Tag Archives: writing guidelines

That LGBT Thing & Writing Guidelines

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Benson Kua, Wikimedia

This post probably won’t be what you think it is. It’s about writing and my submission guidelines for Alice Unbound but it’s about more than that. The above letters refer to people of various gender preferences or identities. It’s also called QUILTBAG, for ease of remembering the letters in the acronym.

It is very common to now see a statement in submission guidelines that states something like: “Submissions from the QUILTBAG community are accepted/encouraged/not discriminated against.” The words vary but the intent is the same: inclusion. That’s the basis, though I’m not sure of the full evolution of this in terms of writing.

As some point in the past, someone or some people felt there was a prejudice against  gay or lesbian people or those identifying with any other version of gender identity. I’m going to state this here first, though I’m sure to offend someone. I’m an egalitarian. I believe in equal rights and the same treatment for all people. Now I’ve judged and juried several writing competitions and awards, edited some magazines/zines and a couple of anthologies. And even before I did any of these things I was a reader. Never did I choose to read a person because of their color, their gender or who they liked to have sex with. In fact, the latter especially is none of my business. I read because I liked the story and I went back to the same author because I liked their style.

As an editor and juror, I read for great stories first. I may know by a person’s name whether they’re female or male, but not necessarily. I don’t know if they’re a person of color or if they’re gay and asexual, or bi-curious, or bi, or gender fluid. And really, as far as I’m concerned, it does not matter. I’ve never submitted a story and said, hey, I’m a white girl whose Italian mother was ostracized by my father’s Scandinavian family, and I’m bisexual but only like black guys and white women. (Some of this statement is true and some is fiction, but again, it doesn’t matter. Some of that statement could be valid in submission, if the magazine only published Italian writers, or people of color. And likewise, the anthology I’m editing must have Canadian or residents of Canada as writers.) It is nobody’s business and has absolutely nothing to do with my writing. I also would feel uncomfortable stating any of this while submitting to an anthology/magazine, because I want my story to be chosen on its merit; not who I know, who I bed or how I identify.

Now, I’m not saying that there has been no prejudice. There probably has been in some cases or some areas. I just have lived in a bubble and don’t know about it overall but I don’t know every magazine out there. But an editor reading relatively unknowns from different geographies isn’t going to know these things about a person, unless that person is already known to them, or tells them. So where does this prevalence for guidelines saying “LGBT welcome” come from? I’m not sure. Some is general gender awareness and the rise of equality for gay and lesbian rights, and then more awareness of other gender identities/preferences. It’s only natural that it would get tagged into something as powerful as writing. And in the speculative genre, some might say that there has been a predominance of white Amerocentric characters, while at the same time, and long ago, speculative fiction was one of the first places where strong female characters and other types of sexual relationships were explored, even if it was once white men only writing them (and Samuel Delaney). Robert Heinlein was a product of his times but he was exploring identity and genders in his own way decades ago. Spec fiction has always been open to pushing boundaries. And yes, some female writers started out with male names to stop any prejudice against women.

This blog piece has evolved from comments on a thread where I posted the guidelines and someone said, why list this LGBQT stuff? At the same time, another person said editors were lazy for posting this and should solicit people directly. So let’s address that aspect.

If I have open submissions and the anthology is not invitational, then to solicit specifically from a transgendered person, or a gay person means I’m giving preferential treatment over other people. It’s an open submission and I’m an egalitarian. Second, editors don’t always have time to solicit this person and that. I’d have to start researching writers I know of, as opposed to those just starting out where there would be little to research, to find out who is gender fluid, transgender, asexual, bi, gay, lesbian, etc. to solicit a story from each of them. And I’m sure to leave someone out and cause more ill feeling. And then what about the hetero people, or cisgender? By being equal and fair, I list the guidelines so anyone can submit. Just send great stories.

Well then, why are you encouraging QUILTBAG in your guidelines? Because, if you don’t these days, someone is sure to attack you as being prejudiced. And in Canada, many small presses receive grant funding from provinces and the federal gov’t. Those governing bodies also require fair and equal attention to all types of writers. The statement is pretty much standard. So, if anyone of color or whatever gender identity feels like they might be ostracized or blacklisted, this tells them that they are not. And again, I’m really not going to know 99% of people’s gender identities or preferences.

Lion and unicorn, Alice, Through the Looking Glass

Lion or unicorn, or girl, you’re welcome to submit to Alice Unbound. Sir John Tenniel illustration.

In the end, as I’ve said before, I read for good stories. I don’t even read the submission letters first, and I don’t care who you have sex with. And please, don’t tell me. I don’t need to know. It’s none of my business and I will not reject or buy your story because you are any of the above. However, sometimes for those grants, if the publisher says, yes we had three transgendered writers, then that might help with more grant funding. Exile Editions actually has authors sign (voluntarily) a form that discloses if they are a minority of any type, but it doesn’t affect my selection.

And to those who decided to call editors lazy, try being an editor first before you make that statement. To close this post, I’ll state again, I’m an egalitarian. I don’t care who you are, or how you identify. I care that I have the best stories to emulate the premise for Alice Unbound.

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Chizine Shazam!

Imaginarium cover, due out this year from CZP

We are plugging along at the ole Chi factory. The Chizine (Chiaroscuro) website has been revamped and is up for viewing here: http://chizine.com It opens with a mega issue or a Super God mega issue as we’re calling it.Which means it’s chockablock full of good stuff. Lots of fiction and poetry by some fantastic writers, not to mention that we’ll be posting poems from Chizine alumni, every writer who has ever been published in Chizine, the online magazine. Take a look and keep checking back. And there is a handy little visual vial that readers and those who appreciate the arts and reading can fill with donations.

