Further Defining #OwnVoices

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jul 24 2018

I received a lot of specific questions following my post on Defining #OwnVoices and will attempt to answer as many as I can. Ultimately though I have one blanket answer. If you and your character are a member of a marginalized community you are an #ownvoice.

Readers ask:

Do most agents consider chronic and mental illness to fall under disability?

Yes–if you have chronic or mental illness this is an #ownvoice–and a topic we would like to see more of in books. Depression, OCD, bipolar are all issues we should see more in books.

If I were to write about a character with a disability, would it need to be the same disability that I have in order to be considered Own Voice? And if you are not writing about a marginalized group, but an agent or publisher asks if it is in own voice, should you say “no” or “N/A”?

I think someone who suffers from depression is an own voice if writing about depression, but if you suffer from depression I’m not sure you are an own voice when writing about bipolar disorder. However, you would be an own voice when writing about mental illness so I guess what I’m saying is there are not always exact answers and the interpretation might be different depending on the agent. This is a new term in publishing and the rules aren’t so clearly defined (I’m also not sure they should be).

If an agent asks if the book is own voice and it’s not (I do on my QM form) feel free to leave it blank or simply write “no” or “N/A”

I have a question regarding diverse voices. I heard that a deaf protagonist is considered a DV, but would a mute MC who communicates through sign language also be considered a Diverse Voice?


Is there a market for spoonie and survivor lit that has a plot that deals with, but isn’t entirely centered around, living with illness? It seems like most books (especially about cancer) deal with terminal cases when that isn’t what illness looks like for many. Are agents and publishers interested in these stories and, if so, does this fall under own voices or is it something to be shared as relevant experience in a query only?

I had to look up “spoonie,” but yes I think there is a market for books featuring characters living lives with illness that isn’t about the illness. Absolutely! That’s the thing with #ownvoices, what we are looking for are books featuring #ownvoices that isn’t about the illness, being black, being gay or whatever it is the own voice is about.

Sharing the experience in the query or calling it an own voice is one and the same as far as I’m concerned.


5 responses to “Further Defining #OwnVoices”

  1. Avatar AJ Blythe says:

    I enjoy reading #ownvoices, but the ones I like are the ones where it isn’t about the #ownvoices, but where the character/s just happen to have the whatever the #ownvoice is.

  2. Avatar M K says:

    What about infertility? I’m racking my brains trying to decide if that counts as #ownvoices or if it’s just too common an issue to fall under a marginalized label?

  3. Avatar MD says:

    In your view, do polyamory and kink count as #ownvoices? On the one hand, our experiences as sexual minorities feel very… oppressed. (See Jillian Keenan’s writing on this: https://slate.com/human-interest/2014/10/the-jian-ghomeshi-case-echoes-many-kinksters-worst-fears-being-outed-and-fired.html). But on the other hand, there’s a ton of pushback from the LGBTQ community any time someone suggests that what they consider “behavior” is in any way comparable to what they experience as “innate”.

    More directly relevant here: if I write a story with polyamorous characters, and I myself and polyamorous, can I call that #ownvoices? What if the characters are also LGBTQ, but I am not? And what if it’s all part of a secondary-world fantasy setting where being gay is not taboo, but being polyamorous confers forbidden magical powers and is punishable by death?