SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Hot Topic: Children’s Publishing and Diversity: Taking Stock

By Lin Oliver

As a result of research conducted by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, we have all become aware that the percentage of diverse books published in the US has, over the past twenty years, remained at an average of 10% of total children’s books published. Now a new study, the 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey, conducted by Lee & Low Books, gives us another valuable set of hard numbers that reflects the lack of diversity in our field.

The survey was sent to thirty-four American publishers and children’s book review journals, in an effort to create a profile of who works in publishing.  A total of 1,524 children’s book reviewer employees and 11,713 publishing employees received the survey, which generated a 25% response rate.  The results provided the following data:

– Just under 80% of children’s publishing and review journal staff are white (with Asians/Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders at 7.2%, Hispanics/Latinos/Mexicans at 5.5%, African-Americans at 3.4%, bi or multi-racial at 2.7%, Native Americans at .5% and Middle Easterners at .8%)

– 78.2 % are women and 20.6% are men

– At the “executive” level, 40% are men

– 88.2% of the respondents identify as straight or heterosexual

– 7.6% have a disability

 

What do these baseline numbers tell us?  First and most obvious, that the children’s book publishing industry is overwhelmingly white, straight and female.  Second, that all racial and ethnic minorities are under-represented when compared to the US population, with African-Americans most severely under-represented.  Third, that males rise to positions of power more often than women, even in our female-dominated industry.

We need to take a minute to ponder these statistics.  Then we need to ask ourselves to what extent the lack of a diverse staff contributes to the lack of diverse books—whether consciously or unconsciously, the publishing industry is set up to maintain the status quo and to marginalize diverse writers and illustrators.  These numbers give us a baseline that informs our conversation about how to move the needle in favor of diversity.  Publishers, with the support of our creative community, need to increase initiatives that will increase members of our diverse American culture on their staffs, in the boardrooms, and in their publications.

Disturbing as these statistics are, there are many rays of hope and signals of change beginning to emerge.  Here are just three:

 

1. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers just announced the creation of a new imprint called Salaam Reads.  In the words of its publisher, Justin Chanda, “Salaam Reads is something that editor Zareen Jaffery and I have been circling around for many years.  We have been interested in publishing books that would give kids in the Muslim community a mirror to their lives and kids outside the community a window within, but found ourselves with a dearth of submissions.  The imprint seemed to be the best solution to publically focus on this community and to make it clear that there is a welcoming spot for publication.”  Perhaps Salaam Reads can help foster the understanding that our politicians have failed to do.

 

2. #DVpit: On April 19, 2016, from 8AM to 8PM, Beth Phelan of the Bent Agency will host a Twitter event where writers can pitch their diverse book ideas.  A rapidly growing list of interested agents and editors will monitor the Twitter feed to discover books by and about marginalized voices including POC, LGBTQ+ and disabled characters.  Don’t miss this opportunity to pitch your work.

 

3.  We Need Diverse Books sponsors not only mentorships and contests to discover new voices, but also sponsors nine Internship Grants that support interns from diverse backgrounds to work in partner publishing companies and literary agencies.  This program will provide a crucial pathway for future employment.

 

As members of the children’s book writing and illustrating community, we can feel proud that no matter how disappointing the results of the Lee & Low survey were, we have made them public and given the problem a name.  We are acknowledging that we need diverse books, created by diverse authors and illustrators, and discovered and marketed by diverse executives. We are proving ourselves willing to face our history, to make the invisible visible.  This is the first step in providing concrete, effective remedies to make our art form reflect the diverse society we are proud to inhabit.

 

4 Questions for… A Critique Group

One of the most helpful things you can do for your career in children’s books is participate in a critique group, which is why this month’s interview is with the eight members of a Los Angeles-based group. The members are Ashlyn Anstee, Julia Collard (who organizes the group), Kimberly Gee, J.R. Krause, Maple Lam, Rodolfo Montalvo, Jennifer Olson, and Michelle Thies.  

 

How and why did you start the group? Also, how often do you meet and where do you meet?

