Since Riptide was founded, we have focused our efforts on working to ensure a positive experience for all authors, staff, contractors, and readers. After the events of March 2018, we took a step back to study our actions and our mindsets, and to not only listen to what the community is saying, but to take strides to address our past mistakes.
While our in-house sensitivity handbook and our sensitivity reader program are in place, it is clear that these programs were only a small step toward our goal, and insufficient as they stood. We acknowledge that we still have significant work to do on these programs, and on the development of new programs and guidelines.
Consequently, we’re beginning 2019 with the implementation of the road map we spent the last several months constructing. We have hired and listened closely to the input and expertise of a number of authors, editors, and other consultants of color across multiple cultural backgrounds. In order to be as transparent as possible about the steps we’ve taken and will continue to take in the future, below is a breakdown of how we hope to improve our company and the experience of our authors and readers.
Sensitivity Handbook and Training
We have significantly updated the sensitivity handbook that all employees and freelancers read and review and will continue to update it. Because new microaggressions arise all the time and are reflective of social climate, this handbook cannot be set in stone. Feedback from editors, authors of color, and sensitivity readers are crucial to the growth and learning processes that facilitate this document, and are incorporated as it arises.
Our core staff also participates in ongoing sensitivity training to help keep this document current. For each manuscript, developmental editors are asked to inform their authors of either the document itself or its contents as applicable to the book they're working on.
A key focus of this handbook is to help our editors see past their privileges and acknowledge the many areas of intersectionality we encounter in our community, and to become aware of assumptions and microaggressions that are embedded in society’s language and beliefs.
A number of our staff has also undergone sensitivity training, and will continue to pursue new opportunities for cultural learning and development.
Sensitivity Reader Program
We have expanded our sensitivity reader (SR) program. Whenever an author writes about a marginalized identity or identities they or their editor do not share, we hire at least one SR whose identity/identities match the character’s, to read the manuscript. Sometimes that means hiring multiple SRs, if there are multiple identities involved.
We have also hired SRs to review a number of manuscripts that were published prior to the institution of our SR program.
Sensitivity readers are pulled from a database with an always-open application process, so we’re constantly growing and welcoming new perspectives in our efforts to match identities and life experiences as closely as possible.
Since there is no limitation on where or when an SR can work, we are able to hire SRs from all over the world.
Priority Submissions for Writers of Color
Because POC authors in Romancelandia are underrepresented, and stories about POC characters and their experiences are too often written by white people, we recognize the critical importance of publishing own-voices stories. To assist in this effort, we prioritize submissions made by writers of color.
When a submission comes in, it is sorted, and labels are applied based on a number of factors. For those who choose to notify us that they are writers of color, we apply a "priority-writer of color" label. Every manuscript with that label is evaluated within 30 business days.
The key goal of this program is to publish stories that represent all the wonderful diversity of our community, and to facilitate a platform for writers of color to share their own stories. As with all our authors, we work closely with authors of color to design cover art for their stories that reflects the diversity of the characters within.
Hiring Editors of Color
We are very aware of the fact that our life experiences and internalized prejudices may interfere with our ability to fairly evaluate submissions from writers of color, and because we are aware of the critical importance of the widest possible variety of voices and representation in the editorial department, this year we hired several queer editors of color across a number of racial and cultural backgrounds.
Over the course of 2018, these editors were trained to evaluate slush and perform both developmental and line edits. These editors also provided invaluable input into the development of our new sensitivity guidelines and existing staff sensitivity training. They are currently working with both the slush pile and acquired manuscripts, and a number of our authors have requested and been paired with these editors on projects recently published and currently in the pipeline.
Creating a Sense of Community, Not Cliques
In our excitement to share via social media the great works we’ve been privileged to publish, we understand that we have hurt authors who felt excluded. To stop this, we’ve implemented clear guidelines on the prohibition of personal social media with relation to the company (for instance, no squeeing about a book an editor loves on their twitter) so as not to contribute to a cliquish environment that leaves some authors feeling left out and others feeling pressured to fit in.
Actions in Process
We are honing communication guidelines for staff and freelancers, both for inter-company interactions and for interactions with authors, to ensure that no boundaries or comfort zones are crossed.
Some of these guidelines have already been implemented, such as that staff may only communicate with other staff or authors via monitorable Riptide email addresses or, when necessary, via pre-approved phone calls. Text messaging is restricted to event/meeting scheduling at conferences or other in-person events where immediate attention is required.
Guidelines for Authors
In an effort to help authors who have a conflict or concern feel comfortable coming forward and expressing themselves, we are creating an author resource handbook, which will include a series of "what to do if" questions to guide authors through reporting any issues they may encounter, whether they be an email going unanswered too long, or inappropriate behavior from a staff member or freelancer.
We have a zero-tolerance harassment policy in place and strive to make this a safe, supportive working environment for everyone.
We hope that these steps will help our company be welcoming to readers and authors, as well as to new staff members, and that they will help our company better reflect the diversity that is seen throughout the world and in our community.
Thank you so much to all the people who spent time, energy, and labor pointing out the flaws in our house. We've heard you. We will continue to listen to anyone who offers criticism, and we remain committed to growing and doing better as we move forward.