What is “New Adult”?

she_doesn_t_like_me__does_she__by_wind_princess-d5wi6dy

Last weekend, while at the PNWA writers’ conference in Seattle (which I highly recommend), I inadvertently found myself at the heart of a pretty fascinating debate. Namely, what exactly is “new adult” literature? What started off as an innocent question by an attendee quickly turned into a point of keen interest for industry professionals and writers alike.

And little old me was one-half of the inciting incident. Oops.

But while the conversations that arose from the kerfuffle were accidental, they were a great way to discuss something that is still rather tenuously defined. New Adult has been a largely confusing label for a while now — is it a genre, or a marketing category? Is it a legit thing, or was it a passing trend that’s already died? No one seems to know, and the answers will vary drastically, even among industry pros.

The History

Originally coined as a marketing category by St. Martin’s Press in 2009, the idea behind New Adult has always been that of any literature category: connect readers with the type of books that resonate with them. So why all the confusion? Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

Well, the confusion seems to have stemmed from both a lack of bookseller and sales support (stuck somewhere between YA and adult literature, booksellers weren’t quite sure what to do with NA titles and readers weren’t aware of them) and a surge of genre-specific entries spawned in part by one very infamous title. So, while traditional publishing tried to figure out what to do with NA, and whether or not there truly was a need for it, independent/self-published writers (particularly romance writers) adopted it wholeheartedly.

From there, it sort of became synonymous with steamy, college-aged contemporary romance, to the point that it started to be known as a romance sub-genre rather than a market category. Now, I believe the reason this happened is entirely because of sales. Romance readers are voracious (seriously, there’s a reason this is one of the best-selling forms of literature out there), and indie publishing moves at light speed when compared to traditional methods. So not only was there suddenly a flood of titles in this specific genre, but the sales figures were there to support it. Making it seem like a viable sub-sect of romance, and not much else.

The Present

Which brings us to today, where you’ll hear people say that NA is “contemporary romance only,” and then turn around to hear people like me say that NA is a market category and does in fact exist in speculative fiction too. (This is the heart of the kerfuffle I referenced above, by the way.)

But where does that leave querying authors? If the industry itself can’t decide whether or not NA is a thing, what are you guys supposed to do? Well, I may have stumbled on the answer. But before I elaborate on the conclusion I came to over the course of the weekend, let me talk about NA as a market category in general. Because trust me, it is still very much a thing — in certain circles.

As you all likely know by now, I work for REUTS Publications, a boutique publisher specializing in YA and — you guessed it — NA fiction. And all three of our current top-sellers are NA spec-fic. So we’re fairly confident in our stance that NA is still a marketing category and that there is a readership out there for non-romance NA.

Part of the reason we feel that way is because REUTS, and many other small/independent publishers, have heard readers ask for it. We’ve heard people complain about the lack of non-romance NA, heard them wish for books that contain characters more like them: people who are crossing into that post-adolescence stage of life and want to see their struggles reflected in the fiction they read.

There is an entire sect of readers who are more or less aging out of YA, but feel left adrift in adult. Too old for the high school shenanigans and angst of YA, but too young to identify with the 40+ mature characters often found in adult (and speculative fiction especially), this is a category of readers with nothing to read. And more importantly, they’re a group who grew up loving books and who are used to having an entire section of bookstores and libraries cater to them. Are you really going to tell me that those people aren’t prime material for a category like NA?

The Definition

So now that we’ve established the backstory of the debate, let’s answer the original question. What the heck is “new adult” literature?

REUTS defines it as a marketing category targeting readers aged 18-25 (I’ve seen it go as high as 30, but that’s really just adult at that point, don’t you think?). It can be any genre, but much like YA, it has to revolve around themes which resonate with early twenty-something readers. This includes things like leaving home for the first time, discovering/exploring sexuality, establishing a career, forming serious relationships, having children, and otherwise transitioning from being an adolescent to an adult.

You’ll notice that some of those themes are also covered by YA, but the difference between the two is that YA is very insular. It focuses on the internal growth of a character coming into their own identity and independence. NA is external; it’s about that character finding where they fit in the larger world. Their sense of identity is a little more fully formed, and now they’re stepping out into the world to make their stamp on it. So yes, the two categories are very similar, but they’re also different enough that readers yearn for the added maturity NA brings to the table.