Julia Collard:  I’ve been in writing-only critique groups, and I’ve been in illustration-only critique groups, and as a writer/illustrator, I noticed that when I made changes based on those separate groups’ feedback, my work would sometimes become disjointed in ways I couldn’t easily fix. For years, I’d wanted to be in a critique group of author/illustrators, and more and more, it sounded like other people were interested as well. After a few starts and stops (we originally had a critique group that met over Google Chat, but the time difference was hard to negotiate and there were too many glitches in the technology for us to continue,) finally I was able to organize a large enough group of SoCal author/illustrators that we could meet locally. We meet monthly at the newly remodeled Clifton’s Cafeteria in Downtown LA. It is a gigantic, multi-level eatery, so there is great people watching and plenty of seating. Plus, it’s easily accessible from the disparate areas of SoCal in which we all live. We eat, catch up, and then get to work.

 

How does being in a critique group help you?

Ashlyn Anstee:  One of the most important aspects of being in a critique group has been purely emotional. Creating books can be such a solitary activity, so it's nice to have support of people who are going through similar emotional struggles, in addition to being able to look over books! It helps having another set of eyes to look at things and to tell you to not worry so much and just finish your book! 

Julia Collard:  As author/illustrators, we spend so much of our time alone, or with people who don’t necessarily understand how hard we are working, so it’s almost a mental health imperative to get together with people who are going through the same publishing trials and tribulations as we are experiencing. That, and of course, getting feedback from people who are current with the children’s book market helps me stay focused on the goal, rather than lapsing into self-indulgence.

Kimberly Gee:  For me, most important is the perspective of my peers. When I’m at the desk working on a project, it can be so all-consuming and focused that I no longer have ‘the eyes’ to see it properly. For instance, I shared a dummy with our group and I could tell right away that there wasn’t a problem with the story. Everyone got it, without me doing too much explanation (this is good!) so then we move onto details like smoother transitions from page to page, suggestions about illustration, and etc. I should say that this particular dummy has been re-worked several times before I brought it (we’re a relatively new group) but I definitely had lost perspective about it. So I left with renewed energy and fresh eyes for the project, and the knowledge that the story WAS reading and that my ‘issue’ was in smaller details. Everyone throws out their comments/ ideas/ suggestions – I take it all in -and then digest, and use what I feel fits. This is invaluable because they KNOW the world! It would not be the same getting comments from creatives in other fields, I don’t think. Secondly, I get to leave my mole hole and visit with some very cool people who like to talk children’s books, in detail, and at length! One can burn out your audience with this kind of talk, unless they are kindred spirits!

J.R. Krause:  Creating a book is a solitary process. It also requires a lot of work and self-motivation! A critique group is a great way to motivate oneself to generate the work. Writer's block and self-doubt are sometimes part of the creative process. A critique group can help overcome these obstacles and keep things on track. Seeing how other people create can also be helpful, especially amongst illustrators.

Maple Lam: Everyone in the critique group is extremely hardworking, creative and prolific. They are my best motivation.

Rodolfo Montalvo:  The biggest help we get from the group is that we get to take our work out of our studios and "give it some fresh air." I know we all hold our work very dear and treat it with a lot of respect but sometimes this can make us go deeper into our art caves and can keep work from developing.

Jennifer Olson:  For me, being involved in a critique group is vital to the success of my work process. I don't work well in a vacuum. I find that I'm able to problem solve and brainstorm much more effectively with others.

 

What do you like to bring to show the group? Sketches? Finished art? Thumbnails? Dummies? Thoughts?

Ashlyn Anstee:  A bit of everything! Anything goes, though we try to make sure that everyone shows at least something. I tend to go with dummies & thoughts more than anything else.

Julia Collard:  I have brought dummies, sketches, and even just plain manuscripts (though those don’t seem to be a favorite, if I had to guess). It all depends on what kind of feedback I’m looking for. The more general I need, the earlier in the process I will share. Sometimes it’s as simple as just needing a reality check on a project before I send it off to my agent, sometimes it’s nitty-gritty stuff that is so far into the weeds, they’re the only people who even understand what I’m saying.

Kimberly Gee:  I’ve brought character sketches and dummies. But, among us, I’d say all of the above.

