QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, September 8, 2014

We need diverse books? Then let's get started

Remember back in May, the "We Need Diverse Books" campaign? There were pictures and hashtags and a chat on Twitter, plus a push to buy diverse books and put them on our bookshelves. A few articles went viral, only now I'm not hearing much about it.

From the above website's FAQ:
In June of 2013, multicultural publisher Lee and Low Books put together a graphic
illustrating that although 37% of the population of the United States are people of color, only 10% of children’s books published contained multicultural content. This gap has remained steady from 1994-201318 years!
So. Do we need diverse books? Yes. And if yes, we should do something constructive.

The third stage of the We Need Diverse Books campaign was to go out and buy diverse books, however one defined diverse. But I'm going to take this one step further: we need a greater diversity in our authors. We can't get diversity just by buying the books that are already published. After all, the whole reason this campaign began was the scarcity of diverse books.

You get more "diverse books" by having a roster of authors who represent the true range of diversity in the human species. And in order to get that, we need more than a hashtag.

We need mentoring.

We need mentoring because a lot of promising writers just don't have the opportunities they deserve. Too many promising writers live in neighborhoods with underfunded libraries; they're working after school to help support their families; maybe they've got no one around them who values books. Maybe, like one of my students, no one has ever said, "You have something worth saying."

Mentoring is that intermediate step between a wide selection of true-to-life characters on the store shelves and hashtag activism. Mentoring is where you get in your car or you get on the subway, and you go out to where you think the under-represented writers are.

You call a high school in a minority neighborhood and you ask if they might want to start a book club, or you ask if they might want to start a writing group. Think it's not possible? Check out Rosie's Place, a women's homeless shelter that offers classes for art, jewelry-making and creative writing. Covenant House does the same. You can do that: offer your time and your services. You go out and listen to beginning writers, and you suffer through some terrible story drafts just the way someone suffered through yours, and you give pointers, and you give encouragement.

Give your expertise. But more than that, give your heart. Listen and then say, "What you're writing is important. We need to make this as good as we can so the world will get to hear your voice."

You help your students or your mentees find opportunities. You network until they can score an internship and learn about the business side of writing. You teach them how to write query letters or how to write a proposal. You teach them how to self-publish or you hook them up with someone who can. You show them how you do your own research and how you meet your own deadlines. You help your mentee learn to write freelance articles. You take that late-night phone call when one of them is eaten up with doubt. You listen to one of them shriek when she gets her first acceptance. When one of them publishes a book, you promote the heck out of that book.

You spend time, more time than just a hashtag and more time than a Tumblr campaign. You build a relationship. Relationships build self-confidence, and self-confidence builds careers.

It's nice to post a tweet and buy a book and think that's the end of the matter, but it's not. It can't be. If we want more under-represented authors, we need to go to where those under-represented authors are now, pre-authorhood, and nurture them up. Nurture them into next year's authors and editors and agents. Protect that love of words and fill the toolboxes of those budding authors with everything they need to see their own photo on the back cover of a book.

Jane Lebak is the author of Seven Archangels: Annihilation. She has four kids,  three books in print, two cats, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and tries to do one scary thing every day.
 You can like her on Facebook, but if you want to make her rich and famous, please contact Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. 

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