’ or traditional scifi markets since the editors tend to be cis white males.”
“There are a number of markets that I have written off over the years given their written rejections of me. I simply don’t submit to them anymore. So the number of places I am willing to send my stories to has really dwindled. I have moved my efforts more towards novel writing.”
“Short fiction is harder, I tell myself – so maybe it’s not them. PROBABLY it’s me. But…because the feedback was really vague, it made it harder to know. I hate that uncertainty; it’s easier to just stick with staying out of SFF, in a way.”
Victories and Encouragement.
Folks who saw their persistence pay off, and developed strategies for continuing to submit despite the obstacles.
“What has helped me keep submitting is having a community to talk about the process with, from writing programs, Codex, etc. It helps me understand how things work and lets me see that the struggle is real for everyone (even if it is more real for me as a black writer). That and reading brilliant work by
black writers – gives me something to look up to and to try to achieve.”
“My largest sale…was faciliated through an editor who was a WoC. Since then, I have had about four
solicitations for stories. It’s a reminder that in the short story markets success tends to allow greater access
to even more markets.”
“I’ve self-published a collection of my short horror stories and have had good success with it. That
success has inspired me to write longer works–novel length–and look for publishers.”