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The reality of trying to get your book published as a disabled author.

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

Writer, Rosemary Richings, talks about her lived experience in getting her book published, the difficulties, frustrations, and eventual triumphs.

A table top with a person writing in a journal, laid out around them is a tablet, laptop, polaroids, glasses, a cup of coffee and a pile of books.

[Image: A table top with a person writing in a journal, laid out around them is a tablet, laptop, polaroids, glasses, a cup of coffee and a pile of books.]

In 2019 I started to write a book. One year later, I finished that book and pitched it to agents and publishers. The reality of publishing at the time made it seem like the right time to get my story in the hands of publishers. According to Statista:

"Movements like Black Lives Matter shone a light on the disparities amongst employees. It also shone a light on the disparities of the books which make it onto store shelves."

Books by diverse authors were suddenly as in-demand as zombie and vampire stories. This emerging trend was good news for me because I was born with a type of neurodivergence called dyspraxia. Dyspraxia impairs my coordination of movements, along with my sense of space and time. The emphasis on diversity made me believe that everything was about to change, even though I'm a cautious realist.

How demographics make things difficult for disabled authors

The key findings of the Lee and Low publishing survey reveal a lot about who is working in the industry right now:

“89% of publishing industry employees who participated in the survey were non-disabled. 90% of non-disabled publishing industry executives participated in the survey. The most disabled people surveyed were interns (22%) and book reviewers (19%).”

A big part of the problem is the barrier to entry. A lot of publishing houses aren't accommodating enough towards their disabled employees. Especially if reaching your earning potential through more senior positions is your goal. Creative Access supports the representation of underrepresented groups in creative industries. On their blog, they recently featured three disabled publishing industry professionals. Many of the interview subjects had stories of disability-based discrimination at work.

My first rejection letter was a genuine reflection of this reality. I decided to query this agent because she wanted to represent a diverse author. Diverse should include disabled people, we are 15% of the global population.

My book is a lived experience perspective on my neurodivergence. The literary agent I reached out to saw my story as: "Not compelling enough for mainstream audiences."

In my freelance work, this behaviour is a deal-breaker and enough for me to cut ties with a potential client. Often it's a sign a company or publication has an ableism problem. It's a subtle code for anything that challenges the expectations of non-disabled people.

I also knew so well that the quality of my work wasn't the reason I heard the word 'no' a lot. Before I sent my first query, my book went through publishing professional mentorship. After extensive research, I learned that plenty of dyspraxia books were out there. None of these books were on New York Times bestseller lists, but there was still a market available.

What did I experience when I went through the submission process?

When you first start querying agents and publishers, the process is a bit like online dating. You're often basing the right fit on details such as:

  • A favourite book, movie, or TV show

  • Quotes about their favourite books they've read or worked on so far.

Figuring out one person's tastes in books requires you to read at least some of the following sources:

  • Blog interviews

  • Social media sources such as YouTube videos and Twitter threads

  • 1 or 2 books in your local library or bookstore that this person has represented.

This process is a massive nightmare for my neurodivergent brain. My short-term memory is terrible, and I'm prone to information overload-based anxiety. I need clear instructions and guidelines to understand what others expect of me. There's always the option of networking at writing conferences, but conferences aren't my ideal environment. Noisy social settings drain my energy because I must focus on crowds and stimuli. In high-pressure situations, it's challenging for me to keep track of what I'm saying or doing.

When I attend writing conferences and events, I need to feel like the time spent talking to people is a worthwhile use of my time and energy.

What do I like and dislike about the querying process?

Reasonable accommodations are a non-existent aspect of the querying process. Some insist on one approach to querying, and others insist on another. That's a massive problem because only some querying techniques have allowed me to submit my best work. For example, I had a great experience with platforms like Submittable and QueryManager. Updates, reminders, and messages go straight to your inbox, and everything is in one place.

Did this process lead to anything good?

After querying 90 people, I had offers from two publishers. A publishing house's senior editor happened to find a tweet I did about my book, and it got her attention. She DM'ed me a manuscript request soon after she saw my tweet. Since this interaction happened in December 2020, it took a while for my editor to get back to me.

In June 2021, one of my queries resulted in another offer from an indie publisher. The editor I spoke to over Twitter mentioned that they needed to pitch my book to an acquisitions team. So I decided to wait out the acquisitions meeting results for as long as it takes. After waiting two weeks for the results, I learned that my book got green-lit in the acquisitions meeting. So I accepted the offer. Then I said no to the indie publisher that made an offer before I knew the results of the acquisitions meeting. Enduring the querying process gave me more than one offer to choose from.

If you don't have friends or family who work in publishing, querying is your most accessible option. If you're ready to start the querying process, literary agent Eric Smith's take on the current publishing landscape is a truthful one:

"Everyone is underpaid and trying their best across the board. And the industry has issues that we need to fix at a systemic level."

It may seem like ableism is everywhere in this industry. Yet, some publishing professionals want to do whatever they can to support a good story.


Rosemary Richings is a writer and author of Stumbling Through Space + Time: living life with #Dyspraxia, launching September 21 with JKP. Rosemary is also a trustee of @DyspraxicMe and co-founder of @dyspraxically. You can follow Rosemary on Twitter here - @rosiemay_r

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