Friday, August 20, 2010

Step It Up

This is a guest post I wrote that originally ran at Genre Reviews: OCD, Vampires and Rants, oh my! Thank you ladies for asking me to guest post and letting me share my ideas with new (and long time) readers :)Link

I’m terrible at coming up with guest posts when I don’t have a prompt. I asked my family, I asked Twitter. But ultimately, Bernice McFadden and Cheri P. Edwards helped me decide after I read their respective articles, without my asking them for advice. Go read them. I’ll wait. Are you back? Good. Weren’t they interesting? Both articles talk about how the publishing industry needs to change because in its current state, it’s extremely difficult for writers of color to get published. However, it’s not solely the publishing industry’s fault. We also need the agents, writers and consumers to step it up. We need more people of color in the publishing industry. I’m going to focus mostly on agents and writers because many articles have already talked about what the publishing industry needs to do and what editors need to.

I’ve said this many times before; if not for blogging I would have kept on thinking that people of color simply weren’t writing. Now I know otherwise. We need the publishing industry to invest in urban communities; we need them to not only encourage future writers of color, but to talk about other jobs in the publishing industry. We need them and other organizations to sponsor writing contests and actively promote them to students. I didn’t know much about jobs in the publishing industry aside from CEO, editors, writers and the people who made covers. I absolutely recommend that anyone who wants to go into publishing read Moonrat’s Guide to Getting Into Publishing Personally, after I finished reading that post, my eyes were opened to so many new job ideas. Maybe I will be an agent, or marketing manager or actual Publisher. The possibilities are endless and yet I didn’t know about many of them. Why is that publishing industries don’t actively promote jobs to youth? On Career days we got doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, movie critics, etc. These are all important jobs. But what about those kids who don’t want to have those jobs, they want to work with books but they can’t write (or just don’t want to)? They probably think the only way they can join the publishing industry is by writing books or becoming an editor (if that, since I didn’t know about editors before blogging. I swear, I would have kept thinking that authors write books and they are magically put together in a pretty package by anonymous people). We need internships, scholarships and any other way you can think of to help get people of color interested in working in the publishing industry. Writers can only do so much. It’s up to us, the consumers to step up as well. Let’s get some people of color working in sales, being publicist, contracts managers, and lawyers in the publishing industry, book designers and more.

Now let’s say publishers do everything right. They hire POC, and are actively seeking manuscripts written by authors of color but they just can’t find any. Then we need agents to step it up. Editors can’t find those amazing writers of color if their books aren’t being shopped around. We can’t have agents having some self-imposed quota of only supporting one or two writers of color. That’s just wrong. I understand if you only want to take authors of a certain genre, that’s fair. But you CAN NOT only support white authors of color. Maybe you do this sub consciously. Agents, look at your client list. How many authors of color do you represent? If you only represent 2, that’s a problem (the numbers may vary depending on how many clients you have. The point is a close to equal ratio of white and POC writers represented would be nice). Also, if you have an equal ratio of white to POC writers but all your POC writers write street lit or erotica, that’s a problem too (since there is no white equivalent of street lit, that just won’t do. This does not apply if you only represent authors of erotic fiction) If you represent writers across genres, you need to make sure you represent a diverse number of writers (diverse meaning not just cultural background but story wise). I would like to hear about more agents representing POC who write contemporary fiction, sci fi, etc.

