I am an agent of diverse books. This is because the world contains many different kind of people and I believe that they should all be able to read about themselves, and each other, in books. It is also because diverse books are what I like to read. Admittedly I’ll always have a soft spot for the old masters of science fiction, despite the fact that their capacious imaginations somehow didn’t stretch to the idea that women and POC might have a share in the future, but I think we can do better than that now. I am drawn to books about people who are underrepresented in fiction. I am excited by stories that I haven’t seen before, and as a person in the publishing industry, I believe I can make the industry better in some small way by representing these kinds of books.
I am blessed to have clients who wonder what it might have been like to live with gender dysphoria in early-1600s England, who explore how different axes of marginalisation might play out in fantasy worlds, who believe that people of colour, gay people and neurodiverse people can be sky pirates too, whose depiction of near-future California is as diverse as actual California (but with more giant squid). I solicit queries from authors from marginalised groups, because I believe we need diverse authors as well as diverse books.
(nothing that I’m saying here is revolutionary, by the way, and a cursory Google will bring you to a whole lot of people writing about this issue far more eloquently than I can – try #WeNeedDiverseBooks for starters. I just felt it was time to let people know exactly where I stand).
If you don’t feel that your book is a ‘diverse book’ but you think I will find it interesting for other reasons, then of course you’re free to query me. But I have one hard and fast rule that I will not break, and it is this: the universe that you have created must have more than one woman in it, and women must interact with one another. In other words, it must pass the Bechdel Test.
I acknowledge the limitations of this test. I accept that in itself it is a very low bar, and can be easily passed on a technicality. Passing the Bechdel Test in itself is not enough to secure representation from me. But I feel I need to make this rule of mine completely plain now, because I have been getting more queries than usual recently (mostly as a result of #mswl day last week, which was great fun as always – thanks Jessica Sinsheim and KK Hendin for organising!), and I have noticed that a surprising number don’t seem to involve any female characters at all.
I am not here to have an argument about my rules for submission. I am not saying that I don’t think books that don’t pass the Bechdel Test should exist – I have read and enjoyed many excellent books that don’t pass, and I don’t believe that stories set in male spaces have no value. I just want to make people aware that I am not interested in representing books without women (plural) in them at this time,* and I would like to ask everyone not to send them to me until the balance has been redressed and people start taking it for granted that not everybody in their fictional universe can be, or should be, male.
I do not think this is too difficult a task for writers to manage. Given that women make up 50% of the population in most places, all I’m really asking for is a semblance of realism. I mean, I have managed to interact with a number of other women today and I haven’t even left the house, so I’m absolutely sure that your time travellers and space pirates and wandering mages can manage to interact with a few.
*Okay, two exceptions to this rule, as suggested by my clients. If everybody in your world is non-binary-gendered, or if your heroine spends the entire book living in disguise on a monastery in space, you are excused.
Further reading on diversity
Further reading on women in SFF
A Lack of Female Characters is Always a Choice on Feminist Fiction, and this followup essay too. I could link to so many other posts about this, but Rhiannon Thomas expresses pretty much exactly what I want to say on this issue, so I’ll leave you with her.