J.R. Krause:  I have brought sketches, dummies and thumbnails. Since this critique group is comprised of author/illustrators, everyone typically presents story ideas with corresponding images.

Maple Lam:  I usually bring a dummy or share a couple floating ideas. Sometimes they will elaborate on my ideas, and I find the process really helpful and inspirational as I continue to mold the stories.

Rodolfo Montalvo:  I usually try to bring something from whatever project I might be working on at the time. We all have our own way of working and our own way of presenting our work. So, even if we all bring in thumbnails, they'll all look very different and interesting to see. Other times, I might be in a place in a project where it might be best to get more work done before seeking critique. In those cases, I just show up to keep up with what everyone is working on and to offer thoughts and suggestions when ideas are bouncing around. I don't like missing out on all the fun.

Jennifer Olson:  I bring everything from final art to irrational scribbles. Pretty much anything that I would want feedback on.

 

Have you ever made significant changes to something you’re working on based on feedback from your group?

Ashlyn Anstee:  One of the dummies I'm working on is VERY different from what I normally do. I like to say it's my secret pet project that I work on and don't tell anyone about and I've had a lot of fun batting ideas with the group. The latest revision came courtesy of an idea from the crit group. It's a bit of an odd idea but if it ever makes it to print, I'd dedicate it to our little group!

Julia Collard:  I’ve certainly rewritten stories based on feedback. I am under no delusions that what I bring to the table is perfect – I need those voices of reason!

Kimberly Gee:  I haven’t. But, I would, if the feedback resonated with me. I trust this little crucible of minds so I’d definitely take in their suggestions. Ultimately, though, it’s your work and it needs to resonate with you.

J.R. Krause:  Yes! I am revising a picture book dummy that I presented at our last meeting. Half of the 32 pages have since been revised or completely reworked with new sketches and wording. Everyone in our group is very knowledgeable, articulate and insightful. I carefully consider everything that each person says.

Maple Lam:  Yes. There was one time where I showed them a rough dummy, where my main character is very generic looking. As my critique group buddies were giving me feedback, I noticed some were referring to my main character as a "he", and others as a "she". These are things I took mental notes of, so that I could go back and revise things to make the dummy stronger.

Rodolfo Montalvo:  Sometimes it can be difficult to make significant changes on projects when you are also working with an art director and an editor, but there are many opportunities in the process to make big changes. So far, the most significant changes do to feedback from the group have happened in my personal projects, in dummies, and individual illustrations. But feedback is always a good thing no matter what I might be working on. 

Jennifer Olson:  Absolutely! I would say that every project I've ever worked on has been affected and revised to some degree based on the feedback that I've received from my group.

 

What tips would you give other SCBWI members who are interested in forming a critique group?

Ashlyn Anstee:  I think one thing that's been very helpful is how persistent Julia is in getting us all to meet! You need to really just set a date, and even if most people can't make it, stick to it. Trying to work with EVERYONE's schedules means it's never going to happen. Oh, and keep it small! That way you trust everyone's opinions, whether they're published or unpublished. Oh, and share book recommendations, though that's just for fun!

Julia Collard:  Just keep trying to get together with people. If the first group is not a good fit for you, you don’t have to stay with them. Keep looking until you find people who share your vision. Otherwise, they might convince you to edit your work into something unrecognizable, and you don’t want to lose yourself in the process. Also, in my experience, critique groups seem to devolve into some sort of ad-hoc therapy session if you don’t stick to a schedule, so set your guidelines up well in advance! 

J.R. Krause:  Attending a SCBWI event or LitMingle is a great place to start. Hopefully you'll meet someone who shares your interest. If your region has a Yahoo or Facebook group, try posting to the message board.

Rodolfo Montavlo:  For me, being a SCBWI member has been about two things: creating connections and getting feedback. All SCBWI events are perfect for making new friends and finding people with whom you can collaborate and create a critique group. Go out there and share your work and your passion for children's books. It's amazing how quickly you can find new friends when you share a similar path.  

Jennifer Olson:  I would absolutely encourage them to do so even if it's a little bit intimidating at first. I completely believe that what professional or creative success I've achieved wouldn't have been possible without participating in critique groups.

