Life, the Universe, and Everything

Between the holidays, a nasty bout of the flu, and being busy with preparing Fall books for design and getting next spring’s books well on their way, I haven’t had much time to even think about what I’d post here lately. If you’re interested in my flittering day-to-day thoughts, follow me on Twitter—it’s not much more there lately, but it’s more!

I pop in here today to let you know about Life, the Universe, & Everything 29: The Marion K. “Doc” Smith Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about it in previous years—it’s one of the best little cons I’ve ever been to. It’s a local convention run by BYU students and Utah Valley residents who are fantasy & SF buffs. In recent years, it’s always been free. This year, they decided to charge a nominal amount so that the budget woes they’ve had to deal with (the previous venue required them to offer it for free) will be solved. But $20 still isn’t that much for a 2 or 3-day convention, and if you’re a BYU student/staff/faculty, you still get in free.

ETA: It’s not just BYU students, I’m told, that get in free. It’s anyone with a student ID, including other colleges and younger kids w/ student IDs for high school, for example. An email recently went out that if you home school, there are ways to show that too.

What will you get for your $20? Pretty much the best that Utah has to offer in science fiction and fantasy—and that’s saying a lot. James Dashner, the author of The Maze Runner, will be the Guest of Honor. My friends, authors Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells always go (though I don’t see Brandon on the schedule, so something may have come up for him), as well as webcomic artist Howard Tayler (the Writing Excuses trifecta). Tracy Hickman, Jessica Day George, Mette Ivie Harrison, Bree Despain, Janci Olds (who has a book forthcoming from Macmillan), Eric James Stone, Robert J. Defendi, Rebecca Shelley, John Brown, Larry Correia, Julie Wright, Robison Wells, Jake Black…

I know I missed somebody there. Oh—ME!

And it doesn’t matter if you’re an aspiring writer, a pro, or a fan—there’s something there for everyone.

Once my schedule is pinned down a little tighter, I’ll post it here. You’ve got a month to plan–if you’re in Utah (or want to take a trip there), plan for Feb. 17-19 at BYU. It’s no longer in the Wilkinson Center–it’s now hosted by Conferences and Workshops. Register here (or give them a call at the number on that page). That means better parking, even if there are fewer easy lunch options in the Conference Center on campus.

Hope to see you in Feb.!

Writer question: E-book rights?

A writer question I received this month, the answer for which I think anyone submitting to Tu will want to know:

I would like to submit my YA fantasy to Tu Books, but wondered if you accept submissions from books where the ebook rights have been taken. My book was recently accepted by an e-book publisher. I recently read an interview about Tu Books and its quest to publish YA speculative fiction with multicultural characters. This is something I have strive to do in my writing. May I mail my submission package to Tu Books or would you rather not see books where ebook rights are already taken?

Due to the way the industry is changing right now, Tu must be able to do an ebook edition of any book we publish. Things are changing fast, and with the drop in e-reader prices continuing to change the way people read, teens are becoming more likely to look for ebooks (not to mention crossover adult audiences who definitely look for ebooks). The release of (relatively) affordable full-color readers such as the Color Nook and the iPad means that younger readers, in smaller numbers, will be next. We’re seeing a lot of changes right now as we head into the holiday season—B&N, for example, is growing its ebook business even as it continues to have sluggish sales in its print book business. You can check out e-books from most libraries, too—books that return themselves without costing you a fine for forgetting to return them or not making it to the library on a particular day. As more libraries figure out digital curation, that segment will grow.

E-readers are unlikely to take over the ascendancy of print books in children’s and YA books anytime soon, but ebooks are definitely a growing market, and one that we plan to aggressively explore with Tu’s books. Therefore, manuscripts submitted to us absolutely must have ebook rights available.

Sorry to disappoint, but it’s something we feel strongly about.

Whitney Award nominations

The Whitney Awards are a fairly new award given out at the LDS Storymakers conference that honors novels written by LDS writers, both in the niche LDS market and in the national market. Every year, you can nominate titles for the committee to read and vote upon.

