In our latest series, YPG Writers is excited to interview publishing professionals whose passion for writing has led them to success. Jenn Baker does a little bit of everything, but even with her many responsibilities, she still finds time for writing. Below is part 2 of our Q&A with her. –Stephanie
Jennifer Baker received her MFA from The New School’s graduate program in Creative Writing and is an alum of The City College of New York’s baccalaureate program in English. She works as a production editor, is a contributing writer to Forbes.com, and is the social media director and a writing instructor for Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. Jennifer is a panel organizer for We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit organization that sprang to life from the #WeNeedDiverseBooks media campaign to increase minority representation (of all kinds) in literature, and is creator and host of the podcast Minorities in Publishing. Jennifer is presently working on a multi-generational linked story collection centered around race and family as well as a young adult novel with a diverse cast and essays centered around race, culture, and sexuality.
There have been a lot of conversations about diversity in publishing over the past few years. What advice would you give to young writers of color looking to get their work out there?
Write and submit, rinse and repeat. Another biggie is reading as much as possible in what you want to produce along with finding a community to help build your voice. Most of my critique partners I met at residencies or conferences, plus I learned editing on the job, and am always learning every day. It’s so key to keep writing and build a thick skin from rejection. Because, to be honest, some places only want to read/hear the problematic stories of marginalization. So if you write a sweet romance starring two girls that is not about someone being in the closet and struggling with being a lesbian it may be harder to sell because that mindset of “othering” people is so ingrained. But it’s changing and you have to believe that that sweet story with no drama will find a home somewhere. And if not now then the next story and the next and the next. What keeps so many marginalized people from publishing is the industry and gatekeepers, but also the fact that we get so disheartened we stall or give up all together. And that hurts us when more people leave the industry as artists because we need those varied stories. So for literary magazines join duotrope.com and look up the literary zines and their submission times and submit like a mofo. Keep writing, get feedback from trusted peers, revise, revise, revise, and submit, submit, submit. You’ll always get a no. Even bestsellers and Pulitzer prize winners get rejected, so don’t think it’s only you. One of the differences between you and them is they keep writing no matter what.
YPG Writers knows that one of the most important parts of being a writer is finding a writing community. That’s why we host events and workshops and present opportunities to read and critique each other’s work. How else can writers seeking a community find it? Are there any that you’ve found in NYC that are particularly helpful?
I’d also suggest readings and local workshops where you may link up with like-minded writers. Pardon if I plug one of my employers but Sackett Street Writers Workshop has pretty affordable classes and I’ve found that the workshop groups tend to have members who bond over work and stay in touch to build their own group outside of the workshop. This has happened to me in other workshops, not in NYC and in NYC. Additionally more online communities are popping up in terms of chats on debut authors and pitch contests that happen online that you may be able to find like-minded people virtually as well. WriteonCon usually has a virtual meet up for writers of children’s literature. So that’s a helpful virtual forum. There’s also a group I could recommend that has people by region, including NYC, but it’s secret so feel free to ping me if you’re a writer who identifies as a woman or gender nonconforming and I’d be happy to invite you.
What are you reading right now?
Currently reading The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings of James Baldwin. I’m working on an essay on race/PoC identity in America and his work plays a major part in that discussion.