Author Topic: #OwnVoices  (Read 4084 times)

Offline Zooks

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#OwnVoices
« on: May 08, 2018, 06:03:48 PM »
I had an email from an agent I had queried [with the protagonist and antagonist being Native Americans (of different tribes), and a Mexican woman] and she wrote: "Hello, Is this #OwnVoices material?"

Now, if I write back and say, "No, I am neither Native American nor Mexican, just a writer with a good imagination and lots of research under my belt," I run the risk of her rejecting my query/sample pages because she's really wanting to get behind #OwnVoices.

Have any of you had a similar experience? Suggestions on responding would be appreciated.
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Offline jcwrites

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2018, 06:13:34 PM »
Say just what you said: "I am neither Native American nor Mexican, just a writer with a good imagination and lots of research under my belt."

Offline Zooks

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2018, 06:28:49 PM »
Thanks, jcwrites. A concern is that for those agents who want to get on the #OwnVoices bandwagon, they are doing a disservice to other writers. Will we have to include head shots with queries next so agents can try to determine our race?
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Offline jcwrites

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2018, 06:45:51 PM »
Head shots with queries?... nah, I'm sure a DNA swab will suffice.

Offline Spat

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #4 on: May 08, 2018, 08:23:32 PM »
Hi, Zooks. I'm going to preface this by saying that you can write whatever you want. Your response to that agent is simple: No, this is not OwnVoices. Or, I don't feel comfortable answering that. However here are some thoughts:

You've basically concluded that the entire own voices movement is a bandwagon when what it is is a platform to have people of marginalized groups write stories about aforementioned marginalized characters. Diversity has ALWAYS been here. Diverse readers, stories, characters, authors are not a bandwagon or trend, and if anyone thinks that, they need to open their eyes and take a look around the world. No matter what research you've done, unless you've lived that life you perhaps will not grasp the importance/nuances/beliefs/emotions/sufferings/meaning/etc of a group you don't belong to. For example, you may use a term or event that you researched and believe it's one thing, when a person of that group has experienced it as something totally different. You might wholeheartedly believe that you've done every inch of research and have a fantastic imagination, but then did you consider if any of your content is harmful to these groups? Stereotypes, cliches, etc. It might not be a big deal to you, and some may think it's being overly politically correct, etc. But consider there are a million books about white people and only a small percentage about Native Americans or Mexicans. A person who is part of that group will want to read something they can relate to, not open a book and find disrespectful errors because the author had unintentionally put something in there.

Calling this a disservice to other authors is essentially saying own voices authors have a foot up and now you're the victim. Stop. Own voices is a way of showcasing marginalized stories. It has nothing to do with you. If your story is brilliant and well written and not wrought with harmful material, then you're fine. Own voices is not here to stop another white/straight/male/whatever person from getting published. It's a platform to say, hey, I live this life and I have an insightful way of telling this story. That's all. Own voices are no better or worse authors. And they most certainly are not privileged. They are the exact opposite. Please don't play the woe-is-me card. Agents and editors are being more mindful of content. That is all. They do not want to publish material that is offensive. Will any book out there be perfect or not offend someone? Nope. Are own voices books perfect? Of course not.

To add, some stories are own voices and authors don't feel comfortable "outting" themselves to speak up and say, yeah, this is something I know about because it's my life. Agents are professional. They're not going to say no, you need to write in your own lane always. This agent might simply be excited if it was an own voices book because maybe they're looking for a particular story in this group. And whether or not it is, the writing has to speak for itself.

If you have faith in your work representing these voices, then go forward. Did you by chance have Native Americans of these respective tribes and Mexican beta readers?

Either way, whatever you decide or feel, please look into what own voices and diverse books is all about. So that you understand it's not about you, and it is definitely not a disservice. You are not a victim or pushed aside or have doors closed on you because of it.

Offline Hannah

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #5 on: May 08, 2018, 09:43:17 PM »
Well said, Spat. Own Voices isn't a bandwagon - it's about giving marginalized groups and individuals an opportunity to tell their stories. Zooks, not really sure what you're looking for in terms of advice here - you don't really have any other option than to tell the agent the truth here. If that's not what they're looking for, you can't do anything about that.

