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Over the weekend (Feb. 7), I taught a breakout session at the Annual Winter Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators here in New York, NY. We were discussing how to write for a diverse audience. My main focus was on helping the audience to remember that no matter what you’re writing, your audience will always be diverse. Too often, writers think that there’s a dichotomy–that there are “multicultural books” that are read by kids of color, and that “everyone else” (meaning, white kids) read “mainstream” (meaning, white) books.
This just isn’t the case. Readers tend to read widely, and kids of color are just like their white peers, reading the most popular books, the books assigned to them in schools, and whatever else they happen to come across that sounds interesting to them.
Below are the links and a few notes from the handout I gave to writers at the conference, with a few annotations to clarify what we were talking about. I hope it is a useful resource when you’re thinking of writing for a diverse audience (i.e., when you’re thinking of writing–period!). If you have any further ideas–or links where writers can go further in depth–please add them in the comments.
Seven Essentials You Need to Know about Writing for a Diverse Audience
Don’t feel “forced” to write diversity, but remember your readers are diverse
If your real-life world isn’t diverse, if you don’t know any people of color, if you don’t know how to write diverse characters without relying on stereotypes, you don’t have to feel pressured to do so.
And don’t feel like you need to come in and “save” anyone—come in from a position of equality and seeking equity.
However, your world is likely more diverse than you think.
Writing across POC cultures—what is the individual dynamic?
Expand your definition of “diversity.”
Diversity is not just about race, religion, class, etc. It is often about how many different identity markers come together to create a specific experience. Here’s a basic definition of intersectionality. Think about how it affects your characters.
the most important thing about a diverse book is the same thing as for all books. What matters most:
Age-appropriate content (though not shying away from edgy topics)
Contextual clues are better than exposition of culture.
Show, don’t tell!
Remember that your audience includes cultural insiders and outsiders. Balance enough information for outsiders with the possibility of boring insiders with too much basic everyday information.
School visits are a great way to reach diverse students.
At the beginning of your career, be willing to do school visits or Skype visits for a low honorarium, until you can build up your resume and network with more teachers.
Keep in mind that schools with a high percentage of diverse students are often the most underfunded. They may not have a budget for an honorarium, but may be able to purchase books for students to compensate.
Stacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers.
2015 marks the fifth year that Tu Books has been an imprint of Lee & Low Books. One of our primary missions is to discover new writers of color as we publish diverse genre fiction for young readers—fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and other adventurous genres. As we say on our website,
At Tu Books, we don’t believe that the worlds within books should be any less rich or diverse than the world we live in. Our stories are inspired by many cultures from around the world, to reach the “you” in every reader.
Tu Books was created for a specific reason. The present and the future belong to everyone and to limit this reality is a fantasy. Adventure, excitement, and who gets the girl (or boy) are not limited to one race or species. The role of hero is up for grabs, and we mean to take our shot.
To support that mission, we established the New Visions Award in 2012 to discover and develop new writers—writers who have not yet found an agent, writers who have never been published before in the middle grade or young adult categories (even as self-published authors).
In 2013, we announced our first New Visions Award winner, Valynne Maetani (@valynnemaetani on Twitter), for her YA mystery manuscript. That manuscript, which is now titled Ink and Ashes, is being published this June! (Check with your local or online bookseller for pre-ordering options!)
Earlier this year, we opened again for New Visions submissions, and now we are so happy to announce the six finalists in our second New Visions Award. The finalists (in alphabetical order by title) are:
The Amaterasu Project by Axie Oh, Las Vegas, NV
• YA science fiction/action novel set in Korea about a former gangster who is recruited into the military over a secret prototype weapons project—which turns out to be a genetically modified girl
• @axieoh on Twitter
Eco-Agent Owen Chang: The Missing Murder by Andrea Wang, Sudbury, MA
• MG science fiction/spy novel about a 12-year-old eco-agent for an environmental agency, investigating the disappearance of crows
• @AndreaYWang on Twitter
Fallen Branches by Shilpa Kamat, Sebastopol, CA
• YA mystery about a biracial teen from a two-mother household in Northern California, attempting to reconcile her town’s historic and current cultural and racial tensions as she solves parallel mysteries with a new friend
On These Magic Shores by Yamile Saied Méndez, Alpine, UT
• MG magical realism about three sisters whose mother’s disappearance they must hide if they want to stay together
• @YamileSMendez on Twitter
Pure Descent by Grace Rowe, Los Angeles, CA
• YA science fiction exploring the future of race, about an adoptee who must deny her adoptive parents to win a racial “purity” contest
• @1gracerowe on Twitter
Seraphim by Rishonda Anthony, Richmond, VA
• YA paranormal about a teen who was once a child prodigy who had a psychotic breakdown at the age of 12, who sees angels and demons in the woods outside her college—and they might be real this time
• @rishonda_writes on Twitter
We’ll be reading the full manuscripts in the next couple of months, and deliberating on a winner to be announced in April. We can’t wait!
