I'd really like to be able to initiate a discussion about the thing I wrote about the other day
--how language about inclusion can either support or undermine inclusiveness--but there's no actual venue for doing that now. Either you have a widely-read blog, or you talk to five people. The problem with usenet was, of course, that if I started such a thread, on, say, rec.arts.composition, within two days some person would be saying that what I really wanted to do was Regulate Language and Institutionalize Literature and, of course, Execute Kulaks (I am not kidding. I once said that I approved of better traffic planning and it was not long before a particular person who many remember as "the reasonable, polite, and humane conservative" was drawing a connection between the statement and Stalin's actions in the Ukraine, not at all subtly accusing me of complicity in the latter by my support of the former). Which is why we've become atomized.
I could say something on an open thread at Making Light, but the format for comments is only amenable to short notes. And I think a comment to the extent of "Some of these publications have really murky and unwelcoming language which I thnk undermines their expressed determination to bring underrepresented writers into the fold" is really not enough.These ideas need more room for developing. So, here I am, hoping that someone with a wider-read blog will become interested in the subject and bring it up, so that we can all talk about it.
The example I brought up the other day was not the worst. There's one out there which is so specific in its demands, and yet so long-winded, that I gave up before I had read the whole thing. Many guidelines are simply too long, which dilutes their message. Others include in-jokes or unlinked references to possibly famous pieces of critique. Excessively specific peeves and favorites are not as helpful as the editors think they are.
I do have some positive suggestions. It would be nice if I had any way of talking to the editorial world in general, because I'm certainly not going to copy this and send it off to all the editors who inspired this. I'm not out to pick a fight, I just want to have a better time submitting things.
Here are the things I've been thinking about, which I think would make things better:One:
write short guidelines. You do not need to write out a detailed and descriptive list of every trope you don't like very much if you're going to write over and over again that you could be persuaded by the right story, You could list maybe three things you really don't want to see, and three things that are "hard sells," but don't go on and on about them. The reason is not that writers don't want to know whether you want to see the kind of story they write: it's that all of that stuff runs together when there's too much of it and they end up confused. Just like it does in fiction, see?Two:
if you want to include your critical or political jargon to send a message about the tone and aspirations of your work, don't assume that everybody knows it as well as you do. You don't have to be condescending in defining the terms, just scaffold
them (that is, embed the definitions in the text).Three:
when you post your formatting demands, try to make them possible. One venue out there demands that the writer use style sheets, which I don't think very many writers know how to use. Yes, Word does them. But most writers only use them passively by way of the automatic scripts that Word employs by default. Writers who use other word processing programs may not be able to use them passively like that. Along that line: don't demand docx. Not everybody can give it to you. Accept doc or rtf files too, and you're golden.
Other publications which have been accepting (sometimes only) electronic submissions still talk about the manuscript format as if it were on paper. This can be frustrating as the writer tries to figure out how to translate your directions into what's going to happen in the text file.
That's the most important part. On thew tone front, some of these guidelines sound like the person who wrote them hates writers and also like they hate other publications in the genre. That's a little daunting. When you've got an idea for a theme you think is underrepresented, why not just say "We can never get enough of this" or "We want to see more of this" or "This is what moves us," along that line, instead of saying it's never been done before
, or never been done well before?
Because you're most probably wrong on that front. When you talk about what you do and don't want to see, try not to make it sound like you have only seen two good stories ever.
Anyway, that's what I would be saying to the SF community in general, if I had a way of addressing the community in general. I'd want to talk about how the writers most vulnerable to the discouraging effects of these things are the writers that we've lately been talking about wanting to recruit in larger numbers, and I'd want to say that my suggestions are not difficult to implement.