Over the past few days, I’ve seen a lot of press devoted to agents and publishers amplifying Black voices. There’s a clear call to action right now for Black writers and here’s how to take advantage of it:
Do Your Research. Read Everything You Can Get Your Hands On.
There’s a lot of info being shared on Twitter right now. For example, last week DongWon Song, an agent at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, announced he’s open to unsolicited submissions from Black authors.
Song represents science fiction and fantasy, as well as some young adult literature, so he may or may not be the right agent for you.
Always research an agent to make sure they represent your genre and your writing aligns with their current writers. In other words, do your homework.
There’s also been a writing and money topic thread trending on Twitter these past few days, with authors publicly sharing advances as a way of highlighting the discrepancy between authors of color and white authors.
Click here to jump into that conversation: #PublishingPaidMe
In response to the #PublishingPaidMe conversation, Jane Friedman, a highly-regarded expert in the publishing world, posted this piece highlighting everything you need to be asking your agent and publisher before signing a contract. Read her piece to know what to look for.
Find Your People.
Although the resources I listed above reference Twitter, I’m not active on Twitter. However, I do belong to various online writers’ groups and subscribe to a handful of writing and publishing newsletters, allowing me to stay abreast of current trends.
As you probably know, publishing a book isn’t something you do on your own. It takes a village. That’s why it’s so important you find your people.
I think we’re all reassessing what groups we want to associate with right now, so take this time to consciously decide what your values are and follow those who align.
Hone Your Craft.
If you need help with craft (and that’s all of us, my dear), take classes, find a mentor and/or join a writing group.
Nobody writes a stellar book in a vacuum. The books that look like they were easy to write look that way because of a) multiple revisions and b) editors.
You wouldn’t decide to become a doctor without any training, would you? Give your writing the same respect.
Ask for Help in the Right Places.
So often I see people reaching out and asking for help from the wrong people. (Been there, done that.) So be clear in who you’re asking as well what you’re asking for.
For example, if you want help with your memoir, I might be a good resource for you. As a memoir coach, well-crafted stories built around personal transformation are my gift as well as my passion. This is where I can be the most helpful.
But I also get folks asking me for help with fiction or poetry. Since these aren’t my areas of expertise, I refer people to Lighthouse Writers Workshop.
I always recommend working with experts in your genre, and Lighthouse Writers Workshop (online since the pandemic) offers a wide range of classes on all topics. They’ve also always supported writers of color across their programming.
Disclosure: I’m on the faculty, though I don’t benefit from referring them. I just think this organization rocks. There are plenty of other writers workshops across the country, as well as lots of craft classes in adult learning programs, community colleges, etc.
Learn from Those Who’ve Gone Before.
Follow your favorite writers on social media. They’re often sharing tips as well as insider stories, and you can learn a lot (as well as save yourself some heartache) from those who’ve come before.
For example, this past weekend Kiese Laymon, a friend from grad school, walked us through drafts of this gorgeous New York Times piece, “City Summer, Country Summer,” on Facebook, sharing his thoughts on writing this piece from an emotionally challenging place while still needing to hit a deadline.
That’s one of the reasons I love his posts, because he often pulls back the curtain and shares something many writers wouldn’t.
That’s one of the things I value deeply: honesty. Helping others and connecting in a deeply aligned way are some of my other top values.
All of which seem to be lessons we’re learning in 2020.
In love and solidarity,
P.P.S.: If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share this with them.