This maturity also translates to the writing styles seen in YA and NA. YA features simplistic, to-the-point narration, with mature content being carefully administered as necessary. (Mature content = sex, swearing, etc.) NA takes the character-driven narration of YA and layers the more sophisticated, sometimes wandering sentence structure of adult over the top. Swearing is fine, sex is definitely present and often very explicit, and the prose just has a more mature feel than its YA counterpart, which, again, points back to this idea of NA being a bridge for readers graduating from the ranks of YA and moving into those of adulthood.

But that’s not the definition many in the industry will tell you. Which brings us full circle to the conclusion I came to — NA is largely a small press, indie-publishing thing.

So, Now What?

The consensus from agents is that the Big 5 presses have more or less given up on NA being a lucrative category, with the exception of contemporary romance. But NA is doing well, and even sort of thriving in the ecosystem of small press, indie-publishing. There is a readership demanding these kinds of books, and authors can find homes for them. But, as with all things publishing, it comes back to understanding the industry and which of the many publication paths is best for your particular project.

If you’re targeting agents with something other than contemporary romance, don’t mention “new adult,” unless they specifically say they represent that in other genres. If you’re targeting small presses or self-publishing, slap that NA tag on your work. It won’t be a deterrent. But understand the difference. Publishing really is an ecosystem. There are many layers, many ways to find publication. Figure out which is the right fit for you, and adjust your approach accordingly. And who knows, maybe NA will eventually become a bookstore staple. After all, I remember the days before YA was a legitimate thing too.😉

 

Featured From the Archives: Elitism in the Arts

This week, I’m preparing for a presentation I’ll be giving with the brilliant Cait Spivey at the upcoming PNWA Writers’ conference in Seattle (and again at the Willamette Writers Conference two weeks later). I’ll post about it here after we’re done, as it covers a topic I think many of you will find useful, so if you can’t come see us do the talk in person, don’t worry. We’ll find a way to bring the talk to you.😉

But as my non-fiction creative juices are currently tied up with those efforts, I unfortunately didn’t have time to create something new for the blog. Instead, I’ve opted to dredge something up from the archives that I believe still resonates (maybe even more fiercely) with today’s tumultuous world of publishing. And given that we’re heading into one of the heaviest periods of Twitter pitch parties and literary awards/contests, I thought it might be a good reminder to everyone preparing to brave those waters, as well as those of us bearing the responsibility of authority.

Elitism in the Arts

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 3/28/14

No-one-can-make-you-feel-inferior-without-your-consent-Eleanor-Roosevelt-1024x946

This is a post I’ve dreaded writing, because in order to do so, I have to relive some painful memories. But I feel like this is a message that needs to be said. And so, though it comes from a negative part of my life, I’ll try my best to keep it positive. First, some raw honesty:

Throughout my creative journey, I’ve tried many different branches. And I’ve felt like an outsider every time. The writing community has been welcoming, but recently, I realized that the literary one is a completely different beast, and that I will once again be facing down the enemy of being different. This isn’t a battle that’s new to me, though. In art, I was ostracized for being too commercial. In the Martial Arts, I wasn’t traditional enough. And in writing, I’m not literary, coming from a film background rather than one in English. But, you see, the problem isn’t me. Those are all things I’ve been told, things that have created scars I’ll never fully erase. They’re not the product of a lack of ability, or talent. No, they’re the product of a phenomenon that should never exist — elitism.

People hold the arts up as this ideal place for individuality, where you’ll be free to express yourself without fear of judgement and prejudice. But those people are wrong. Rooted in subjectivity, the arts are actually worse than other industries. Instead of embracing the different, the weird, the innovative, they shun it, viciously tearing down anyone who dares to try something new, or becomes too popular. And who can blame them? People who do things differently risk the status quo. And we can’t have that. (Even though that’s the motto flying on our brilliantly-colored flag of creativity.)

Humans are pack animals, no matter what we’re led to believe. And nowhere do you see that penchant for cliques more prominent than in the arts.

I came face to face with it for the first time in college. (Now, you should know that I went to college at the ripe age of 16, so I was still highly impressionable.) There I was, testing my wings for the first time in what I thought was a safe environment to do so. College is all about experimenting, right? Finding one’s self, and blah blah blah. Well, I had the good fortune to find a college professor whose close-minded bullying nearly had me hanging up my pencils for good.