Alright so publishers are doing what needs to be done and agents are looking to represent more authors of color. Authors of color I cannot stress how important it is to have an INTERNET PRESENCE. I understand, many writers have a day job and don’t have time to read all their fan mail and blog every day. But if you want to be a published author, you need to be prepared to interact with your fans. This means you need to at least have an updated WEBSITE (don’t get me started on some authors that are near impossible to find online because they don’t have a website. Or haven’t updated their websites in years. Grrr). It’s even better if you have a Twitter account and blog at least twice a month. Not only will this help your fans feel like they are in the know, but it will help you gain new fans. I’ve picked up quite a few books because of an author’s Internet presence. Social networking is an amazing tool that the 21st century is blessed to have; it can really help established authors and aspiring authors. It’s also important for aspiring authors to have an active Internet presence. Have a website/blog, join online critique groups, and get a Twitter account (seriously I got a Twitter account about 6 months ago and it’s fantastic. I’ve “met” so many established authors as well as aspiring authors that I need to watch out for). Promote your book online (especially if you are a debut author); enlist the help of a publicist if your publishing company cannot or will not help you promote your book (often the case for writers of color). A great example of this is the Manifest campaign. Manifest is by Artist Arthur, an established author in adult fiction who is making her YA debut. I have seen that book popping up in so many blogger’s In My Mailbox posts (even before I got my ARC). On the back cover, it lists the marketing campaign which includes; sending out ARCS, doing interviews, appearing at BEA and ALA, etc. These are all GREAT ideas because as a result of this enormous marketing campaign, I have seen this book everywhere. If you don’t have the money, try and do it yourself, if you have the money but not the time, hire your own publicist to do it for you (or make time since this is the career you chose). Blog tours really work, make yours creative and fun (Fantastic example is Y.S. Lee’s. Each blog stop was either an interview or a guest post. The guest posts were all about little known facts about Victorian England, which ties into her book. It was brilliant and a lot of fun to follow and I’m not just saying that because I participated). Basically get your name out there. I have a very close friend that I met through blogging, she now has a book deal (and a gorgeous cover), but when I met here, she had yet to sell her manuscript. If an aspiring author is constantly Tweeting, leaving comments on blogs, writing awesome posts, etc. I guarantee that your name will be noticed by book lovers (plus I bet agents or editors might notice this as well) and when you share the news that YOU GOT A BOOK DEAL, you will have fans already in place. Established and aspiring authors of color need to step it up.

I realize that the title of this post sounds rather mean (or you might have seen the title and thought I was about to talk about the movie, which was pretty good. Alas that is not what this particular post is about, sorry to disappoint), but its tough love. I so desperately want to see quality books by POC being published in all genres for people of all ages. I think that’s happening in picture books and early chapter books, we just need more writers of color being published in MG/YA and up. Obviously consumers need to help too. BUY books by POC (it’s no longer enough to buy books about POC not written by POC. I don’t have a problem with those books, but I do have a problem with editors thinking that “we publish books about POC therefore we are diverse”, never mind the fact that the books are not being written by POC. WOC and white writers have different perspectives, both are perspectives that need to be shared, but sadly, we usually just hear the white perspective (best example: The Help. I love this book, but the question most POC are asking is: would it have done as well if it was written by a POC? I don’t know the definite answer to that, but my guess is no.) If you can’t afford to buy books by POC (believe me, I understand) then go to your library and check them out. If they don’t have any, REQUEST them.

Everyone in the publishing industry needs to step it up to promote diversity from editors to agents, to publicists, writers and consumers. Once people start taking those steps and rise to the challenge, we will see change in the publishing industry.


  1. Great post. I keep trying to explain to my mom why I feel the need to work in the field. I want to be an editor or a book cover graphic designer (even though I have no knowledge in that field.) There is a sad disconnect between POC in the publishing world. I don't even think we need to establish separate publishing houses(even though they are necessary too) just to get POC books published. I think it sort of misses the point.

    I think the things that publishers and other professionals in the biz need to realize is that there is a huge untapped market in POC books that don't deal exclusively with race.(like Bleeding Violet for example)

    Great post as always. Makes me more convinced that my future is in the writing world...

    P.S. I got Gringolandia today. I don't have the time to read it right away, but it's a beautiful book and it's signed. XD

  2. Excellent post. I am an aspiring YA author and I wrote about this topic on my blog, specifically the hurdles to having more diversity in the world of literary agents.


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