They’ve started to announce the books that have gotten enough nominations to be considered “official nominees”—these are the books that will be considered and whittled down to finalists.

You don’t have to be LDS to nominate books, but the author or authors do need to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a fact that’s hard to determine sometimes when looking at books published for the national market. I have a particular interest in the Speculative and Young Readers (mislabeled Young Adult) categories, given my interests, and while several good books have been nominated, I think that several haven’t made the list for official nominations yet that ought to be.

So, if you have an interest in books by LDS authors published in 2010 that aren’t already official nominations—see the Rules page here for criteria; note that books for young readers need to be at least 20,000 words long and novels for adults need to be 50,000 words long—please feel free to pop over and nominate, especially if you know for a fact that a particular writer is LDS that hasn’t ever been considered for the award. As I said, sometimes it’s hard to determine if an author qualifies; I hate to just assume that someone with ties to BYU is LDS, because I knew plenty of non-Mormons while there as a student, and there are quite a few LDS authors who never lived in Utah or went to BYU as well. Sometimes bios don’t include that information, for obvious reasons—it’s not a professional credit to announce your church affiliation.

Remember, this is just the preliminary nomination—books of merit that should be considered. From there, the committee will whittle each category down to five finalists, and then (I’m fuzzy on the process, but they outline it on their site) will vote on which ones get the awards. So, in my opinion, the list of nominees should be pretty long.

In case anyone was wondering, below are the titles I nominated, to ensure that a large range get considered. I didn’t re-nominate anything that had already had enough votes to get on the list. If you like these books, consider nominating them, or others published last year by LDS authors. My list focuses on the national market, because that’s the market I know best, but you can also nominate books published in the LDS market (sold in LDS bookstores and catalogs).

I had several nominations. This first was for debut novel, but I’m not sure if the author is actually LDS. She has some affiliation with BYU and lives in Utah, but as we all know, that doesn’t mean she is. If anyone can confirm or deny (privately), I can let the committee know.

  • Kristin Chandler, Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me, Viking

In speculative and/or young readers:

  • James Dashner, The Scorch Trials, Random House (YA or speculative)
  • Ally Condie, Matched, Dutton (it comes out at the end of this month; I’ve read an ARC)
  • James A. Owen, The Dragon’s Apprentice, Simon & Schuster
  • Aprilynne Pike, Spells, HarperTeen
  • Becca Fitzpatrick, Crescendo, Simon & Schuster
  • Mette Ivie Harrison, The Princess & the Snowbird, Bloomsbury
  • Bree Despain, The Lost Saint, Egmont (it comes out Dec. 28; what with the cutoff being so late but the nominations coming so early, I wonder if her Dark Divine ever got nominated for debut last year?)
  • Carol Lynch Williams, Glimpse, Paula Wiseman Books/S&S
  • Julie Berry, Secondhand Charm, Bloomsbury

Reader question: What’s an imprint?

Ingrid writes to ask:

How exactly does an imprint of a publishing company work? Are imprints more specific in subject matter or is there a deeper connection with the parent company?

Are your chances of getting published better with an imprint or does the sale of your work do better with a more well-known publisher?

I would like to submit my manuscript to a smaller company because I think that they will “get” my writing style, but this company is an imprint of a bigger one. Is it safer to submit to the parent company and hope for the best or will an imprint be more helpful and “reachable?”

First off, let’s distinguish between a smaller company and an imprint. Big and small publishers will both have imprints. You may have an advantage getting published with a smaller press because they’ll often be able to give more personalized attention from the editorial stage on through production and promotion—though that can depend, too. I’ll get to small publisher vs. large publisher in another post. First, what is an imprint?

An imprint is publishing speak for a brand. It’s usually not a separate company from the parent publisher; rather, it’s a way to divide books within the publisher that might just be on paper (editors and other staff might work across imprints; the books are simply branded differently depending on genre or audience) or might be a fiscal division of the company, depending on the size of the company and the way it’s organized.

