children's publishing

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Today’s top book news item:

Children’s and Young Adult books have long been thought to be a sphere especially friendly to women, in contrast with the staggering gender bias found in the world of grown-up literature. It turns out that, nope, women don’t dominate children’s publishing. New figures released by the literary organization VIDA show that there is approximate gender parity among the winners of children’s book awards — which would be great if there were equal numbers of men and women writing kids’ books.

“For a relatively small percentage of our authors, men are very well represented among our award winners and list-mentions,” VIDA’s Kekla Magoon writes in a blog post. She adds, “[I]t’s true that being female is not nearly the barrier to initial publication for us that it often is in the adult literary landscape, but as this year’s pie charts demonstrate, being male still seems to carry some particular advantages when it comes to recognition, prestige, and awards for literary merit.”

Yesterday was Alice’s Day, celebrating the anniversary of when Alice in Wonderland was first published. Here in the OUP Archives we have spent some time down at the OUP museum where a number of Alice in Wonderland artifacts are still stored

Pictured above is one of the 2,000 copies Lewis Carroll paid to have printed in Oxford in 1865.

Image courtesy of OUP Archives.


We’ve updated the Diversity Gap in Children’s Publishing to reflect the CCBC’s 2014 numbers

Some observations:

Some observations based on the CCBC data and our infographic:
1. One good year is not a guarantee of long-term change. Although the statistics for 2014 were the highest they have ever been since the CCBC started keeping track in 1994, the key question is whether or not this momentum will be maintained. The second-highest year, 2008, hit 12%, but was followed by a decrease to 11% in 2009, and then down to 10% in 2010, where it stayed until 2014. In addition, one good year does not erase 20 bad years: the total average still hovers around 10%. It will take a sustained effort to push the average above 10% and truly move the needle.

2. The increase predates 2014’s big changes. The founding of We Need Diverse Books and last year’s burst of media coverage certainly brought the issue of diversity to the forefront, but they did not cause this particular increase. It takes several years to move a book from acquisition to publication. The books released in 2014 would have been acquired in 2012 or earlier—long before Walter Dean Myers’ New York Times editorial, which many credit with reigniting awareness of the diversity issue. This could mean that publishers were making a concerted effort to diversify their lists before 2014, and it was a happy accident that last year’s increase in demand coincided with an actual increase in supply. Or it could mean that 2014’s increase was just a blip on the publishing radar and not part of a larger trend.

3. Creators of color are still heavily underrepresented. For the first time in 2014, the CCBC released more detailed statistics. They categorized books as “about,” “by and about,” or “by but not about” people of color. Based on those numbers, we can also calculate the number of books that are “about but not by.” The chart below compares the number of books “about but not by” people of color (blue) with the number of books “by and about” (red) people of color.

In every category except Latino, more books are being published about characters from a particular culture by someone who is not from that culture than by someone who is. This disparity is most dramatic when it comes to books with African/African American content, of which only 39% were by African Americans.

In 2014, there were 393 books published about people of color, of which 225 (57%) were by people who were not from the culture about which they wrote or which they illustrated.

It’s disconcerting that more than half the books about people of color were created by cultural outsiders. Realistically, thesenumbers likely mean that there are more white creators speaking for people of color than people of color speaking for themselves. This problem may stem from a long history in which people of color have been overlooked to tell their own stories in favor of white voices. Authors and illustrators of color have a right to be wary of an industry in which they are still underrepresented, even among books about their own cultures.

This also raises questions about quality and cultural authenticity. Who is checking to make sure diverse books are culturally accurate and do not reinforce stereotypes? Are cultural consultants being routinely employed to check for accuracy? Are reviewers equipped to consider questions of cultural accuracy in reviews? Given that more diverse books are being created by cultural outsiders than insiders, these questions must be answered.

It’s worth celebrating that the number of authors and illustrators of color went up by 23% in 2014, but this does not lessen the urgent need to find ways to bring more talented creators of color into the publishing fold.

4. Some authors and illustrators of color have more freedom than others. For the first time in 2014, the CCBC also released statistics citing the number of published books by creators of color that did not have significant cultural content. This statistic is a measure of the freedom that people of color have to write or illustrate topics other than their own cultures. As the numbers show, this level of freedom varies greatly from culture to culture:

Why are Asian/Pacific American creators so much more free to create books without significant cultural content? Perhaps it is because they don’t have the same pressure to create books that will be eligible for certain awards. Latino and African American authors and illustrators often work with the prospect of the Pura Belpré Award and the Coretta Scott King Award (respectively) looming over them. These awards can sell thousands of copies of a book—no small drop in the bucket, even for a major publisher. For a book to be eligible for either award, it must be both by a person from the culture and contain significant cultural content. So Latino and African American creators may feel pressured to create Belpré- or King-eligible books instead of books without cultural content. These may also be the books that publishers are most likely to acquire. While awards also exist for Asian Pacific American and Native American literature, they carry less weight in terms of sales.

