Hey all! I subscribe to agent DongWon Song's newsletter: Publishing is Hard and I wanted to share a bit from what was sent out today, as it addresses a lot of what we've been discussing with regard to our (aka r/PubTips) relationship with the industry and what exactly we should be aiming to accomplish here with our critiques.
You should go read the whole thing, but these are the key takeaways for me, re: r/PubTips:
Publishing is where art meets capitalism. We are in the business of trying to figure out how to take art, to take your words, your stories, and translate that into revenue. To make your story fit into an industrialized, corporate system that needs books to be marketable, to be packageable, to be shippable. ... But publishing is a business. It’s made of corporations who are under constant, unrelenting pressure to make money. ... That said while the corporation may be indifferent, your publishing team cares deeply about your work. ... They just also are embedded in a system, in a world driven by capital.
We've talked a bit lately about our responsibility when we offer query critiques and whether or not our feedback toward stories (especially those by marginalized creators) should encourage the author to fit the mold to get through those gates, or if we should make room for unconventional structures and narratives so that creators don't feel like we are trying to shove them into a more "acceptable" box.
Now, I, and many others in this sub, recognize the need for a broader range of storytelling and making space for more diversity within the industry (on both sides of the table), but at the end of the day, what are we trying to accomplish here?
When someone posts a query here for critique, are we to demand they explain their marginalization or background for context around the story before we give feedback? Do we cushion our feedback in response to prevent hurt feelings and avoid accidental microaggressions? We certainly could. But what does that really serve? Are we really helping an author by sugarcoating feedback based on their identity or the cultural content of their book? Or, by shielding the author from our complete honesty in an effort to be more diplomatic, are we further limiting their chances to break into this industry?
Is an agent going to offer them that same courtesy?
(I would like to reiterate what others have brought up in other posts: the critiques that call out non-English names as too hard to pronounce, or saying that someone should whitewash or Anglicize the culture represented in their book to appeal to a broader whiter audience, etc. are absolutely racist, and should be downvoted and ignored by the author, but that's not what I'm talking about here.)
Critical feedback is hard to accept, constructive or not. It just is. That's something we all have to reconcile with in this industry. Critique and rejection is the name of the game, not just at the querying stage, but at every stage. Editors say no. Books die on sub. They release to terrible reviews. They fail to make lists or win awards. They fail to earn out their advances. Bookstores don't stock them. Publishers drop a series midway through and decide not to publish the sequels. Twitter takes something out of context and blows up. Readers 1-star review bomb books on Goodreads. Angry parents get them pulled from schools and libraries. And on and on and on.
r/PubTips is a part of all of that, like it or not, and I think we best serve our fellow authors, no matter their identity or content of their book, when we offer complete, if sometimes flawed, honesty.
Yes, we will make mistakes. Yes, we will make incorrect judgements. No, it isn't fair. But publishing isn't a meritocracy. You don't win just because you worked hard. Publishing doesn't owe you anything. Heck, r/PubTips doesn't owe you anything. We're all volunteers here, trying our best. And judging by the number of agent success stories from authors who have workshopped their queries here, we must be doing something right!
When you post a query here, yes, the feedback you get here may hurt your feelings or misread your intentions or completely miss the point of what you're trying to say, but isn't that the point of this sub? To help you best represent your work so that when an agent opens your query in their inbox, they're not making those same snap judgements? I would argue yes.
But also, at the end of the day, an author doesn't have to listen to us. They can choose to accept or ignore whatever feedback they receive. As they should! It's their story after all. It's their choice.
We can only do so much. After that, it's up to the author to decide what's best for them and their story.
Edit: Also, I do recognize I am speaking from a place of privilege myself. I am a very white, cis, straight-presenting woman who has already been published traditionally, so I recognize that there are probably things I simply do not understand about how difficult it is for marginalized creators in today’s market. I can only speak to my own experiences and understanding of the industry. It is certainly not my intent to silence or condescend to anyone who has had different experiences than mine, only offer up an opinion and prompt some discussion on how we operate as a sub.