For example, MacMillan reorganized last year so that all their children’s imprints (FSG, Feiwel and Friends, Holt, etc.) are in one division of the company, MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group. Now, I don’t know the company well enough to know whether the editorial for each imprint is divided into different departments underneath the group (I imagine so—the articles I’ve read mention that they’ll share art departments and production resources), but certain editors only work on Feiwel and Friends, and others only work on FSG. At least, that’s how I understand it as an outsider to the company—some editors could be working across imprints, the way that Sharyn November works on both Viking and Firebird books at Penguin. It just depends on how the company structures itself.

When I worked at Wizards of the Coast, I only worked on Mirrorstone books, not any of the adult novels, and not any of the game books (such as Dungeons and Dragons rule books). Mirrorstone was the imprint I worked on, but Wizards of the Coast was the company I worked for, which was itself a division of Hasbro, the toy and game company. There were departmental lines between the novels and the games (at least at first; this changed, as corporations are wont to do), and within the novels lines, editors were assigned to particular imprints. When the now-defunct Discoveries imprint was launching, all the adult editors worked on Discoveries as well as their own Wizards-imprint books, but Mirrorstone editors worked only on Mirrorstone. Here at Lee & Low, I only work on Tu’s books, and the other editors only work on Lee & Low books, not Tu.

Editors will pass manuscripts over to editors at other imprints within the company if something has been misdirected to us, but we prefer that a book be directed to the right imprint. Hence, if your manuscript fits a particular imprint, it’s best to submit to that imprint—if they take unsolicited submissions. Most of the bigger companies don’t take unsolicited submissions, and if the larger company doesn’t, usually the imprint doesn’t. Check their submission guidelines, which are usually linked on company websites. You also might poke around on Google, blogs, and Twitter to see which editors work for which imprints; if the individual editor has submission guidelines, you can then figure out whether your book might be directed to that particular editor. If the editor doesn’t post submission guidelines or specifically says they’re not open to unsolicited submissions, you’ll need an agent to submit to them.

As far as acceptance goes, the little imprints at bigger companies can be more selective than general submissions at the parent publisher, depending on what the imprint focuses on. A more literary imprint, for example, will cull “commercial”-feeling manuscripts. A science fiction and fantasy imprint will cull manuscripts that have no speculative nature to them. I run into this a lot—people will hear “multicultural fantasy for children & young adults” and only hear “multicultural” or “fantasy,” not both. A lot of the manuscripts I receive don’t hit the specific niche I’m working to fill, and so they’re automatic no’s. So unless you are sure that your manuscript definitely fits everything an imprint is looking for—AND you’ve checked whether they accept unsolicited submissions—it’s best to find either another imprint/publisher to submit to or find an agent, who can help you in targeting your manuscript to the right editors within a closed house.

The best chance of being published—whether with a big company or a small one, with the parent publisher imprint or a small imprint—is to write a good book that fits what they’re looking for. If a publisher only does picture books, they’re not going to want to see a YA novel, and vice versa.

But it sounds like you’ve looked at the books they publish and think that their sensibility is the right fit. The next step—after polishing your manuscript to perfection, of course—is to simply submit to them, if they’re open to unsolicited submissions, and see what happens. Publishing isn’t a crap shoot—your best chance at getting published is to submit widely after finding a list of publishers that your manuscript fits. Once you start getting bites, that’s the time to get down to brass tacks about which one will have better marketing, better distribution, which one has the editor you want to work with, and so forth.

The same goes for agents. Don’t just submit to your one “dream agent.” I’m not convinced there is such a thing in abstract, before you’ve started querying and talking to those who are interested in your work. Once you start getting deeper in the process, a lot of clues will come up in the interaction to help you decide if that’s the right direction to go. If you have the rare advantage of choosing between actual offers from a large publisher, another large publisher’s prestigious imprint, and a small publisher, that’s when you start looking at each company’s track record in sales, distribution, marketing, public relations, and so forth. Until that time comes, though, cast a wide net.

The question about sales I’ll leave for another post, because that gets back as well to the advantages and disadvantages of going with small presses vs. large companies, complicated by the imprint question. I’ll try to address that later this week.