Or, perhaps, Asian American creators don’t feel this freedom at all, and the numbers aren’t telling the whole story.

Conclusion: What the CCBC numbers tell us are that things are looking up, but there is a lot of work left to be done. No one set of statistics tells the whole story, but the CCBC numbers offer a baseline for tracking the progress that has been made, and shows us how far we still have to go.

So, to all the teenagers out there, whoever you are and from wherever you come, I say this – you deserve all the stories: the ones about people like you, and the ones about people unlike you. You deserve to be intrigued and surprised and bewildered by glimpses into worlds not your own, and find not only the points of divergence but the points of connection with people of other races and cultures. You deserve stories that make your existence larger, not smaller; stories that expand rather than limit your reality. And when you walk into a bookstore, you deserve to be surrounded by a crowd of faces, of all colours and cultures and races, and to know that behind every one of those faces is a new world waiting to be discovered…and all it takes to experience it is the turn of a page.
Literary Agent Barry Goldblatt Announces New Writing for Children & Young Adults Scholarship for Writers of Color | VCFA

– New annual award for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults degree program – September 18, 2013, MONTPELIER, VT – Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), a national center for graduate education in the fine arts, and Barry Goldblatt Literary, LLC, announce the creation of The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Master of Fine Arts program. The $5,000 scholarship will be awarded to up to two students annually.

So glad to see this happening. If we want more diversity in children’s books, everybody’s got to be part of it.

Adult vs. Children’s Publishing: Round 1

Here at Bloomsbury USA, we have the unique office set-up where adult and kids publishing happens side-by-side (at most publishers, these two divisions are separated by floors and partitions and probably a lot of books).

Can you tell which desk belongs to the the adult publicist and which one belongs to the children’s marketer?

One, that we remember that publishing is a business. They’re in it to make money. They are not in publishing for social reform. People’s attitude about race and ethnicity in this country are as fractured as ever, and are reflected in the production of multicultural books. We don’t truly believe we’re all alike and sisters under the skin. We really do think – and it shows – that there are stories of “us” and then there are “others.” We need to stop othering, as a world, before we expect to see that from publishing. We need to get to know people from other cultures and skin colors, and truly accept that there is a commonality in the human experience. We all were embarrassed and horrified dorks during adolescence. We all had a rough “first love.” We all have had heartbreak. We’ve all had besties and worst enemies. We really are all alike.

So I’m really liking this idea of writing/illustrating a series of alternative fairy tales for kids (as in, adapting lesser-known fairytales that don’t follow the beautiful (white, thin, feminine) princess meets (strong, masculine, white) handsome prince –> fall in love –> prince saves princess –> happy ever after model). I want to expose kids to the stories that interested me as a kid, fairy tales about intelligence and wit and doing things for yourself and saving the prince and being strong in ways that don’t necessarily involve hitting things or getting in fights, and girls being strong in ways that DO, for that matter. I want to tell stories with characters of all sizes, shapes, races, genders and sexualities, and I want all those things to go unremarked because they are OKAY and NORMAL. And for that matter, I want to tell at least SOME stories that don’t involve any romantic plot or subplot at all.

I mean, I already have most of one, because I’m doing it for uni (The Prince Who Wasn’t, which if I go ahead with this project I’ll be extending out and re-adding a lot of my favourite ideas which I had to cut to meet the project requirement, like the bit where the two main characters escape the princess’ tower through a combination of the butch character’s fighting skill and the femme character’s intelligence, and the extended reveal of the main twist, and also my favourite character who is a terrible person with a Napoleon complex bad enough that he wears very high heels and has a servant following him with a step) but I really want to make this a Thing.

Only I don’t know what other fairytales I’d like to adapt (although The Poor Girl Who Became Queen and The Black Bull Of Norroway are both strong candidates).

And also I would really like to publish them (hopefully I could crowdsource the funds, if there was enough interest) but I have no idea how to go about self-publishing and distribution, so that’s kind of a problem.

So um, would this be a project that people would be interested in? And also, any advice on the publishing front? Obviously this is a project I can’t really get my teeth into until at least the start of May, because, you know, uni work, but.