Dear Kid Lit Writers of Color: The odds are not in your favor.
Face it. They are not. I don’t care how good your book is.
I’m not saying this as some emotional rant, but as a fact.
Look at this chart:
Based on this illustration, the half-Latina protagonist in my YA novel—her name is Jo Lopez—has a 2.4% chance of being published. My odds would have jumped a full 10% if I had written Jo as a non-racial animal or an inanimate object like a cupcake, instead. But she is neither. She is a half-Latina from NYC having a hilarious—sometimes quirky—identity crisis while attending a cowgirl camp in Wyoming. And she was written by an author of color to connect with readers of color.
None of that matters, though. It doesn’t matter how well the book is written. It doesn’t matter that it’s an original premise. It doesn’t even matter that Latino readers are one of the fastest growing book markets in the U.S. The fact remains that Jo’s odds of publication are 2.4%. Even when one in four female students in public schools across the U.S. is Latina, according to a White House report.
What is even more astounding is that a whopping 25% of the nation’s public school students are Hispanic, yet they can only see themselves in 2.4% of children’s books that are published. How is that even possible?
It may have something to do with another fact: 80% of the publishing industry is white. Which would explain why 73% of the children’s books published in 2015 depicted main characters who were also white—I refer you back to the infographic.
Facing these staggering odds, I have come to realize that Jo may very well become a statistic. I have accepted this fact, not out of frustration but because I want to change things. It is not until we accept our reality that we are able to change it. So instead of getting angry and crying foul I am working to made a difference and so can you.
Here is how:
VOLUNTEER: I am a proud volunteer for the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) organization. Their internship grant program gave eleven people opportunities in children's publishing this summer. Four of them landed jobs after the internship. In January, WNDB will be publishing the short story anthology titled Flying Lessons aimed at promoting diversity among middle grade readers. WNDB’s programs also include awards, grants, contests, mentorships and resources for librarians and teachers.
MAKE A DONATION: If you can’t donate time, then donate money. WNDB needs our financial support to function. Your donations have a direct impact on the success of our mission—case in point: debut author A.C. Thomas, who won the WNDB’s Walter Dean Myers Grant in 2015. Her novel, The Hate U Give, will be published in 2017 and a feature film will follow.
ATTEND AN EVENT: Support the book launch of another writer of color, sign-up for a writers conference, join a critique group, attend a writers mixer. There is strength in numbers—show up, be seen and connect with other writers, and with industry professionals.
HOST AN EVENT: Get off your writing chair and host a local mixer, a writing group, a critique group, a writers’ retreat or a workshop. This is a great opportunity to connect with other authors and build relationships.
SPREAD THE WORD: Promote books and events that give writers of color a seat at the table. Use social media to boost signals on book releases, events and industry news.
KEEP WRITING: My personal goal is to produce one manuscript a year—regardless of whether it gets published or not. The result is that by the end of this year, I will have written three full-length manuscripts. With each one, my voice is honed, my writing flows better, and my story-telling technique improves.