This post was written by Maria Frazer.
#OwnVoices is a hashtag created by Corinne Duyvis, that was originally formed as a way to recommend books “about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group.” The hashtag has expanded from being used for book recommendations to being used more broadly. You can check out the hashtag #OwnVoices on Twitter to follow the conversation.
With agents now using the hashtag, OwnVoices has become one of the ways writers can identify their manuscript. As writers submitting work, when we talk about the term “OwnVoices,” we’re looking at works that feature underrepresented characters written by authors who share an identity with that character.
In this post and others in this series, we will use the We Need Diverse Books definition of diversity: “We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.”
How do you determine if your manuscript is OwnVoices?
The first question to ask yourself is:
Am I a member of an underrepresented/marginalized/diverse group?
If the answer is no, you have your answer. Your manuscript is not OwnVoices.
If the answer is yes, now ask yourself:
Is my main character also a member of this underrepresented/marginalized/diverse group?
If the answer is yes, then your manuscript is OwnVoices.
Still, there seems to be questions so here are some examples that would be classified as OwnVoices:
- I am trans, my main character is trans.
- I wrote a story about a Deaf child, I am Deaf.
- I am a Mexican-American woman, my story is about a Mexican-American boy.
What would not count as OwnVoices?
- I am a woman, my main character is a woman.
This does not qualify a story to be OwnVoices. While women may be a marginalized group, a book about a woman by a woman, if there are no additional marginalizations, doesn’t bring diversity to the bookshelf. Women in general aren’t an underrepresented group in the book world.
- I am lesbian, my daughter is adopted. My book is about an adoptee with two moms.
This would not be considered OwnVoices. This is an example with a few different points. If you are not an adoptee, you don’t share an identity with the main character. Sharing an identity with a secondary character will likely mean you can write that secondary character from experience, but for OwnVoices it does need to be the protagonist. Having a family member with an identity does not make your work OwnVoices.
This is a basic guide to give a better understanding of what an OwnVoices manuscript looks like. In the end, you are the one to determine if your manuscript fits the criteria. If it does fit, then it is up to you to decide whether or not you would like to label your own work as OwnVoices.