Friday, July 2, 2010

I'm Writing A Letter (ETA)

The Silver Phoenix cover change has made me realize something; we can't just target the publishers, it's time to contact the bookstores.

Unbeknownst to me, only a few white men are in charge of buying books for large chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble. Granted I don't have any links to that information so if you know where I can find it, please share that information in the comments. This is a HUGE problem. I'm sorry, I just don't have as much faith in white men being committed to featuring diverse reads. Publishers can publish as many books about POC as they want but if large bookstores refuse to buy them, it becomes harder for publishers to 'take a chance' on books by/about POC, especially if they are debuts. I realize that publishing is first and foremost a business, but I would think it is business savvy to reach out to as many customers as you can. Why risk alienating African Americans, Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans?

Silver Phoenix was passed
on by borders and carried in only limited quantities
in select barnes and noble stores.
she simply wasn’t
being picked up by readers as much as we’d have liked

From Cindy Pon's blog post about the cover change
(emphasis mine)

Borders didn't even give the book a chance and it's not good enough when only a limited number of Barnes and Noble stores pick up the books. I also know that Neesha Meminger's Shine, Coconut Moon is not carried in Borders or Barnes and Noble. I don't think Mitali Perkins' books are carried in either chain as well (correct me if I'm wrong). That is unacceptable and needs to change. Change is slow but we've been fighting this for almost a year and we've seen two covers changed and more posts popping up about the lack of diversity in children's books. We are making progress. Maybe not fast enough for my liking, but it is there.

A great post about this can be found at megwrites: Attack of the Whitewashing

I would like to start a letter writing campaign. I'm asking everyone to write to Borders or Barnes and Noble. Personally I think it would be most effective to contact Borders due to the fact that Barnes and Noble is the largest chain bookstore in the U.S (Borders is #2). Therefore, should Borders pay attention to all letters and emails being sent to them, it might help them get ahead. If Barnes and Noble ignores our demands for more diversity in publishing, we can take our business elsewhere and we should tell Borders that in our letters.

I invite everyone to write a letter/email to Borders or Barnes and Noble (or your local chain bookstore) and post it on their blog. Then come back to this post and leave the link in the comments. I would love to be able to have a long list of links to letters. If you don't have a blog, leave your letter in the comments.

Contact Borders Contact Barnes and Noble ETA: I've been told that we should contact the CEO of the bookstore divisions. Bloggers count as media so contact the CEO of Borders boosktore divions, Michael Edwards here For Barnes and Noble if you are a blogger (I consider us reporters in a way) go here to request contact information for Jamie Carey, chief merchandising officer.

I will update this post with my own letter as well. However we can't just stop with letter writing, we need to commit to buying books about POC. The worst thing that could happen would be for us to work so hard to get POC books in stores and then have consumers not buy them. That can not (will not!) happen. I would love to see in each and every In My Mailbox post, New Crayons, etc. one book by/about a POC. One purchase a month (I know we bookaholics buy more than one book a month!), a seemingly small step but you never know. It could make a big difference.

We should also shine a light on chain bookstores that are committed to diversity. I think indie bookstores are already doing a great job of it, they are definitely more receptive.

Other ideas? Share in the comments!

Amy's (from My Friend Amy) letter to Borders and Barnes and Noble

My letter

Najela's Letter

Mardel's Letter

Tricia's Letter

Borders response to my letter

Dear Ari,

Thanks for writing Borders regarding Borders Youth selection.

We welcome your comments, as we rely on feedback from customers to improve on the services and products we provide. It is our objective to keep a wide variety of authors and titles on our shelves at all times.

Online there is an even more broad selection. If you are unable to locate the item you are looking for a store associate will happily assist you in a search online. I've also forwarded your comments on to the Borders Customer Care team for their consideration. While I cannot guarantee that a change will be made, we do appreciate that you've taken the time to send us your ideas.

If you have any other questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us.


Reading in Color Note: Apparently my letter got cut off a bit, which may have something to do with the short response. It sounds like a form letter. I'm going to re-send it via email I have also decided to MAIL a copy of my letter to Borders headquarters. I will keep everyone updated.


  1. yay!!! This is exactly what I wanted to do and I hadn't yet figured out how to organize so I'm glad you're doing it! I will post my letter next week when everyone's back to work. Go Ari! (and I think you're right about Mitali, I remember looking everywhere for Secret Keeper and she later told me it hadn't been carried by the chains)

  2. I think it is a very good idea. After all if they know we want them to sell some books they should at least listen to us, shouldn't they?

  3. This wonderful! Thank you! One other thought (and this is a very local thought) but I worked at a Barnes and Noble while getting my MLS. If a customer orders a book and then never picks it up, that book goes onto the shelves in the store as opposed to back to the publishers (unless nobody then buys it in store). We had one local author who we caught ordering multiple copies of his books, never picking them up, then coming back to the store and setting them front-out so that people would buy them. It worked pretty well for him!

    That said - I haven't worked at a Barnes and Noble since 2005, I don't know if they still have the same procedures, and ordering 3 copies of 10 awesome POC books might just waste fuel in shipping them back and forth.

  4. Gringolandia had the same problem as Neesha and Mitali's books, with the added excuse that my adult novel hadn't sold well three years earlier--even though the two were in completely different genres. In the end, Gringolandia has made its way into Barnes & Noble and Borders, but that was after it won awards and sold well at the indies and online. I saw a few copies at a Borders a few weeks ago, and they were the only non-vampire novels on that part of the shelf.

