Diversity in Publishing: An Ongoing Battle

Last week was a bit busy, so I wasn’t online quite as much as I usually am. So imagine my surprise when I hit Twitter on Friday afternoon and discovered the latest diversity mess in the publishing world, namely the appalling lack of diversity in the lineup of authors scheduled to speak/sign/present at BookCon in May. For those of you unaware, BookCon is the new incarnation of the Power Readers Day portion of BookExpo America, the major industry rights fair held annually in New York. The last couple of years, Power Readers Day provided public access to what was previously an industry-only affair, allowing book enthusiasts to come in and get ARCs, attend panels, and meet their favorite authors. This year ReedPop, the organizer for the event, has rebranded the public portion as BookCon with the intention of broadening the scope and drawing more attendees. All of which was fine until they announced the authors participating in their Kid Lit panel last week, and they turned out to be four white men. A look at the BookCon website reveals that the list of guests so far consists of approximately 30 writers (and a cat), all of whom are white (though some women show up here).

Those are the basics. Anyone looking for a more detailed rundown of the details should check out BookRiot, where they’ve been tracking the situation and BookCon’s lack of responses to their queries all week, as well as an analysis of the statement ReedPop finally issued yesterday. It’s pretty comprehensive, and includes additional links to further discussion of the situation.

I, however, am more interested in looking at the bigger picture right now. Am I astonished by BookCon’s lineup? Of course. Do I think they purposefully set out to white-wash their guest list? No. However, I do believe they are guilty of planning without an active awareness of the issues facing the industry (and society) today, and that is short sighted and irresponsible. Diversity in publishing is a hot topic these days, and rightly so, and I’m hard pressed to imagine how anyone organizing a publishing event, in the middle of New York City no less, can be blind to that ongoing discussion. This is not a small town event with limited access to speakers, but an enormous convention based in the publishing capital of the nation if not the world. The existing panel of guests consists of a wonderful array of talented writers — no one is arguing their worth as speakers. Certainly the people inviting authors to participate had a wealth of diverse options to choose from; they simply focused on a very narrow portion of that broad array of talent. It never crossed their minds to reach out and make the effort to include people of color in the lineup, because if it had, we would be seeing the evidence on their website.

That’s the bigger picture that’s so troubling. This lack of thought. We all know that there are racists in the world, and while that’s certainly troubling as well, it’s at least more clear cut. What feels more insidious is the other group — the people who believe themselves to be fair minded, rational, and certainly not racist, but who never stop to think about how their actions come across or affect those around them. These are the people who gravitate toward “their own” unconsciously, because they don’t make a conscious effort to be inclusive in their thought processes. They would never utter a racial slur or think negatively about people of color, but that’s pretty much because they don’t think about them at all unless someone else brings up the subject. They insist that they are choosing “the best of what’s available” when selecting submissions for their magazine or panelists for their conference, and think that justifies an outcome lacking in diversity, when in reality it merely underscores their closed-minded views of the world.

At the end of the day, it isn’t enough to say you have nothing against a certain group, whether it consists of women or people of color or individuals whose sexual preferences or identities differ from your own. If you’re not making an effort to help things get better, you’re still contributing to the overall problem. We’re all human, and no one expects everyone to get it right one hundred percent of the time. But the key is to try, and if you muck it up, to acknowledge your errors and try to fix the problem. BookCon is just one more hurdle in the ongoing battle to diversify the publishing industry, and it likely won’t be the last.




Friday Links

TGIF! Are you ready to kick off the weekend? I have a long to-do list, personally, but I’m hoping to squeeze a little personal reading time into the schedule. How about all of you? Reading? Writing? Chores? Maybe a weekend getaway?

Whatever your plans, I’ve got some fun Friday links for you to enjoy in your spare moments, both reading- and writing-centric, with a few things that skirt the fringes. I hope you find them interesting and, perhaps, a bit inspirational. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Opportunities for Writers: May and June, 2014 – A round-up of contests and calls for work.

YA Historical Fiction for Downton Abbey Fans – A nice list of suggested reads from various decades.

