This week cnn.com writer Ashely Strickland published an article titled “Where’s the African-American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss,” revisiting the topic of diversity–or the lack thereof–in young adult books. Referring specifically to the almost total absence of protagonists/main characters of color in YA books despite notable writers bringing attention to the issue while creating compelling characters of color. 1
With demands for increased diversity in YA (and ALL forms of media) becoming more prominent in recent years, sites like Cindy Pon’s and Malinda Lo’s Diversity in YA, or Racebending.com promote works that present diverse perspectives and/or expose missed opportunities to diversify in natural ways. Check them out when you can. Additionally, my good friends Ellen Oh and Meg Medina address Diversity in YA beautifully and often on their own sites.
Here, I want to discuss a harsher side to the topic. The non-existent progress and outright opposition to diversifying YA (or anything). To even discuss the topic attracts accusations of “race-baiting” or “playing the race card.” 2 21st Century rhetoric for striking down uppity minorities or supporters who DARE challenge continued exclusion. Because that’s what we’re talking about when you look at nearly twenty years of data showing minority main characters outnumbered by their white counterparts 9 to 1 (and it’s possible that I’m rounding up in favor of minorities; in 2012 the CCBC conducted a survey of 3,600 books and showed minority main characters accounted for 7-8% of all main characters in that year). This, in spite of expressed commitments to diversity from publishing’s gatekeepers.
In other words, nothing new.
Sites, articles, panels (like the one I’ll be participating in at this summer’s SCBWI conference in Los Angeles) receive all sorts of overt support. Adamant readers, writers, and representatives can seem as numerous as detractors if you’re inside the publishing industry like I am. Yet statistics remain unchanged.
There’s a popular saying,”Be the change.” I propose an alternative motto for the Diversify YA movement. “Don’t BS the change.”
Mission statements are great. So is continued discussion. But it’s time to move beyond examining this from a thousand different angles and start asking folks in power for answers and solutions.
1) Only 8% of main characters are non-white year after year. Is that acceptable to you? If you say yes, well, at least you’re being honest. No need to go further. I suspect most will say no, and some percentage of those people might mean it.
2) If you answered “no” to question 1, and you mean it, what do YOU plan to do about it? This one I direct mostly towards the gatekeepers who select books for publication (though readers can certainly help by seeking diverse titles to read and discuss with others). We’ve quantified the numbers, to change them, there must be an active plan. Devise one. If that requires too much effort see the next question.
3)Editors, what percentage of last year’s acquisitions were books with diverse main characters? Whatever that number is, I bet it’s low. Dismally. You probably don’t want the public to know about it. So, let’s institute a plan to increase that number by 2% each year. 3 (Cue pained cries of affirmative action and how America has fallen apart. Whatever.)
4) Did you scoff at that 2% annual increase? Reconsider your answer to question 1.
5) Are you concerned that books featuring non-white main characters will sell poorly? If you said yes, it’s okay that you’re concerned. But, keep in mind that you have books on your list featuring white main characters that sell poorly. Which means your concern shows bias. All books run the risk of not finding an audience and there has never been a time when you considered excluding white characters due to poor sales.
6) Have you not seen much pro-level material from writers of color/featuring characters of color? You say yes, and think this let’s you off the hook. Ha! Change where/how you look. Consider hosting contests, or asking current writers on your list for referrals, or requesting sympathetic writers on your list brainstorm ideas for introducing diverse leads to the market (including white writers…though not with the intent of continued exclusion of writers of color).
7) Are you marketing diverse writers/characters in the same manner you market books you EXPECT to do well in the marketplace? The keyword is “expect.” To make any of the above proposed steps with an expectation of failure, and marketing efforts that reflect negative notions creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Effective marketing doesn’t mean framing campaigns in a manner that presents the writer/character as an OTHER. A cool, diverse space opera should be marketed to “fans of STAR WARS!” not Black/Latino/Asian or some other subset of STAR WARS fans. Diverse books should be presented as if they have universal appeal BECAUSE THEY DO!
Enough for now. I’m not done, but I’m tired of typing (and you’re likely tired of reading). I might work this into a flowchart for easy viewing. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, if this touched you, remember, don’t BS the change. Question lack of progress. Don’t accept garbage answers.
It’s been a long time coming, folks. My novel, FAKE ID, is now available all over. Click HERE to purchase a copy from your preferred bookseller.
