Activism and Advocacy / Crafting characters / Represention

Traditional publishing says it wants diverse voices, but does it really?

ID: Person typing on a laptop. Only her torso and hands are visible. they are wearing a blue blazer with a white shirt. The blazer's sleeve is folded away from the wrists.
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

Traditional publishing says it wants diverse voices but when presented with them, they either tone them down to be more acceptable to the neurotypicals, or they make them so ridiculous and centre the neurotypicals, or worse, when speaking of POC, they center whiteness.

I am very proud of a novel I wrote, which I have decided to call Slut! It is a story about a biracial, bisexual, and autistic woman as she navigates trying to fit into society. She is me. Well, as me as I can write without making it a memoir, and my personal stories are not for public consumption because as you will see, the public kind of sucks.

I want to preface this with the caveat that the editor in this story is not to blame, and this isn’t some way of calling her out or targeting her in this post. She was only following the advice of a society who looks at neurodivergent people and POC and says, “We want diverse voices, but not if it makes us uncomfortable or doesn’t conform to our very narrow views of diverse.” She was simply trying to help me succeed in a very closed-minded industry. One of the many reasons I have decided to self-publish my works and not even bother with the traditional publishing route.

Into the story. She sent me back my manuscript with glowing words of how much she loved it, how fresh and strong the voice was, and how she couldn’t wait to see it published. She was my initial editor, to clean up my grammar and make my manuscript tighter, so I could start to query, since at this time, I still held hopes of seeing my book in Barnes and Noble or some other brick-and-mortar store. To be honest, it was the most praise I had ever received for my writing and, I was ebullient with glee that someone loved my writing. I sat down to read the notes in the manuscript as it went along, and she loved the jokes, she got the sexy parts, and she was generally loving it all. Then we got to where I mention that Lana is autistic, and there was literally one line in my editor’s comments that sunk my heart and made me angry at the same time. “Oh no babe that’s way too much.” She was talking about my character being autistic, which I also am.

Too much. Being biracial was fine, being bisexual was racy but fine, but being neurodivergent, that was just too much. Why? I am all of those things, and I exist. I assume there are other people in the world who fall into these categories, so why was my character being exactly like me too much? The short answer is because the neurotypical world assumes that autistic means sitting non-verbal in a corner, rocking, and not having a life. I mean, do I enjoy rocking sometimes to soothe myself, yes. Do I have meltdowns in super stressful situations? Yes. Do I stim when I am trying to focus myself? My torn-out eyebrows, and ragged cuticles would say a firm yes. I also have a marriage, have held many jobs, and can be very outgoing in social situations where I feel safe. Autism is not a monolith, and my own experience with it, being undiagnosed most of my life, has led me to be a super masker when called for it. We exist, and we deserve to tell our stories too.

Well, I took it out. I caved because the idea of being published was, I thought, worth it. I rewrote the character to just be kind of neurotic and different, but without the autism, it felt flat to me. I felt like I lost the most interesting and important part of her character and how her friends—both real and the ones who were more fake—treated her. When her nonbinary bestie gets her ready to go into a crowded subway station, putting headphones on her, sunglasses, and their arm around her to shield her from the people and noises, that moment was so poignant for me, because my husband does the same thing. Taking out her autism took out the importance of that relationship and how some of her friends understood her needs and others ignored or outright made fun of her. How we neurodivergent people will put up with our friends not understanding us, how we will mask behaviours in order to not make neurotypicals feel uncomfortable. These are things I don’t think NTs understand, and I wanted to write a book that showed, hey, I can be all these things and still a valuable member of society.

Long story short, after doing a query course, and the woman running it was so fixated on how the title would never sell in traditional publishing, I decided that I was tired of jumping through hoops and pretending to be less than I am because an industry run by mostly white, cis, neurotypical people think diverse means white-centered stories with a few diverse people shoehorned in, is actually what Own Voices means.

I am putting back in all the autism and the diversity, and I am keeping the title. Never hide your candle under a bucket, let it shine bright because out in the world right now is a reader who hears that they are too much and they would really appreciate reading that they are perfect just the way they are. Let your writing shine with your own stories and never let anyone tell you, you are too much. You are all just right.


Headshot: Christina Robins

Christina Robins lives in Yellowknife, NWT, in the sub-arctic with her chef husband and five rescue cats. Her writing is about women who don’t always follow the rules society has set out. Christina wants her writing to encourage conversations about love, life, and how women survive in a world that bases their self-worth on whether they have a partner or kids, or if they fit into the narrow definition of what it means to be a woman. She is a champion of LGBTQA2S rights and Black Lives Matter movements, and believes in reconciliation for the Indigenous population and the Land Back movement. She has been a practicing witch and a tarot card reader for over 25 years. Her novella, Entanglements, has just been released and is now available on Amazon.

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