Sensitivity readers in traditional publishing

You might have seen that this week a black author pulled his book due to backlash over representation, only a month after an Asian author did the same.

I don’t usually comment on twitter discussions like this, but I think this is a worrying trend that has wide implications for the US YA publishing industry. This issue with diversity has been going on for several years, and many authors have pulled out of book deals due to poor representation. As an author, I have watched this and taken note – however, publishers do not seem to have done the same. They are not learning anything from these cases.

Publishers have a responsibility to their authors to make sure that books are edited to a professional standard, which is no longer just about legibility and plot structures. These days, having accurate and respectful diversity is a core and essential part of a novel, and the traditional editing process is clearly not working.

Publishers need to include sensitivity edits – where an editor from that specific demographic/culture/disability/etc is hired to comment specifically on accuracy in representation –  as a compulsory part of the editing process. Otherwise cases like the above examples occur, when an inexperienced author is the one to suffer due to negligent editing. This can affect their whole career.

It is the equivalent of sending an apprentice out into the field without training or safety certifications, and letting them get injured on their first day. And hiring another apprentice, and letting the same thing happen. And wondering why your apprentices keep dying.

These kind of situations should not continue to happen in a time when advice, resources and freelance editors (of any speciality and narrow field of interest) are so easily found with a single Google search. This should ESPECIALLY not be happening to BAME authors. Hiring own voices writers and trusting that their lived experience will guide them is not enough: they need support and guidance just like anyone else, in any new job.

In any other industry, this kind of manufacturing error would be addressed and fixed with a new addition to the process. Authors should be given the training that is clearly needed, especially when the costs are negligible in comparison to the losses – both emotional and monetary – of these events happening repeatedly.  It’s shocking that publishers are not putting steps in place to ensure that this does not happen – again and again and again.

Authors are not contracted employees at publishers, and so the companies do not feel the need to train them in the way they would a full time member of staff. Yet clearly the knowledge and abilities of authors are worth investing in, and should be guided. Because doing otherwise creates problems for everyone. Authors are not disposable, replaceable, and short term.

Unless something changes, the next logical step in this endless groundhog day saga will be that sales teams at publishers will decide that its too ‘risky’ to publish any diverse fiction at all. They will see that they are losing money whenever they try. They will avoid it completely. That obviously is not an option that we can accept as a community. We have an ethical responsibility to build a better, more inclusive system for everyone.

Diverse fiction is not a trend, and if publishers cared about representing these communities properly, they would be investing resources, time and care into creating books that everyone involved can be proud of. There is no way to avoid scrutiny in the internet age: there is no shortcut here. This has to be done right, otherwise individual – often marginalised – authors are going to continue to take the blame for publishers’ mistakes.

 

Where I got the idea for The Quiet at the End of the World

Exactly two years ago, in March 2016, I posted a quote on Instagram from a book I was reading, which is not something I usually do.

“We are a short-lived genus of species. All our cousins are already extinct. We are perhaps the only species on Earth to be conscious of the inevitability of our own mortality. I fear that soon we shall also become the only species that will knowingly watch the coming of its own collective demise, or at least the demise of its civilisation.”

It just really spoke to me and I wanted to share it. Then I carried on with my life and forgot all about it.

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But at the back of my mind, the quote and idea were clearly simmering away because three months later in June 2016, I was backpacking around Cambodia. I woke up in the middle of the night in a grotty youth hostel and scrambled for my travel notebook and wrote out a book idea.

It was about the last boy and girl born after humanity stopped being able to conceive, who have to watch the human race go extinct. That idea grew and grew, and blossomed into The Quiet at the End of the World.

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The idea changed a lot while I was writing it. From the first draft onwards, it changed wildly as I tried to decide how to tackle such a lofty subject. At one point there were aliens, which there definitely aren’t anymore.

I’m really happy with how it turned out, though I clearly owe Carlo Rovelli, who wrote the original quote, a big thank you.

Fancasting the characters – meet Lowrie, Shen, Maya and Riz

Lowrie MB-W – Aubrey Peeples

Lowrie is a suit-wearing, treasure-hunting tomboy, with a workshop full of tools in place of a walk-in wardrobe. She constantly has a chisel and screwdriver on hand. She’s blonde, and wears her hair in a french plait. She’s most often found wearing Shen’s mustard yellow jumpers.

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Shen Zhang – Justin H. Min

Shen is a Chinese alien enthusiast, with a stack of books which he always reads acknowledgements first. He’s a night owl, a history buff, has a fear of mice (but not rats) and is a fair hand at coding. He can’t sing for toffee.