    What you're doing is a great idea, because when you go into one of these stores, all the YA books look the same. It's the same thing in the publishers' catalogues. Even those who don't appreciate multicultural fiction should be concerned, because this uniformity is going to destroy the YA genre, giving YA the image of mindless conformity to formulas and driving away thoughtful readers and authors.

  5. Ari, this is a really good idea. I'll get on to it soon & will post the link. I hope others will do the same.

    Is it OK if I signal boost on LJ's 50books_poc?

  6. @Amy-Now that I think about it, I probably should have waited to post this till after the U.S. holiday weekend. Oh well. I'm looking forward to reading your letter :) At least you looked for Secret Keeper and found it!

    @anachronist-That's the plan, here's hoping they listen! The customer is always right, right?

    @librarian pirate-ahaha I love it! Ordering POC books is definitely going to make a real difference and I just might do that =) I doubt they would send them back...(I would hope they are trying to be more environmentally friendly)

    @Lyn-Yay it's at Borders! I should be going tomorrow so I'll look for it :D We need to get books that may not win awards on the shelves and into reader's hands. I'm so g=pleased with the reception this idea has gotten.

    Exactly, multicultural literature not only teaches tolerance but everyone's voices gradually become represented equally and they will each add something new to the YA genre.

  7. great idea, Ari -- will spread the word! this is an issue from PBs through YA. hope you promote this post regularly, especially when schools are back in session, during major book-related conferences, etc.

  8. I saw SILVER PHOENIX in the Wichita Barnes & Noble. I wonder if someone did that ordering trick there?

  9. I'm not sure I can write a letter because we don't have Borders or B&N in the UK (Borders UK arm went bust this year). But I think I have a post about Waterstones and lack of diversity that could be tinkered with...

    I feel like everytime I put a book buying ban in place the need to buy books to support diversity comes up in a major way. I picked up 3 new books last night, 'Boys without Names', 'The Vast Fields of Ordinary' and 'Mare's War' and eventually decided to pre-order 'Fury' (still don't feel that good about that situation). Oh have you seen the paperback cover for Chameleon btw - they changed it and used a black male model so now you can buy a non-model hardback, or a black model paperback version. Pretty good!

  10. I don't know if the ordering thing will work at Borders - I tried to order a book from them online, even tried going into the store to order, and the clerk tried for me but they couldn't even order it because this particular book just flat out wasn't available to them. Apparently they can only order certain books. I ended up having to buy it from a bookstore in Oregon. So if they don't carry Silver Phoenix, we might not even be able to order through them. I'm going to give a try though - at least try and then complain if I can't get it.

    Does anyone have an e-mail address for us to write to? I read the buyer's (Borders) information and he's only 29 years old - you'd think he'd be a little more aware of the world around him. This would be a good point to make - he's just been hired in 2009, is new to Borders and is young so we should let him know we expect better out of him.


    Here's my letter.

    I think what we need to do as book bloggers is not only to write the letters, but to actually buy the books we want them to stock. I can't remember who wrote it, but something to the effect that we should be rallying around several different books and support the authors. This is probably a bad example, but with John Green and the Nerdfighters, the whole fan base basically skyrocketed him to the NYT Bestsellers. If we can do something massive like that around a book of color, we'd have a foothold in the market. I don't actually know how feasible doing something like that is, but it's something to think about.

  12. The book is available online, but I think they are missing the point of the whole letter writing thing.

    I'm probably going to pre-order the sequel too, but probably from Amazon.

  13. Ari, what can I say that hasn't been said? I have some letter writing to do,eh? Thanks.

  14. Ari,you are simply awesome. I am an aspiring writer and currently querying a YA paranormal series with an AA girl with her own powers whose the main character of the series. She's surrounded by a multicultural cast. Writing the series was a labor of love and even though I've been told multicultural fiction is a hard sell,I intend to keep pushing. Reading your lovely words and those of your fellow posters gives me even more incentive. There is a HUGE audience dying for these kinds of books in all genres. There are white readers who don't see color at all. They just want a good story. It is a very ignorant assumption that POC don't read and you beautifully stated the reasons why kids of color ignore the book market.The publishing industry understands dollars and I fully believe that it will take one POC book to explode and the rush to acquire them will be stunning. It shouldn't be about money but if that opens doors and gets POC writers out there,so be it. I don't understand a business that ignores a segment of the market with enormous spending power.

    I've written letters and as a parent,I intend to make sure that my kids learn AA culture and ones different from their own. As a writer,I'm going to keep querying my series. Your posts and emails that I've gotten shows me that not only is there a market for my books,there is a need for it. That means a lot to me and gives me the strength to stick with my books.

    Be Blessed

  15. Hi Ari,

    I have finally written my letter but I'm having mental problems trying to figure out where/to whom to send it. On the CEO's page there is a contact phone number but no e-mail. I read in the comments that there is a link to a 29-year-old buyer, but I can't find!

    I really want to send it as a snail mail letter in addition to e-mailing or posting it--I was very careful not to put links or anything in. Have you actually mailed yours yet?

  16. Here's mine at last.

  17. Although I am responding to this long after the post, I found this a great read. I was in Chapters a few months ago (Canadian version of Borders/B&N) and tried to find some diverse reads for my Grade 6 students. Since you mentioned Mitali Perkins above, I will agree by saying I asked for Bamboo People but it was nowhere to be seen or found in any store within my vicinity. When I questioned the sales person, he simply directed me to the Graphic Novel section and told me "here is the diverse literature section". Hmmm - it certainly made for an interesting discussion back in class.

  18. I'm coming way late to this discussion as well but enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts. My local Barnes and Noble area does look very white and I would love to protest that with a letter or two.


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