I don’t know the story behind what was happening in that woman’s life, but that also shouldn’t matter. She was an educator, someone entrusted to help mold the minds of our youth. And she abused that power. I was stuck with her for three classes that semester — color theory, figure drawing, and beginning painting. Things started off great. I’d never been exposed to formal art classes, so I was a sponge, putting my best into every assignment. (I’m also a perfectionist with a compulsive need to get A’s, so you can connect the dots on my level of participation.) She seemed to like me, and I did well in all three classes. Until one day, about halfway through the semester, when she asked me the fated question I would learn never to answer honestly — what kind of artist do you want to be? Stupid me, I told her the truth:

“I want to be an animator,” I said, not realizing that word was akin to the most vulgar thing in the dictionary.

She looked like I’d spat in her drink. She backed away from me, a completely disgusted look on her face, mumbled something snide and walked away. After that, my grades plummeted, she wouldn’t call on me during class, and it was like I didn’t exist. But the kicker was the final project for the painting class. The assignment was to create an abstract painting that had no clear top or bottom. I’d never done abstract before, but I did my best, following the assignment to the letter.

Like all teenagers, I was battling some emotional instability, so I tried to capture that turmoil in paint. Doesn’t get more “tortured artist” than that, right? Well, when it came time for the final critique, this woman took my painting to the front of the class, turned it on its side and said, “Oh my God, where’s Bambi?” (Yes, that’s a direct quote.) I’ve never seen a room full of young people so silent. I swear, they all stopped breathing, staring at me with wide eyes as this teacher continued to ridicule me in front of them all, informing me I had failed because clearly, I had portrayed a forest fire.

I left that class in tears, dropped out of school and gave up on art for the next five years. All because I’d made the mistake of uttering the “A” word.

That’s not the only time I’ve run into that kind of elitist attitude either. Over the years, I’ve been accused of plagiarism (because I happened to write a sci-fi story that featured a weapon mildly resembling a light saber), told I wasn’t good enough to amount to anything, and been patronized because I don’t do things by the majority norm. And I know I’m not alone. These kinds of experiences are par for the course in the arts.

You want to be a singer? Too bad, you suck.

You want to paint? Well, you’re not Van Gogh, so you may as well give up.

You want to be published? Every door will be slammed in your face.

Overcoming adversity is the very definition of being an artist. But it doesn’t have to be that way. So what if someone wants to play the violin with their toes. Or paints murals on street signs. Or writes something a little rough around the edges. It doesn’t make them any less of an artist. The different creative communities claim to be so welcoming and open-minded, but instead, offer only elitism and rejection. If you’re not the alpha of the pack, then you’re the scapegoat. Or worse, lost somewhere in the middle, amongst a sea of sheep.

What’s the point to all this? Simple — don’t let yourself fall prey to elitism. Words have power, whether they be said in jest or seriousness. And that power lasts. To those of us in a position of authority (agents, editors, publishers, teachers, etc.) I implore you to think about what your rejections do to the people who receive them. So it wasn’t your cup of tea. That’s fine, but be nice about it. There must be something good you can give them, some piece of encouragement and/or advice. There’s no reason to get up on a high horse and strip them of their dignity. It’s our job to be the mentors, to help people achieve their creative dreams. Falling into the pack mentality is easy to do, but if we all try a little harder to remember our humanity, and not our need to feel important, we can eliminate experiences like those I went through.

And for those of you who have suffered, or are suffering, under the sword of elitism, keep your head up. Just because one person says you can’t, does not mean you can’t. It took me a long time to get over what that painting teacher said, and I would have destroyed the piece if my mom hadn’t saved it. But I’m glad she did, because I no longer see the emotional turmoil it represented. I see a fire-breathing dragon. It’s a reminder of what I’ve overcome, and that it’s okay to fight for your dreams. So remember, as the great Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” We all have a choice. We can become victims, or we can become dragons. I chose to be a dragon, to fight back against elitism and approach my creativity with strength and resolution. Which will you be?