Besides Chizine there is ChiZine Publications, which publishes books, and there’s the Rannu competition. And…many other promotions and contests and readings and things that CZP is involved in doing. To help the avid dark fiction fan find all this fun stuff, we’ve created the Chi hub. You can check all sorts of info at this darkly awesome site: http://chizinehub.com/

You can even check guidelines! Gasp! Yes, before you submit to any publisher you should always read the guidelines. In fact we’re going to expand an explanation on what a synopsis is. When a publisher or agent asks for a synopsis it is not the short catchy description on the jacket flap of a book. Nor, especially not, is it a movie teaser. Teasers only present the highlights and tension and we need to know, after we’ve read your three sample chapters, if there is enough story and plot to want to read further. It behooves the author to make sure we know where your story is going and how it ends. None of: “Hamid realizes the world is not as he expected after he meets the carnivorous unicorn girl and events take a turn for the worse.” Tell us that Hamid fights off the carnivorous unicorn girl only to find out she is a virtual creation of his anima. He  conquers his fears, eats his beliefs and recreates himself, quelling the hallucinations. On a new day, Hamid has become a murderer, immersing himself in a shadow world of his own imagining, which is explored in book 2.

Synopses list the main events AND give a conclusion. Check out the Chi hub and if you have any comments, please let us know.

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Writing: Taking it Personally

This could just be called Writing and Ego for any time a writer submits a piece of work to an editor, ego does get involved. We write because of ego, because we think we have something to say, because we think we’re good enough, because we want to be rich or famous. But to write means also to be able to disengage the ego some.

The other night I was talking with someone who has a friend trying to be a writer. Great. Everyone should try to pursue their dreams. But writing, for 99% of us, takes work. A lot of work. It takes honing your craft. It takes knowledge. It takes a certain skill and perception that is ephemeral, that could be called ideas but is also your unique way of stringing them together. It takes perseverance. And yes, it takes luck.

The first part, learning your craft, is where everyone must start and stay to a degree. It is always a judgment call as to when you think your piece is ready. Once it’s been written, reworked, critiqued, rewritten and edited, it is then ready to send out, maybe. But sometimes you must take a leap of faith and submit the story or poem. Every writer can benefit from workshops, classes and writers’ groups. If I could afford to do it more, I’d take more workshops. Until I’m selling my pieces 100% of the time I still have something I can learn. To think otherwise would again be ego. A workshop might just be a new way to work or come up with ideas or just the camaraderie of other writers, because, as any writer knows, writing is a fairly solitary process.

Selling your writing takes the knowledge not just of how to write, but of the submission process. Sometimes people have an idea, their cherished baby, and they write it and then send it out. If you haven’t learned much about writing or even had your story read by knowledgeable people (editors, not friends unless those friends are writers/editors) then you jeopardize your chances at publication. Such basics as grammar can stop an editor from reading an otherwise great story. Editors read so much every day that they have no patience for people who cannot follow basic grammar, spelling and guidelines.

No one can teach a person ideas, but there are workshops that look at how to take those rough ideas and chisel them into the best and most clear idea, compelling, interesting and filled with tension. But the beginning idea must be interesting in and of itself and unique, not done before. There are many stories, even within a genre, that follow certain motifs. Each one that is published must present something new.

Next, and how we get back to the person trying to be a writer, is perseverance. He had sent his work out to a publisher or two and when it was rejected, he took it personally. They (those faceless editors) hate him. Really, the editor or publisher doesn’t know most beginning writers from Adam. The writers too, are faceless. There is rarely anything personal unless you take to insulting the editor in your cover letters.

It may not even be that your story sucks. Here are just a few reasons that an editor/publisher may not have accepted your story/novel, which has nothing particular to do with your work:

  • doesn’t fit their theme
  • they’ve just spent two years publishing books on this topic and the market is glutted
  • budget cuts
  • there are limited slots and even some of the good stories must go
  • you wrote on a topic that the editor personally hates
  • the slushpile has grown so big that there is some wholesale rejecting to get them caught up (not as frequent but it can happen)
  • they’re changing their focus
  • they’re folding (I’ve sold too many pieces to magazines/anthologies, which were then never published because they closed down–I call it the kiss of death)
  • the structure of the magazine/anthology has changed (I sold one story to an anthology which then went to a different publisher and then was halved–although I received a kill-fee the story was never published.)
  • the editor has changed

Those are a few reasons that has nothing whatsoever to do with the writer. Grammar, typos, conflict, tension, characterization, plot, theme, structure and flow have to do with the written piece. Editors also reject on those reasons, if the other reasons haven’t come into play first. Again, this is rarely personal. They don’t know you. They base their thoughts on the manuscript before them.

This is why perseverance is the mainstay for most writers. It is a very tiny percentage of us who can send out our work and sell it on the first go. My ego had to accept that I wasn’t the greatest writer since sliced bread. Otherwise I would sell everything or mostly everything. I’m still a small pea in a big pod. Even the best writers, the award winners, don’t sell some pieces. You and me and most other writers have to keep writing and submitting. If I’d quit after my first year, I would have only sold a couple of poems. I keep going, getting better the more I write (and read), the more workshops I take, the more I discuss my ongoing projects before submitting.

If you want to be a writer, you’ll need to disengage your ego enough to get through the rejections. At one time I could paper my bathroom in acceptances and my house in rejections. Now I might be able to paper a house in acceptances…and several houses in rejections. So it goes. If you take it personally, if you want to be an overnight sensation, if you get overly depressed or angry at a rejection, then you better not be a writer.

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