While browsing submission guidelines, I’ve noticed a pattern. I’ve noticed quite a few patterns, actually, and I’d like this post to be a bit more educational rather than opinionated. That will be very hard for me to do because I can’t resist writing about thoughts I have regarding publishing, but we’ll give it a shot.
First, a bit of background. When I see submission guidelines openly state that they want diverse authors and diverse writing, usually, I notice that status quo editors and literary agents want the diversity, but don’t make the submission process more welcoming to the desired groups.
This is the biggest barrier. I explain more below but if you can’t get past how you think Disabled characters should act or behave, you won’t find the talent you’re looking for.
Having a rigid view of CripLit can be very confusing and off putting to divergent authors and even diverse literary agents looking to connect with you. Because I’m Disabled, in particular, totally blind, I’ll be focusing a lot on how to make the pitching and submission process easier to people with vision impairments. I’m almost certain that some of the things I mention will complement other accessibility needs for different disabilities. At the same time, some of my suggestions won’t work for, say, someone that’s on the autism spectrum.
It’s very important that agents and editors completely toss out the one size fits all mindset they have. There’s a trend in the literary space to assume all disabilities are the same and all disabilities function the same way.
The key is to remove barriers. Rather than singling out negative examples, I’m going to share some positive examples and why they work as a Blind author.
Before my comments, I highly encourage you to read this post by literary agent Eric Smith about pitching accessibility for neurodivergent authors. While I’m neurotypical, a ton of those work for me as well.
Here’s some things that will make the pitching process easier for me as a Blind author.
If formatting is important to you, the best way to make sure everybody has a fare chance is to provide a template of your specification’s.
Formatting a document is extremely time consuming and, in some cases, inaccessible to screen reader users that don’t use Braille. While most screen reader users know Braille, and use a Braille display, you could be missing out on some really great storytelling because the line spacing wasn’t to your exact specifications.
Microsoft Word has a lot of accessibility features for screen reader users in addition to a plethora of keyboard commands, but not all buttons and controls are labeled in all applications. For example, both LibreOffice and OpenOffice have formatting options that are not labeled. A screen reader user can’t change the formatting to meet your exact specifications because the word processor wasn’t made with accessibility in mind in that instance.
Providing a template would ensure that everybody is starting off from the same starting point, and so you can judge fairly on the writing, not the presentation.
Literary agents could help out the process immensely as well by hosting modern versions of Shunn’s templates on their website or in their submission guidelines.
A publisher that has provided very easy templates is Escape Artists.
Speculatively Queer often has very inclusive submission calls, as well. They don’t stress about formatting at all. They only care if your file opens. This is the lowest barrier to entry.
Have wider submission windows.
Often times, I’ll see a call for stories but only allow for a month or less turnaround time. This makes it extremely stressful for writers and otherwise looking to submit to your publication.
If you’re going to have a call for submissions, give writers four months or more to submit. Nothing Without Us Two gave plenty of notice and laid out everything well ahead of the submission call.
Have a submission form.
I like submission forms because they organize everything and tell me exactly what I need. Forms can help break the submission process down by using step by step sections. The key is to make the form accessible, if hosting it on your own website, or ensuring the platform You’ve chosen works with screen readers.
To create an accessible form, Google Forms, Microsoft Forms, and Form Smarts are your best options. Query Manager, at the time of this writing, isn’t fully accessible to screen readers. Write to them and ask them to improve screen reader accessibility on their forms.
If you’re going to have a form, try to make it short, and only require information you’d need in order to judge the query. Asking writers about what their favorite pop culture reference is on a form in the middle of asking for book data can be distressing to certain writers because that creates uncertainty about upcoming questions. For example, are they going to ask me what my favorite pie is next?
Screen reader users can’t skim the page, so it’s very important your form has relevant questions grouped together in a section. Don’t put more than ten fields in a form. The best number of fields to aim for is a low number. Five should be your target. Below 10 is acceptable.
If you’re not going to have a form, email is the most accessible way for us to query. Be sure to keep document file types as broad as possible when creating your form.
This complements a few of the other points, but it’s very important your website is built with accessibility in mind. For instance, provide alt text to book cover images. Choose an accessibility ready theme, and try to make sure links have clear labels instead of click here, and, here, and there, and click this.
Social media accessibility.
Many literary agents and publishers are on social media. In order to make your social media posts more accessible to writers, make sure to add alt text to your images and captions to your videos. Make sure you describe what you’re doing when recording videos. All major social media platforms have ways to provide alt text to photos.
When writing hashtags, be sure to write them in CamelCase. Capitalize the first letter of words in hashtags. For example, write #BlackLivesMatter instead of #blacklivesmatter. CamelCase makes hashtags easier to read for screen reader users as well as people that have reading disabilities.
Don’t leave queries unanswered.
It’s important to be clear about response times and estimated response times. Even if it’s a rejection, I still want a solid, clear, no thank you, so I can pass it off to the next agent. Leaving queries unanswered without clear guidelines beforehand leaves writers confused and it makes you more difficult to work with.
If you can’t respond to every query, say that in your submission guidelines. Give a direct time frame to expect a response.
Broaden your literary perspectives.
I feel like every one of the above eventually swings around to this point. If you want submissions from diverse authors, be open to doing things outside of the box. Be prepared to take on stories that diverge from what you’re used to. In the case of my manuscripts, for example, sometimes I’ll forget what something looks like visually and I’ll put a color to an object that’s a different color. Even though it’s been edited, it still might slip through the cracks so don’t automatically dismiss a manuscript because it doesn’t follow your literary conventions. Remain open to characters not behaving in a sighted way, for example.
Allow accessibility feedback.
Lastly, remain open to answering questions and changing up how you read queries or manuscripts. It’s also very important to say, up front, that people can contact you if they have accessibility questions. Give them an easy email to write to. Don’t hide the email in am image. Masking it textually is okay. Keep the masking simple like the following.
Hello at agent dot com
If something has to be changed, don’t get defensive. Talk it out and work to a solution that works for everyone.