Literary Rebels You Need to Know – Some of the lesser known writers out there bucking the status quo.

The Genre Debate: ‘Literary Fiction’ Is Just Clever Marketing – Another round in the genre vs. literature wars. Nicely put.

Speed-Reading Apps Are Great for Speed, Terrible for Reading, Study Finds – A look at how speed reading may cause you to remember less.

Birthdays with the Bard

It’s quite a literary day, today, being the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. I know there are all sorts of theories about the possibility or likelihood that Shakespeare penned all the works attributed to him, and regarding the chances that the man from Stratford-upon-Avon was sufficiently well educated to have been capable of such a feat. But today I just want to give him all the credit, and marvel that such a body of work has survived and thrived for so many centuries. We continue to produce the plays, both in direct theatrical productions and varied adaptations in multiple mediums, and they continue to be relevant even after all this time. The breadth of characters, the human emotions touched upon… there’s a great deal to admire there.

So, in honor of the Bard, I offer you all sorts of mid-week reading to put you in a Shakespearian frame of mind. Enjoy!

450 Years of Juliets: On Women Making Shakespeare

Shakespeare, Heartthrob: Reclaiming the Bard for the Common Man

Why Shakespeare Belongs in Prison: The incarcerated may be the Bard’s ideal modern audience

Celebrate Shakespeare’s Birthday with Some of His Best Insults and Pick-up Lines

50 Everyday Phrases that Came from the Bard

As Shakespeare turns 450, ‘Hamlet’ Tour Makes the World a Stage


Friday Links

Happy Friday! It’s officially the start of the Easter weekend in much of the world, and so for all of you celebrating, enjoy. Our offices are closed today, so I’m taking the time to catch up on some non-work related things and — I hope — do some personal reading. My TBR pile has been glaring at me especially hard the past few weeks.

But before I go “off duty,” I have some fun links for you to kick off the weekend. They’re definitely a bit all over the place today, so I hope you find something that sparks your imagination or just entertains you. Have a great weekend!

The Virtual Moleskine – A look at the history of this popular notebook, and at their efforts to add a digital option.

A Photographic Tour of America’s Libraries – In honor of National Library Week.

Bookmarks Competition Winners – Book Depository held a contest, and these charming designs were the winners.

In Pakistan, Literary Spring Is Both Renaissance and Resistance – A look at the book festival behind held in Lahore, despite the atmosphere of political instability and oppression.

The Power of Garcia Marquez – A look back at the writer, who passed away yesterday.

Holiday bonus: Peeps Show 2014, Winner and Finalists – An adorable and entertaining use of Peeps — those traditional too-sweet, sticky Easter-time treats — in storytelling. Worth a look, whatever your beliefs.

The Art of Boosting the Signal

Some days it feels like you sign onto Twitter and everyone you follow is selling something. You know what it’s like: daily deals, freebies, new releases, tie-ins, giveaways. They want you to check out the sequel to the book you haven’t read yet, download their new widget counting down to their pub date, or spread the word regarding their starred review. And that’s all well and good. Everyone does it, and chances are excellent that you will, too, if you haven’t done so already. People expect a certain amount of sales in with their socializing when they frequent various forms of social media, and in many cases that very type of word-of-mouth is what lets us discover our next great read or app or website.

The key to marketing yourself and others using social media is to keep things minimal and meaty. By that I mean, only Tweet about your book a very small percentage of the time and also limit how often you’re being sales-y on behalf of your friends or people you support/admire, and when you do go into marketing mode, make sure you include something of substance. You want to get mileage for those 140 characters, so do your best to include something of genuine interest and don’t confuse your followers.

How often have you seen a Tweet go by that’s nothing more than a link? No information, no context. Why would you click on that? Perhaps if the person Tweeting the link is someone close to you and you know they’re directing it at you specifically, you’ll click without a second thought. But in most cases, that link is going to just scroll on by. Likewise, how often has someone sent out a Tweet with a meaningless title, link, and a “via” followed by a Twitter handle? Chances are that Tweet was generated from a website where the person Tweeting wanted to share the post and used their on-page Tweet button. If the post’s title is vague and the Tweeter didn’t add their own description, it’s almost as bad as sending out a link on its own.