Updated multicultural SFF booklist

ETA 5/22/12: I’m keeping this book list up to date on Pinterest nowadays, linking each book to its Goodreads entry. It’s much easier to just pin a book than to keep this list up to date. For the running lists (broken down by age group and genre) and more, go here (sorry, the link was broken for a while there):


ETA: I’ve finally gotten the ability to edit the post back, so I’ve put as many of the suggested books into the list now as I can. Suggestions always still welcome. This is a continuous project.

I’ve gotten a lot of great suggestions to add to the list, but my website seems to still be broken, and my own computer has a dead motherboard (well, it did when I started writing this last week—thankfully, it’s now fixed). I’m still figuring out why WordPress won’t let me edit any of my old content.

So, in the interest of having one place that people can use as a resource, I’m going to copy everything into this entry. Rather than divide the list by what I’ve read and what I haven’t, which was just more a personal exercise last year in wondering whether my own reading habits had reached past my own culture, I’ll divide the list by age group and genre (fantasy/SF). What that means is that I am not making a comment on how good I think a book is or recommending it/not recommending it—there are several books on this list I haven’t had a chance to read yet. It’s simply a list compiling what’s out there. I’ve also added books that I’ve discovered over the last year or that have been suggested to me in the comments. Go to the previous booklist post for comments on some of the books in this list.

Middle Grade Fantasy

  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, 2009, Grace Lin
  • Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, 2008, Nahoko Uehashi, and its sequel, Moribito II
  • City of Fire, Laurence Yep
  • The Tiger’s Apprentice, Laurence Yep
  • Dragon of the Lost Sea, Laurence Yep (and pretty much anything else written by Laurence Yep)
  • Zahrah the Windseeker, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
  • Chronus Chronicles, Anne Ursu (someone mentioned this and I haven’t read them—are the main characters people of color or is it set in a non-Western culture? from its Amazon listing, it seems to star a white girl and use Greek mythology, which are great, but don’t fit the definition we’re using here)
  • The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan
  • Sword and Wandering Warrior, Da Chen
  • The Conch Bearer, Chitra B. Divakaruni
  • Circle of Magic quartet, Tamora Pierce
  • Circle Opens series, Tamora Pierce
  • Pendragon series (?)
  • Un Lun Dun, China Mieville
  • Lavender-Green Magic, by Andre Norton
  • Dragon Keeper and Garden of the Purple Dragon, Carole Wilkinson
  • Moonshadow: Rise of the Ninja, Simon Higgins
  • The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle, Deva Fagan
  • Magic Carpet, Scott Christian Sava
  • Marvelous World #01: The Marvelous Effect, Troy Cle
  • Ninth Ward, Jewel Parker Rhodes

Middle Grade Science Fiction

  • The Animorphs series
  • The True Meaning of Smekday, Adam Rex

Young Adult Fantasy

  • Wildwood Dancing, Juliet Marillier
  • Book of a Thousand Days, Shannon Hale
  • Flora Segunda, Isabeau S. Wilce, and its sequel Flora’s Dare
  • Little Sister, Kara Dalkey, and a sequel for which I’ve forgotten the name
  • Magic or Madness, and its sequels, Justine Larbalestier
  • Eternal, Cynthia Leitich Smith
  • Tantalize, Cynthia Leitich Smith
  • Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, Cynthia Leitich Smith
  • Sucks to Be Me, Kimberly Pauley
  • Silver Phoenix, Cindy Pon
  • How to Ditch Your Fairy, Justine Larbalestier
  • Guardian of the Dead, Karen Healey
  • A Wish after Midnight, Zetta Elliott
  • The Black Canary, Jane Louise Curry
  • The Secrets of Jin-Shei, Alma Alexander (older YA and up)
  • The Worldweavers Trilogy, Alma Alexander
  • The Will of the Empress, Tamora Pierce and its sequels
  • Libyrinth, Pearl North
  • Across the Nightingale Floor and its sequels, Lian Hearn (older YA)
  • Devil’s Kiss, Sarwat Chadda
  • Annals of the Western Shore series, Ursula K. LeGuin
  • The Two Pearls of Wisdom (or Dragoneye Reborn as it’s known in the US), Alison Goodman
  • City of the Beasts, Isabel Allende
  • Blood Ninja, Nick Lake
  • Magic under Glass, Jaqueline Dolamore
  • Stormwitch, Susan Vaught
  • 47, Walter Mosley
  • Pemba’s Song, Marilyn Nelson and Tonya C. Hegamin
  • Rogelia’s House of Magic, Jamie Martinez Wood
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie
  • The Icarus Girl, Helen Oyeyemi
  • Invisible Touch, Kelly Parra
  • Soul Enchilada, David Macinnis Gill
  • Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, Alison Goodman
  • The Comet’s Curse: A Galahad Book, Dom Testa
  • Bleeding Violet, Dia Reeves
  • Liar, Justine Larbalestier
  • Meridian, Amber Kizer
  • Ruined, Paula Morris

