“A book is a voyage of discovery for the writer, as well as the reader.”

Susan Cooper, author of Ghost Hawk

I got to hear Ms. Cooper speak at the North Atlantic Independent Bookseller Association (NAIBA) conference a couple weeks ago, and she was so inspiring. You can feel her passion for stories in every word she says. 

“It has never been easy for me to understand why people work so hard to create something beautiful, but then refuse to share it with anyone, for fear of criticism. Wasn’t that the point of the creation – to communicate something to the world? So PUT IT OUT THERE. Send your work off to editors and agents as much as possible, show it to your neighbors, plaster it on the walls of the bus stops – just don’t sit on your work and suffocate it. At least try. And when the powers-that-be send you back your manuscript (and they will), take a deep breath and try again. I often hear people say, “I’m not good enough yet to be published.” That’s quite possible. Probable, even. All I’m saying is: Let someone else decide that. Magazines, editors, agents – they all employ young people making $22,000 a year whose job it is to read through piles of manuscripts and send you back letters telling you that you aren’t good enough yet: LET THEM DO IT. Don’t pre-reject yourself. That’s their job, not yours. Your job is only to write your heart out, and let destiny take care of the rest.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love (via gracebello)

(Source: elizabethgilbert.com, via gracebello)

25 Things To Know About Sexism & Misogyny In Writing & Publishing


It’s about book covers. And booksellers. And librarians. And readers. And cosplayers. And convention-goers. It’s about ensuring that everybody gets to play. It’s about making sure we’re talking to our whole audience and that we’re not contributing to a culture of imbalance and victimization and prejudice. This is lateral. This is everywhere. Pay attention.

(Source: lifeinchildrenspublishing)

“It’s a shame when I hear an intelligent adult say, “Well I’m not a young person so it’s not for me.” You were a young person. And you like a good book. Then there is a great YA book out there for you.”

The Saturday Rumpus Interview with Cecil Castellucci, author, performer, librettist. This interview provides us with yet another reason to love Madeleine L’Engel…read on for more! (via thingssheloves)

(via scribbles-and-wanderlust)

Most Common Reasons for Manuscript Rejection


dramalala:

by `star-blazer

One of the things that the literary agency I work for does some weekends out of the year is teach seminars on query writing and the first 5 pages of manuscripts (which, basically just means the first page of the manuscript). The seminars last only a day or two, but aim to help writers improve their queries and start of their books so that they have a better chance of standing out in the ever-growing slush pile. Since I know many members of the literature community here aim to one day be published writers, I thought I would share our sheet of the top reasons for manuscript rejections. Please note: These are in no particular order.

Wrong genre

Read more

This is a great resource for aspiring writers who are looking for an agent.

Sharing for future reference.

(via dramalala-deactivated20131212)

There Will Always Be a Place for Great Bookstores


bookstoresofchicago:

A fascinating op-ed on the contemporary publishing industry.

Student Thoughts: Book Banning in the Modern World


Censorship was never a problem in my house. When I was six, I asked my mom where babies came from; she pulled a book from our shelf and started showing me pictures. I missed the bus. I was reading Nora Roberts novels by the seventh grade. The librarian even had me create Accelerated Reader tests for other students because I read so many titles that weren’t in the school system.

Freshman year of high school, I was thoroughly obsessed withHarry Potter. However, my best friend’s parents sent a note to the school librarian, specifically forbidding her from checking out anyHarry Potter book. Lynn’s father was a pastor for a local church, and there was a congregation-wide effort to refuse their children any books “glorifying witchcraft.”
Therefore, every morning, I brought my copy of Harry Potter to school, and Lynn would read as much as possible throughout the day before returning the book to me. When Half-Blood Prince was released, she even risked getting caught, sneaking the book home in her backpack and reading it through the night. By the release ofDeathly Hallows, Lynn was a full-fledged Potterhead, and proud. She informed her parents that she was going to the midnight release of the novel, and they had a long conversation about the merits and faults of the series as a whole, specifically the implications of magic.

That is what literature is supposed to do – educate. Open up discussions and learning opportunities. Instead, people are turning important lessons into something to be feared and avoided, ideas that are corrupting our youth and giving them too much knowledge of the world.

Photo taken at Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr, PA.

