Let’s talk about middle grade books, young adult books, and that liminal space between, that magic spot of readers ages 10-14 who read up.
There’s a certain kind of voice you expect from a YA book that tells you “this is about a teenage experience.” It’s different from the exploring/discovery of the world voice we generally hear in MG—it’s more mature, sometimes more cynical. It’s not an adult voice, but it is no longer the voice of a child.
YA has been aging up for about 15-18 years now. In the early 2000s, we called books like Holly Black’s “edgy,” but that sensibility is now par for the course in YA, and generally the books you see shelved in the YA section of a bookstore star protagonists who are 15, 16, 17, 18—very few YA novels star 12-14-year-olds anymore.
This coincided with the vast numbers of YA readers becoming adults, as well—last we heard, more than 80% of YA readers are over 18, purchasing books for their own reading, not that of an actual teenager in their life.
Which for me, as someone who publishes books for children and teens BECAUSE I want to serve the population of children these books are intended for, is VERY frustrating. When books I publish in the YA market for 12-year-olds get dinged for actually sounding like a real 15-year-old is talking (“this book sounds middle grade” to paraphrase one review of one of my books because it didn’t contain romance), I feel like we have fundamentally lost our way if we aren’t serving our target market (or when reviewers don’t remember or don’t care about the books’ target market).
But these are the realities of our current system, so what’s emerging out of it is that MG seems to be picking up the slack for that forgotten, now-underserved tween audience who used to be the core readership for YA books.
Where does that leave the publisher of MG and YA books, though? Do I publish what I’ve always published as YA now as a MG? That doesn’t make sense, either, because the voice doesn’t sound MG–the voice is that of an emerging teenager, not an 8- or 10-year-old.
Yes, 12-18 is a very large developmental gap. We do need to allow space for the older YA—I’m glad it’s finally finding a home. But to then define YA as just what’s happened in the last 10-15 years is to ignore the huge body of work that has been YA for decades before that.I’ve seen more bookstores have tiers (8-11, 10-14, 14 and up, etc.), which is great, but publishing only has the two categories, and B&N only has the “children’s” section (with various subsections) and the “YA” section (now also broken down by genre, but not age), so it’s a challenge to communicate to accounts exactly where to shelve the books, and confusion can arise.
So: if you are a writer for that 10-14 age range, where do your books get shelved? Editors: what solutions have you come across? Readers/teachers/parents, where do you look for books for that age group? Librarians, how do you figure out where to shelve books for that age range?
Please note that the New Visions Award is open only to authors of color resident of the United States (including non-citizens, but you must be a resident). This includes Asian Americans and other people of Asian descent, African Americans and other people of African descent, Pacific Islanders, South Asians, Native Americans and other indigenous peoples, Middle Easterners, Latino/as, and mixed race people.
If you’re in Brooklyn this weekend and interested in Latino/a culture and writing, you should be at Las Comadres y Compadres! I’ll be doing one-on-one consultations with writers. It’s too late to get a manuscript in for me to read and critique, but I’m still happy to meet with anyone who wants to discuss a project and get feedback that way, and I’ll be around for lunchtime as well. My coworker Jessica Escheverria, who focuses on picture books in the Lee & Low imprint, will also be doing one-on-ones, so if you’re more of a picture book person, she’s the person to meet with.
In addition, the conference bookseller will be La Casa Azul from East Harlem, who will have books on hand from many of the presenters. Who will be there? The keynote speaker is Reyna Grande, who is the recipient of an American Book Award, El Premio Aztlan Literary Award, and an International Latino Book Award. Panelists include Matt de la Peña, Daniel Nayeri, Jorge Aguirre, and Eileen Robinson. You should go!
A few months ago, I decided to join Tumblr and see what it was all about. I so rarely have time for real blogging nowadays, and most of my newsy things get posted on Facebook or Twitter. However, there are often longer things I’d like to share that I don’t have the time to think too deeply about for a full blog post. Those things have found a home on my new Tumblr, which is called The Other Grimoire mostly because I couldn’t think of a better name for it.*
If you already follow me on Twitter and you’re not into Tumblr, you are already seeing these links–everything I tumble auto-tweets, so I don’t have to do double duty. If you’re on Tumblr, let me know who you are (it’s much more like LJ** in the use of pseudonyms, so I don’t always know that someone I know is on there).