 

Abstract Painting

Untitled

by Kisa Whipkey

Copyright: 2000
All Rights Reserved

 

Editorial Myth-busting: Four Common Misconceptions About the Editing Process

This is a topic that’s been brewing in the back of my mind for a while, as evidenced by the precursor posts earlier this year (Publishing: The Industry of Disappointment and Editors . . . are People?). There are so many myths and misconceptions, so many horror stories out there regarding the author-editor relationship, that it’s no wonder debut authors approach the editing process with a strange blend of hope, fear, dread, and resignation. Editing gets lumped into the same category as going to the dentist or getting the oil changed in your car. It’s not fun, but you know you have to do it. And that’s unfortunate. Because, as Drew Hayes pointed out in his article, the author-editor relationship really should be a mutually beneficial collaboration.

But, as with most things in publishing, that fact often gets obscured by the divide in perception between what the process looks/feels like for the author and what it’s like for the editor. So let’s do some myth-busting, yes? Everyone loves myth-busting. Especially when there are GIFs involved.

Myth #1: An editor’s only job is to find errors in your work.

Perception: wrong

Reality: thoughtful

It’s easy to see how this myth began, since a large portion of editing does revolve around the finding and fixing of “errors.” But that’s far from the only thing an editor does. According to the many horror stories out there, editors are judgmental, cruel beings whose only mission in life is to lord over the ranks of poor, pitiful writer-souls the way Ursula does her garden of victims in The Little Mermaid. We badger, and bully, and shred a writer’s precious work until there’s virtually nothing left, laughing as we drag the carcass of words through the Meadow of Publication and deposit its ravaged husk into the arms of readers everywhere.

Now, I’m obviously being just a tad facetious with the hyperbole, but I’ve actually heard people say this myth out loud. A lot. And I suppose, to an extent, it’s true. We are paid to find and repair problems. But the reason has less to do with sadistic pleasure at proving others wrong and more to do with the fact that we’re an objective set of expert eyes. The reason authors need editors is because they’re too close to their own work. They know what they meant to say, how the story is supposed to go, what the scenes are meant to capture. An editor is a new perspective outside of the writer’s head. They’re your first chance to see the way readers are going to react, and they’re your last chance to fix things that would otherwise earn you the dreaded one-star Amazon review.

So while the myth would have us gleefully giggling as we circle every misplaced comma and typo, the reality is that we’re more like a safety net. It’s our job to help protect authors from reader backlash. Finding errors is only one aspect of doing just that.

Myth #2: Editors are the gatekeepers standing between you and publication.

Perception: Ghostbuter Dog

Reality:Teamwork

Ah, yes. This is one of the many myths that led to my earlier articles about the humans behind publishing’s massive facade of mystery. Querying authors tend to assume that agents and acquisitions editors are solely there to be in the way. That, much like that dog-thing from Ghostbusters pictured above, we’re mindless drones serving our masters by keeping perfectly qualified, brilliant literature from making it through the gates.

Now, this myth might hold a tiny shred of truth in it (acquisitions editors and agents do filter submissions for marketability), but it’s often perpetuated by authors who’ve acquired a plethora of rejection letters, and who refuse to face the fact that their book-baby might not actually be ready for publication after all.

The reality behind acquisitions is that agents and editors are looking for business partners. Publishing is a team endeavor, and it requires a lot more than simply being able to spin a good tale. So yes, we are gatekeepers in the sense that we have to be highly selective about who we end up recruiting onto our team (remember, publishing is a business, and what do businesses want? Money!), but we’re not gatekeepers in the sense that our only reason to exist is to guard the hallowed halls of publishing from an influx of mortals. Usually, if your book isn’t receiving offers, it means it either isn’t ready yet, you’re querying the wrong agents/editors, or it just might be better suited for a different publication avenue. (I’ll talk about those more in a different, future article.)

Myth #3: Editors make tons of money, so why the hell are they so expensive?

Perception:rich

Reality:broke

This one mostly refers to the world of freelance editing, since traditional publication paths don’t require the author to pay for editing out of their own pocket. (Giant red flag if you’re ever offered a “traditional” publishing contract which does ask this of you, by the way.) It’s also a topic I’ve covered before, and which the lovely Cait Spivey provided a guest post on.

The long and short of it is that editors really don’t make that much money. What seems like a hefty chunk of change to the author having to pay it, really equates to the oft-touted ramen diet favored by other starving artist types. In editing, dollars earned divided by time spent often equals less than some people flip burgers for. Which is why most editors edit because they love it, not because it rakes in bucket-loads of green.