Here are just a select few cases of challenges and bans in recent history:

  • An Arizona school district confiscated titles from such authors as Sherman Alexie and Junot Diaz, just because they are Mexican-American.
  • Book challengers are not fans of Maurice Sendak’s work, especially In the Night Kitchen. It was banned on the grounds of being inappropriate sexually – the nudity, free-flowing milky fluids, and “phallic” milk bottle were seen as symbols to imply masturbation or wet dreams.
  • Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl was banned in 1983 simply for being “a real downer” (what with the Holocaust and all). In 2010, it was removed from the curriculum for mentioning vaginas.
  • There are numerous books challenged and banned for the transgression of addressing homosexuality. These include And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell,King and King by Linda de Haan, Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden, Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman,Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, which depicts the mental and emotional destruction of a young girl after she is raped at a party, was challenged in 2010 for the “glorification of premarital sex.”
  • Dictionaries were removed from classrooms in California for being “sexually graphic” and “not age appropriate” because they define sexual terms.
  • A school district in North Carolina banned Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison because they determined it “had no literary value.” This occurred last week. *

Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr, PA. Photo credit: Amber Midgett.

Looking at all of the books that have been banned in recent years, and learning the reasons that people chose to challenge those titles, is more than just disheartening – it is downright devastating. When I think about some of the amazing books that have been taken away from students, I remember my own experience reading so many of them. I wonder how I would be different if I hadn’t had the opportunity to study the classics, or hadn’t been encouraged to pick up problematic titles that addressed important situations I could someday face. There are so many conversations with my parents I might have missed without a book opening the door to it. I wouldn’t have as much knowledge as one should about history, society, overcoming obstacles, realistic struggles, and many other critical themes. I would have missed entirely the lyrical prose of Maya Angelou, the haunting true story of Anne Frank, the beautiful artwork of Maurice Sendak.

Not only are adults ripping good literature from the hands of their own children, they’re ripping it from the hands of all the other children, too.

“Censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in the darkness and makes them vulnerable. Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them.” ~Laurie Halse Anderson

*EDIT: As of 9/26, North Carolina reversed the ban on The Invisible Man due to the amount of backlash. 

Diversity in ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults


diversityinya:

By Malinda Lo

Every January, the American Library Association releases the Best Fiction for Young Adults list. This list includes novels, short story collections, and novels in verse that were published in the past 16 months. These titles, according to the ALA, “are recommended reading for ages 12 to 18.”

As librarian and blogger Kelly Jensen explained to me, “I think the BFYA is useful for librarians who don’t know YA lit well, who may be the only librarians in their library or system, or who have been tossed into teen librarianship without the background that would help them in building a collection. I think people use BFYA as a collection building tool, which has a lot of merit to it.”

Thus, because the BFYA lists are used for collection development — and because the adjective “best” indicates that these titles are of high quality — being included on a BFYA list can help both sales and book buzz. (Full disclosure: My novel Huntress, published by Little, Brown, was on the 2012 BFYA list.) Indeed, the ALA’s various lists and awards can be extremely significant in terms of a YA book’s overall success — and thus, the author’s literary career.

The BFYA lists are typically fairly long, including approximately 100 titles, which suggests that there’s room for plenty of diversity. The question is: How much diversity is included in the BFYA lists? That is what I set out to discover.

Methods

Before 2011, the Best Fiction for Young Adults list was known as the Best Books for Young Adults (BBYA) and included both fiction and nonfiction. In order to limit the sample under analysis while also providing some range, I decided to focus on BFYA only: three lists from 2011, 2012, and 2013.

I decided to look for a few particular things:

  • The percentage of authors of color on the lists.
  • The percentage of main characters of color on the lists.
  • The percentage of LGBTQ main characters on the lists.
  • The percentage of disabled main characters on the lists.

In order to make every effort to check all the data thoroughly, I invited several people to assist me in combing through the lists. Elizabeth Burns, Hannah Gomez, Kelly Jensen, Lalitha Nataraj, and Cindy Pon all helped examine the lists for diversity, and without their assistance I’m sure I would have missed many things. Nonetheless, any mistakes presented in the final data here are my own.

A list of all BFYA titles used in this analysis (titles with characters of color, LGBT characters, or characters with disabilities) is available here on Google Documents.

Authors of Color

The representation of authors of color among the hundreds of authors included on the BFYA lists from 2011 to 2013 is regrettably poor.

imageAccording to Lee & Low, a multicultural children’s publisher, 37% of the US population in 2012 was comprised of people of color. That doesn’t mean that 37% of a list that comprises the “best fiction for young adults” must be written by authors of color, but when the percentage of authors of color ranges from 6.9% to 13.3%, that does present quite a gap.

Additionally, it was interesting to note that 25 of the 30 authors of color on the list wrote books that had main characters of color. Only five of those 30 authors’ books have white main characters.

