Why it's harder for neurodivergent people to break into publishing

I'm a neurodivergent person, which is to say, my cognitive functions don't exactly fit into the expected box of what's deemed as "normal." I'm also a full-time writer. There are many ways in which my neurodivergent brain has helped to make me a better writer — my interest span is different than neurotypical people, and I often have an easier time finding the off-beat or more unique perspectives on a story.

There are parts of the writer life that I'm not so good at, however, that have made my career difficult. One of those biggest barriers starts at the ground level: It is tremendously difficult for me to distill things down into "pitch" form. I either deliver something too short that it doesn't grab the editor, or too long and nuanced that it still doesn't grab the editor. Editors who are familiar with me and my work are much more capable — and willing — to see through the fog, and trust that I can articulate the direction of my story when I am actually articulating the full direction of my story.

But that first requires building trust with an editor. Which is hard to do if my neurodivergent brain makes it hard to open that first door into establishing a relationship. (I've only gotten as far as I have because of some very fortunate networking serendipity.)

Recently, Eric Smith — an author and literary agent (I reviewed his recent novel here) and all around good dude who is also the father of an neurodivergent child — put out an ask about ways to make things easier for us cognitively trapezoidal pegs who struggle to fit into round publishing holes.

Smith rounded up the comments he heard from people in a comprehensive blogpost that's extremely helpful, and really resonated with my own experiences. Also: it's awesome when someone says "Diversity matters!" and then actually follows up with it by saying "What can I do so I can actively aid in the cause of representation that I claim to believe in."

You can click through to that post, which is a comprehensive repository of lots of different perspectives affecting people with autism, ADHD, et cetera. It's hard to sum up the specific suggestions and observations that Smith rounds up, because so many of them are unique to different neurodivergent conditions. Suffice to say, reflecting on internalized ableism and unintentional barrier building are two recurring themes. But Smith also — rightly — linked out to some other great blogs from neurodivergent people that articulate things from an even more immediate perspective.

One of those pieces was this fantastic Medium post by Matthew Broberg-Moffitt, which I think summed up the issues perfectly:

I'm not asking Literary Agents to make an offer of representation to someone simply because they are Autistic or ND. It is also not meant to be an all inclusive or de facto system. The range of neuro-diversity is a vast and voluminous umbrella.


If you are issuing the call for Own Voices neuro-diverse writers, you are openly saying that you want to see work that breaks the mold from writers that aren't mainstream. If you issue such a call, but then use the same process that you apply to all queries and proposals, you're being unintentionally disingenuous. You are, in effect, saying that you want rhomboid pegs created by dodecahedron artists when you will only accept square pegs fashioned by the spherical.


Attempt to be mindful of what it means to be ND. There is a very strong chance that the person querying that self-identifies has been treated with a lack of empathy and understanding for much of their life. By very definition this person sees the world differently than other people.


While there are a number of Autistic and ND authors who have found success in the querying process, think of what has been lost because the stress of the process was too much for another. It's "survivor's bias." Yes, there are a number of trials of publishing beyond that of querying and it might serve as a stress test to see if they can endure what comes next. However, when you've spent so much of your life being misunderstood and feeling like you've never been seen, being signed can serve as an inoculation to the additional rigors. "I've finally got someone on my side. I have been seen. I can handle what comes next."

There's lots of things to reflect on here, and it relates to neurodivergent experiences outside of the publishing industry as well. (Again: read the whole post)

Related, I have been shopping for a new literary agent for several months now and it is a hellish experience and if anyone reading this is genuinely looking to work with a neurodiverse writer with multiple polished manuscripts, hit me up.

Suggestions for improving querying for Autistic and Neuro-Diverse writers [Matthew Broberg-Moffitt / Medium]

Discussing Barriers in Querying and Pitching for Neurodivergent Writers [Eric Smith Rocks]

Image: MissLunaRose12 / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 4.0)