Offline TigerAsh

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #6 on: May 08, 2018, 09:48:25 PM »
Hi, Zooks. I'm going to preface this by saying that you can write whatever you want. Your response to that agent is simple: No, this is not OwnVoices. Or, I don't feel comfortable answering that. However here are some thoughts:

You've basically concluded that the entire own voices movement is a bandwagon when what it is is a platform to have people of marginalized groups write stories about aforementioned marginalized characters. Diversity has ALWAYS been here. Diverse readers, stories, characters, authors are not a bandwagon or trend, and if anyone thinks that, they need to open their eyes and take a look around the world. No matter what research you've done, unless you've lived that life you perhaps will not grasp the importance/nuances/beliefs/emotions/sufferings/meaning/etc of a group you don't belong to. For example, you may use a term or event that you researched and believe it's one thing, when a person of that group has experienced it as something totally different. You might wholeheartedly believe that you've done every inch of research and have a fantastic imagination, but then did you consider if any of your content is harmful to these groups? Stereotypes, cliches, etc. It might not be a big deal to you, and some may think it's being overly politically correct, etc. But consider there are a million books about white people and only a small percentage about Native Americans or Mexicans. A person who is part of that group will want to read something they can relate to, not open a book and find disrespectful errors because the author had unintentionally put something in there.

Calling this a disservice to other authors is essentially saying own voices authors have a foot up and now you're the victim. Stop. Own voices is a way of showcasing marginalized stories. It has nothing to do with you. If your story is brilliant and well written and not wrought with harmful material, then you're fine. Own voices is not here to stop another white/straight/male/whatever person from getting published. It's a platform to say, hey, I live this life and I have an insightful way of telling this story. That's all. Own voices are no better or worse authors. And they most certainly are not privileged. They are the exact opposite. Please don't play the woe-is-me card. Agents and editors are being more mindful of content. That is all. They do not want to publish material that is offensive. Will any book out there be perfect or not offend someone? Nope. Are own voices books perfect? Of course not.

To add, some stories are own voices and authors don't feel comfortable "outting" themselves to speak up and say, yeah, this is something I know about because it's my life. Agents are professional. They're not going to say no, you need to write in your own lane always. This agent might simply be excited if it was an own voices book because maybe they're looking for a particular story in this group. And whether or not it is, the writing has to speak for itself.

If you have faith in your work representing these voices, then go forward. Did you by chance have Native Americans of these respective tribes and Mexican beta readers?

Either way, whatever you decide or feel, please look into what own voices and diverse books is all about. So that you understand it's not about you, and it is definitely not a disservice. You are not a victim or pushed aside or have doors closed on you because of it.



:agree:

Offline Zooks

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #7 on: May 08, 2018, 10:28:24 PM »
Wow, Spat, I guess my frustration forced a knee-jerk reaction (yes, emphasis on jerk). Thanks for taking the time to compose such an intelligent response. Duly, noted. I stand corrected.
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Offline slightlysmall

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #8 on: May 08, 2018, 11:04:36 PM »
If you have had sensitivity reads (betas by people who share the heritage in your book), it might be useful to include that in your response. If you haven't, you might want some sensitivity reads.

I'm the last person to say you have to write in your lane all the time, though. I'm on my fourth novel-writing attempt and I've yet to have a white, straight, female lead (although I usually hit two of the three).

Offline Munley

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #9 on: May 09, 2018, 04:10:23 AM »


You've basically concluded that the entire own voices movement is a bandwagon when what it is is a platform to have people of marginalized groups write stories about aforementioned marginalized characters. Diversity has ALWAYS been here. Diverse readers, stories, characters, authors are not a bandwagon or trend, and if anyone thinks that, they need to open their eyes and take a look around the world. No matter what research you've done, unless you've lived that life you perhaps will not grasp the importance/nuances/beliefs/emotions/sufferings/meaning/etc of a group you don't belong to.