I should also note that there was one short story collection on the 2012 list, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales, that was edited by Chris Van Allsburg, a white writer, but which includes stories by three authors of color: Sherman Alexie, Walter Dean Myers, and Linda Sue Park. Because the primary author’s name on this book is Van Allsburg’s, I did not include the other authors in my count of authors of color, but I wanted to point it out.

Here are the authors of color who were included in the 2011, 2012, and 2013 BFYA lists:

image

Characters of Color

The representation of characters of color among the BFYA lists was much better, because white authors also write about characters of color. In the charts below, the percentage of characters of color are shown in relation to white characters. If a book had multiple main points of view, such as Marie Lu’s Legend, which is written from alternating points of view from two main characters, I counted both characters. Therefore, the number of characters is higher than the number of books on the BFYA lists.

While recognizing that all categorizations of race and ethnicity are imperfect, I broke down race/ethnicity as follows:

  • White - Characters with European origins (This definition is different from the US Census definition, which also includes those from the Middle East and Northern Africa, because I wanted to count Middle Eastern characters)
  • Asian - Characters with Asian origins including members of the Asian diaspora and South Asians
  • Black - Characters with African origins including African Americans
  • Latino - Hispanic and Latino Americans; characters from Latin America (Exception: Indigenous people are identified as Indigenous even if they’re from Latin America)
  • Mixed Race - Characters of mixed race backgrounds
  • Indigenous - Including American Indians and Indigenous peoples from around the world
  • Middle Eastern - Characters from the Middle East, e.g., Iran
  • SF/F of color - Characters from a secondary or futuristic science fiction or fantasy world who have a race that does not precisely match our contemporary US understandings, but which is situated as being nonwhite in that secondary or futuristic world
  • Unspecified of color - See details with each chart

image

  • Only one title on the 2011 list had a character that was “unspecified of color”: Trash by Andy Mulligan, which is set in an unnamed third world country; the author has deliberately chosen to not state the characters’ race.
  • 11 of 17 titles with main characters of color on the 2011 list were written by white authors.

image

  • On the 2012 list, I designated Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens as “unspecified of color” because the title does not have a main character; it has a cast of approximately nine characters. Two are of color; three are LGBTQ; and one is Deaf. For that reason, Beauty Queens will appear on the charts for LGBTQ and Disabled characters also.
  • 13 of 25 titles with main characters of color on the 2012 list were written by white authors. One title, Queen of Water, was co-written by a white author, Laura Resau, and an Indigenous author, Maria Virginia Farinango.

image

  • The 2013 list did not include any Indigenous or Middle Eastern main characters.
  • 15 of 23 titles with main characters of color on the 2013 list were written by white authors.

According to Lee and Low’s analysis of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s statistics, approximately 10% of all children’s books published every year contain multicultural content. The BFYA lists are not directly comparable to these statistics because the CCBC statistics cover all children’s books, not only YA, but it’s still interesting to see that the BFYA lists have a higher percentage of books with characters of color than children’s books overall.

LGBTQ Characters

The proportion of LGBTQ characters on the BFYA lists was complicated by the fact that there were a couple of books that destabilized gender but did not include an overtly LGBTQ main character (Every Day by David Levithan, Brooklyn Burning by Steve Brezenoff). Additionally, a few books were focused on LGBTQ issues (including hate crimes or dealing with another character’s sexual orientation) but were not about an LGBTQ main character. Here’s how the BFYA lists broke down according to these various ways of understanding “LGBTQ”:

image

In 2012 I counted the number of YA books about LGBTQ characters that were published overall. According to that data, 1.6% of YA books published in 2012 included LGBTQ main characters.

The 2013 BFYA list incorporates books published in 2012. From the 2013 BFYA list, 5 out of 102 books included LGBTQ main characters, which is 4.9% of the list. Even though this is only 5 titles, that’s still about three times higher than the overall proportion of LGBTQ YA, and the number of LGBTQ books on the BFYA has been rising. I’m going to count that as a win.

