02/28 – Diana McCollum

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Change Is Coming

Hi everyone! I am YA author B A Binns , writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for teens. My tagline tells you what I am about - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them. 

Everyone, readers, authors and yes, even publishers and agents, know the publishing world is in a state of flux. Change has been, is, and will continue to be the norm for the foreseeable future. While changes can be frightening, they often bring about something wonderful.

Change brings choices.

When I was young dinosaurs roamed the earth and hardcover books filled bookstore and library shelves. Books, period. There wasn't even a separate YA section way back then, just Adult books and children's books. Now people have trade and mass market books, eBooks (including enhanced eBooks), and audio books.  Borders may be gone, but Amazon is poised to open physical bookstores.

Choice is good.

That's why I celebrate another change occurring in the publishing world.  There are many adults who self-identify as non-readers. There are children who are classified as "reluctant readers" or who have trouble getting interested in books as an alternative to other activities.  And there are eager readers of all ages who devour books and wish for something different int heir reading.  All of these groups can have their reading pleasure kindled, and even enhanced, with additional choices. Especially young readers. Whether eager or reluctant, the lives of children can be changed when they find books that take them to other lands or help them see the world, and themselves, through other eyes. This includes books about people outside the mainstream majority in America, written by members of those diverse populations.

We Need Diverse Books is not only about having young readers from marginalized groups seeing themselves on a page. It's also about kids from the majority group seeing other faces on a page.  This is a long overdue change, delayed mainly because so many of the gatekeepers in both publishing are white, heterosexual, female, and cisgendered. Consciously/unconsciously they look for manuscripts they understand. Things that appeal to them, stories that resonate to them and that they feel they can fight for in editorial meetings.  That means many stories by authors who are different from them, who see the world differently and write differently, frequently get passed over for publication and for review.

In 2015 the Diversity Baseline Survey was run with publishers and reviewer who voluntarily agreed to respond. Results are available at : http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/ 
 These numbers illustrate why the publishing monolith is slow to change regarding book diversity. But it was also slow about eBooks (I remember when traditional publishers considered them just a fad something to worry about in ten or fifteen years and noticing almost too late that the fad had grown to s tsunami). Ditto about indie authors whose ranks are growing daily, even sweeping some mainstream authors away from their established houses into roles where they can write with fewer restrictions. worlds. Many publishing professionals talk about diverse books not selling as if that were dogma.

But change comes.

Diversity in the the next faces hired in publishing is as important as seeing the next books with Native American, Latina/o, Asian American, African American, disabled or LGBTQIAP authors. He who controls the pen controls the story.

For this month I want to showcase one of those change agents, fellow children's author, Christine Taylor-Butler

In June 2015, I was asked to appear at a predominantly white middle school in Colchester Connecticut to talk about The Lost Tribes. [Her 2015 release] It was clear I was a Black woman. It was equally clear the characters were likely minority. I'd shown a black illustration of a boy as Spiderman along with other multicultural illustrations having nothing to do with the characters in my examples. The day after my appearance the librarian contacted the publisher and said the students were lined up outside her office with money and could they send more books for the kids to by. This fall, when the semester was in full swing, the librarian tweeted that the book was the number one circulating title at their library. I think there is hope that students are more open minded about reading than adults give them credit for.

In a similar vein, I ran a challenge. Five puzzles in five days. The winning entries that solved all five challenges would be put in a drawing for a SKYPE visit and a set of autographed books. There were 1250 hits on the site nationwide. The winners were a young boy, and a fourth grade class in a rural Kansas town. Our SKYPE discussion about the book ran over.

The question is - when publishers imply white students won't read books with diverse characters, I often wonder if it is because they fail to publish the types of books that attract those students in terms of intriguing content (adventure, mystery, etc) and, instead, default to urban, civil rights and slave stories as low hanging fruit meant to appeal.


Diana McCollum said...

Very interesting and thought provoking blog post. I agree there should be more diversity in books for readers of all ages.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Good point, Christine. My favorite recent meme says "They said no one would go to a movie with minority and women lead actors." then shows a photo from the latest Star Wars movie. People will read good books regardless of what the hero or heroine looks like.

ChristineTB said...

Thank you! I remember the old adage "Problems arise to send a message. If you solve the problem without getting the message, it will just come back and send a louder message." It's imperative we give all children a wider range of stories featuring diverse children than what has been traditionally allowed.

We'll keep writing until publishing wakes up as an industry.

Angela C. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angela C. said...

Christine is absolutely right when she states that today's children are more open to diverse books than adults give them credit for. I've witnessed the same thing at schools I've attended for author visits. I once saw a mother tell her boy when he picked up my book, Gaby, Lost and Found, that it was "girl book." She assumed that, I suppose because the book cover is very purple and pink and features a girl on the cover. ;) He hesitated and put it back down, when another boy exclaimed, "that's my favorite book right now!" The boy picked it right back up and I happily signed it for him. ;)