My notes from our conversation with Justin follow (unless otherwise noted):
On independent bookstores, YA and KidLit: As an author, it is important to understand that all independent bookstores are different. Their differences is what makes them thrive. Independent bookstores understand who they are, and who they are within their community. They are successful when they own that identity.
Recently, there has been an explosion of independent and children’s bookstores. The ones that do well are the ones that know their community and have a very clear identity.
As a children’s bookstore, when we open a catalog to place and order, we have an instinct about what will do well.
This Spring I attended a SCBWI Southern Breeze SpringMingle conference with Jacquelyn Mitchard. Mitchard is a New York Times bestselling author and editor of Merit Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Her novel The Deep End of the Ocean was Oprah Winfrey Book Club’s inaugural selection and was later adapted into a film.
During her workshop titled Why write YA? she talked about the virtues of writing for the young adult (YA) book category and some concepts every aspiring YA writer must know.
YA is a growing market
YA is the only consistently growing category of fiction. Teens are embracing books and buying hardcovers over e-books. They love stories like no one else. To a teen, the characters in these books are real people. When you write YA, you hook a reader for life. Read more
On Friday, I attended Jacquelyn Mitchard’s writers intensive workshop as part of the SCBWI Southern Breeze SpringMingle conference. Mitchard is a New York Times bestselling author and editor of Merit Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Her novel The Deep End of the Ocean was Oprah Winfrey Book Club’s inaugural selection and was later adapted into a film. She has written over twenty books for adults, teens and children. She is also a faculty member at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Mitchard had me at hello. Her morning talk began something like this: In hard times, “writing will save your life.”
Her day-long workshop focused on great beginnings, structure, dialogue, and great endings. I have compiled the highlights in the following post. Read more
This is my second read of the The Breakout Novelist by literary agent Donald Maass. The first was while I was revising my second manuscript– a contemporary YA, which landed me an agent and is currently under submission (fingers & toes crossed). Now, as I write past the midpoint of my third manuscript (in-progress), I needed a refresher, so again I rifled through my worn copy of this writing craft favorite.
Maass says every novelist could strengthen three primary levels of novel: plot, individual scenes and line-by-line micro-tension.
Below you will find some highlights on these three areas extracted from The Breakout Novelist. The book also covers other important topics like premise, stakes, character development and world-building. Read more
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.
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.
We need more authors of color writing books of
all genres, for all readers.
We need our voices to be loud enough that they can’t be ignored.
Or even worse, be defined by a number on an infographic.