I have a question. I'm not sure if anyone can answer it, but I feel like it's worth asking. Why do publishers refuse to consider romance novels that depict heartfelt and truthful disabled romance when written by own voices authors in deep, meaningful ways? The kind of romance novels that explore more than the idea of falling in love, but the very definition of what love is? That's a long question, actually, it's two questions, but I have asked these for almost a decade now and I'm no closer to getting an answer other than, "Because you stick with the same tropes. That's what sells."
They put out calls for manuscripts written by underrepresented and own voices authors, but they don't want us to write our truth.
Now I have a new question. If they aren't publishing a trope specifically written and marketed to the disabled reader, how do they know it won't sell? Is it because they keep publishing stories so inaccurately written that they've ruined their audience with their obvious lack of research or even the slightest amount of consideration that real people with that same condition might read it? They put out calls for manuscripts written by underrepresented and own voices authors, but they don't want us to write our truth. They want us to write the same way able-bodied authors write. Personally, I'm tired of reading the same poorly written story about an amputee who is instantly cured of all of his problems because the heroine told him she loved him. I actually refuse to read romances about amputees now unless they are written by an amputee (or I know they know one). I once read a Harlequin where the hero was an arm amputee. You don't know how STOKED I was to dig into this. And then. And then. And then. He was smashing doors and glass cases with his prosthetic. I *WISH* I was kidding you. The idea is so beyond ridiculous that I can't believe that plot made it past every editor's desk without someone thinking to themselves, "you know, maybe we should see if you can actually do that before we publish this." I have a spoiler alert for you. You can't. Well, no, you can. But the way it was written he was going to have a broken ninety thousand dollar prosthesis, and a broken residual limb, and that was only the first time he did it. He wasn't going to do it repetitively through the scene as they tried to save themselves from the bad guys. Mind-blowing, my people.
I recently found out that there was going to be another call in September for #ownvoices romance. I was excited to do the Twitter pitch and land one of my manuscripts on an editor's desk. And then. And then. I searched the information to find out what they were looking for in their own voices pitch call. It gave me the genre, the word counts, and how to pitch, but there was nothing I could find about what they wanted in the actual story other than suspense. It dawned on me that their call wasn't for diverse stories. Their call was for diverse writers. Now, don't get me wrong, we need many, many, many more diverse and underrepresented writers in every genre! But if they ask for diverse writers, but expect us not to write our truth, has that really helped move the literature forward?
No, it hasn't. If I don't write my truth then no one can read it, and I can't write the same stories others write because I don't live the same lives others live. Isn't that the very definition of diversity and inclusivity? There IS a place for stories from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, sexual orientations, faiths, and disabilities. They are all worthy of being read by those looking to connect to a book that represents who THEY are. For those of us in the disabled community, we're continually fed books that don't represent who we are and don't offer even the slightest bit of enlightenment to able-bodies readers, either. In fact, they usually fill them so full of inaccurate 'facts' that it's embarrassing.
I have spent nearly a decade telling the kind of stories that don't shy away from the honesty and pain that comes from finding a partner when you are already questioning if you can be loved the same as your abled friends. This past year, though, I let myself get distracted by the idea that I couldn't do this anymore without a publisher behind me.
Last week I realized I can't do this WITH a publisher. I can't tell the stories in the way they should be told if the people behind me don't believe in, or aren't comfortable, with the truthfulness of love in the disabled world. If they aren't comfortable with the ugliness of pain and loss and love in the world of those who tell their OWN stories in their OWN voices, then the venture won't be successful. It has taken me a long time to see that isn't what publishers want when they put out these calls for own voices. They want to say they have diverse writers publishing stories on their platforms, but they want the stories to remain THEIR story. The stories that 'sell'. The stories that they don't have to work hard to market. They want stories that are comfortable and the status quo. They want to continue raking in the cash without putting out any real change in the world.
I do know this. Change doesn't come quickly. Change doesn't come easy. Change doesn't come because *I* say it's time. Change happens when you're loud. Change happens when you're quiet. Change happens when you're consistent in your walk toward it. Change comes when the masses say we are tired of not being represented! Change comes when the eyes of those in power are opened to a truth they are unfamiliar with. This isn't just true in literature but in every aspect of our lives. I think the year 2020 has taught us that.
When I closed out the page for that September pitch war, I sat in the truth of it for a few minutes. I cannot be someone I'm not and I can't tell stories that don't make people think, feel, and love the couples I create. So, I won't be going to that Twitter pitch. I'll be working on manuscript #50. I'll self-publish that manuscript one day and I'll get a review or an email telling me how much they enjoyed reading about a heroine that represented who they are in an accurate and honest way. Maybe I'll get a review that says, "I enjoyed this romance, and I didn't know XYZ about being disabled, but I feel better knowing what to do now." Every email, comment, and connection I make with the readers who are reading the stories I'm writing for THEM will bring me one step closer to change.
Katie Mettner writes small-town romantic tales, filled with epic love stories and happily-ever-afters.
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