Young Adult Science Fiction

  • The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, Nancy Farmer
  • The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer
  • A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Leguin
  • The Shadow Speaker, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
  • Extras, Scott Westerfeld
  • Black Hole Sun, David Macinnis Gill

Unsure of whether these books are MG or YA (have not read yet, pulled titles from Shweta Narayan and The Happy Nappy Bookseller‘s lists. Can someone give me a head’s-up what categories they fit in?

  • A Posse of Princesses Sherwood Smith. (Is this YA?)
  • The Dragon Keeper, Carole Wilkinson
  • A Girl Named Disaster, Nancy Farmer
  • The Wizard series, Diane Duane
  • The Green Boy, Susan Cooper
  • The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl, Virginia Hamilton
  • Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed, Virginia Hamilton
  • The Night Wanderer, Drew Hayden Taylor
  • Dread Locks (Dark Fusion), Neal Shusterman

Please feel free to continue to leave other suggestions in the comments.

What kind of fantasy is Tu looking for? And what kind of synopsis?

Another writer question, the answer for which I think will help more than just one writer. If any of you have questions about what we’re looking for or anything to do with the submission process, please let me know, and I’ll be glad to answer here on the blog (anonymizing your question so it can be generalized).

i was really glad to see Lee and Low’s new imprint. I’m a long time fantasy/sci-fi fan distressed by the cultural sameness of  the genre.  I have a middle-grade novel that I am currently doing some final revisions for before submission. Because I realize time is valuable commodity for editors, I wanted to get a sense how expansive your fantasy/sci-fi terms were, before I submitted.

My novel is fantasy the way Harlan Ellison’s, short fiction, or Octavia Butler’s Kindred is fantasy.  It is a slight conceit used to push the character forward. I do not engage in a discussion of big ideas like Xenogenesis, Foundation etc., nor provide a full-fledged alternative universe like Cordwainer Smith, William Gibson or Anne McCaffery.

So my question is, is that enough? Obviously, you cannot decide on the individual merits of piece without seeing it, but I wanted to be sure I was targeting the appropriate house. Also, Lee and Low’s main imprint requires a chapter by chapter synopsis, but you only suggest a synopsis. May I assume you want a simple one page synopsis (plus first three chapters)?

First, addressing the question of what kind of fantasy we’re looking for:

Fantasy in children’s and YA books is pretty wide open. It can be anything from changing one little thing in the real world (people can fly or be telepathic, etc., or there’s a secret magical cult of ninja vampires, or the Knights Templar secretly fight the undead, unknown to the wider world, or, I don’t know, a girl like Matilda finds out she can teleport things, but maybe nothing bigger than a pencil), to changing a whole world in the future or alternate history (dystopian SF like The Hunger Games or steampunk like Leviathan), to alternate world high fantasy, either through portals (like Harry Potter) or just starting out in that world (like fairy tale retellings).