Which brings us to our last myth — a misconception very closely tied to the reason editors walk hand-in-hand with authors in the “I’m Broke as F*&%” parade.

Myth #4: I can read my novel in less than a week, cover to cover; why does it take an editor weeks or months to edit it?

Perception:Spacecat

Reality:

Interesting

This is my least favorite myth to run up against as an editor, either freelance or otherwise, because it instantly shows me how little the person saying it knows about the actual editing process. Editors are, in fact, some of the fastest readers I know, because we’re buried under a mountain of manuscripts that would rival Mount Everest if they weren’t largely digital. But editing does not live in the same sphere as reading. It doesn’t. I don’t care who you are, if you believe that, you’re wrong. Very, very wrong. Editing is much like writing, if it must be compared to anything. And let me ask you, oh ye authors of the interwebs, how long did it take you to actually write your manuscript? I don’t mean the act of putting words on paper or screen, but the time it took from concept inception to the “polished” draft you’re handing your editor. If you say less than 3-4 months, minimum, you’re about as believable as that cat hurtling through space at warp speed.

The fact of the matter is that editing takes time. A lot of it. It’s not just a matter of reading an author’s words. You have to digest them. There’s a lot of analyzing, of listening and interpreting intent from reality, of diagnosing and curing storytelling diseases of all varieties, as well as the expected suggestions for proper grammar. Good editors will expend an impressive amount of mental energy crafting suggestions that can be as small as a single word, because that single word has to a) conform to the accepted rules of English, b) fit with the author and character’s established voice/style, and c) somehow solve/improve upon whatever was wonky in the first place. That’s a lot of pressure on a single word, huh? And editors do that for an entire manuscript! So you can see why it would take a significant amount of mental gymnastics to complete even a single editorial review, let alone the three rounds (developmental, line/copy, proofreading) that most manuscripts go through prior to publication.

So yes, it is possible to read something cover-to-cover in a few days to a week. But it is not possible to edit the thing in that time frame. It’s just not. Asking your editor to do so is inhumane, because it will inevitably require them to give up massive amounts of sleep, drink enough caffeine to make them twitchy as a squirrel in autumn, and otherwise shackle themselves to their desk until they collapse from sheer exhaustion. Trust me, I’ve had far too much experience with that particular scenario. It’s far better to realize that editing is a time-consuming process for everyone involved and plan accordingly.

Which brings us to the end of today’s post. These are four of the more common myths I’ve heard, but tell me, what are some other editing myths out there? If there are a lot more, perhaps this myth-busting business will become a regular feature.😉

 

Featured From the Archives: Which Comes First, Character or Plot?

Sadly, my good intentions for returning to my more prolific blogging days got derailed by what can only be described as a deluge of other obligations, both personal and work-related. But that’s not a trend I wish to continue, and I will be striving to find more time to create the snark-tinged articles you’ve all grown to know and (I hope) love. In the meantime, I present one of the last remaining archive-articles that hasn’t already resurfaced at least once. Enjoy!

Which Comes First, Character or Plot?

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 6/21/16

This is the literary equivalent of the chicken and egg scenario. Plot needs character in order for it to resonate emotionally with readers, and character without plot is really just someone standing around doing nothing. But which comes first?

There are writers in both camps who insist one or the other is the penultimate starting point for a story. But I disagree with all of them. I don’t think there is any one way to start. I firmly believe that every writer is different and will create in a way that’s unique to them. To try and constrain that creative process to a strict set of rules is futile, in my opinion. All it does is force writers who don’t naturally work that way to feel frustrated and inferior when their work fizzles and dies. Muses are fickle creatures, and prone to abandoning you when you try to force them into a rigid box. So instead of telling you that you absolutely must start with character, or plot, or even idea, I’m going to encourage you to experiment and find your own style.

But first, let’s take a look at the three different starting points, shall we? It’s hard to make an informed decision without all the facts, after all.

Character-Centric

Character-centric writers always start with a character. (You’ll see this approach a lot in fan fiction, where the only creative outlet left to the writer is character creation.) They create every last detail, from name all the way to their relationship with their great aunt Matilda’s cat who got ran over when they were four. These writers know their characters inside and out, to the point that you almost start to wonder if they’re creating a character for a novel or an imaginary best friend. Armed with pages and pages of character sheets, these writers have everything they need to get started — except a story.

