“But I Can’t Sell This!”: Marketability and Marginalization in Publishing

Before we begin, let me just say something: I am not a publishing professional. I am an aspiring novelist who is on the hunt for an agent. Might this blog post hurt my chances? I sure hope not! But if it does, oh well, because I’m writing it anyway.

Anyway, let’s talk about marginalization and marketability in publishing. As many of you know, I am a multiply disabled, cis (maybe??? Gender is hard), biromantic, asexual white woman.. I exist along certain lines of marginalization and this reflects in my books. Every main character I’ve ever written since my first book have been disabled, taking directly from my experiences as a disabled woman. I am physically disabled, I have two different learning disabilities, a stutter, and a rare chronic illness.

All of my characters reflect these things about me in one way or another.

In additon to only writing disabled main characters, I also write books that are pretty…out there. I am inspired heavily by anime, manga, Japanese rpgs, and Korean dramas–all of which have their own unique plot structures, tropes, and more. east Asian media, to me, represents some of the best of the best in storytelling. These video games and books and movies and television shows aren’t afraid to bend genres or try new things. As such, I am deeply inspired by them, which is how, in part, MIDNIGHT AT THE NEON TIGER came to be.

NEON TIGER, for those of you who haven’t had the chance to read it, is a mishmash of genres. It is fantasy. It is science fiction. It is film noir. It is a political thriller. It’s Roman myths combined with 1950s McCarthyism. It is all of these things at one time. It also has a disabled main character who suffers emotional abuse at the hands of her mother.

All in all. it’s a complicated book.

I won’t toot my own horn and say it hasn’t been done before, because pieces of it certainly have been. NEON TIGER is not so totally unique that I can’t compare it to anything else. I did not reinvent the wheel here. I just wanted to tweak it a little. So that’s what I did. I wrote a book I know in my heart is good. I have worked on it for years, poured my blood, sweat, and tears into it. It went hrough Author Mentor Match, where I revised it even more with my wonderful mentor.

It’s a good book. It’s a strange book. It’s a deeply complicated one.

And it is also #OwnVoices. For the disability rep AND the abuse rep. My own feelings and experiences are all over this book, and because of this, dear readers, I fear it will never land me an agent. I fear it will never sell on sub. Because NEON TIGER is a risk. Disability is a risk in publishing, whether anyone wants to admit it or not. Disability is hard and messy and not at all “inspirational” like our media makes it out to be. Disability rep is only acceptable when it doesn’t really matter to the story, or if it only exists to make the main character look cooler. Disability is villainized. Infantalized. Fridged. Ignored. Pitied.

I hope you see my dilemma here, everyone. Not only am I that mad cripple everyone warns you about, I wrote a book about a mad cripple. With a very complicated world.

Is my book a risk? Sure. Could I write something more commercial and hope to get an agent? Sure. But that isn’t me. I write to take risks. I write what I would love to read. Will this be my Achilles’ Heel in the end? I hope not. YA publishing especially loves to pat itself on the back for an “increase in diversity,” but unless that “diversity” fits into the box of what’s trendy right now, it won’t come through.

Marginalized authors have to write in the realm of what is “acceptable” to be seen. Anything else will garner comparisons to other more famous (read: whiter) authors. Or maybe our books won’t get picked up at all. Striving towards making publishing a more diverse place means taking risks on stories by marginalized authors, whether we deviate from trends or not. Allow us to be safe. Allow us to be weird.

Just give us a chance, and I promise we’ll surprise you.

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