I’m not sure what you mean by a slight conceit to push the character forward. If you mean something akin to just one little thing changing—such as the ability to time travel, but not control it, as happens for the main character of Kindred—sure! That works, definitely. There are a LOT of middle grade and chapter books based on just such an idea, a small tweak of reality as opposed to huge sweeping differences in worldbuilding.

But I just want to be sure that you’re also familiar with what’s out there right now for children and teens, and not just what was published in the 70s and 80s by some of the best authors on the adult side. If you haven’t already, I suggest going to your local bookstore (or library, but the bookstore is better for seeing more current books all in one place) and looking at the middle grade and YA shelves to get a good idea of how broad the definition of SF/fantasy is in that section. While Octavia Butler’s work is classic and everyone should read them, they’re not what teens are reading right now (at least, not exclusively—of course they’re still reading her, or she wouldn’t be a classic).

Same goes for middle grade readers. Some books will always be classics, but when thinking about writing for a middle grade audience, you want to start from the idea that modern kids will be reading this, so you don’t want to use titles written for adults 30 years ago as your comparison point. As I look at my shelves filled with Shannon Hale’s Goose Girl and Princess Academy, Pseudonymous Bosch’s This Book Is Not Good for You, Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, and Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday, I see a pretty broad range of fantastic and speculative worldbuilding in these titles for middle grade readers and think you’ll probably be okay. David Lubar’s My Rotten Life changes only one thing about the world: a science experiment gone wrong turns Nathan Abercrombie into an accidental zombie. One little tweak in the possibilities of science leads to hilarious adventure.

So: if you’re familiar with what’s out there right now for this audience, you’ll probably get a sense of whether or not your story works for this market. If it also features diversity in its characters and setting, then it works  for submitting to Tu. In particular, I want to emphasize that we’d like the main character to be a person of color.

To answer the synopsis question: Yes, a page or two (perhaps four at most for a big, epic tale) is the kind of synopsis I’m asking for with sample chapters. It’s the kind of synopsis that would answer my big-picture plot questions if I liked the first three chapters, to see if you can plot a novel and carry through from a great start. Of course, whether that held up in the full manuscript would then remain to be seen, but it gives me a better idea of whether I’d want to request the full manuscript.

Is my character “black enough”

I recently got this question from a writer, who agreed that answering it on the blog would be useful:

My hero is a fifteen-year-old African American boy [in a science fiction story]. A few of my alpha readers (not all) have said that he doesn’t sound “black enough.” I purposely made him an Air Force brat who has lived in several different countries to avoid having to use cliche hood-terminology. I want him to be universal.

Do you have thoughts on this either way?

Is there a possibility that my potential readers could really be offended that a) I am “a white girl writing a book about black people” and b) that my character doesn’t sound black enough? I’ve looked through your blog and website and haven’t found anything specific to my needs on this particular question. Perhaps I missed it?

…should I use Ebonics or not use Ebonics?

First of all, black people—just as white people or Latino people—are a very diverse group of people. There are people who speak in Ebonics [ETA: which I believe would be more accurately referred to as BVE–Black Vernacular English] and people who speak plain old suburban English, people who speak with any of a variety of Southern accents and people who have Chicago accents, people who speak with French or Spanish accents (or who speak French or Spanish or an African language). So the question of whether a particular character in a particular situation sounds “black enough” is a complicated question, one that even the African American community can’t necessarily agree on. Within the community (and I say this because I asked a coworker who is African American, who can speak with more authority on the subject than I can) it’s often a question that draws on complicated factors, such as money, privilege, “selling out,” skin tone (relative darkness or lightness—literally, being “black enough”), and hair texture, which all relate to how much a part of which community a person might be.

The question, then, is fraught with loaded meaning not only to do with stereotypes, but also socioeconomic meanings. [And, edited to add, because it might not be clear enough: The question can also tend to be offensive because of that diversity and the loaded meaning the question carries.]

