Deep Dive: S. B. Divya on Editorial Gatekeeping, and What We Can Do About It
“It’s not just about the authors being able to break through, but it’s also about the publishers and the gatekeepers being willing to open that gate and saying, “Please come in. We want you.” And to reach out to specific people and ask for their work. Because a lot of them assume that nobody in the U.S. would be interested.”
Science fiction author S. B. Divya talks about her path to becoming Editor-in-Chief at Escape Pod, gatekeeping she’s witnessed in the editorial world, and the importance of intentionality in reaching out to authors to ask to publish their work. Watch the clip or read the accompanying transcript to answer the following questions.
“And I was, you know, as with many of us, overburdened with writing, with family life, with a job. But I said, “You know what, this is an opportunity, and I should probably say, yes, and at least try it.” And so I did.” Have you ever been in a position where you were nervous about taking on a new project or role? How did you handle it? How could you translate this experience into your writing?
Divya credits several people with opening doors for her career that may not have been opened otherwise, and speaks to the importance of intentionality for her when opening those same doors for others. This includes reaching out to authors first, not just waiting for them to break through the gates on their own. Has anyone ever reached out to you for your work first? If so, what happened? Do you know of any other publications or organizations that share Divya’s approach to editorial “gatekeeping”
At the end of this clip, Divya and George agree that the assumption U.S. publishers do not want internationally authored work comes from U.S. pop culture and Hollywood. Can you think of any other sources or reasons? If you are an international author, is there a benefit to not seeking out a U.S. market for your work?
Working from the perspective of a new writer, take a couple minutes to brainstorm your ideal editorial process. What does it look like? What positions are there? How collaborative is the process? Write some notes on these details down. Share your thoughts with a partner, or take to the internet to research any publishing houses that espouse those same values.
Imagine that you are the editor of Escape Pod (click here to learn more about the podcast). Draft an email to an author whose work you want to feature on an upcoming episode. Think about what writer you would choose, and why. How will you support them?
In the spirit of editorial skill-building, revisit a work you’ve written in the past year and run through it with an editor’s eye. What can you change about your argument or narrative structure to make for a more compelling story? Think of a publishing house you’d like to submit your work to and make your edits with their style guide in mind.
- Listen to some of Divya’s work, such as her short stories Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse and Microbiota and the Masses.
- Check out this blog post by Divya about whiteness in hard science fiction.
- Listen to stories edited by Divya at Escape Pod, especially episode 681, which was authored by our very own SLF Director Dr. Mary Anne Mohanraj.
- Light and Death on the Indian Battle Station (2018), by Keyan Bowes (free to read).
S.B. Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. She is the Hugo and Nebula nominated author of Machinehood (Saga), Runtime (tordotcom), and the short story collection, Contingency Plans For the Apocalypse and Other Possible Situations (Hachette India). Divya is the co-editor of the weekly science fiction podcast Escape Pod, with Mur Lafferty. She holds degrees in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing and worked for twenty years as an electrical engineer before becoming an author. Find her on Twitter @divyastweets or www.sbdivya.com. Watch her full interview with the SLF, alongside game writer Ajit George, here (32:44).
Tags: editing, gatekeeping, publishing
S.B. Divya: But I will say that there’s another side of this and that is, so I’ll put my editor hat on. Right. And I’m currently co editor at Escape Pod. But how I got there is interesting. And people had to open those doors. And you know, the first door that was open was, Rachel K. Jones reaching out to me through an online writers group and saying, “will you come flush for us? Like, I would love to have you”? And I was, you know, as with many of us, overburdened with writing, with family life, with a job. But I said, “You know what, this is an opportunity, and I should probably say, yes, and at least try it.” And so I did. And a year later, Norm Sherman, who’s pretty much a straight, white male, said, “Hey, our assistant editor is stepping back for reasons and we would love to have you step into that role. Will you come?” And I was kind of like, same, you know, same thought process. Okay, well, can I handle the commitment? Can I deliver? But I thought, yes, I should. And so I became Assistant Editor. And Assistant Editor is a very interesting role. Because in our structure at least, the assistant editor’s the gatekeeper between general submissions of short stories from authors from anywhere, to who gets passed up to the Editor-in-Chief and who ultimately gets published. And so sitting in that role for me, that’s a privileged position. But it started giving me ideas, you know, there’s things that come through that I’m going to see with a different lens. And by having the background that I do, and sort of the consciousness that I have, and the experiences that I have, I said, “Yeah, I want to now be the person opening doors for people because I’m sitting at that door.” And a year or so after that, Norm said, “Hey, I need to step back for reasons. Would you like to be Editor? And I said “Sure, but I really need help.”
S.B. Divya: So I brought you know, so I asked Mur Lafferty if she would come back and help me and she very graciously and happily accepted. And you know we’ve been going on since. But again, now sitting in the Editor’s chair, like I’m the ultimate gatekeeper, right. I get to decide with her …
Mary Anne Mohanraj: And you have now bought a story of mine for which I’m super grateful. Delighted to have it at Escape Pod. So you know it all rolls around, right.
S.B. Divya: It rolls around right. And I go out and I try to be more intentional about soliciting stories from authors outside of the U.S. And sometimes it’s hard. You know, just getting payments to them can be challenging right? And …
Mary Anne Mohanraj: I’ve discovered some writers are fine with Amazon gift cards as an option, which has been an interesting, like trying to figure out how to pay them …
S.B. Divya: Right.
Mary Anne Mohanraj: … can be – if they don’t have PayPal, if you know, they’re – the checks fee can be very expensive.
Ajit George: Yeah, for sure.
S.B. Divya: Money transfers are not always accessible.
Mary Anne Mohanraj: Exactly. So.
S.B. Divya: But. But I think it’s worth, worth doing. And I’m, again very lucky that the people who own all of these podcasts and manage the money, which are Escape Artists, which is Alasdair Stuart and Marguerite Kenner, are extremely intentional about making these things happen, and I have their hundred percent support, both, you know, for gender, for people of color, for people, international writers. And so, and I think all of that is important, right? Like you have everyone all the way to the top saying yes, like, we want to do this. We want to enable people to make these decisions to help people come in. And that is really, really important, right. It’s not just about the authors being able to break through, but it’s also about the publishers and the gatekeepers being willing to open that gate and saying, “Please come in. We want you.” And to reach out to specific people and ask for their work. Because a lot of them assume that nobody in the U.S. would be interested, right.
Ajit George: Yeah, for sure.
Mary Anne Mohanraj: That is, I heard that over and over and it was like, where is that perception coming from? Right, but …
S.B. Divya: It’s coming from, like Hollywood. Pop culture, right. Like we don’t …
Ajit George: The absence of any voices? Yeah.
S.B. Divya: We’re not there.
Ajit George: Yeah, we’re not there.