Respondents to the BSF Writer Survey chose to share with us their experiences in SFF short fiction publishing, including submissions, rejections, frustrations, and victories. These responses indicate the breadth of these writers’ experiences, and may be representative of larger trends in black SFF writers not represented here. In these responses, readers will find anecdotes that sadden, inspire, anger, and shock. But above all, these anecdotes are stories that affirm our decision to do the work of collecting, organizing, and presenting them to you.
We at FIYAH magazine believe that the Black voice is very powerful. These voices and the stories that they share with us are our, literal reason for existing and we want to lift these stories in hopes that they inform and empower other black SFF writers. It is important that these writers know the landscape, any pitfalls, and the potential victories of writing and submitting short fiction. It is also important for these Black writers to know that their stories and their voices matter, not as just a set of data, but as a window into the experiences that Black writers and, we’d argue, black people at all levels and in all careers face.
To our respondents, we thank you. Your voice and contributions are invaluable to FIYAH and to the Black SFF writers that we serve. For the rest of us: Let’s listen up, pay attention, and do better.
These are Black SFF writers’ experiences on the roadblocks encountered in the marketplace. Some of these will be familiar to readers; they have been consistent frustrations for black SFF writers.
“I think I feel confused more than anything. I see places requesting diverse fiction and yet I’m not sure my definition of diverse [quite matches theirs].”
“I have received ‘helpful’ feedback which was more perplexing than useful.”
“When non-black readers go through certain stories, there are so many aspects of black culture that they cannot understand or connect with. […]Magazines need to make a greater effort to get black persons into their reading and editorial staff.”
“It’s frustrating to hear ‘it’s not a good fit/not what I was looking for’ when I worked very hard to research the magazine and the type of stories it publishes.”
“Most recently, one magazine seemed almost disappointed that my main character was a black woman.”
“The overall publishing landscape for horror still seems so bleak for writers of color.”
Rejections: Self and other
Reflections: Many respondents still feel that much of the feedback to their work, such as it is, leaves something to be desired. More and more, black SFF writers are being very selective about where they send their work, choosing markets that they know to be respectful of their submissions. Overall, thoughtful, useful submission feedback wins the day. Alleviating some of black SFF writers’ submission misgivings, for magazines, includes having black readers and editors–magazines that hire black staff may enjoy increased trust from black SFF writers. For some, insensitive rejections or continued misunderstanding has encouraged them to shift their focus to longer works.
“I basically feel that there are […] 5 markets left that are worth me trying to submit my work, so I actually don’t want to deal with short story markets anymore. […]My short stories, if I write any, will probably end up in a file on my computer somewhere. I’ll concentrate mostly on my novels.”
“I got feedback on a couple of submissions, so I am encouraged that my writing has some merit.”
“I am much more likely to re-submit to any place that give me a thoughtful rejection than one that sends out “not a fit for us at this time.”
“My short story experiences have led me back to writing novels and fitting in short stories where I can.”
“I know that my experience in the past year has differed greatly from previous years as I have become more familiar with the editors/editorial teams in different places. Because of my familiarity, it’s made me more comfortable subbing, even if I get rejected, because I’ve talked to the editors about what they’re looking for.”
“I still received a lot of rejections, but among those rejection I had a few replies with positive and constructive feedback, which means a lot to me as a writer.”
“There was one submission that came back as a ‘rewrite request’. The market wished me to rewrite the story putting more emphasis on the racist elements happening to the two black women lead characters, as well as downplaying some of the queer elements. However, I felt these changes would have detracted from the story, which was focused more on the relationship of the two women, so I decided to withdraw my story and submit it to another market.”
Many of our respondents recorded some sort of victory this year. Some victories were represented by increased publication rates, others with a shift in mindstate. Interestingly, several respondents indicated that they now felt undaunted by grave market/industry submission and publication data. Some chose instead to continue submitting their work in spite of systemic roadblocks. Others developed strategies on how to navigate these market systems as well as internal pressures like that of self-rejection. Some employed a networking approach, while others relied on communities of black SFF writers for support and encouragement. These responses show us that no matter the roadblock, black SFF writers are resilient, talented, and determined.
“I submitted more work this year than I ever have, and it’s helped me feel less fear in doing so.”
“I’m fortunate to have a resilient writing community. […]The stats about black writers are daunting, but they wouldn’t stop me from writing at the end of the day.”
“Maybe encouraged isn’t the right word in regard to the publishing of statistics, but I do feel determined.”
“Because I saw the results of the last survey, I realized how many of us self-reject and decided to stop doing that. I took a chance and submitted to a dream market, which directly led to my first pro sale. This has been my most encouraging year.”
“I am disappointed in the statistics showing bias against black writers, but I try to use that to fuel my writing. I also use it to try and move past imposter syndrome and my tendencies to self-reject.”
“Even though I’m discouraged, I’m not going to give up because the status quo needs to change. If I surrender to this injustice it’s an invitation for these practices to continue.”
“I plan to, in the future, continue to only submit works to platforms in which the primary audience is African-American.”
“The stats from your reports are discouraging, but I’m going to keep writing and submitting no matter what.”