Which leads me to the question of your alpha readers. What are their demographics? Is it a diverse group? What is their experience with the military? Is more than one of them African American? When writing cross-culturally, you’ll want to be sure that your beta readers include sufficient numbers of the member of the group you’re writing about. Every individual experience will be different—one person’s opinion on whether a character reads as African American will probably differ from another person’s, especially if their socioeconomic background and regional experiences are different. An African American from the St. Louis suburbs will have a different life experience than someone who grew up on a farm in Louisiana, whose experiences will probably be different from a kid who grew up in Harlem or someone else who grew up in Seattle.

If your local writing group isn’t very diverse, you might need to branch out for beta readers who you can rely on to comment on that particular element of your story—perhaps through an online writing group, perhaps through the SCBWI. You might even approach a local high school and ask if any of their students who come from a similar background to your character might be willing to give you feedback on your manuscript. Do you have connections with a local Air Force base? Perhaps you might network with people you know in the military to find someone who can give you feedback on that aspect of the character building.

To answer your other questions: it’s always possible that someone will be offended by a white person writing about a person of color, but generally, most readers I’ve talked to who care about diversity in fantasy and science fiction want that diversity to come from everyone, not just writers of color. This is why I emphasized alpha readers—it’s important to make sure that if you’re not from that background, you do your research (which it sounds like you have) and then run it past someone other than yourself who understands that culture or background (in this case, you’ve got two cultures going on: African American and military, particularly Air Force, which has a completely different culture than Army).

A few someones is even better, to ensure that you get different points of view and can mesh that feedback into something that works for your particular character, who will be an individual in his own right and not a representative of a group that plays into a stereotype.

Which leads into your next question: should you use Ebonics? And the answer to that is: I don’t know. Do African Americans in the military use Ebonics? Do only some of them, and does it depend on their family history/region of origin? Do their kids speak to each other in Ebonics? Or do they have their own way of speaking that’s particular to the Air Force community? (My uncle was in the Air Force and I have a couple cousins who might read this who may be able to answer that question; they’ve never spoken anything but “Midwestern” to me, but they might have spoken differently to their friends who were also Air Force brats.)

And that’s important too: people often have different vocabularies when talking to different groups of people. When my roommates from Georgia talked to their family, their accents became stronger. When I talk to my rural family, the word “crik” has been known to creep back into my lexicon. So ask yourself, “what’s the context my character is in?” as well.

And of course, that’s just me spouting off from the point of view of an editor. Readers, feel free to chime in and help out writers who write cross-culturally: what other issues should they be aware of when writing African American characters?

Can you believe it’s been two months?

Spring is in the air. It’s been raining for the last several days, but it seems to be clearing up.

While there hasn’t been much to post about, I’ve been quite busy behind the scenes. The nice thing about starting a new imprint is the lack of interruption. I can read and read and read without worrying about copyedits, covers, marketing meetings, and other interruptions. However, that also means my day looks the same day in and day out for right now, which is rather boring for blog consumption. And sometimes you like your day being a bit broken up. It’s great to have all this time to read, but it’s also nice to have books in various stages, allowing you to switch up your day when one thing becomes too fatiguing.

So my days have mostly been read manuscript, write editorial letter, rinse, repeat. I’m slowly working my way through full manuscripts that I’ve requested, reading new partials, and hopefully working toward those first acquisitions. (By the way, if you haven’t heard back from me and have been wondering why, you’ll want to know that Lee & Low’s company policy is to only respond to submissions if we’re interested. I’m afraid the volume of submissions is such that it’s the only way to keep the workload manageable.)

Edited to add: Here’s a great illustration of what my days tend to look like to an outsider!

I also find it easier to post quick thoughts on Twitter rather than putting together full blog posts nowadays. I’ll continue to blog—and once we have acquired a book or two, I’ll definitely want to talk about them more in depth!—but if you want to have more frequent updates, you’re welcome to follow me on Twitter. I’m more likely to share publishing-related links there, because that’s where I often find them (and it’s quicker to retweet something in 140 characters or fewer via Tweetdeck than it is to go to the blog, sign in, click “new post,” figure out what commentary I might have on it, figure out what category it might fall under, and post a blog post). Of course, I might want to do that for a number of things, but posts that were link-heavy have mostly migrated to the Twitter form, at least for me.

