Since you are readers of YA and children’s books, you are likely aware of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, which ignited about a month ago in response to BEA’s all-white lineup for their first ever Book Con. While the hashtag has died down, the furor, uproar, and excitement certainly have not.
Some librarians and authors (myself included) have decided to take a similar effort to Annual later this month. This is something that can be done in person and online, so you can participate whether or not you’ll be at the conference.
The goal is simple: ask reps on the exhibits floor to show you their diverse titles. Ask if they know what those titles are. As many people have noted in the past month (and before), part of the problem with diversity in YA is that publishers do not seem to dedicate the same effort, care, and promotion to these titles as they do to their “mainstream” or “general” ones, so even if they exist, they quickly get lost in the shuffle and then don’t sell, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, since books can’t sell if no one knows they exist. So ask the reps (or, let’s be honest, the editors themselves are often present) to show you what they have in the way of non-white, non-cisgendered, non-heterosexual, or differently abled characters and stories. Are they prepared for the questions? Do they know what kinds of diversity their publisher has in its upcoming catalog? What does it say about them if they know or don’t know? What does it say if they don’t have anything to offer you? If you don’t ask, they won’t know how many people are searching for diverse books.
If you’re fired up about this important topic, tweet about it with the hashtag #DiversityatALA (it’s probably best to use this in conjunction with the official conference hashtag, #alaac14). This is a great way to get buzz going and to ask people to join in on making sure everyone who works at every booth hears this question over and over again. It’s an important one (What are you doing to diversify your list? Does diversity matter to you and your company?), and it’s my belief, at least, that they’re more likely to change for the better if one of their major stakeholder groups (librarians, of course) say they won’t stand for anything less. So tweet your friends and ask them to join in; tweet publishers and editors who will be exhibiting and ask them to be prepared; tweet your favorite authors and tell them you’ll be supporting their works.
It’s up to you what you do with their responses. I, for one, won’t be at Annual this year, but as I’ve been to quite a few conferences in the past few years, I feel pretty saturated with ARCs about the same old characters and the same old problems, and unless it’s an author or a book I’ve heard A LOT of buzz about or I’m personally a fan of, I plan on refusing most ARCs I’m offered if they’re not doing something for diversity in literature. I just don’t care anymore; I don’t need my apartment cluttered with clichÃ©s and more books that don’t acknowledge the existence or richness of my story and the stories of the people I know and see in my daily life.
We know you won’t necessarily know what to ask for – upcoming diverse titles don’t always get the publicity spotlight they deserve. So Sharon Rawlins, Allison Tran, and I are preparing a list of upcoming books from major publishers that we think would fit into the #WeNeedDiverseBooks umbrella. Obviously, publishers may not have ARCs for all upcoming titles, but even asking about these titles says that you’re aware of them and want to support them when they do come out. So we’ve scoured fall and winter catalogs to give you some names to drop right away, and Sharon will have a list of recent diverse books you may have missed. Look for that post here on The Hub the week before Annual.
And, of course, I want to know what your plans are for Annual. Do you have any publishers you like to visit? Editors you know are champions of diversity? Books that you’re on pins and needles waiting for and dying to get a sneak peek at? Let us know in the comments! We can’t do this without crowdsourcing.
–Hannah GÃ³mez, having just finished The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson and trying to decide on her next read