Nalo Hopkinson has an awesome and helpful piece up today on her website on how anthology editors can go about creating cohesive, thematically powerful collections that don’t just contain the same old voices all the time. All of her essay is good; go read the whole thing. I’ll wait.
Done? Okay. This part, especially, resonated with me:
So: The minute you start talking about bringing diversity to an anthology, you’ll be besieged by stentorian voices damning the effort, claiming that it’s going to negatively affect the quality of the work. It’s bullshit, tantamount to saying that the only good writing comes from non-marginalized writers. Gathering a wide range of voices, styles, aesthetics, experiences and perspectives in an anthology is a recipe for a good anthology, not a bad one.
But here’s where those voices have a point: if you run around trying to fill in diversity slots for your anthology – you know, the “one of each so long as there aren’t too many of them” approach – you will more likely than not end up with a dog’s breakfast of a volume in which it’s clear that you selected writers for their optics, not their writing. That’s tokenism, not sound editorial practice. The time to be trying to make your anthology a diverse one is before submissions come in, not during or after.
And here’s my contribution to what she’s saying: also, we writers notice when you’re doing it wrong.
Here’s how it usually goes for me. I’ve reached the point in my career where I get solicited for a lot of anthologies; I rarely submit through slushpiles anymore. This is a nice place to be in, right? It’s what a lot of aspiring writers say they want. It’s what I used to say I wanted. But when, usually near the end of a publishing quarter, I get a bunch of solicitations from anthology editors I’ve never heard of, for projects that haven’t been advertised and which don’t have much to do with anything I write, I start to get… suspicious. So at this point I usually ask the editors what the rest of the Table of Contents looks like. What’s especially telling is if they’ve already got a complete ToC. That immediately warns me that I’m an afterthought on a nearly-finished project; not so flattering, anymore, is it? Still, I’ll duly check out the ToC, and do my usual count for women and people of color. I’ll also look into the editor’s track record to see what their past anthologies look like. (I do take into account improvement over time.) That’s generally when other unfortunate implications and patterns start to become clear… and then I say no.* Usually I’ll tell them why, too, mostly because I don’t care if I never hear from those particular editors again. I don’t see that as a great loss to my career.
‘Cause it’s not just about getting published. I’m not desperate, and I’ve worked too hard to just throw my work at any old wall to see where it sticks. A sustainable writing career is about positioning, too, and making sure that my work gets shown in the best possible way. A good anthology gets put together with a certain flow, in ways that allow each story to bolster the ones around it. Anthologies that solicit my work only because I’m a woman of color? Aren’t going to be good anthologies, don’t have good editors, and they aren’t going to help me. They could actually hurt me, in fact. And choosing to participate in anthologies like that, when I can see the problematic reasoning behind the invitations from a mile away, means acknowledging that reasoning as legitimate. Accepting would mean I don’t see work by myself or other marginalized writers as worthy of publication, except as token spice atop a dog’s breakfast. (…Ew. Thanks for that imagery, Nalo.) Accepting would mean accepting the notion that I (and other marginalized writers) am solely responsible for fixing the broken aspects of this industry, and that the only value I offer to SFFdom is the mere fact of my existence. No, no, and no. I came here to chew bubblegum and kick literary ass, and I hate bubble gum. Respect that — please — or don’t bother me.
So, shorter: what Nalo said. Anthology editors, if you really don’t understand why reading a diverse range of authors for your anthology is a good idea, don’t try to fake it. Don’t try to do it anyway just to avoid controversy. Do some reading — starting with her essay — have difficult conversations with your friends, push the boundaries of your comfort zones, do whatever you have to do to get it. Then? Then we can talk.
* This is apart from the fact that I’m usually up to my neck in some novel or another, and don’t have much time to write shorts anymore.