Speaking of reading and reading, I just finished reading an awesome manuscript and needed a rest, but now it’s time to dive back into the piles of paper on my desk. Or back into the Sony Reader (which I should post about at some point—that’s something new for me that I haven’t mentioned here!), depending on which book I’m going to read next. I need to let my thoughts percolate a little while before diving into my notes for the previous book.

How are things in your neck of the woods? I haven’t been on LJ lately to read friends’ posts and I forget to read my RSS feeds often, so I’m afraid I’m quite behind on everyone’s doings! It’s hard to believe I’ve been in New York two months already, and it’s made me realize how tunnel-visioned I’ve been lately. But it’s been a good tunnel vision—I’ve had some really awesome books to read lately.

Interviews, news, and Tu’s new submission guidelines

Link roundup from the coverage that Tu Books has been getting on the web, including interviews of me and coverage in Publisher’s Weekly:

ETA: Opening New Doors (PW)

Lee & Low Gets New Imprint

Interview at The Enchanted Inkpot (also be sure to catch their discussion of diversity in fantasy, if you haven’t seen it yet) (Oo! Just saw this–they also interviewed Clint Johnson, the author of Green Dragon Codex, which I edited)

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at Cynsations

For those of you wondering how and where to get the information you need to send me your awesome fantasy or science fiction YA or middle grade novel featuring characters of color, check out the submission guidelines over at Tu’s new website. Note that there are a few changes to bring it in line with Lee & Low’s submission policy, such as the new no-response policy. Please be sure to note the new address, as well!

Thanks so much, everyone, for your support of Tu Publishing. We wouldn’t have gotten this far without you.

What’s up with this New York talk?

Have you been wondering where I’ve been on this blog? Have you noticed me talking on Facebook or Twitter about a move and wondered what was up with that? Now, your questions can be answered! Some pretty awesome things have been happening that required me to relocate to New York City. For more on what’s going on, check out the press release:

Now that it’s out there, we’ll have more to talk about in the next little while. I’m sure you’ll have questions, and you’re welcome to ask them here. (Right now, though, I’m starving and must go find myself some lunch.)

Here’s what it says:

LEE & LOW BOOKS, the respected independent children’s book publisher specializing in diversity, has acquired Tu Publishing, an independent press focusing on multicultural fantasy and science fiction for middle grade and young adult readers.

New York, NY (PRWEB) March 9, 2010 — LEE & LOW BOOKS, the respected independent children’s book publisher specializing in diversity, has acquired Tu Publishing, an independent press focusing on multicultural fantasy and science fiction for middle grade and young adult readers.

“This is a natural fit for us,” says LEE & LOW publisher Jason Low. “Our customers have been asking us for years to publish stories for older readers. Tu represents an excellent way for us to bring diversity to a whole new audience.”

Recent controversies over whitewashing have brought widespread attention to the dearth of people of color in fantasy and science fiction stories, although avid fans of these genres have long acknowledged the problem.

Tu Publishing founder Stacy Whitman began the press in 2009 to address the need for more books featuring diverse characters and inspired by non-Western cultures, a need that she had seen as both a reader and an editor of fantasy and science fiction.

Supporters met Whitman’s project with great enthusiasm and donated funds via the online organization Kickstarter to help launch the company. Through many small donations, Tu Publishing surpassed its $10,000 goal, catching the attention of LEE & LOW.

“The fact that Tu was able to raise so much money indicates that there is a real need for this,” says Low. Since Tu will now become an imprint of LEE & LOW, all money will be refunded to donors.

“The outpouring of support on the Kickstarter project and from children’s book professionals validates my mission, and the opportunity to join forces with LEE & LOW, with its vast experience publishing diverse children’s books, will allow me to accomplish my goals even beyond what I could have expected,” Whitman explains.

Whitman will join LEE & LOW as editorial director of the new imprint, which will undergo a slight name change to Tu Books. Several manuscripts are already under consideration for possible acquisition, with hopes of releasing the first books under the new imprint in 2011.