On Feeling Helpless

In November, I wrote about why I might go quiet from time to time (here). For the most part, everything I said then is still true. I still feel lost sometimes, and I still don’t know what will happen next. I’ve read the history books and I know where this could end, but despite everything, I’m still an optimist.


When I signed in to write this, I was sort of stunned that my last post was my end-of-year query stats from December. I have been quieter lately, but I didn’t realize how much. I could have sworn I posted something in May or June. I’ve signed in to write drafts of new posts and then never finished. They’re still sitting there. They’re mostly about writing tips and publishing, of course, and someday I’ll post them when it feels like that’s what I should be writing about again.


Mostly I’ve been feeling helpless. In January and February, it felt like everyone I knew was taking a sabbatical to become full-time activists. We marched, we donated, we wrote letters, we called our representatives, we attended rallies, and then little by little we realized we couldn’t keep up that pace forever. We focused on work again and things started to feel normal. We’d still press pause and hold our breath during crucial votes in Congress, and we’d still donate and call our representatives, but we could work again. Uninterrupted. We could tweet about books and self-promote and make jokes again. And it felt nice. Like maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all as long as we all stay engaged.


After what happened in Charlottesville, the culmination of all the things we feared would happen after he got sworn in, I feel helpless again. I’m having earnest conversations with friends about how to stop white supremacists. I’m watching centrist and apolitical friends slowly fall for the “both sides are bad” rhetoric. I don’t know what to do.


Switching gears slightly.


Almost every writer I follow on Twitter has been tentatively peeking out to whisper “is it OK if I promote my book?” I’ve watched giveaways come and go, cover reveals get a few Likes, and thought to myself “man, I hope the intended audience sees that.”  I try to promote my own clients too, and feel that same level of guilt. Is it OK to be self-serving right now? Is it OK to enjoy something and want to share that joy? Is it OK to do these things in hopes of getting sales and pre-orders? Because that’s why we do them, right? This is our job. We shouldn’t feel guilty about taking pride in our work and expecting income from it.


So, I’m giving every writer permission to tweet, blog, instagram, etc. to promote your books. Post happy things. But stay engaged and learn to read the room. If every person in your feed is focused on something else, maybe schedule that self-promo tweet for a time people will see it.


As for me, and going back to my own helplessness, I’m trying to take my own advice. I recently tweeted that I get easily overwhelmed when I can’t fix everything (hey, anxiety, hey!), but eventually I remember I can do something and that’s OK too. So, what can I do? Focus on what I can control.


What I want to do: Remove all Confederate statues and replace them with memorials to victims and/or monuments to people of color who served this country.

What I can do: Represent marginalized writers and diverse stories. Their books can be those monuments. Normalize different races, religions, gender identities, & sexual orientations by giving white/straight/cis readers familiar stories with unfamiliar perspectives. Embolden marginalized readers by showing them their stories matter, and that they are more than their struggle.


I can’t fight individual sexists, but I can help combat the patriarchy to prevent future sexism. I can’t change the minds of every white supremacist, but I can challenge white supremacy and sacrifice my white privilege to do it.


Sometimes what I do is going to feel so small and pointless that I’ll feel helpless all over again. Maybe that will happen to you too. But I’m putting this in writing as a way to move on, and serve as a reminder to anyone reading that tiny things add up. It’s also OK to do your own thing. You’re not alone.


(sorry, couldn’t resist)

We Need Diverse Books

This week an important Twitter campaign launched called #WeNeedDiverseBooks. It went viral, according to Salon, which I think is technology-code for “popular.” I participated in the hashtag along with many other writers, agents, editors, publishers, librarians, and PEOPLE who demand more representation in their books.

Then something called #DiversityWL (Diversity Wish List) started. Agents and editors have been posting what, specifically, they hope to find in their slush piles. I’m happy this exists, but I’m not sure what to add to it. My “Diversity Wish List” is simply: well-written books in genres I represent. That’s my wish list no matter what. I want my “diverse” characters to be people in those stories.

So I started thinking about this more and realized it’s easier for me to say what I don’t want. “Diverse,” to me, isn’t calling out “Other-ness.” The “I’m Different And That’s OK” books had their place, but it’s 2014 and I think we can do better. I think we can offer more.

For Adult and YA, here is “Diversity Wishlist.”

1) LGBT characters who are more than just “the best friend.”

Give me a main character who’s main plot line doesn’t revolve around their sexuality. In YA, I know coming out stories and bullying stories matter, but those books have been written. I want to see a gay teen not be constantly reminded that there’s something “weird” or “unacceptable” about who they are. Your target audience becomes a whole lot easier to reach when they see themselves in stories, and not just as puppets for straight people to learn valuable lessons. And when straight teens read those stories too, it doesn’t always need to be about making them feel bad for the main character, nor does it need to make gay teens who aren’t bullied wonder where their stories are.

2) Main characters from different socioeconomic backgrounds, regardless of race.

The books I often see about “poor people” tend to be about a family struggling to get by, but rarely do I see entire worlds and viewpoints being developed. I don’t want to just know the characters have little money. I want to see how they save money in subtle ways. I want to see what’s important to them that may not be important to families who never have to worry about money. What makes their view on the world different and why does it matter?

3) Non-white characters in non-stereotypical roles.

This one is obvious. I want diversity within my white characters, but I also want to see people who don’t usually get to be the main character. What I’m NOT looking for: the sassy Latina best friend; black or Hispanic teens in gangs; “honor-driven” Asian-Americans who may or may not play a string instrument (Seriously, why do I always get queries with Asians who play the violin? Am I unfamiliar with this stereotype?); Muslim characters who’s primary function is to be Muslim first and a person second. The list of stereotypes can go on, but these are the ones I see most often. When I think “diversity” I don’t think “token,” but sadly that’s what I’m still getting.

Those are just the Top 3. Any other good books with unique characters who meet my criteria should also make their way to my slush pile. I want to bring new stories and new types of heroes into the world, and I want to help writers of all colors and backgrounds get published.

But, my main criteria will always be:
1) Is this well-written?
2) Do I love this story?

Because, yes, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, but status quo is unlikely to change over a forgettable character. Art influences history. So put your best out there, writers. Then, of course, remember to send it to me!