Even though they’ve spent days, weeks, or months learning every minute detail of this fictitious person, they don’t have a story yet. No one wants to read those pages and pages of character notes, because they’re about as exciting as a clinical psych report to anyone but the author. You could have the coolest character in the world, but no one’s going to care unless you give them something to do. Which is why, oftentimes, you’ll notice character-centric authors struggle with plot. Since their focal point is the character, they simply don’t know how to create something interesting to fit them into, often resulting in a storyline that feels pointless, ambling around and around with no direction.

But, to their credit, character-centric authors school the rest of us when it comes to creating fully fleshed-out, believable characters. They just have to work a little harder in the plot department is all.

Plot-Centric

On the flip side of that coin is the plot-centric writer. These people start with a plot. They create every twist and turn, every multilayered goal and mini-quest in a road map of storytelling awesomeness. They know exactly how the story starts and ends, and everything in between, before they even put a word on paper. But the thing they don’t know? Their characters.

Characters are pawns to these writers, often showing up in outlines with nothing more than a placeholder name. The ins and outs of personality aren’t important unless they drive the plot. And often, that becomes a problematic downfall. Dull, cookie-cutter, two-dimensional characters are a hazard, a quagmire that too many plot-centric writers fall into. Just like the lack of plotting abilities in a character-centric story, the lack of rich characterization in a plot-centric work can destroy an otherwise amazing book.

Plot-centric writers have to pay extra attention to character development if they want any chance at resonating with readers emotionally. Plot only holds a reader’s interest so long; it’s the characters we really remember after we reach “The End.”

Idea-Centric

Outside of the character vs. plot debate is a third camp of writers — the idea-centric crowd. We (because this is the approach I use) are content to let the character and plot people duke it out over which element is more important because we go at it in a completely different way. The idea-centric writers don’t start with a character or a plot arc, they start with an idea, a concept. This can be a question — E. L. James has said she started with the question, “What would happen if you were attracted to somebody who was into the BDSM lifestyle, when you weren’t?” for her mega-hit 50 Shades of Grey. It can also be a point of inspiration — Marie Lu’s Legend series started with her curiosity over how the central relationship between Jean Valjean (a famous criminal) and Javier (a prodigious detective) in Les Miserable would translate into a more modern tale. It can even be a deeper message —The Hunger Games is actually a statement against the voyeuristic tendencies of American Television according to author Suzanne Collins.

When done well, the idea-centric approach combines the best of the other two, creating an extremely rich experience readers tend to remember long after they finish the book. But the key there is “when done well.” Idea-centric writers have to be careful that they don’t start to sound preachy, especially those with a message to impart. Character and plot can both suffer if the focus is too heavily placed on the root idea, resulting in an even bigger trainwreck than either of the two previous approaches. So while this is the method I use, I’m definitely not saying it’s perfect.

There are many people who will try to tell you their method is best. I’m not one of them. You find characters the most appealing part of a story? Go for it! Be character-centric. Just keep a watchful eye on your plot. You think plot is the all-important end-all? Great! Plot-centric it is. Have fun guiding us through your labyrinth of action. Just make sure you don’t forget about your characters along the way. And if, like me, you find plot bunnies lurking in the weirdest of places, go with it! Some of the strongest works on the market started that way. Just make sure you rein in your high horse before you reach preachy-ville.

Regardless which of the three starting points you choose, there will be things to watch out for. Each has its strength, and each has its weakness. But knowing the pitfalls ahead of time lets you avoid them before they ruin your masterpiece. The point is, there really is no right or wrong method, no matter what random people on the internet say. If it works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, look for something else that does. That’s really all there is to it.

As for our chicken and egg conundrum, you tell me — which comes first? Character, plot, or idea?

Creativity and the Fear of Offense

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST IS LIKELY TO OFFEND AND CONTAINS UNPOPULAR OPINIONS. READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.

Social Media. Everyone knows it; everyone uses it. It’s a place to connect, to feel supported by like-minded individuals, to stand up for one’s beliefs. And lately, it has become toxic. Activism comes in many forms, and is a basic human right, but there comes a point when I feel it starts to do more harm than good.

Does the world need to change? Absolutely. Should people fight to be heard? Yes. But when that fight goes from being advocacy for a better world to mob mentality with a hair trigger, we’ve gone from progress to living in fear — the fear of offending.