While I think most agents are sincere in wanting underrepresented voices to have a rightful place in publishing, there is bandwagon potential for anything that becomes a moneymaker. There is also potential for perversion of the goodness and heartfelt message of founders of any movement. One of the great ironies of history is people being burned at the stake for having "incorrect, heretical notions" about who Jesus was, someone who said the greatest commandment was to love.
     That, of course, is an extreme example. But the point is that not everyone who takes up the call to a worthy movement sustains the true spirit of the people originally inspired to start it.  That's the problem with a bandwagon mentality when it does occur. I think that an agent who asks upfront whether a writer submitting a novel that includes "other" groups is a member of that group (by definition that's what OwnVoices means) opens the door to a legitimate concern that the agent might disregard the submission offhand if the writer isn't a member -- without even reading the book to determine it's merit.

I don't think Zooks was entirely off. And I didn't detect any "woe-is-me card" based on some misguided worry that white writers work that includes non-white characters will be summarily dismissed. That is a possibility and it is especially disheartening to me as a girl who grew up seeing only men's talents given the most meaningful opportunities for expression. Women worldwide are among those left out entirely from many roles and opportunities. If their talents were given a place at all, they were restricted to menial support roles in the arts and every field of study. So, white or non-white, they do know something about being left out. And it is a concern that the stereotype of a white person can't possibly grasp -- without a panel of sensitivity readers -- what that is like. And whites of either gender did not experience equal privilege. A shared experience of doors slammed on one's face gives some basis for beginning to understand others.

The OwnVoices movement is important and necessary, but not every approach to it will be automatically wise.
And, yes, there is a risk of writing harmful stereotypes of various groups. APTN (Aboriginal People's Television Network in Canada) calls out stuff like that all the time, such as all the Hollywood wild west movies with "Pretendians" like William Shatner playing roles that would have been much more accurately played by Native actors. The script would need to be historically faithful as well, of course.

I think there is a lot of harm being caused the you-can't-possibly-grasp-the suffering-of-other groups preaching, even though there are good intentions behind those sentiments, which appear in more and more articles and blogs now. And new channels refer to people by category so much, especially regarding this or that group voting this or that way . . .

There is so much emphasis on differences that our common humanity is getting lost and xenophobia, heartlessness, and violence toward the not-like-me-and-my-group people are fed by this emphasis.

Please, please take a look at this article by an African-American editor, Brandon Taylor, responding to calls for own-voices material vetted by panels of readers to make sure it is not offensive to people in the group written about.


https://lithub.com/there-is-no-secret-to-writing-about-people-who-do-not-look-like-you/

Calling this a disservice to other authors is essentially saying own voices authors have a foot up and now you're the victim. [No] Stop.  Own voices is a way of showcasing marginalized stories. It has nothing to do with you. . . .  And they most certainly are not privileged.[Zooks has been around the block plenty of times. I'm sure she realizes they are not privileged.] They are the exact opposite. Please don't play the woe-is-me card.  ??? . . . If you have faith in your work representing these voices, then go forward. Did you by chance have Native Americans of these respective tribes and Mexican beta readers? . . . Either way, whatever you decide or feel, please look into what own voices and diverse books is all about. So that you understand it's not about you, and it is definitely not a disservice. You are not a victim or pushed aside or have doors closed on you because of it.

Doors will be closed based on unexamined assumptions and oft-repeated statements about how little, if anything, one can understand about members of another group. As Brandon Taylor's article points out, true empathy goes a long way. It bothers me (and Mr. Taylor) if credence is automatically granted to any panel calling itself sensitivity readers, but no credence to people who have suffered similar kinds of oppression and humiliation who don't happen to look like someone else who has.
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« Last Edit: May 09, 2018, 07:28:25 AM by Munley »

Offline Hannah

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #10 on: May 09, 2018, 01:15:25 PM »
Thinking you are disadvantaged by Own Voices is like thinking there should be no scholarships for marginalized groups because it all should be based on merit. The thing is, it hasn't traditionally been based on merit - Own Voices is giving writers from marginalized groups opportunities they have not traditionally had in publishing. Another thing to consider is if you are the best person to be telling the story, because you could be taking away the chance for someone else (whose experience it is) to tell it.