And if you missed this round of the New Visions Award, be sure to keep working on your manuscript for the next round. We’ll open for submissions in June 2015.
Author Elizabeth Gilbertsat for an interview with artist Luc Berthelette. During their conversation, Berthelette asked Gilbert (pictured, via) about her early beginnings, life lessons, happiness, writing memoirs, and creating fiction. He also requested that she share some tips for aspiring writers.
Gilbert answered by advising writers to not focus on their craft and to not depend on writing as their primary source of income. Do you agree with her opinion? Here’s an excerpt from her response:
“Of course this is the dream of dreams — to make a living by your art — but it is a rare thing, when that works out. Or sometimes it might work out for a few years, and then you run out of money. If financial success becomes the standard by which to determine if you are successful or not, you are likely setting yourself up to feel disappointed in yourself and your work. It’s not fair to your craft, to put this kind of pressure on it. Get a job on the side to pay the bills, and learn how to live an inexpensive, frugal life.”
Here’s more from Gaiman’s post: “Write the ideas down. If they are going to be stories, try and tell the stories you would like to read. Finish the things you start to write.”
Do you agree with Gaiman’s thoughts? If not, Gaiman describes an alternative process that involves scaling a mountain, catching a crow, collecting a golden berry, enduring a week of silence, and reciting Dr. Seuss’Fox in Socks in its entirety with a golden berry under your tongue. Which method would you prefer?
LEE & LOW BOOKS is proud to announce that Andrea J. Loney ofInglewood, California, is the winner of the company’s fifteenth annual New Voices Award. Her manuscript, Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee, is a picture book biography of James Van Der Zee, an African American photographer best known for his portraits of famous and little known New Yorkers during the Harlem Renaissance. From a young age, James Van Der Zee longed to share his vision of the world with others. When he discovered photography, this dream became a reality. Over many years, James worked hard to build his own business, where he specialized in highlighting the black middle class of Harlem, an aspect of American society rarely showcased at the time.Andrea J. Loney is a writer and software trainer for corporations and non-profits, where her students range from Korean War veterans to at-risk teens. Her mother is African American, and her father is Panamanian-Jamaican. Her family was one of very few black families in her New Jersey town, and this confluence of cultures has inspired her “to write about unusual characters finding or creating their own places in the world.” She will receive a prize of $1,000 and a publication contract.
LEE & LOW BOOKS is also proud to announce that Kara Stewart of Durham, North Carolina, has been chosen as an Honor winner for her manuscript Talent, about a young girl who goes to Sappony summer camp and is worried that she has nothing to perform at the camp talent show. With a passion for science and help from her friends, Alice Ruth finds her own strength and learns to be comfortable with who she is. A first time author and member of the Sappony tribe, Stewart is an Elementary School Literacy Coach and serves on the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education. She believes that it is vital for Native people to be reflected in an accurate, contemporary, and non-stereotypical way, and she wrote this story to honor her Sappony family, their resilience, and determination to keep their heritage alive. Stewart will receive a prize of $500.
Congratulations to Andrea J. Loney and Kara Stewart!
ABOUT THE AWARD: Established in 2000, the New Voices Award is an annual award given by LEE & LOW BOOKS to an unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript. Past winners include It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Drawby Don Tate, winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award Honor, Birdby Zetta Elliott, an ALA Notable Book, and, most recently, Juna’s Jarby Jane Bahk, a Spring 2015 Junior Library Guild selection.
The award was established to combat the low numbers of authors of color in children’s book publishing and to help new authors break into the field. LEE & LOW BOOKS is committed to nurturing new authors. The company has introduced more than one hundred new authors and illustrators to the children’s book world and 68% of authors and illustrators published by LEE & LOW BOOKS are people of color. For more information, visit our New Voices Award page.