At any rate, I have a feeling that my blogging is only going to go down further in the coming time, because anything Tu-related such as reviews, awards, and author appearances is getting shared via the Tu Books Twitter and Facebook as well as the Lee & Low blog, where I hope to be doing some posts regarding Tu in the coming months. And I still share quite a bit of stray thoughts on Twitter and Facebook (as well as Tu news, but not as much as the Tu streams), though I’m working to really lock down personal stuff on my Facebook more as the number of writers who I don’t know personally grows. I’d prefer writers to follow me on Twitter or Tumblr, to be honest–anything related to books and writing will be mirrored there—but everyone is welcome to follow me on there for public updates. I’d prefer to start to weed down my actual friends list to people with whom I am friends in real life or through significant interaction online; it just gets too unwieldy otherwise (I am the master of lists in FB, but it really does get tiresome to have to remember who is on what list, too).
At any rate, I will continue to share news of Tu and to talk about my editorial process and the running of an imprint when I can. It’s just becoming harder to as my responsibilities grow, so I am looking for ways to make it simpler. Like reblogging interesting quotes and commenting briefly rather than publishing an entire blog post. Tumblr is great for that, so join me over there!
*I can’t tell you how many submissions I’ve gotten in the years since I started this blog on which they address the submission to “Stacy Whitman Grimoire,” and then address me as “Ms. Grimoire.” Where in the title of this blog (NOTE THE POSSESSIVE) did they get the idea that my last name is Grimoire??
**Speaking of LJ, my auto-importer on WordPress seems to have truly died, and I honestly don’t know if any of my last year’s worth of posts have actually made it to LJ. Hopefully those people I connected with on LJ are still connected to me via other networks.
Side note: I just realized—thanks to a congratulatory email on LinkedIn, of all things—that I’ve now officially been at Lee & Low Books for 3 years, almost to the day (I believe I started on March 5, 2010, but my memory is fuzzy). YAY for Tu Books! Yay for diversity in science fiction, fantasy, and mystery for young readers!
And to celebrate that—diversity in books for young readers, that is—we’re starting a Twitter chat that we’ve dubbed #diverselit. Tomorrow—Thursday, March 7, 2013—will be our first #diverselit chat on Twitter, and I hope you’ll be able to join us, in which I and my coworker Hannah, who is Lee & Low’s marketing manager, will be talking about Diversity 101, which covers all those frequently asked questions such as:
Who can write what?
What does “POC” mean?
What is privilege and why does it matter?
Why is diversity in books for young people a problem, and why does it matter?
If you’re an expert, join in the conversation and give us your perspective. If you’re a newbie to all of this, come to learn. Everyone, come to discuss! I will be tweeting from Tu Books’ twitter, and Hannah will be tweeting from Lee & Low’s twitter, so be sure to follow us both.
If you don’t know how a Twitter chat works, check out this handy guide to hashtag chats. Not on Twitter? You can follow along by searching #diverselit on Twitter itself or on http://www.tweetchat.com, but to participate in the chat, you need a Twitter account, which is pretty easy to set up. Hope to chat with you tomorrow!
Are you starting off on your yearly Nanowrimo marathon? If so, perhaps you’re thinking about how to diversify your cast or settings. Preferably both, right? This month I’m working on at least one new diversity post, but I also thought perhaps a list of existing resources in one place would be useful. Most of these links, which I’ve been sharing via Twitter and Facebook as I find them, can also be found on the CBC Diversity Resources page, specifically on the resources for writers page, along with resources directed at other publishing professionals such as editors, sales and marketing, and booksellers. I’ve added a few more recent articles/sites that I’ve recently run into, as well.
This is kind of a hodgepodge of links, but I think it’ll help you have plenty to think about. If I run into anything more in the next couple of days, I’ll likely add it. Most of these links apply to writing cross-culturally, but as I like to remind people, this can mean anyone writing from a perspective not their own. I’ve talked to New York City-based writers who make assumptions about Iowans based on what they’ve seen on TV that I as a Midwesterner find unbelievable at best. I’ve known probably as many writers of color who want to write about different cultures that fascinate them as white writers who would like to write about people of color. In all of these cases, if you aren’t writing “what you know,” then research is involved. You have to know what questions to ask, what assumptions you’re making because of your own worldview that your character wouldn’t make. These resources will help you with that.
Though, beware, there’s a lot of info here. If you’re Nanoing, perhaps you might want to go with one at a time to leave yourself time to write!
Chimamanda Adichie’s transformative TED talk, The Dangers of a Single Story, shows us what happens when writers focus on only one kind of story, and how a multitude of voices from minority cultures need to be heard for that danger to pass away.
When writing cross-culturally, we need to remember whether we’re acting as an invader, a tourist, or a guest. Nisi Shawl addresses how to watch out for stereotypes, bad dialects, and other problematic portrayals of people of color.