 

And here is where you can check out the work of these awesome illustrators!

www.ashlyna.com

www.nomadicconcepts.com

www.kimberlygee.com

www.jrkrause.com

www.maplelam.com

www.rodolfomontalvo.com

www.jennifergrayolson.com

www.michellethies.com

 

Tips for Building Up Your Facebook Author Page

By Jennifer Bardsley

 

Preparing for a book launch takes guts, grit, and gumption. Hopefully you can count on your friends to purchase your book, but what about the thousands of total strangers you need to attract as readers? The answer may be as simple as your presence on Facebook.

When it comes to social media heft, there is no contest. Facebook has 1.591 billion monthly active users. Twitter only has 120 million. (Source: DMR Digital Statistics.) The numbers are clear: pay attention to Facebook and learn to use it effectively.

After my book deal was announced in fall of 2014 I started a Facebook page called “The YA Gal.” In January of 2016, over 18,000 people were following me. Why is my page growing so fast? The number one reason is its name. If I attempted to draw followers using my own name, Jennifer Bardsley, it would be a challenge because readers don’t know me yet. But through my Facebook page, I build a reputation as somebody who loves YA books.

The rules that govern Facebook can shift at any moment, but currently Facebook allows page operators to change their page’s name one time, and one time only. After Genesis Girl debuts in September of 2016, I might change my Facebook page over to “Jennifer Bardsley Author.” Or, I might decide to continue building my brand as The YA Gal.

Another way I help my page grow is by following other pages. Operating as your author page, “like” a bunch of related pages operated by publishers, writers, or bloggers. Then when you click “home” all of those feeds will pull up. Every day spend five minutes clicking through your home feed. Comment on anything that seems appropriate. Likes are good, but comments are better because then your name stands out. Often time if a page operator sees you leave comments for several weeks they will follow you back.

The fastest way to build up your Facebook page is by creating content that is so clever that lots of people share your posts to their personal feeds. The first time this happened to me in a major way was when I designed a meme that said “Rory Gilmore-ing It: When you carry a book in your purse just in case the evening turns out boring.” 771 people shared this post causing it to be viewed over 60,000 times. My follower count spiked overnight. I became a meme-making expert using an app called Textgram.

Sometimes authors complain that Facebook won’t let all of their followers see their posts. With 18,000 followers I generally have between 800 and 12,000 people viewing my posts each day. But Facebook also offers the potential for thousands of people who have never heard of you to see your content if you strike upon the magic combination of luck and wit.

The final way I’ve built up my Facebook page is through paid advertisements. If you use this option, proceed with caution. I have wasted at least fifty dollars experimenting with demographics, landing pages, timing, and user interest. There is no magic formula, but if there was, it would be different for every author.

Some people describe Facebook pages as “crop sharing” because you could invest time and money into building up a page, break one rule, (like the governance codes for raffles), and have your page deleted. That is no way to launch a book! Thankfully, likes, comments, and memes are free.

Whatever your genre, you can find readers on Facebook who will appreciate you. Have fun, make friends, and share.

 

Jennifer Bardsley is represented by Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency. Her debut novel, Genesis Girl, comes out September 27, 2016 from Month9Books. Jennifer lives in Edmonds, Washington, and writes a parenting column for The Everett Daily Herald.

On the Shelves Hooray for Books

Erin Barker of Hooray for Books in Alexandria, Virginia, tells us what's on the shelves.

 

What trends do you notice in children’s book sales? What are the current hot reads?

There has been a huge increase in nonfiction books being published due to the common core being implemented. The fully illustrated Harry Potter has been a hot item lately.

 

How do you choose what books to order? Do you use a publishing rep?

Publishers often send advance review copies (ARCs) of books. I try to look through/familiarize myself with those before meeting with my sales reps. I have reps for all the major publishers and for sidelines. I look at a series or an author’s previous sales, whether a book is in paper or hardback, if other books are already filling that niche well/better. The book cover isn’t everything, but it does matter. Choosing books is a combination of numbers, personal taste, and knowing your customer base.

 

What would you like to see more of from authors/illustrators in terms of community involvement?