Authors of color who write for older readers are encouraged to learn about our New Visions Award for middle grade and young adult manuscripts as well.
Did you take on the National Novel Writing Month challenge? Whether or not you finished your 50,000-word manuscript, we suspect that some of you may be curious about the career path to becoming a successful author.
Earlier this year, journalists Joy Press and Carolyn Kellogg conducted an informal survey and collected more than 200 responses at the The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. This data, illustrations from artist Paul Duginski, and programming from graphic designer Jon Schleuss were used to create the “how to be a writer” digital board game.
Some of the steps that aspiring writers can take include starting a diary, going to the Yaddo writer’s retreat, revising, signing up for a writing class with James Franco, and winning a National Book Award. What do you think?
During the event, Oliver shared the three traits she feels that fiction writers must possess: (1) great self-awareness (2) radical empathy and (3) a deep interest in human beings. Do you agree with her?
Oliver also divulged that her book Panic was inspired by a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale called “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers.” Towards the end of the night, she revealed that she has a number of projects in-the-works: a young adult novel entitled Vanishing Girls, a middle grade series called The Curiosity House, and another young adult story featuring clones.
The act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education.
Expert care and training.
Enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training.
The integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.
The act or process of cultivating living material.
Here’s more from Merriam-Webster.com: “Culture is a big word at back-to-school time each year, but this year lookups extended beyond the academic calendar. The term conveys a kind of academic attention to systematic behavior and allows us to identify and isolate an idea, issue, or group: we speak of a ‘culture of transparency’ or ‘consumer culture.’ Culture can be either very broad (as in ‘celebrity culture’ or ‘winning culture’) or very specific (as in ‘test-prep culture’ or ‘marching band culture’).”
Author Emma Straub wrote an essay for Rookie on “How to Write About Real People.” Straub discusses her personal experiences with fictionalizing people she has known in her real life. Straub confesses to drawing inspiration from her brother and one of his past romantic relationships to create two characters in her latest novel, The Vacationers.
Straub (pictured, via) feels that all writers have the right to do this, but they should be aware that they can really hurt a person’s feelings by choosing to exercise this right. She also cautions that if a person recognizes themselves in a story that you write, you cannot compel them to feel at peace with your choice. Here’s an excerpt from Straub’s piece: (more…)
Earlier this month, Caldecott Medal-winning children’s books creator Brian Floca spoke at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During his presentation, he talked about the creative processes behind Locomotive, Ballet For Martha, and The Racecar Alphabet.
Floca (pictured, via) also shared several pieces of writing advice. We’ve collected three of Floca’s tips below—what do you think?
(1) Take the step of “writing what you know” a little further and “write what you want to know.”
(2) “Writing is all about re-writing.”
(3) “Research helps to guide the writing. Writing helps to guide the research.”
Have you ever invented new words? In a presentation delivered at TEDYouth 2014 (embedded above), lexicographer Erin McKean promotes the idea of adding words to the language when the existing ones prove to be inadequate.
In an interview with the TED blog, McKean explains that “asking why English needs more words is like asking why we need new novels or new fashions. On a purely practical level, we don’t. We could all read what’s already published and wear the same styles for the rest of our lives. But people like novelty and new words for new things satisfies that human urge.” Do you agree with her?
It’s been one month since the 2014 edition of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) ended. Have you touched your NaNoWriMo manuscript in the past few weeks?
If you wrote a particularly long book, perhaps it’s time to make a 2015 New Year’s Resolution to edit your project. According to the First Second blog, “working on a book in creative solitude for that long of a period of time — even with an editor to bounce things off of — is really stressful for a lot of people, unless they enjoy being hermits.”
To gleam a little bit of advice for this endeavor, click here to watch an “Edit Your Novel!” webinar featuring NaNoWriMo executive director Grant Faulkner and author Rachael Herron. What do you think?
How well one maintains a positive outlook could make or break a NaNoWriMo project. Shawn Achor, a positive psychology expert, gave a TED talk called “The Happy Secret to Better Work.”
In the video embedded above, Achor recommends setting aside at least 20 minutes every day for the following five activities: identifying three reasons for gratitude, exercise, meditation, writing in a journal, and performing acts of kindness. What methods do you use to cultivate happiness?
This is our thirteenth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.
NaNoWriMo participants have 10 more days to complete their projects. To give writers that extra edge, we suggest paring down distractions.
