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Hello #Nebulas2018 ! Panel live tweet starts NOW, with “How to fail gracefully,” with Michael Underwood, Carrie DiRisio, Vanessa Rose Phin, and moderator Annalee Flower-Horne.
What do you do when you make a mistake, and we will ALL make mistakes. How do you apologize?
VRP: It’s important to acknowledge the people you’ve hurt, even if you are upset yourself, and feeling defensive.
CD: Think carefully about your words: “I’m sorry you feel that way” and “Thank you for sharing your feelings” can be dismissive.
MU: As a creator, you need to reflect on power structures and the decisions that you and your publishers made that led to creating a hurtful work.
CD: Book covers are often a problem, and authors can be attacked for both book covers (out of their control, usually), or movie casting decisions (ditto). Again, it’s something the author needs to be thoughtful about handling.
AFH: Or another example, where the editor changed gender-neutral pronouns to gendered without asking the author.
How do you deal with this, both behind the scenes and in public. Are there good strategies?
VRP: Reiterate’s CD’s “Make space for people’s hurt,” but also address it with the editor in private, and in public if necessary.
MU: Hopefully you can work with your editor or other partner to fix any such problem, as part of your professional relationship, and to put out a shared statement. But as creator you may need to act on your own as well in response to harmful changes or other problems.
CD: The author may not be in a position to alienate the publisher or to walk away, even if the publisher makes hurtful changes.
It may also be dangerous to label a work as “own voices” - this is a difficult decision.
AFH: It may be easy to make minor changes in online publications. What if the entire premise is problematic? What do you do as an author if you realize you’ve published something unfixably hurtful?
VRP: Sometimes can pull entire stories, either in response to public pressure, or to author request.
CD: You can recover from showing your whole butt in public, but it takes time. Often leaving for a while is the right solution, especially if you are sincere about apologizing and work on changing.
VRP: You may have lost the trust of the community forever, though.
MU: Do more research into the nuance and lived experience of the group you’ve harmed, and recommend and champion other voices, especially those from within that group and supported by that group.
VRP: Publishing is a communal process. Listen to your editor. Expect to change things until they work.
CD: When you fuck up really badly, keep your apology simple, and promote the voices of the people you’ve hurt.
MU: Don’t center yourself. Don’t do performative self-flagellation. Be clear and believable about your commitment to do better.
CD: Specific actions are good. Don’t try to get praise for your actions. It’s not about you.
Do what you can to ensure that people who have been hurt are heard.
AFH: How do you find the useful information in “angry pile-ons” on the internet?
CD: People in distress get loud. Recognize that.
VRP: It may help to get someone to read the angry comments for you, and distill it.
MU: It may be possible to hire someone to help you with crisis communications, or to provide group-centric feedback. (This is NOT a volunteer activity.)
CD: If you know no one from the community you want to write about, you will have no support when you show your butt. Maybe this is not the topic you should be writing about.
AFH: How do you navigate the “ask your friend for help” vs “I should pay for this”?
VRP: You should always pay, especially for help from members of marginalized groups.
CD: If it’s a friend, you can offer to barter your own skills. But compensation is important.
MU: You don’t get to profit from other people’s intellectual and emotional labor, without compensating them.
CD: If someone helps for free, you could donate the amount you’d pay to a relevant nonprofit.
AFP: If you did get a sensitivity read, how do you credit the person without throwing them under the bus for your screwups?
MU: Make it clear up front that errors are your own.
CD: Be very careful about naming sensitivity readers. They may not want to be named as member of that community. They may be blamed for your errors.
MU: There is utility in flagging sensitivity reading as one of the many times of expert advice.
Representation is a craft issue, and can be studied, addressed, and improved.
VRP: As an editor, you can’t help but edit based on your life.
AFH: What if you get public feedback based on something you didn’t do, or that isn’t wrong?
VRP: Make sure you didn’t do the thing. Your initial defensive reaction may be wrong.
CR: If you assume you did the thing, at worst you are making people feel heard.
If you don’t, at best you are arguing with people on the internet.
MU: Even if you didn’t do the thing, someone felt hurt. Validating their experience is important, and it probably won’t hurt you.
VRP: But if it is very trollish, just don’t engage. It’s different if the hurt people are members of your community.
AFH: I use an aggressive block filter on twitter. I get a lot of attacks from men’s right communities. But that’s a different case. If I were being criticized by WoC, I would not block them.
CD: Do you delete a problematic tweet or not?
You don’t want to run away from the discussion, but you also don’t want people who agree with the original problematic tweet (or continue hurting people).
AFH: That’s also problematic with something that’s retweeted a lot. I screencap it, post with explanation, then delete the original.
Audience question: Having marginalized identities doesn’t prevent someone from being terrible. How do you deal with that?
Panel: You can call them out on their problematic behavior.
CD: You also can’t hide behind your marginalization.
MU: Also don’t attack on their marginalization axis.
AFH: As soon as you’re reaching for the dictionary, you’ve lost the argument.
CD: Sometimes the right thing to do will not be the popular thing to do. Tumblr might not like it.
Why am I doing the right thing but people are mad at me? Well, that’s life sometimes.
Audience question: Nobody has ever called me on it, but I’ve had friends look at manuscripts, including sensitivity concerns, but now I’m not sure if I should have offered compensation. Did I screw up? Especially for the sensitivity component?
VRP: Are they still your friends? Then take them out for coffee or something. I feel that’s fine. Really, it’s for your friends to decide.
Audience member: Yeah, if it were a stranger I would have paid. But this is part of a group that exchanges stories anyway.
CD: I’ve done the same thing. But also recognize that the community has changed, and we now pay for things that used to be not as valued.
AFH: Friends do things for each other, but be aware of the burden on your friends, and on reciprocity.
In an established relationship where you’re reading each other’s stories, that’s probably fine.
Audience question: Where do you find people for sensitivity reads?
Panel: Writing the Other (Tempest Bradford) has a list. Also there’s a YA Facebook group.
You can always put on twitter that you’re looking for a paid sensitivity reader for a topic. (Research rates first!)
Audience question: Given that culture and terminology changes, what’s the statute of limitations? In a decades-old novel, with now-problematic material, a sensitivity read wouldn’t have helped.
AFH: “Statute of limitations” is the wrong phrase, since this isn’t a crime.
CD: It’s okay to judge works by modern standards. Not all books are problematic. There are books of the same age by marginalized authors that could be read.
We give older books passes. Tolkien was a racist, and he wrote amazing things. We need to acknowledge this.
MU: People can join the community via other books, newer books, different books. The books of previous generations are not the only entry points.
AFH: Lovecraft was not a product of his time. Even contemporaries thought he was a racist.
Heinlein was a product of the same time as Ursula Le Guin, who later acknowledged her problematic times.
People can learn and change.
CD: If we give authors passes, those tropes get perpetuated.
Thanks for a great panel!
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