Offline Spat

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #11 on: May 09, 2018, 01:54:01 PM »
Hi, Zooks. We've had many friendly interactions in the past, and I hope you know my post wasn't meant to tear you down, it was meant to take a look at the other side: why the agent is asking this, is your material suitable for an audience that is a lot more likely to speak up if there's harmful content, and that own voices isn't a disservice or about blocking you. Also, if you want to work with this agent, tell her it's not ownvocies or you're not comfortable answering that, and if they pass, that's fine because you obviously want to get this book published which means you can't have an agent not behind it. But still, back up the book with sensitivity/beta readers from that group.

Munley, it is true that some people see this as a bandwagon and want to make money off of it. I've seen plenty of editors do that and it is what it is for them. The work they get behind will speak for itself, their clients, their future books, etc. To me, it does seem that Zooks was worried about getting passed up because her work isn't own voices. Would this have been as big of a deal to agents 15 years ago? No, therefore this movement happening now could feel like another barrier for an author to write about non-ownvoices characters. Does that mean you cannot? No. OF COURSE NOT. There are plenty of authors who write characters of different races, genders, sexual orientation, and so on. Many are bestselling authors.

Nowhere did I say a "white person can't possibly grasp" anything. I said a person outside of that group perhaps will not grasp (several elements of what it means to be/experienced in that group). No one is on here preaching about you can't possibly grasp the suffering of another group. Writing requires through research, writing about groups that may rise up in offense requires a lot more due diligence. And being a woman with struggles is real, I didn't imply it wasn't. I'm not dismissing any of Zooks struggles. I don't know her.

No one said every approach to own voices is automatically wise. Just as some may think own voices closes a door for them, others will think it opens every door for them. It does not. Quality of work is still paramount.

Just because someone has "been around the block" doesn't mean you realize others aren't privileged. That's one of the things about being privileged, you might never notice the reality of what's going on with others.

And yes, it's true that you cannot give a person automatic credence because they are part of a group, because no one group is monolithic or shares the exact same experiences and feelings, just like a professional will not automatically discredit Zooks and say no because this isn't own voices, she has no idea what she's talking about. They will want to make a decision based on the quality of her work.

Offline Hannah

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #12 on: May 10, 2018, 06:25:47 PM »
Just saw this article about the diversity gap in children's publishing and thought it was relevant to the discussion: http://blog.leeandlow.com/2018/05/10/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-book-publishing-2018/

Even though there is a lot of talk about diversity and some people feel like they're being pushed out because of it, the stats tell a different story. Own Voices is one way of trying to address the imbalance.

Offline NextChapter

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #13 on: May 11, 2018, 07:38:09 AM »
Zooks, I know it's frustrating. Every agent has their own preferences that go beyond your writing and characters and storyline. #OwnVoices can feel like one more barrier to keep you from being published, but it is a door cracked open for others. Is it a trend or bandwagon? No, I think it is simply a statement of what should be obvious, that authors should write what they know. If your research is thorough, and you have followed up with sensitivity readings, there is no reason why you can't write about other cultures.

In middle grade, there is a trend towards edgier stories. I've read recently published books that address a best friend dying, the main character thinking she is responsible for the best friend dying (at least 3 such books!), younger brother is autistic or has OCD, younger brother has cancer, main character has cancer, main character has a brain tumor and dies, main character is born without arms, main character is stuck in a well for most of the book, grandma kills herself, and so on. Whoa! This is so not my kind of story. I have been told my book is "too quiet." I am not writing for the times, which are sure to eventually swing back to "quieter" books for middle grade. You and I can only write the stories we are meant to write, and if they find an agent, a publisher, a librarian and a young reader, then life is good. If not, we can only keep trying.

Good luck!

Offline Zooks

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Re: #OwnVoices
« Reply #14 on: May 11, 2018, 07:13:06 PM »
Thanks, Next Chapter. Good luck with your "too quiet" book.
THE ARCHIMEDES SOCIETY-Humor
THE KNOTTED GUN - Suspense
THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT-RomCom
NOOKS & GRANNIES-YA
GATSBY DELANEY - 7TH GRADE IMPRESARIO - MG
THIS AIN'T NO COWBOY MOVIE-YA
BROGWIN FRAYNEY & HOW HE NEARLY SAVED A KINGDOM-MG
DEATH AT THE DRIVE-IN - Gen'l Fiction
A SCOUNDREL'S TALE-Humor