Of course, this is a good thing (I think at least most of us can agree on that?). Though I wondered aloud to my critique group what one is supposed to say in their email to let the editors/agents know they're a diverse author. Ask and ye shall receive. One of the members of my critique group asked an agent at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference whether you're supposed to list the ways in which you'd be considered diverse, which feels a bit awkward ("Dear editor, I am a female Cherokee/Patawomeck author [. . .]"). The agent said that you should just mention in your cover letter or query that you are a diverse author. I still feel weird about that, and have no intention of adding that into my contacts to publications. If my story gets accepted, I hope it's just because my story is liked, not because it got bumped up on the list because I happen to be female and possess some Cherokee and Patawomeck blood (as well as Irish, German, Dutch, Scottish, and English--I'm a mutt).
I also don't think any less of those who do include that information. All it means is that we feel differently about it, and I have no right to judge that. For many, their gender and race might be obvious by their name, which makes it unnecessary to put in the bio. My name is fairly genderless. If you do a search on "Shannon Lawrence" you're going to have both males and females pop up in the search window. Does that work for or against me? I have no idea. Which bias does it appeal to? Because a bias for each exists in various places right now, or so it appears. From what I've read, males tend to have an edge in speculative fiction (while females have a significant edge in romance), though I haven't seen actual numbers on submissions versus acceptance.
|Screen shot from first results when searching Shannon Lawrence. Look, there's me in the 4th row!|
On the other hand, my name's as Irish as it could be. My maiden name was German. So while it can't be inferred from my name that I'm female, it can probably be inferred that I'm Caucasian (or, at the very least, stand a good chance of being so, as it should be noted there's some diversity in the Google search I linked to above)(Fun fact: It appears the name Shannon is popular in porn, judging by some of the search results). Here again, one has to wonder if that works for or against me (the race thing, not the porn thing). Will a publication leaning toward diversity skip me because my name screams Caucasian? Or will it work to my benefit? I have no idea. Are these publications looking that deeply at the issue, or are they judging the stories on their merit alone? I know it's been shown in the regular job sector that names make a difference on resumes, but is that true in the writing world, as well?
I kind of got sidetracked from my original topic. Shifting gears.
Here it is, 2015, and organizations like these still exist. There are also publications that only take work from women. Taking that further, there are groups/publications that restrict all manner of things, down to only accepting work/membership from LGBTQ+ individuals and specific nationalities. For instance, while doing market research today, I came across one publication that would only take submissions from Canada (there are several with this restriction), one that would only take submissions from the Pacific northwest, one that would only take publications from Australia/New Zealand, and a couple others with similar restrictions. While these all had to do with location/nationality, I've seen restrictions that didn't.
My question to you is: Is this still necessary?
I had the opportunity to meet the national president of the NLAPW recently, and she said membership was falling at the national level. She has been encouraging dialogue on why. It was a surprise to me that membership was falling, so I had no answers for her. After I left, I kept thinking about it. It's an interesting thing to ponder. Some of the possibilities I came up with were:
1. The restriction to being female only
2. The cost of joining
3. The requirement to have a certain amount of accepted publishing credits to be a full member (and further to this, not having access to all the benefits of being a member unless you're a fully qualified member)
One of the benefits of these female-only groups is that they often have their own publications and awards. This gives women belonging to the groups a better chance of being published and receiving awards, which looks good in bios, on cover letters, and in query letters. Does it get them any closer to winning the bigger, more well known awards? Does it increase the chances of publication elsewhere? I can't comment, because I'm not sure how well known the NLAPW magazine is outside of Pen Women. In fact, I'm not even certain you can get the magazine unless you're a member. Hm.
On publications, if they restrict who can be in the magazines, do they, in turn, restrict their readership? Will someone pick up a magazine that is made up of one specific group? I think the Women Destroy issues that came out last year did pretty well, right? But was that because of the amount of free marketing they received? They were widely discussed and crowd funded, so they may have been different. They were also a one-off situation, rather than being a regular thing. Again, I have no idea. Was the exposure those female authors got more or less than they would have in a mixed gender magazine?
Basically, I'm rambling. These are things I've been thinking about and questioning lately. I don't have any real answers, because I have no real data. I don't know if Pen Women are failing because of one of those three things listed above, a combination of them, or something completely different. And I have no data on other exclusive groups and publications, how they sell, or whether they're more beneficial or harmful. I'd be curious to know, though. I frequently feel conflicted about belonging to an all-female writing group, but I like the ladies in the group, so I stay.
What are your thoughts on exclusive writing groups? Are they beneficial? Are you part of one? Do you feel they might be damaging in certain ways? Are magazines really leaning toward diversity, or is it something they say because that's what people want to see? Is there still a place for exclusive groups, or has the time passed? Or has it only passed for certain groups, while other groups are more in need of it than ever? What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks to exclusive groups?
May you find your Muse.