Monthly Archives: March 2021

BWS 10.03.21 report: “The Business of Publishing and Inclusion” with Jen Sookfong Lee

Jen Sookfong Lee was born and raised in Vancouver’s East Side, and she now lives with her son in North Burnaby. Her books include The Conjoined, nominated for International Dublin Literary Award and a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction PrizeThe Better Mother, a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book AwardThe End of EastGentlemen of the ShadeThe Shadow List, and Finding Home. Jen teaches at The Writers’ Studio Online with Simon Fraser University, acquires and edits fiction for Wolsak & Wynn, and co-hosts the podcast Can’t Lit.

In her guest talk Jen Sookfong Lee guides us through the process of supporting inclusion in publishing by getting to the heart of the matter, “how do we navigate this space in a way that honours the diversity of our stories voices and identities, while uplifting and making space for others who also need that support?”

Introduction

  • Publishing has historically been a challenging industry to navigate for BIPOC writers, as well as writers who are LGBTQ+.
  • Publishing spots have been scarce, and the types of narratives that have been allowed into the marketplace have often been ones that advance certain stereotypes about these communities.
  • In addition, jobs within the publishing industry are often held, still, by people who are born with privilege—usually white, straight, and cis. This is definitely changing and many publishers have actively tried to counteract this with inclusion initiatives, and change has been happening at the entry level. Where it is stalled somewhat is the managerial and executive level.
  • Without editors, agents, and publicists who understand the breadth of authors’ stories, the books themselves can’t be edited or promoted in inclusive and sensitive ways.
  • There are many reasons for this that have to do with access to education, mainstream popular and literary culture, and representation.
  • But the real question for us as writers is: how do we navigate this space in a way that honours the diversity of our stories, voices, and identities?
  • While uplifting and making space for others who also need that support?

THREE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO SUPPORT INCLUSION IN PUBLISHING

Ask the hard questions

  • When it comes time for you to negotiate a contract, consider an offer on your book, or appear at events to promote your work, don’t be afraid to ask questions, as many as you need to be clear that your concerns are being addressed.
  • If you are from a marginalized community, it can be hard to ask probing questions, as the pressure to be agreeable and not difficult or aggressive is heavy.
  • But you have every right to ask about how an editor will approach issues of language or race, or if a festival event you have been invited to will be accessible and inclusive, or if a publisher will help pay for a sensitivity reader.
  • It’s important too that writers with privilege ask similarly hard questions: will the event be inclusive and accessible, who else is being publishing in this issue or this season, can we share promotion resources if someone else who is marginalized needs that support.
  • Always being aware that it can be very hard for someone who is marginalized to advocate for themselves.
  • Everything that has to do with the business of writing is open for negotiation.

If in doubt, seek a second opinion

  • If you can’t come to an agreement about a contract or event, reach out to your network of
  • other writers and mentors to see what they think.
  • One thing I have learned is that writing is not a solitary activity.
  • It takes a community to care for the individual.
  • We’re fortunate to have organizations like TWUC, League of Canadian Poets, Writers’ Trust that actively try to make that community and address equity.
  • Resources that I have found helpful is the How To series published by TWUC, which includes taxes and contracts.
  • Publishing is a hard business that doesn’t offer job security or a lot of money.
  • Without each of holding each other up, none of this is possible, both in terms of business but also in terms of mental health.

Determine what you’re comfortable with

  • We all have different comfort levels for what we will write about, how we will promote our writing, and what topics we will discuss in public.
  • During the publishing process, it’s important to think about what our boundaries are.
  • For example, some of you might be comfortable talking about race in an event meant to promote inclusion in the literary world, and some of you may not.
  • As time goes on, those boundaries may change, so try to check in with yourself to reassess what you need or don’t need, and to make sure you are still staying on track with your limits.
  • This applies to burn-out and how much we work too.
  • One of the things I have noticed with emerging writers is that the industry will anoint a few new writers a year with It-person status.
  • This is particularly true if they also carry the burden of representation.
  • There is a lot pressure to keep up, to make sure you’re tweeting every day, to jump into controversial conversations that relate to your work or identity, to accept every invite.
  • But, you don’t have to.
  • My interest as a mentor or an editor is being able to help build a sustainable long term career. 
  • And that means not burning out, saying no when you have to.

Conclusion

  • When things are quiet and we’re getting a lot of rejections, we start to believe that we will never be able to reach our writing career goals.
  • I don’t just mean publication or the Giller Prize.
  • Stable housing, holidays, retirement funds—all of these are for people with regular jobs.
  • But it’s possible to have goals and to work toward them.
  • We just need to be organized and mindful of and engaged with our business practices, our boundaries, scheduling, and money.
  • We are at a transition point now where inclusion and payments are being openly discussed,
  • Without that, we can never move forward with enough cake for everyone.

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BWS 10.03.21: Laila Malik

Laila Malik is a diasporic desi writer in Adobigok, traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River. She has been published in various literary magazines, thrice shortlisted for creative non-fiction prizes, and is a recipient of an OAC grant for her first volume of poetry (forthcoming).

I was thinking about all the complex and disparate iterations of personhood through time, and specifically the experiential idea of “woman”, with all its actual unruliness, against multiple backdrops of prescriptive myth and fairy tale and white-centred gendering. And I was thinking about the ways we make choices with and without clarity and compromise, and how we age against them and forget contexts and remember feelings. I was thinking about happy endings and pat outcomes, and how some things simply remain unresolved, only in beautiful new formations. And I was thinking about music, how always and every time, it threads together our fragments, allows us a kind of wholeness.

The saddest songs are in D Minor

Imagine a woman.

You could imagine a witch with two cats named Prudence and Dogma, who rides a pen instead of a broomstick under a no-moon sky, or a woman who sidesaddles a crochet needle or a chopstick from a Thai take-out place, one that she washes and reuses until it is splintered and frayed and then she uses it to aerate the compacted soil in her jasmine plant.

You could imagine a keyboard that thinks slower than fingers, or a smartphone that speaks with a halting thumb.

Imagine how a woman beholds the biceps of her friend, curled around a newborn kitten, standing in a kitchen revisiting all the other babies, you could listen to the competing rumble and purr of their voices and behold how the bag of ill-fitting shards that are brain and heart tumble, re-shatter, reassemble.

Or imagine a 25 year old brittled by a failing species choking a hapless planet, astounded by the elastic country of his lover’s abdomen, saying simply “I want to have her babies.”

Or one who can no longer find his footprint, for whom might as well becomes reason enough.

Try imagining two mammals who wanted just for a moment only to be humans together, with no ulteriors or anteriors or posteriors, only flesh and spirit breathing grace, gliding two wheels apiece into a celluloid sunset.

Now imagine her again, imagine her jasmine plant is dying and her lover the poet, the one she never allowed to touch her body, is already dead, and she is weary of dampening her daughter’s pillow in the dark, imagine her just picking one of the shards and beseeching her Creator to make her steadfast. This one, God, just let this one be me.

You could imagine a woman alone in her apartment, getting high and listening to old soul on vinyl, avoiding her mother’s phone calls.

You could imagine her mother.

Laila Malik visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, March 10, 2021 starting at 6:30pm alongside Gavin JonesNatasha Ramoutarand Andrew Wilmot. Our guest speaker Jen Sookfong Lee addresses how publishing is hard to navigate for BIPOC and offers practical tips for managing the publishing process in her talk, “The Business of Publishing and Inclusion”.

Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:30.

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