It’s tempting to send a Tweet out quickly and move on, but if you’re genuinely trying to share a post or convey your enthusiasm for someone’s new release, take the time to work in a few words that give your followers the proper message. If you’re reTweeting something that’s vague, take a moment to modify the original Tweet for clarity. Did you read the work you’re Tweeting about? Did you love it? Say so. Maybe it kept you up reading all night. Or you read slowly to savor every word. Are you talking up a friend’s webinar or book signing? What makes them knowledgable or entertaining? Share that information to make the Tweet stand out.

When it comes to marketing your own project, make sure you stress your own enthusiasm that it’s going out into the world more than you beg people to buy it. You love your book and hope others will as well. Encourage anyone who gives it a try to let you know what they think. Engage your followers. Start a conversation. Also, remember that Twitter doesn’t need to be a final destination. Use Tweets to link to blog posts or free chapters or tie-in short stories on your website. Limit your announcements regarding these items to a couple of Tweets a day, spacing them out to allow people in different time zones to get the information, and make sure you Tweet about plenty of non-promotional things in between.

Twitter can provide a great platform for marketing your work and helping the spread the word about other people’s projects you’ve enjoyed, but it’s up to everyone to make the experience is painless as possible. Take the time to craft your Tweets, be considerate of your followers and avoid flooding their feeds with endless promotions, and you can help keep the Twitter conversation entertaining and enjoyable for all. Happy Tweeting!


Friday Links

TGIF! And I mean that most sincerely. This has been the sort of week where you take two steps forward and 14 back, with schedules turned on end and all sorts of unexpected things flying out of the woodwork, some good, some of the duck-or-run variety. My consolation is that the weekend is here (nearly) and I plan to spend a good portion of it sleeping, and also in an air conditioned movie theater with Captain America and his cohorts. (Have you seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier yet? No? What are you waiting for? Go!)

Okay, now that we’ve gotten the agent-as-geek portion of the post out of the way… I bring you links! A fair few are colored by my love of National Poetry Month, but there’s some other stuff going on as well. I hope you find them entertaining and interesting, and maybe a bit inspirational, depending on what floats your boat. Wishing you all a great weekend, filled with words and sunshine. Enjoy!

Kima Jones, On Black Bodies and Being a Black Woman Who Writes – A great piece from NPR with this talented emerging poet.

Revisiting YA Verse Novels: A 2014 Guide to the Format – For those of you who love, or are curious about, YA novels in verse. Good list.

Amazon.com to Acquire ComiXology – Yeah. Not sure how I feel about this.

Vladimir Nabokov on Writing, Reading, and the Three Qualities a Great Storyteller Must Have – On inventing story.

A Censored History of Ladies in YA Fiction – On writing under the anonymity of initials and more.

Between the Lines: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with Zadie Smith

Check out this fabulous author conversation between authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith, discussing Adichie’s latest book, AMERICANAH, with a focus on themes of identity and globalization. It’s a fairly long interview, and there are a couple of technical glitches, but it’s still well worth a viewing. Unfortunately it’s not letting me embed for some reason, but you can watch it over on the Schomberg Center’s site.

Friday Links

Normally I’m all about Friday. Yay, weekend! Even though I work at least part of most weekends, there’s a certain mindset they bring with them that just makes things feel a bit more cheerful. Except this weekend I have a hot date with my tax return, so… not so much. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not wishing all of you a wonderful weekend, and naturally I have a list of links to help you ease the way. At the very least, I hope they make you think or perhaps take a fresh look at how you approach your writing. Enjoy!

Speak Plainly: Are we Losing the War Against Jargon? – An interesting look at trends in conversational style.

10 Signs of Underdeveloped Characters in Your Novel – Some good tips.

10 Surprising Ways to Transform Your Creative Thinking – Thoughts on how to best get your brain churning.

Buried Badasses: The Forgotten Heroines of pre-Code Comics – A peek at some “Golden-Age” comics, and at the kick-ass women who graced their pages.

