I’ve always written stories, but the process of actually getting them published eluded me. Being a writer (meaning here as being paid for my stories) wasn’t something I knew how to do. In fact for a while I was discouraged. Writing wasn’t really something Black women did, I’d been told. I was told it would be nearly impossible to get published, as any work by a Black author, let alone a Black and female author, would make most readers unable to relate. I could also forget about writing any sort of spec fic, since what little audience I’d be able to muster would find that unappealing. No, I was better off doing anything else. These ideas that had both subtly and blatantly drilled into me have been hard to shake off and cause me to second guess what and where I should submit. In fact, as a new writer one of the main problems I have is finding out where to submit. I spend hours looking at calls for submissions making sure the story I’ve written matches the the request the publication is making. I often wonder if themes or ideas I’m trying to portray will be understood by publishers, or will it be written off as “niche” because of a lack of cultural context. A lot of this anxiety comes from not knowing who is behind the scenes of many of these places, and whether or not anyone there will “get” it. In fact, I find I’m more likely submit work to publications that are explicitly looking for Black authors, or POC authors in general.
And it seems I’m not the only person who does.
Seeing that “PoC Destroy!” issues of Lightspeed, Nightmare, and Fantasy magazine make up 25% of the of stories published by Black authors is new information to me, but not a surprise. As I mentioned before, submitting to publications can be nerve wracking, so when calls for submissions specifically seek Black or POC authors it’s a complete turnaround. It’s almost feels like someone is calling out specifically to you, which is especially comforting if you are a newer writer. A lot of the time even before you get your first rejection, as you read through calls for submissions you feel as if you’re sifting through coded language. What do they mean when they say they’re looking for stories that “challenge” status quo? PoC Destroy! and other special-issue magazines and anthologies offer a sort of writing safe space, where Black people can write stories that reflect the various subcultures within the African Diaspora without out having to worry about edits that will gut cultural context in our stories, or rejections based on our stories simply “not fitting.”
“PoC Destroy!” issues also do something else that people take for granted: they connect authors with the audiences they’re writing for. When people think of sci-fi, horror, or fantasy fans, they tend to come up with the same picture in their brain as who they think of as the writers: white men. This prejudice seems to carry over, even if Black authors are writing the stories. There’s this unspoken belief that Black spec fic authors are trying to do the writing equivalent to what they call “crossing over” in the music industry. While any writer will tell you they want everyone to be able to relate to their work, “PoC Destroy” issues often become a place where Black readers can find genre/spec fic that features Black characters written by Black authors.
That’s not to say that other publications completely lack understanding. In fact to see that many publications are making a long-term effort to both include and understand the work of more Black authors is comforting and I feel will make a difference in the long run. I feel that the more Black people they have behind the scenes, the wider of a cultural context range they’ll have for magazine issues and anthologies that aren’t specifically requesting POC. While many folks who have read a novel by any well-known Black author may think all of us write in their same style and subject matter, we do not. Having people who can understand that and make that connection between what other issues and anthologies are looking for and the cultural context between the worker submitted would make the submission process for Black people that much easier.
It’s an ouroboros. A literary landscape that only has at most 3.6% stories by Black authors will make Black authors feel as if there is a barrier, which in turns makes us less likely to submit, which in turn means less stories being published by Black authors. It’s systemic. A landscape that for a long time has centered white authors and readers isn’t equipped to understand Black authors and readers. It’s everything I had feared, but it’s not impossible to fix. Call me optimistic, but I think that the more effort that publications make to create a welcoming space for Black authors, the more likely Black authors will be willing to submit their work.
About the author
De Ana Jones is a writer from Southern California who in elementary school learned that the stories in her head were easier to keep track of on paper. She currently likes to talk about nerdy things on the Nerdgasm Noire podcast and in 2016 was featured in the Hidden Youth anthology. You can find her blog at deanaj.com.
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