We have been supported by so many great authors. As an indie store, we really appreciate those authors who support their independents, who link to them on their websites, tweet about their events, and get their readers excited not just about reading, but about becoming part of their local literacy community.

 

How do you handle author/illustrator visits? Can authors/illustrators contact you directly?

We have a staff member who handles all our author visits, both in the store and within the schools. We typically work with publishers and/or publicists when we set those visits up. However, we are willing to work directly with authors as well.

 

What is your favorite part of being a bookseller/manager/librarian?

I love getting to know readers. I’ve always lived in big cities, but working at the bookstore makes me feel like I live in a small town. I know our customers and what they are reading. I love it when we get to swap book recommendations.

 

Personal book recommendation?

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Anna & the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit, Beetle Boy by M. G. Leonard, and Everyone Loves Bacon by Kelly DiPucchio.

SCBWI Exclusive with… Sara Sargent, Executive Editor, HarperCollins Children’s Books

Sara Sargent is an Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she focuses on fiction and nonfiction in the picture book, middle grade, and young adult categories. Previously she was an Editor at Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Sara has worked with New York Times best-selling author Abbi Glines, National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti, Jennifer Echols, Julie Cross, Aaron Karo, and Martina Boone, among others. She also received her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern University. You can sometimes find Sara eating takeout and reading on the couch.

 

In your new position at HarperCollins, the manner in which you find and acquire properties is unique. Can you tell us a bit about your acquisition process??

Since starting in this new role, my focus has been on identifying interest areas that attract young people—social media, gaming, beauty, and fashion to name a few—and acquiring content around them. I want to give children and teens books on the subjects they already love, trying to capture the interests of digital natives and reluctant readers, then convert them to our platform. So my acquisition process begins with tracking trends, reading a ton of articles, paying attention to online chatter, talking to kids, and generally being plugged in. Once I’ve identified a popular topic, then I might reach out to a content creator directly or talk to an agent about collaborating on a project. It’s a lot of brainstorming and building ideas from the ground up. And I’m reliant on people who’ve got their fingers on the collective pulse, and agents who want to move and publish as lithely and quickly as I do.

 

What is it about a YouTube video or blog that catches your eye and makes you say, I need to transform this into a book?

Whether we want to translate an online platform to a fiction or a nonfiction project, there has to be a story to tell. There must be a way to take that online content and elevate it to a narrative. So, sometimes a YouTuber or a blogger will be the book: if the person him/herself is enough of a draw, then we might do a memoir or a collection of essays about that person’s own life. Other times, perhaps in the case of a lifestyle/beauty/fashion/decorating expert, we’ll do a book around a broader subject area, with the expert sharing advice. But even beyond the content, the critical part is the level of engagement from fans. For me to decide that a person or a subject area merits a book, I have to see that fans are engaged. They’re commenting, they're Like-ing, they’re jazzed and passionate—essentially, whether they’d be likely to move from a free video on the internet to a $17.99 book. It’s part analytics and part instinct on my part as to whether something could do well in another medium entirely.

 

As for traditional means of acquiring a manuscript, what elements does a manuscript need to have to make you pursue it?

I’m a character girl. I am all about the characters and their personal drama; it’s how I connect to a manuscript. For me, a plot can be simple as simple can be—cliché, even!—but I’m in if the characters are surprising and interesting. Additionally, if the book is fantasy, then I am a stickler for world-building. It’s fine to get complex and intricate—but the rules of the world always need to hang together and make sense.

 

In the perfect world, what type of project or manuscript do you hope lands on your desk?

For nonfiction, I would love to see a collection of essays on love. An updated, modern-feeling Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul. Maybe half the book is teens’ experiences of falling in love, and maybe half the book is reflections of those long-married. (You know, like the interstitials in When Harry Met Sally!) I think it’s a perennially popular topic, and it would just be super fun to edit. For a fiction project, lately I’m in the mood for something like The Usual Suspects meets Sex and the City: a pulpy, dramatic story and a revolving cast. Lots of intrigue and unreliable narrators. Something you can’t put down.

 

You can always find Sara online at www.sarasargent.wordpress.com and on Twitter and Instagram @Sara_Sargent.