The Night I Slept Outside Shakespeare & Company – One writer’s encounter with the famed Parisian bookstore.

A Month for Verse

Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes.

~Joseph Roux

Happy National Poetry Month! I don’t discuss poetry much here, mostly because I don’t represent it and I don’t want to confuse anyone. But as a reader, I love poetry, and I believe that writers of every stripe should read poetry as often as possible. It bends the brain in new directions, looks at the world through a different sort of lens, and sings to the soul in varying rhythms. Plus poets know all the best vocabulary words.

When I was seven or eight, my mother bought me a giant anthology of poetry geared for children but that included plenty of poems originally intended for adults. It was a giant hardcover off the dollar book table, with a torn book jacket, but we brought it home and my mother made a book cover out of some gorgeous old wrapping paper, and inside the pages were pristine and illustrated. Many of the poems had a narrative structure, or else a familiar rhyming pattern, or were only a stanza or two long. It was my first introduction to Emily Dickinson and Ogden Nash, to “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Longfellow and to many others, and it made an indelible impression.

I loved how much thought and story could be condensed into such a small package, how entire stories could reveal themselves in a few short paragraphs — while rhyming, no less, though I liked the poems that didn’t rhyme, too. And although I was already a reader who could happily devote entire days to curling up with a book, I appreciated the quick fix of poetry. I could finish reading an entire poem between the time my mother called me down to dinner and the time she actually expected me at the table. It was also easy to keep all the details of something that compact in my mind, to turn over and contemplate in a way I couldn’t with a full-length novel. A poem, once read, belonged to me in a way other reading material didn’t.

In fourth grade, my reading teacher announced a year-long introduction to poetry. Around our regular book assignments and free reading, we would be doing an ongoing poetry unit that basically consisted of standing before the class and reading a pre-chosen poem out loud. Once every couple of weeks, we would devote a class period to poetry readings. Kids would sign up to read ahead of time, choose their poem, and then when the time came, read it to the class. You didn’t need to memorize it, but you did need to read it through beforehand so that you wouldn’t stutter and stumble through it on the actual day. And even better, our teacher would be reading aloud, also. I can’t say I recall much of what the other students read, but I do remember the day our teacher read “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes (which I was later delighted to realize was in my own enormous poetry collection). The poem itself is highly dramatic, and she played it up to the hilt. I had no idea what a highwayman was prior to that day, had no idea poetry could make me feel anxious and put me on the edge of my seat. Even for someone who already enjoyed poetry, it was a revelation.

Not all my academic experiences with poetry were wonderful or inspiring. Poetry, like any kind of reading material, comes in all shapes and sizes. Some of it is difficult, like wading through quicksand. Some of it is plain incomprehensible. But the bug bit early enough, and firmly enough, that I never gave up. I went through all the typical adolescent experiences you might expect; scribbling poems in my journal, writing them for class assignments, editing them for the high school literary magazine. I took far more English classes than required for my university degree — taking both the mandatory courses and then using them for electives as well — and unsurprisingly, there were a fair number of poetry courses along the way. I added John Donne and Milton, Eliot and Bishop, Auden and Yeats to my list of loves, but also Margaret Atwood, Nikki Giovanni, and other living writers.

Outside the academic confines, it’s more difficult to discover “new” poetry — either classics I’ve yet to come across or modern writers, though certain standbys area always lurking on library shelves or well-stocked bookstores. Word of mouth, the internet, and the occasional literary magazine provide new names to check out. Some of my favorite recents finds were the result of an online writers’ loop where we instituted a periodic Poetry Day, and members shared poems and/or poets they love with the group. They introduced me to Denise Levertov, Anna Akhmatova, Sharon Olds…

Poetry still serves as a small escape. It is a treat, a pocket of peace in a sea of work and work-related reading. Sometimes I crave the beauty of a lyrical verse, sometimes the humor of something short and silly. It is an easy prescription, a quick getaway, a balm.

Do you read poetry? Does it affect your own writing? Who are your favorite poets? Who would you recommend?