Issues Facing Underrepresented Writers

The NWU is committed to dealing with issues confronting writers of underrepresented communities, as identified by writers themselves. NWU member Charles Coe and Yleana Martinez held in-depth interviews to identify the most significant issues facing various writing communities of color. A parallel study by Jack Porter reported on issues facing gay, lesbian and bisexual writers. E. Ethelbert Miller identified the issues facing Black writers. Barbara Beckwith queried members of members with disabilities about the issues that most need to be addressed. The San Francisco Bay Area Chapter conducted an informal survey.

These core issues face all underrepresented and marginalized writers:

  • The mainstream publishing industry considers literature of each underrepresented community to be a specialty market and therefore lacking in broad commercial appeal.
  • Sometimes publishers wonder whether underrepresented communities buy books and read.
  • Too few agents and acquisitions editors actively seek such writers, assuming that there is no mass market for their work.
  • Much of publishing gets done through social networking and personal recommendations (to an agent or editor). Social insularity of those networks leads to writers of color, LGBTQ writers, and writers with disabilities being left out of the loop.
  • Few colleges and universities have publishing programs, and even where they exist, participation by underrepresented groups is often low.
  • Writers (and other artists) are often seen more as masters of technique rather than of human expression.
  • New book acquisitions often depend on the taste of individual editors based on the guidelines of each publishing house. If an editor or an intern is not familiar with reality beyond mainstream images that envision an underrepresented group as, for example, either exotic or demonic, a particular writerʹs work may not get a fair reading. A manuscript may land in a slush pile, not because it isnʹt worth considering, but because an acquisitions editor—or, more likely, an intern screening unsolicited manuscripts that come in “over the transom”—lacks the frame of reference to appreciate it.