My con notes are a mix of direct quotes and paraphrasing of key ideas the panelists and/or audience discussed, particularly regarding writing advice and recommended reading lists. This is not meant to be a verbatim transcription of the panel, but rather a summary of key points and takeaways that are attributed where possible.

The following notes are from a panel on literary agents at New York Comic Con/BookCon 2016, in New York, NY.

Panelists: Dude from Barnes & Noble (Moderator); Lara Elena Donnelly (LED), Jennifer Jenkins (JJ), Marie Liu (ML), Daniel Jose Older (DJO), & Laurent Linn (LL).


  • “Every time you buy an eBook that isn’t a Nook Book, one of your favorite characters dies.”
  • “Talking about diversity is really just telling the truth.”


  • When introducing new characters, examine your motivations for doing so. What makes people different? What makes them take on different roles? What unconscious biases do you bring to your writing?
  • We have a responsibility to make worlds diverse. Everything in a book must have a purpose. We can’t arbitrarily make characters diverse, it has to fit the character and has to be thoughtfully written.
  • Characters need agency and power.

LED: When you question your conscious biases as a writer creating a world, you’re complicating things and making it more interesting.

JJ: Fantasy is a way to play out scenarios and experiment. Bringing different cultures into fantasy makes it come alive.

ML: Don’t shoehorn in diversity for the sake of it but rather do it for the story. Trading Places is full of people from around the world and different cultures. It makes sense, makes a better story, because they ring true.

DJO: It takes a lot of effort to keep blinders on and make an all-white [fictional] society. Worldbuilding is equivalent to creating harmony. A world’s rich history comes through when you’re just writing the story. Levels and layers of history are right there on the surface, making books so much fuller and deeper when we let them into our fantasy.

LL: There is no such thing as history. It’s all interpreted. We see through the lens of the history writer/creator’s interpretation of events.

JJ: I hate token characters because they’re all just so calculated.

Moderator: Is fantasy constricting or empowering for stories we want to tell?

DJO: It is both; it has been used as a bludgeon before, but now it is used to empower, as a counternarrative.

LED: The point of fantasy is that you can do anything, which opens up a huge realm of possibilities. The story still can address issues and problems (poverty, corruption, racism); these problems exist on multiple axises. In fantasy, we can explore oppression in various ways.

LL: Star Trek: Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation explored interracial relationships and gender roles through fantasy/sci fi. The [fantastical] settings were not as threatening, so they were able to reach more people who wouldn’t push away discussion/presentation of these issues because it’s just fantasy.

JJ: The antihero is unique and different. You don’t have to put people in a virtuous box.

DJO: Men get to be horrible people throughout fiction. When do women and non-men get to step up and be deliciously evil and still loveable?

Question: What do you think of using different species as a way of using diversity?

JJ: Just depends who you’re writing for.

DJO: It’s often done wrong, but can be done well. You just can’t make them all the same. You can’t just make a whole race evil.

LED: Science fiction tends to paint everyone from a planet as all the same.

Question: How do we not mess up race representations?

ML: We are all going to mess up at some point. When you get called out for something, never defend yourself. Listen to it.

DJO: Listening is not a skill taught to writers.The thing we’re terrible at is writing ourselves, because we want to protect ourselves. We need to be able to own our shit.

LED: You need to understand power as best you can. I never thought there was anything I couldn’t do because I had seen young women in [Tamora Pierce’s] books do everything.

DJO: Sesame Street is a form of urban fantasy.

Question: [something something] utopia?

JJ: Currently working on a civilization trying to find a utopia.

DJO: Literature is about conflict. Utopia has no conflict. Multiracial movement for equality could be considered a utopia.

  • Utopias gloss over class structure frequently. You need to show cross sections and create a constant source of tension.


  • Tumblr – Medieval People of Color

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