A Tumblr that seeks to provide a visual representation of the everyday of microaggressions, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” Each event, observation and experience posted is not necessarily particularly striking in and of themselves. Often, they are never meant to hurt—acts done with little conscious awareness of their meanings and effects. Instead, their slow accumulation during a childhood and over a lifetime is in part what defines a marginalized experience, making explanation and communication with someone who does not share this identity particularly difficult.
Uma Krishnaswami on the use of parenthetic comma phrases to explain cultural details to the reader as if the reader were always an outsider to the culture. How else might these details be conveyed without alienating readers who come from that culture?
Peggy McIntosh provides a classic list of privileges which a white middle class woman enjoys that many of other socioeconomic statuses or races do not. An example for writers seeking to write from a perspective not their own to muse on their own privileges, whether similar or different, so they can see their blind spots.
Things I Don’t Have to Think about Today
In the same vein as the above, science fiction writer John Scalzi talks about “Things I Don’t Have to Think about Today” paired with his post on narrative usurpation, covering why he wrote “Things I Don’t Have to Think about Today.”
Uma Krishnaswami interviews Stacy Whitman about using cultural experts to read cross-cultural writing or to check details of a controversial or historical subject (even when the writer is of that culture).
This book by Joseph Shaules is directed to potential US expats living abroad helping them to think about cultural differences and ways to adapt to their new countries and enjoy the journey. But when read from the perspective of a writer, the questions Shaules raises can be applied to world building and culture building in writing.
My talk on the need for diversity in fantasy and science fiction (includes a resources for writers section in part 3).
The Language of the Night This book is unavailable electronically and also out of print, but if you can find Ursula K. Le Guin’s collection used or at your library, published by HarperCollins in 1978 and 1989, two excellent essays for writers on diversity are “American SF and the Other” and “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?”
As I was talking about yesterday, Hurricane Sandy has affected us at Lee & Low—our office is still currently without power—o we understand that it has made it hard especially for those in the path of the storm to get your New Visions entry into the mail. After all, in the middle of all this, a lot of us have more important things to worry about, like electricity and food. Subway and train service is also still a problem, which might be essential for someone trying to get to the post office, and I’m not sure if many affected post offices are back up and running yet.
All the other guidelines remain in effect. The contest page will be updated when we are able to do so—can’t change it myself and those who can don’t have access right now.
Given that those who need this deadline most might not even have electricity right now, please share this far and wide and please retweet, Facebook, and share on your blogs and other social networks today and perhaps a few times later this week. Please get the word out. Thanks, and for those who are hardest hit by this storm, our thoughts are with you.
P.S. If you’re in another area and wondering how you can help with the hurricane, I’ve heard that they have had to cancel several local blood drives due to the infrastructure damage. If you can donate blood, that might be the best thing you can do, particularly because on the night of the storm they had to evacuate an entire hospital down at NYU. You might also consider donating money to the Red Cross.
I haven’t been blogging very consistently, I know—which made me only realize today that despite my many mentions of it on Twitter and Facebook, I haven’t yet talked about our New Visions Award here on the blog yet! With less than a month left before the deadline, I wanted to go a little into further detail about why we’re running this contest, and why you should share it far and wide with all your writer friends!
As you know, I focus on diversity in fantasy, science fiction, and mystery. We don’t require that our writers be people of color. Writing cross-culturally is perfectly valid—we’ve talked a lot here about how important it is to get a culture right if you’re writing cross-culturally, and to me, that’s what matters most when it comes to diversity in our books: that the books themselves reach beyond the status quo, and get it right while doing so.
But a vital part of getting it right is also welcoming voices from those communities we’re talking about, discovering new voices and adding them to the choral symphony. Look at CCBC’s 2011 numbers—the number of writers of color have mostly stagnated at roughly 6% of all books published, with roughly 8% of all books published featuring significant content about people of color (including formulaic non-fiction). Compare that with the population at large, which is roughly 25% PoC—or to the percentage of kids of color, our audience, which is fast approaching 50%—and you can see how stark those numbers really are, how bad we’ve been as an industry at offering “mirror” content to our readers and at sharing voices from their communities. If we were able to break it down into genres (does anyone have access to that kind of information? I’d love to see it), I have a feeling that YA SF and fantasy would have numbers that would look much worse.
