Unagented and Black

…and Canadian, to boot!

It’s been a little while since I talked about the querying process and all the things associated. There is a reason for that. It’s hard and it is frustrating. It can be really disheartening.

It can feel like you are up against the whole world as you compete for the attention of a suitor. And the tastes of that suitor are so subjective that they can seem impossible to meet. It almost feels like a moving target. But you keep doing your research to hopefully find someone who will connect with your story. There was a recent tweet from Ernie Chiara on this point that I think is worth a read.

As an unagented, Black, Canadian author, it can feel like a really fast moving target. Do I only query Canadian agents? Do I only query Black Canadian agents? Do I query Black American agents? Do I query American agents at all? Are there even any Black Canadian agents? Where are they?

When that particular hurdle is scaled, then the internal conversation that has been going on in my mind as I turned my mind to publishing, gets a little bit louder. “Being a Black author, is the expectation that all my characters are Black?” “Is the story supposed to be more – I dunno – ‘urban’?” A recent tweet from Morgan Al-Moor speaks about BIPOC writers and the expectations for their work in the marketplace that is also worth giving a read.

The questions I ask myself about what they might want are sort of reminiscent of the questions I asked when I was first dating. “Will they like me for me?” “Should I dress this way or that?” “Are they expecting that I talk like this or like that?” “Who should I be so that like me?”

I remembered how miserable it made me, trying to put myself in the shoes of the subjective observer and trying to be malleable in order to fit into their expectation of what “they” would like me to be. Just miserable.

I came to realize that I was who I was, and if they didn’t like me for that – my size, my manner of speaking, the way I carried myself – then they weren’t for me and I was certainly not for them. It was a lesson I had to learn and relearn through out childhood, well into adulthood as it manifests itself in different ways throughout life.

As a writer who grew up in the suburbs, I don’t have the lived experience to tap into to write from the perspective of someone who grew up in a place that didn’t look like my childhood. Now, that is not to say that everyone who grew up where I did had the same kind of life. Everyone’s lens is different – even when they grew up in the same household.

I use this example to state that I write from my lived experience with regard to who may show up in my books, and those folks come from all kinds of backgrounds, be they ethnic, racial, cultural, or socio-economic in nature.

That is not to say that I don’t do my due diligence and research when writing about places or people I don’t have personal experience with, it is simply to outline what my work might look like in comparison to someone else who, on the very surface of seeing us, might appear to have the same experience.

If the expectation is that, just because I am Black, my stories will be dripping with racial tension and struggle, I am here to tell you that not all Black people write stories like that. The wholeness of our experience and personalities cannot be watered down to simply strife and pain. That is simply not realistic.

We have joy and triumph and, yes, struggles and pain, and honestly, sometimes just hum-drum lives; and I write my stories from the perspective of the wholeness of human experience. And I think writing from that perspective is pretty great.

With regard to being Canadian, I often ask myself if it’s necessary to drop the “u” from words like favourite, or labour. Here we spell things with a delightful combination of UK, American and French spellings. In order to appeal to a broad audience, must I use the American spelling?

Can my story be set in a Canadian city that the general population may never have heard of? Even other Canadians?

In order to appeal to a wide audience, does the story have to be set in “Any Town, USA”? And if it can be set in Canada, does it have to be Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal? Does the setting have to be some place easily recognizable (perhaps a place you may have heard on the news) in order to be marketable?

The town I set my story in is a town like any other. The people who live there are just like you and me. They go to work, have hopes and dreams, scheme, lie, have affairs, even commit murder. What makes their postal code (read zip code) determinative of whether their story is worthy of being told?

Surely if we can set a story in a fictional world found through a portal in a wardrobe, we can set a story in small town Ontario. The rules would be the same as any setting one would write, I would imagine. Make sure your audience is transported. Bring your story to life by creating compelling, well developed, fleshed out characters and settings.

In coming to those conclusions – that I can only write, what I write, and that my stories will eventually resonate with someone out there – the work to get my story into the hands of an agent who would represent it and me, could continue.

I will continue to write the stories that can only be crafted by this unique brain with its unique lens.

So, with determination to find that special suitor, I continue to knock on virtual doors in the hope that my novel will find its way to your hands some day soon!

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