Many of you have asked how you can show your support, and I want to thank you for that. Below, you’ll find a few things you can do to help the book (and me) succeed:
1) Buy a copy of FAKE ID (http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Fake-Id-Lamar-Giles/?isbn=9780062121844): This is the best way you can help. Good sales numbers prove to my publisher that I am a good investment, so they will continue to invest. Awesome sales numbers open up the possibility for bestseller lists, which increases visibility, which…well, it goes back to the return on investment thing. Sales keep writers employed.
2) Encourage a friend to buy a copy of FAKE ID: See point 1…
3) Post a review of FAKE ID: FAKE ID has a page on Amazon, B&N.com, Goodreads, or wherever books are sold or reviewed. More reviews increase visibility on those sites. More visibility leads to more sales.
4) Come out to a FAKE ID event: For those in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) area, I’ll be doing several events over the next few weeks. Come out and say hi. The first event will be Saturday, Jan. 25th from Noon to 3 at the Greenbrier Barnes & Noble (1212 Greenbrier Pkwy, Chesapeake, VA 23320). The second event will be on Saturday, Feb. 1st from 2PM – 4PM at the Hopewell branch of the Appomattox Regional Library (209 E. Cawson Street, Hopewell, VA 23320). Books will be on sale at the events, so if you’d like to wait and purchase your book on those days, me and the booksellers would greatly appreciate it.
5) Promote Literacy: When I was growing up, I often heard the term “RIF”—Reading is Fundamental. It was true then, it’s still true now. Let’s make sure no one forgets.
Thanks everyone. I’m going for the win in 2014 and I hope you join the team. I will see you on the other side of this crazy and exciting season! Take care.
Hey gang, Happy New Year! I’m kicking off 2014 the right way by giving you stuff! Starting tomorrow, two signed books are up for grabs. A FAKE ID Advanced Review Copy by yours truly, and a DON’T TURN AROUND trade paperback by the always awesome Michelle Gagnon. It’s easy to enter, the widget is below. You’ve got from midnight tonight until Sunday, 11:59 PM EST to get yourself in the running. Tweet about it and LIKE my Facebook Page to improve your chances. What are you waiting for? Go!
I know I’ve been MIA for roughly a thousand years, but for good reason. I sold another book (cue airhorns, confetti, balloon drop). Thing is, I sold this book on proposal, meaning my publisher (HarperCollins, again) only saw a summary, and some sample chapters before ponying up some cash. Also meaning I had to produce an entire manuscript based on that summary and sample chapters. In six months. While working a brutally demanding day job. And preparing for the 1/21/2014 release of FAKE ID.
These are what we call “good” problems, I suppose. But, boy, did I have to hustle.
So, yeah, I descended into the WriterCave for many moons. Had to climb out. When I did, I emerged with…
It’s called ENDANGERED (for now, titles change and I’m almost positive this one will, too). The short description goes like this: Lauren “Panda” Daniels wants to photograph wildlife for National Geographic someday. In the meantime she settles for snapping shots of her cruel classmates in compromising positions and posting them anonymously on the web. When Panda receives a photo of herself—caught red-handed in her voyeuristic revenge act—she expects the mystery photographer to bust her. Instead, she receives a series of dangerous photos from the shutterbug she dubs “The Admirer,” and along with the photos, a dare: top the death-defying snapshots. Panda meets every challenge, until the little game turns deadly. Now Panda must save the classmates she once exposed—their lives, and hers, are at stake.
That’s my latest baby, delivered to my editor at 12:22 PM yesterday. There’s still plenty of work to do here, but it’s a heck of a relief anytime you can call Draft 1 (or, if this was an Apple product, iDraft 1.04) done.
Now, I must switch gears, as FAKE ID’s release is right around the corner. I’m busy talking to folks about the book (librarians, booksellers, journalists), attempting to make arrangements for a book release party, and generally getting comfortable with the idea of being the front man for a roadshow starting early next year. Is it scary? Hell yeah! In the best way possible? You know it.
In coming posts, I’ll let you know how the lead up is going. My very next post will be about some of the lessons I’ve learned as a pre-debut author. I think you’ll find it interesting and eye-opening if you have any illusions that a writer’s work is glamorous in any way. Getting a book deal is just one of many hurdles, folks. Come back and I’ll tell you about it.