So with that in mind, we started the New Visions Award, modeled after Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, to seek out new voices in genre fiction for young people. All the details can be found at our site (plus some awesome words about the contest from awesome people like Mitali Perkins and Nikki Grimes), but I’ll post a bit of it here so you can get an idea of what we’re looking for:
TU BOOKS, the fantasy, science fiction, and mystery imprint of LEE AND LOW BOOKS, award-winning publisher of children’s books, is pleased to announce the first annual New Visions Award. The award will be given for a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash grant of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash grant of $500.
TU BOOKS was launched in 2010, dedicated to diversity in the beloved genre fiction market for young people. Titles include Wolf Mark,Tankborn, and Cat Girl’s Day Off. This fall will bring the publication of Morris Award nominee and Pura Belpré Award winner Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s Summer of the Mariposas. For more information about TU BOOKS, visit leeandlow.com/p/tu.mhtml.
The contest is open to writers of color who are residents of the United States and who have not previously had a middle grade or young adult novel published.
Writers who have published work in other venues such as children’s magazines or picture books, or adult fiction or nonfiction, are eligible. Only unagented submissions will be accepted.
Work that has been published in its entirety in any format (including online and self publishing) is not eligible. Manuscripts previously submitted to TU BOOKS will not be considered.
Dates for Submission:
Submissions will be accepted from June 1, 2012, through October 31, 2012, and must be postmarked within that period.
Notice that the deadline is coming up at the end of this month!! So please share on Facebook and Twitter, share with your writing groups, share with your listservs—post it wherever it might be appropriate to share it around. Let your writer friends know! And if you, reading this right now, have a book that would be right for me, send it along!
I’d also add for those who aren’t new writers of color who want to submit a book to me, we’re always open to submissions from all writers, both agented and unagented, in our general submissions.
As we’ve discussed on here before, diversity in children’s and YA books can be pretty controversial. Just reading the comments sections at any of the latest posts about diversity can make your head spin, between the people denying that white privilege exists and those saying that even if it does exist, it doesn’t matter, because “people of color don’t read.”
Those things aren’t true, but how do we dispel them? How do we address the multi-pronged issue of getting more diverse books out there?
The CBC Diversity Committee is working to help address this. This week on the CBC Diversity blog, the theme is “It’s Complicated.” Check out Nancy Mercado’s opening post:
The internet can often be a rough-and-tumble kind of place when it comes to complex and layered discussions, but we think it’s possible and necessary to have a respectful and open forum where we are able to chat about some of the challenges that we face, as well as the opportunities that exist when we come together as a community.
This will be a safe space for us in publishing—writers, editors, marketing folks, sales people, artists, anyone involved in getting books to kids—to discuss the issues.
Life, the Universe, and Everything is NEXT WEEK! That means I’ll be seeing many of you then. If you’re unable to attend LTUE, though, and are in the area, you should check out this event. It’s free for any who’d like to attend—you don’t have to be a student. And if you are going to LTUE, come anyway! Karen won’t be on any panels officially, so this is your chance to ask her questions and perhaps even get a book signed after the program.
So You Want to Work in Publishing For Young Readers?
If you are interested in working as an author, an illustrator, an editor, or in any other position in the publishing for young readers market, you are invited to come listen to, discuss with, and learn from Stacy Whitman, on February 8th, from 5:10-7:40 pm. in room 251 Tanner Bldg at BYU.
Stacy Whitman is the editorial director of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books. In 2009 while living in Orem, Utah, she founded a small press named Tu Publishing, dedicated to publishing multicultural fantasy and science fiction for children and young adults, which was acquired by Lee & Low Books of New York City and became Tu Books. The imprint launched fall 2011 with Tankborn, Wolf Mark, and Galaxy Games: The Challengers, and will follow up with BYU graduate Bryce Moore’s book this spring, Vodnik. Whitman holds a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College. Learn more about Tu, including submissions guidelines and links to buy books, at http://www.leeandlow.com/p/tu.mhtml. Stacy’s blog of writing and publishing advice can be found at www.stacylwhitman.com.
Stacy’s presentation will be a wide open discussion on the publishing business, including, but not limited to the following topics:
Preparing for a career in publishing
What does an editor do all day?
Working with authors and art directors
Advice for writers and illustrators on getting published
Diversity in publishing and books
Genre fiction and children’s fiction
Stacy will be accompanied by author Karen Sandler.
Karen Sandler is the author of seventeen novels for adults, as well as several short stories and screenplays. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as a software engineer, including work on the space shuttle program and communications satellites. TANKBORN, published by Tu Books, is her first young adult science fiction novel. She lives in northern California with her husband, three cats, and an Andalusian/Morgan mare. For more information about Sandler, visit karensandler.net.