Beyond Punctuation: Editing Diverse Content

Thursday is The System. Publishing hasn’t exactly got a reputation for being diversity central, and queer publishing is sadly not much different. With that in mind, the lovely Petra Howard of Dragonsfly Edits has taken the chair today to talk about the importance of editors reaching out to minority groups…even though it’s not necessarily in their job description.

***

The idea of writing an article was daunting to me. After all, I am an editor first, reviewer second, and writer somewhere way down the line, but, I love my profession. I am passionate about the Rainbow Community, and that was the sole reason I decided to do as Matthew asked me and try to write down why it is so important to reach out to a (any) minority group from an editing perspective in recognition of one’s own limits and experiences.

Did you notice how I wrote ‘Rainbow Community’ rather than ‘LGBT community?’ Although LGBT (or LGBT+) is a recognised term, it can also exclude people. After all, there’s no ‘A’ for the asexuals among us, or ‘I’ for intersex people. As a matter of fact, there are a whole host of people excluded from the current terms, but including them would make the initialisms impossibly long. My personal term (Rainbow Community) might not be (inter)nationally recognised, but something tells me that you understood what I meant regardless.

It is that nuance that is equally important when trying to reach out to a minority group, whatever the reason for their minority. Even more so when that minority group consists of people who in their own rights form a minority group. But, reaching out to people who are normally marginalised isn’t all that important from an editing perspective.

All that matters to editing is that the story has no (major) gaps, is factually accurate (which does seldom apply to fiction), is grammatically sound, and has proper punctuation. However, there are editors who take their work serious to a fault and who will make sure that a fictional story still sits properly in the world as we know it. Those are the editors who reach out to the community and ask for input from people who know more about a certain subject, and I like to think I am one of those.

Recently, I was sent a manuscript for editing. The main characters: a Swedish male cop and a Swedish/Iranian trans woman. If I had been anyone else, I might have simply edited the story and sent it back to the author. Instead, I contacted two dear friends for their thoughts on it, because, no matter how well I can empathise, I have never gone through the difficulties trans people can experience. Their feedback was crucial and the decision was made to hold publication whilst views were sought from friends from the Muslim community to support the story. The story will get out there!

Is that a lot of trouble for a short story focusing on a minority group? Not at all. The point of any story is to provide something people can relate or aspire to, or gain hope from; preferably, all three. But that can only happen if the story is sound and draws readers in, rather than push them away. A story that paints the community you belong to in a positive (or true) light, that tells you that you were never broken to begin with, that values you as the individual you are; those are the kind of stories that draws you in. The opposite happens when the story deviates from this. Of course, some deviation can happen, but the overall feel of the story must be one of inclusion. A story for, and/or about, a minority group can cause more harm than good if it contains too many flaws.

At the age of 39, I have been reading for the better part of three decades. I have read my fair share of stories that were not only poorly edited but that were full of flaws… stories that weren’t sufficiently researched, that told blatant lies, or that cast a minority group in a very shady light to say the least. My aim is to provide stories that are edited to the highest standard I can possibly give. Interacting with the Rainbow Community, with every single facet of it, will continue to educate me. And, as I keep on editing and reading, my experience grows and my standards will only get higher and higher.

Whether a story is published through a major publishing house, an indie route or self-published; the reader should never know the difference by the quality of the story. However, stick with the latter two of the three… you are far more likely to get a story that does right by you, rather than by the majority!

***

About Petra

I’ve been reading from an early age, something my parents applauded. If given the choice between reading ‘inappropriate’ literature and not reading, my parents would always choose the first option. Over the years, I have learned that a child will stop reading something if they do not understand it or are uncomfortable with it. I think that holds true for all children and young adults. The stories I love most have some kind of magical, mythical or fantastical creatures in it. That is not a necessity but I simply love Fantasy and Science Fiction. Then again, a good plot and relatable characters can suck me straight into a story, regardless of the genre. My aim is to get more people, especially children and young adults, to read. Anything and everything in general, but ‘Rainbow Community’ literature in specific.