Characters With Disabilities

According to the US Census, approximately 5.2 percent of school-aged children (aged 5 to 17) in the US were reported to have a disability in 2010. Although 5% of the titles on the 2011 BFYA list included main characters with disabilities, by 2013 that percentage had fallen to 2.9%.

image

The disabilites represented in these titles are:

  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Deaf characters
  • Blind characters
  • Characters dealing with cancer-related disabilities
  • Characters with a learning disability
  • Characters with obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Characters who are amputees
  • Characters with MSRA-related disabilities

Some Conclusions, More Questions

The ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults lists are voted on by a committee of librarians who read YA books throughout the year. At ALA’s annual Midwinter Meeting, feedback from teen readers is invited, and that feedback is considered in addition to the librarians’ own opinions. Later this week, we’ll have an interview with Edith Campbell, one of this year’s BFYA committee members, who will explain a bit more about what the committee does. You can read more about the BFYA’s policies here.

As with every awards list, the results are shaped by personal tastes. Diversity is not a stated goal of the BFYA list, and there are other lists that the ALA produces that focus on specific kinds of diversity (e.g., the Rainbow List for LGBTQ books. According to the BFYA’s Committee Function Statement, BFYA is:

“…a general list of fiction titles selected for their demonstrable or probable appeal to the personal reading tastes of the young adult. Such titles should incorporate acceptable literary quality and effectiveness of presentation.”

The question is: Who is this “young adult” reader that this list is supposed to appeal to? Considering race alone, in a US where 37% of the population is people of color, and where “half of all children under 18 are expected to be non-white in five years” (MSNBC), should the BFYA lists attempt to diversify? How does quality — that slippery concept of “best” — relate to race and representation? These questions are further complicated when you bring in sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.

And what about authors of color? What can be done to increase representation in that arena, both in general and in lists and awards that seek to recognize the best of YA? Is that important? Should it be? 

Obviously, BFYA is only one aspect of the very complex publishing industry, which is only one part of the even bigger and more complicated real world. Race and representation are thorny subjects that cannot be fixed in simple ways. My hope is that presenting this data will help shine a light into one corner of this discussion, if only by revealing what is already there.

Diversity in YA welcomes your questions and feedback through our Ask and Submit pages.

A must-read for any current or future publishing industry professionals. 

“Don’t publish everything you write, but the more you write, the more you have to choose from.”

There is no way August is gone.


Despite promising myself I would keep up with this blog, my summer has been incredibly hectic, stressful, and difficult to get through. 

Until very recently, I was working at both Barnes & Noble and a new independent bookstore, Main Point Books. Tack on to that my night class for graduate school, and you have a very overwhelmed Amber. I recently stopped working at B&N, and I will have two classes plus 30+ hours at MPB starting next week. 

I loved my jobs, and I loved my class, but I barely found time to get the correct amount of sleep, let alone write up blog posts. I have barely read anything either, so much of my time was eaten up with tasks. 

Since Main Point Books just opened, there have been a lot of kinks, trials and errors, brainstorming, and just generally trying to figure things out with the owner. It has been crazy, but surprisingly exciting. While not at MPB, I find myself thinking about it often, wondering how to resolve any issues we run into, what titles and various sidelines we should look into ordering, making lists of different themed tables and displays to set up. If publishing fell through for me (which I hope it does not), I think I would be very happy just continuing working at a bookstore like Main Point. 

We are having our GRAND OPENING next weekend, with lots of authors coming for signings, plus giveaways and free food. I’m so ready to fangirl over the likes of Alex London and Matt Phelan! Of course, I will do most fangirling internally — I must maintain professionalism!

I took my literary agency course this summer with Sheree Bykofsky. Though I was just toying with the idea of becoming a literary agent, it might become something I really pursue (which would make my domain name obsolete, but eh). I really enjoy the idea of working through the slush to find that treasure, as well as working closely with both editors and authors to develop something great. 

I thought Sheree was amazing, too. She shared tons of information and fantastic resources with us, and we even got to see how she worked on the books she acquired. We were there as she acquired one title, sold another title, and released a third! We got to meet a couple of her authors, plus a couple of her literary agent friends (both of whom were hilarious and informative). I loved seeing the dynamic between agent and author, as well as with other agents. I really took a lot from the course, despite the exhaustion of this summer. 

I just finished visiting my family for 5 days. My grandfather has been very sick and in the hospital. In 23 years, I’ve never seen the man with anything worse than a cold, so it is no easy thing seeing him so helpless in a hospital bed, but I knew I had to go home as soon as I was able so I could see him. We miss each other, and I’d have a hard time forgiving myself if something happened and I hadn’t tried to make it to visit. He’s been on my mind all summer, plus the loss of a beloved aunt, which contributed to my absence in recent weeks. 

Despite my lack of posting, I have been keeping updated on various publishing goings-on, and I intend to return to my usual post programming very soon! Classes start Wednesday for me, so it begins!

~Amber