This is exactly what’s happened to the online writing communities over the past few years. There’s a movement within publishing which advocates for more inclusive literature. And it’s a movement I actually agree with, before anyone tries to twist what I’m saying and claim otherwise. Everyone should have books, characters, stories they can see themselves in. But the problem is that the fight for that inclusive diversity has started to poison the very cause it seeks to spotlight.

Agents and editors are now looking for books which include diversity, yes, but in their attempt to listen to the calls of the community, we’ve turned diversity into a selling point, a box to be checked. The marginalized groups fighting to be heard are not token elements to be thrown into a story simply to increase its chances of acceptance. That’s not how this works. My personal belief is that diversity should just be, the way it is in real life (though I’m well aware that the fight for equality in real life is far from over, and yes, fiction should do better than reality in that regard). Those characters and elements should be treated first and foremost as people, not whatever race/religion/sexuality/disability they might possess. And — here comes a highly unpopular opinion; brace yourselves — I don’t believe that every story needs to feature these things. Forcing a story to be inclusive when, by its nature, it doesn’t want to be, is actually a disservice to the marginalized voices you’re trying to represent.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that we should go back to the way publishing used to be. No, what I’m saying is that writers who are distinctly unqualified to write about something outside their own personal experience should STOP DOING SO. There’s an undercurrent in the queries I’m seeing, in the whispered opinions no one is brave enough to voice in public, that writers feel they must chase diversity in order to be published. No. That’s absolutely not true. And I’m sorry, but unless you have the personal life experience to pour into your work, you’ll never accurately portray the reality of whatever marginalized group you’re trying to represent. I don’t care how much research you do, or how many sensitivity readers you have, you cannot do them justice if you do not belong to said group. So move aside, let the writers who can tell those stories tell them and tell them well.

These are opinions I’ve held for awhile now, but have never really made public. Why? Well, did you notice what I did there? I put disclaimers and explanations and the equivalent of written cowering in those last few paragraphs. Because I’m a cis, heterosexual white woman, and therefore what right do I have to say any of this? And this, my friends, is exactly what I’m talking about. This is the subversive toxicity that’s permeating all forms of social media. I haven’t said these things because I’ve been afraid of the torches and pitchforks that will likely follow.

But writing is about expression. Creativity is supposed to be free, to represent a piece of the person’s soul. It’s not supposed to be muzzled with the fear of offending the mob, stifled by the terror of being torn to shreds if you make the wrong move. And yet, that’s exactly what’s happened to my own creativity. It’s the reason this blog has fallen semi-dormant; it’s the reason I’m not writing anymore. And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. I am afraid. I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing, of unintentionally causing someone pain, of having my life torn apart by the bloodthirsty mob for a single misstep, even one I’d gladly apologize for and learn from. So instead, I hide. I let the fear stifle my creativity until it’s nearly gone completely. Because the toxic environment that has become the online writing community tells me my voice isn’t worthy. My opinions are wrong. I don’t matter.

Again, to be clear, I’m not saying that problematic opinions and stories should not be called out. What I’m saying is that we’ve gone past the point where we’re educating the ignorant, where we’re moving forward, where we’re making the world a better place. Instead, we’re inciting fear; we’re terrorizing those who make mistakes instead of helping them do better, be better. We’ve taken our supportive little community and turned it into a piranha-filled cesspool where only the arrogant, the prejudiced, the assholes feel safe, because they simply don’t care.

Is that really what we want, though? In fighting to be heard, do you, Activist Authors of the World, really want to push away the people who are willing to listen, to correct their ways and be respectful? Do you really want to make them feel so crippled with fear that they stop creating anything at all? To me, that seems like the exact opposite of the intent behind the fight for equality in literature. Perhaps, instead of a social media feed that’s constantly filled with anger, and hate, and vitriol, we should try not being dramatically offended by every little thing. We should try approaching the conversation civilly, without the shaming, the threats, the destruction. We should realize that, in a world where someone will always be offended by something, no writer can ever be 100% perfect; that no one can ever avoid all the possible land mines out there and still sound like a person. Maybe, just maybe, we cut each other some slack and punish only those who truly aren’t willing to grow. But then, what do I know? I’m not one of the marginalized, so I’m not important, right?