Justin-H.-Min

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See also: commissioned drawing of Lowrie and Shen with their robot pal Mitch (who, for obvious reasons, I can’t actually fancast). Art by stoffberg;

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Maya Waverley

Maya is the owner of an old social media account that Lowrie and Shen discover on the archives of the old internet. Lowrie starts reading about Maya’s life, drawn in by her account of the days after the infertility started – and her funny sense of humour, and the fact that she’s bisexual like Lowrie.

I can’t resist casting her as Tessa Thompson, just because I could totally see her playing a self-confident, chatty blogger like Maya.

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Riz Stevens – Oscar Isaac 

Maya’s cheeky internet buddy is a curly haired Oscar Isaac in my head. He’s fun and laidback and cool, and he writes a killer tweet.

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Playlist for The Quiet at the End of the World

 

 

Not long now until the book comes out! There’s already been some AMAZING reviews:

“I’m still sobbing quietly over how beautiful and heart-wrenching this novel was. Seriously, this might be my favourite sci-fi book? Of all time? I JUST CAN’T EVEN BEGIN TO EXPRESS HOW MUCH I LOVED IT. Can I pluck all the stars from the night sky to give to this glorious bound paper creation?” – Written Word Worlds 

“I loved the science and the take on “what does it mean to be human?” – a beautifully complex question answered so well. There’s twists and turns, so much love, characters you’ll root for and so much intrigue.” – Steph A Little But A Lot 

“It’s sending shivers down my spine. It feels too real, too much like a warning of what’s to come.” – Sectumsemprah

“The world in this book is richly described and frighteningly believable. I love how Lauren’s books are realistic and grounded in science, at the same time as being completely unique and unpredictable. It’s refreshing to find a book with such a creative, surprising plot and I had no idea what was going to happen!”- YA under my skin

“The Quiet at the End of the World by @Lauren_E_James just had a massive plot twist about halfway through and I am shook. I don’t know how she always manages to create such wonderful plot twists and I cannot wait to keep reading.” –  The Reading Fangirl

I’ve been waiting with bated breath for reviews, so I am UTTERLY THRILLED right now. People like it!!

If you’d like to read it, there’s a giveaway on my twitter you can enter:

And here’s the prologue:

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Finally, I wanted to share the playlist! You can listen to it on Spotify here.

This is a fun, cheerful, happy book, for the most part. The music I listened to when writing reflects that. These songs summarise the tone and affection in this book.

Last Party//MIKA

MMMBop//Hanson

Something Just Like This//The Chainsmokers

House Party//Sam Hunt

The Whip//Locksley

Holes//Passengers

Classic//MKTO

What’s Up?//4 Non Blondes

Folding Chair//Regina Spektor

Dance Apocalyptic//Janelle Monae

Don’t Lie//Vampire Weekend

Control//Halsey

Girls Chase Boys//Ingrid Michaelson

Stop the World I want to get off//Arctic Monkeys

Remember Me//Coco soundtrack

Marry You//Bruno Mars

Let me know if you listen to this, or if you have any suggestions for other songs for the book!

Research trips I took when writing The Quiet at the End of the World

Research trips! There’s nothing better than writing about somewhere, and then going to see it for real. It brings fiction to life in a completely original way.

Here are some of the places I made sure to visit when I was writing The Quiet at the End of the World. I’ve previously visited Carlisle Castle to write The Next Together, and St Andrews, the location of The Last Beginning, as well as Bletchley Park when I was writing a short story Another Together, which you can read about here, 

The tunnels below London

I  explored the old WWII bomb shelters which were built under the London Northern Line to protect 10,000 people from the blitz. It was absolutely fascinating and it really helped me when I was writing the scenes in the first chapter of the book, where Lowrie and Shen explore the abandoned tube lines of London, at a time when it’s been shut down for decades.

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Giants Causeway, Ireland

I was in Dublin for a convention when I snuck away on an adventure. I’ve always been obsessed by this natural phenomenon of geometric rocks in the sea. The Quiet at the End of the World is all about geology and archaeology and the layers of fossils left behind humanity in the earth, so this was extra inspiring and special.

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Buckingham Palace

Finally, I went to Buckingham Palace, somewhere I’d never been before. It was very different from what I’d imagined it from seeing it in films and TV shows. I had no idea that there was a huge lake by the palace – or that the garden was so big. It felt like it wasn’t in London at all, except for the sight of one single skyscraper poking up between the trees.

Lowrie’s parents live in a place in a huge manor in the middle of an abandoned central London, so this was really useful when picturing what their life might be like.

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The Quiet at the End of the World comes out on 7th March, and here are some handy links:

Preorder a signed copy on my Etsy (comes with a free themed bookmark and postcards of my books)

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Waterstones | Foyles | Wordery | eBook providers | Signed copies from Forbidden Planet

Tumblr tag | Join mailing list to be notified on release day | Read the first chapter on Wattpad

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