As I continue to seek paying markets for my fiction and nonfiction, I’ve been noticing an alienating pattern in submission guidelines. In particular, anonymous submissions.
Before I talk about this unsettling occurrence in submission guidelines and submission practices, I’d like to take a step back and explain what anonymous submissions were trying to do.
The publishing industry is dominated by straight white cis abled men. For simplicity, I’ll just call these authors status quo authors. Ever since I was born, status quo authors had many opportunities to exploit stories of POC, Disabled, women, and LGBT+ people. Our authentic experiences are not a source of inspiration to allow a different story to be told. Marginalized people serve as a convenient vehicle for status quo authors to make money by exploiting our stories. This happened long before I was born, and it continues to happen to this day. While things are getting better, especially for Blindness and Disability representation in literature, the publishing industry is still reluctant to let differing voices share the space with status quo authors without othering them. Even to this day, letting a Blind or Disabled author publish feels like a tear-jerking fad to boost the hearts of mainstream society and to make them feel better about themselves. Allowing us to publish still feels like inspiration porn. Disabled authors don’t get celebrated because, even today, publishing continuously decides that our intricacies shouldn’t be seen by the mainstream. Only certain types of Disability storytelling are allowed in today’s publishing landscape. Anonymous submissions try to eliminate this problem.
In theory, anonymous submissions are a practice that’s supposed to level the playing field for Disabled and other marginalized authors. By removing all identifying elements from a story and cover letter, editors are supposed to judge work based purely off something called literary skill and not skin color or Disability. In practice, however, it does more harm than good.
For instance, an anonymous submission erases an author’s identity and forces them into the status quo. In my case, that would mean my Blindness would be erased and I’d be forced to pass off as a sighted author writing about Blindness. Even if there’s space for me to detail my Disabled identity in my cover letter, I’d still be erasing a part of myself because I can’t reveal who I am or my direct connection to the visually impaired community. My Blindness is a part of me, just as my legal name is a part of me. In order to truly understand the nuances of where I’m coming from, you’d have to know my connection to the Blind and visually impaired community. Anonymous submissions also assume that there’s a default culture. It forces writers to try to tell their own stories in a medium that isn’t understanding their perspectives and pitches writers as a binary. Anonymous submissions also remove the ability for an editor to really connect with a writer to provide constructive feedback. Good editors work best with writers when everybody is up front about what perspectives they can bring to the table. Anonymous submissions are not just problematic structurally, they often encourage Ableist language.
I’ve been paying attention to how sighted people use the word, Blind. Especially sighted editors and sighted writers. I’ve noticed an unnerving pattern. English speaking publications really love to use the phrase, reading blind. Publications use similar Ableist language in their submission guidelines as well, such as reading ignorant, reading dumbly of their identity, and so on.
If an editor uses the phrase, reading blind, as part of their submission guidelines, they are promoting the idea that Blind and visually impaired people are ignorant of who sent the manuscript just because they don’t have vision. It’s far better to use the phrase, anonymous submission, or read anonymously, because it’s clearer writing in addition to staying away from Ableist conclusions such as Blind people are mentally deficient.
The phrase reading blind also implies that Blind and visually impaired people can’t judge a work as competently as a sighted reader can. It’s placing the Blind population into a special category of editors. The phrase reading blind is unclear language as well.
If you’re submission guidelines are more inclusive, you will ensure that marginalized authors feel comfortable submitting to your outlet. For example, if I see a publication state that they read blind, rather than they read anonymously, that makes me feel as if they won’t take my work seriously because they didn’t stop to consider their language and the impact it has on broader culture.
In submission guidelines, it’s a good thing to have very clear writing. To have clearer writing, as well as preventing othering Blind and visually impaired people, it would benefit publications in a number of ways if phrases such as reading anonymously, and, anonymous submissions, are used in calls for submissions. By choosing clearer language when composing your call for submission, you’re also signaling to the reader that if a peace gets accepted, you will edit their work with better care than a publication that just haphazardly edits work to get it into an issue. Context matters. More importantly, words matter. Inclusion matters. It’s better to include than to exclude.