According to lifehack.org, some methods that can help with reducing distractions include: cleaning up one’s workspace, arranging some alone time, and setting a timer for both writing and breaks. Do you have any further suggestions to add?
This is our fourteenth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.
As electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) rise in popularity, linguists predict that usage of word will only continue to increase. Some of the words that made it to the short list include “budtender,” “normcore,” and “slacktivism.” In past years, the organization picked “selfie,” “gif,” and “refudiate” to receive this honor.
This is our fifteenth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.
Earlier this week, the executives behind the Oxford Dictionaries announced that “vape” was chosen as the 2014 Word of the Year. With the popularity of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) on the rise, usage of this word has increased.
Over at the OxfordWords blog, the team posted an infographic to share “the history of vape and why we’ve chosen it for Word of the Year – as well as looking at previous winners of Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year over the past decade.” We’ve embedded the entire graphic after the jump for you to explore further. (more…)
Attention, indie ebook authors. Mark Coker at Smashwords wants you to know that there’s never been a better time to be you. He writes, “Thanks to an ever-growing global market for your ebooks, your books are a couple clicks away from over one billion potential readers on smart phones, tablets and e-readers. In the world of ebooks, the playing field is tilted to the indie author’s advantage.”
Then, the wake-up call. Coker goes on to report that “the gravy train of exponential sales growth is over,” with indie (self-published) authors seeing “significant” sales decline at Amazon, especially since the July launch of Kindle Unlimited. He had predicted the slowdown and attributes it to the glut of high-quality low-cost ebooks, the increasing rate of ebook supply outpacing demand, and the slowing, much-discussed transition from print to ebooks.
However, all is not lost. He offers tips on how to succeed in this new ebook environment. You’ll want to see his entire piece at Smashwords, as space constraints require editing them down. Here is a short take on Mark Coker’s 20:
1. Take the long view; focus on aggressive platform building.
2. Good isn’t good enough. Are you bringing your best game?
3. Write more, publish more, get better.
4. Diversify your distribution.
5. Network with other indie authors.
6. Publish and promote multi-author box set collaborations; you can build your base.
7. Leverage professional publishing tools, like preorder, to your advantage.
8. Best practices; there are seven, and Mark gives a good summary in his blog. Your fellow indie authors pioneered these practices, so listen up.
9. You’re running a business: be nice, ethical, honest, and humble. It pays.
10. Pinch your pennies; practice expense control.
11. Manage your time.
12. Take risks, experiment, and fail often.
13. Dream big dreams; aim high. Salvador Dali said: “Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.”
14. Be delusional.
15. Embrace your doubters.
16. Celebrate your fellow authors’ success. Their success is your success.
17. Remember that past success is no guarantee of your future success.
18. Never quit.
19. Own your future.
20. Know that your writing is important.
I’ll just repeat that last one: Know that your writing is important.
“I tell my students; I tell everybody this. When I begin a creative writing class I say, I know you’ve heard all your life, ‘Write what you know.’ Well I am here to tell you, You don’t know nothing. So do not write what you know. Think up something else. Write about a young Mexican woman working in a restaurant and can’t speak English. Or write about a famous mistress in Paris who’s down on her luck.”
This is our sixteenth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.
(2) Treat fake people (a.k.a. your characters) as though they were real human beings.
(3) Mutter to yourself.
This is our seventeenth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.
Writers are often advised to “show, not tell.” That’s why metaphors can be so very helpful.
The animated video above features a TED-Ed lesson called “The Art of The Metaphor.” When it comes to crafting a strong metaphor, keep in mind that “a metaphor isn’t true or untrue in any ordinary sense; metaphors are art, not science.”
This is our eighteenth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.
Some writers feel that they must create the story that they themselves want to read. Does that mean you should disregard your potential audience?
In the video embedded above, The Fault in Our Stars novelist John Green advises that one should remember the reader’s perspective while writing. By putting yourself in the reader’s shoes, you will be able to figure out what are the most interesting parts about your story.
This is our nineteenth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.
NaNoWriMo participants have less than 24 hours to complete their project. For our final tip, we’re sharing some of our favorite lessons from five established authors who contributed to The Guardian’s “Ten Rules For Writing Fiction” piece.
01. “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” — Elmore Leonard
02. “Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.” — Geoff Dyer
03. “Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.” — Margaret Atwood
04. “Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.” — A.L. Kennedy
05. “Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.” — Neil Gaiman
This is our twentieth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.