Book sales matter, particularly the sales in the first few weeks of a book’s release. It would mean a lot if you would either pre-order FAKE ID from your preferred bookseller, or make plans to order it on the release day, 1/21/2014. I’d like to keep doing this for a long time, but ultimately, it’s you who makes that decision.
Every little bit helps, and I appreciate you supporting my work. Thanks.
‘Til next time…
Hafsah at IceyBooks just gave the world its first look at the cover for my upcoming Young Adult debut, FAKE ID, which is out in January. Get thee over to IceyBooks for a glimpse of what’s coming, and enter to win an Advanced Reader Copy of the book (Yes, that means you get to read it before most of the world…NICE!)
In case you missed the other two links in this post, here’s another: http://www.iceybooks.com/2013/06/fake-id-by-lamar-giles-cover-reveal-and.html
Take a look and help spread the word!
Finally finished watching Cloud Atlas. I kind of loved it, mostly because I’m still thinking about it.
It almost demands a 2nd or 3rd viewing. Something I can’t say about any other film I’ve seen this year. I highly recommend the experience, though I can’t promise you’re going to enjoy it (it seems most people didn’t…on a 100 Million dollar budget, it made 27 Million in the U.S. according to IMDB). DO NOT try to watch it and multi-task; look away at the wrong point, and you’ll feel like someone changed the channel, Downton Abbey to Blade Runner, Pirates of the Caribbean to The Americans. Six (really seven) stories told across different times, with a core group of actors playing different versions of the same soul –sometimes in white and yellow face–is a tough pill. The makeup that facilitates these changes is hit or miss (the biggest misses being the racial shifts in the Neo Seoul and Cambridge segments), at times it’s enough to distract. But the beauty of home viewing is the ability to rewind and grab that crucial piece of dialogue you missed when you were thinking, “Halle Berry is one weird looking white lady.”
If you’ve got 3 hours you want to toss at a challenging film, then let this be the film. If your ideal cinematic experience involves shorter, lighter fare then avoid all six (or is it seven?) of these interconnected tales.
“The weak are meat, and the strong will eat.”
This week’s fight promises to be brutal. Hulk aka “The Strongest There Is” Vs Kratos aka “The Ghost of Sparta” aka “The God Slayer”. Last week’s battle, Batman vs. James Bond, went lopsided on us, with Bats proving the having favorite and victor. But, no more knockouts, folks. This is our first deathmatch (and since both brawlers seem impossible to kill, this could take awhile).
So who takes this one, and why? Let’s get ready to rumble…
Last week I posed an earth shattering question on Facebook. In a fight, decided by a ten-count knockout, who’d win: Spider-Man or Wolverine?
The debate went on for days. While many of the arguments were sound, my friend John pointed out that the fight had been decided more than twenty years ago in the pages of the aptly titled Spider-man vs. Wolverine. Result: Draw.
So, this week, I’m mixing it up a bit. I’m tossing two well-matched opponents from different universes (but with similar psychotic tendencies and equipment) into the ring. That’s right, Bruce Wayne aka Batman VS. James Bond aka 007.
The rules remain the same. This is NOT a deathmatch (saving that for next week’s match up). This is a no holds (or gadgets or cars) barred brawl to see who ends up eating mat. Ding! Ding! Ding! Let’s get it on! Sound off in the comments, on FB, or tag me on Twitter: @LRGiles
Hey gang…how do you like my new web digs?
In anticipation of the upcoming release of FAKE ID, I decided to give the site a makeover. I want to thank Tessa Elwood of Pop Color Web Design for hooking it up. If you’re in the market for a great site and stellar customer service experience, you’ll want to reach out to her.
Also, if you saw the landing page, you probably noticed the placeholder for the FAKE ID cover. The real thing is coming soon (VERY SOON). Stay tuned, because I may be giving you guys a little bonus once I reveal the cover. Can’t say too much about it, yet, though.
Have a great week. More in a bit.
Hey gang, just doing my usual drive-by posting. News and updates are going to be coming faster and furious(er?) since FAKE ID debuts in LESS THAN A YEAR!!! It’s been such a long journey that it’s hard to believe we’re so close now. HOWEVER, this post is not about my current project. It’s about my NEXT project.
Can’t give you details yet because it’s still in the classified phase (black bars and all), but here’s a glimpse at how things are progressing.
BTW – Everything’s not blacked out.