On Twitter today, I said I would lay out my suggestions for how editors can go about creating anthologies that contain a diversity of voices. Here they are. I realize that some of the terms I use are overgeneralized and imperfect; diversity, non/marginalized, etc. Mea culpa.
So: The minute you start talking about bringing diversity to an anthology, you'll be besieged by stentorian voices damning the effort, claiming that it's going to negatively affect the quality of the work. It's bullshit, tantamount to saying that the only good writing comes from non-marginalized writers. Gathering a wide range of voices, styles, aesthetics, experiences and perspectives in an anthology is a recipe for a good anthology, not a bad one.
But here's where those voices have a point: if you wait till after you've put out your call for submissions to run around trying to fill in diversity slots for your anthology -- you know, the “one of each so long as there aren't too many of them” approach -- you will more likely than not end up with a dog's breakfast of a volume in which it's clear that you selected writers for their optics, not their writing. That's tokenism, not sound editorial practice. The time to be trying to make your anthology a diverse one is before submissions come in, not during or after.
On the other hand, if you just put your call for fiction out there and cross your fingers, you'll end up with mostly the usual suspects. It's not enough to simply open the door. Why? Because after centuries of exclusion and telling us we're not good enough, an unlocked door is doing jack shit to let us know that anything's changed. Most of us will continue to duck around it and keep moving, thank you very much. We'll go where we know there are more people like us, or where there are editors who get what we're doing.
So make up your mind that you're going to have to do a bit of work, some outreach. It's fun work, and the results are rewarding.
Make a list of names of writers from whom you'd like to see submissions. You probably know that your list needs to be way longer than the number of stories you can publish. Fitness clubs have been getting rich on this principle for decades; they sell far more memberships than their facilities can hold, because they know that at most, only about 20 percent of those who pay for memberships ever enter the building a second time. Your list should include the non- (or not as) marginalized writers, but make sure you have 2-5 times more marginalized writers. Because of all the current and historical barriers to our participation, it's going to take at least that many to get a representative sample of submissions.
Don't know the names of that many writers from traditionally marginalized communities? Don't stop at the well-known go-to names from those communities. By all means invite them. Just realize that inviting only them is another facet of tokenism. When you contact them, ask them to recommend other writers to you. Ask around. Ask readers, other writers, editors, listserves, educators, Twitter, Facebook. People will be happy to clue you in. Get contact information for the writers they name. While you're at it, ask them where you should be putting your call for submissions (if you're doing a public one) in order to have a better chance of it being seen by writers from a diversity of communities. Because if you only publicize it in the usual places, you'll only get -- say it with me -- the usual suspects.
Write your call for submissions. Put the payment terms up front, even if there's no payment. This is a good practice for inviting any kind of artist or freelancer to submit their work to you. Making art takes time, and especially when you're a freelancer, time is money, which pays for the roof over your head and the food on your table. Also, be explicit about wanting to see submissions from writers from a diversity of communities. I would go so far as to suggest you be explicit about which communities you mean. Now, a weird thing will sometimes happen when you do this; the minute you say that you want to hear from everybody, some (usually) straight, (usually) white writers will decide you're saying that you don't want stories from white people. To them, “inclusivity” means “We hate (straight) white people.” It's un-freaking-believable. I frankly don't go out of my way to reassure those folks. There'll be plenty straight, white writers who don't have that chip on their shoulders. There'll be another group of non/less-marginalized writers who will tell you they don't want to submit stories to you because they don't want to take up a slot that could go to someone whose voice mightn't otherwise be heard. Those people's hearts are in the right place, but the zero sum game is exactly the kind of thing you're trying to change. Remind those folks that you're the editor, and they should leave the editorial decisions up to you. Some of them may still wig out and opt out, but not all of them will.
Contact the writers on your list; marginalized writers first, non-marginalized writers next. Personally invite them to submit stories. I always like to remind everyone that an invitation to submit is an invitation to have their work considered, not a guarantee of publication. Writers who've been doing this in the mainstream forever will probably know that. Writers who haven't been part of the mainstream may not. If I'm doing a closed call, I ask the writers I'm inviting to let me know about any writers they think I may have missed. When I've done this, recommendations have sometimes netted me great submissions from writers I'd never have heard of otherwise (yes, white writers, too), or who wouldn't have thought to submit to the kind of anthology I edit. Everybody wins.
If you're doing an open call for submissions, post the call now, in all the expected places as well as the ones that have been recommended to you.
By the way: if you want stories from marginalized writers, invite them early. Hell, invite everyone early. But particularly the writers who will be more familiar with being tokenized. Can't tell you how many times I've received an invitation because an editor has decided last minute that they need to show willing. You can practically hear them hoping that I won't have the time to produce a story with only days/hours/seconds to the deadline, because then they can say, well, they did invite me, but you know how it is; for some reason, “those people” don't submit their stories, even though the door's wide open. N.K. Jemisin talks here about what that experience is like. Sometimes when we say we don't have the time, what we mean is, we see your tokenism, and we ain't your freaking diversity poster child.
Now wait for the submissions to come in. When they do, I try to ignore the names of the writers until after I've read all the stories, assessed them against the others, shaped the anthology, and made my decisions. This is the time when you can do that, not at the point where you're soliciting submissions.
Realize that even if you've done everything I suggest and you've done your best to be unbiased at the selection stage, you may still end up with an anthology that's not as balanced as you'd like. This is a blessedly inexact process. It won't have the same results every time. But in the aggregate, you should be able to see a positive trend.
Implied in all this is the possibility that you'll end up with an anthology in which "minority" writers predominate. The horror! If this bothers you, take comfort in the fact that all those readers who claim not to pay attention to the identities of authors won't even notice.