RWAus19: Publishers and Me Too

This represents my notes on the presentations at the 2019 Romance Writers of Australia conference held in Melbourne. Please consider my status as an imperfect recorder. I hope you enjoy reading about this conference as much as I enjoyed being there. This blog uses affiliated links.

What are you looking for post #metoo?

This panel featured the following publishing industry professionals to discuss their slush pile and other thoughts with regards to the #metoo movement.
NC: Nicola Caws (Mills and Boon UK)
JM: Jo Mackay (HQ, Mira, Escape)
MK: Michelle Klayman (Boroughs Publishing)

Q. What have you noticed since the #metoo movement?
JM: romance has always rewritten history with a woman’s perspective. We’ve noticed submissions are getting even more female centred.
NC: Mills and Boon has always explored consent and power dynamics. #metoo opened up dialogue in the romance community which is good
MK: our submissions page has a we don’t accept section:
Rape, incest, pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, cruelty to animals, gay bashing, racial intolerance, or sexual encounters with characters under the age of sixteen.”
#metoo hasn’t changed that because we were there already. We are a small-medium sized publisher with an intimate editorial review team. I’m an attorney and loathe to see anything that denigrates women.

Q. Has there been a change in your submissions?
JM: Genre and point of view are the same. We have seen more confidence with writers willing to speak out against institutional sexual assault, and the level of awareness around women’s voices has increased. So many books lately have women working together as a community.
NC: Themes of story. It’s great to see strong women challenging heroes in the narratives, also pioneers.
MK: regency that casts light on our society, and previously untold stories. Heroines are getting saucier and sassy.

Q: Is consent an issue?
NC: I’m not interested in books without consent. You can stil have an alpha hero and the power play is fascinating. We are seeing authors tackle it with intelligence, need to balance their strengths.
JM: sexual agency is important. Sexual tension isn’t about forcing sex on each other, but the interplay
MK: Her behaviour doesn’t inform his decision
NC: balancing the alpha hero – the idea is to bring him to his knees, with the power dynamics in the set up reversed.

Q. Did #metoo affect the way you market your books?
All: No
MK: every editor needs an editor.
JM: our readers tell us when we get it wrong

Q. What about the impact of social media and ground swell movements in general?
NC: we can’t be isolated from social media. We need to be aware of the discussions and of pop culture.
MK: we use sensitivity readers for white writers. We are mindful that we represent every culture properly.
JM: be conscious of your own privilege, especially with regards to colonial Australian history and the erasure of Indigenous people. On that note, we’ve been thinking about access. Marginalised people need more access to get #ownvoices works out into the world. We haven’t been good at it yet, but we want to develop it.

Q. Trigger warnings. Use them or not?
MK: Some of our books have them in author notes. We don’t want anyone to read a book that will upset them. If they know and they read it anyway, that’s up to them.
NC: we need to get better
JM: We are open to trigger warnings* at Harlequin but we don’t yet have a specific policy on them.
*Note: my Merindah Park series published by Escape (Harlequin Australia digital) has trigger warnings.

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