Category Archives: Publishing

Diversity in Publishers Weekly’s 2013 Young Adult Bestsellers

By Malinda Lo

On March 14, 2014, Publishers Weekly released its annual accounting of children’s bestsellers for the previous year. Continuing Diversity in YA’s efforts to analyze diversity in the book market, I’ve taken a look at the 2013 figures to determine how characters of color, LGBT characters, disabled characters, and authors of color are represented in these bestselling titles.

In comparison to 2012 (you can read those results here), there was a tiny uptick in 2013 in terms of overall numbers of titles that incorporate characters of color, LGBT and/or disabled characters, but that increase is due to errors I made in calculating diversity in the 2012 list. Last year was my first attempt to count diversity in bestsellers, and I missed the House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast (published by St. Martin’s Press), whose main character, Zoey Redbird, is part-Cherokee. I also missed Michael Grant’s Gone series; I explain more about that series later in this post.

Additionally, last year I did not count Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue as including a disabled character because I thought Lowry’s Giver Quartet was middle grade. While the series was originally published as middle grade, in recent years the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has repositioned the series as young adult. (See the search results at Edelweiss, where the 2002 publication is categorized for ages 8–12, whereas the 2012 reprint is for ages 12 and up.) This clearly indicates that “young adult” is a marketing category, but because I rely on publishers to categorize their own books, I have to follow my own rule. That means this year, Gathering Blue and the other books in the Giver Quartet count as YA.

What this means is that the number of diverse YA titles — when diverse means main characters of color, LGBT and/or disabled main characters — has remained flat. There has been no improvement overall.

Before I continue to the rest of the analysis, first I’ll define my terms and explain some background information. If you’re not interested in this you can skip down to the next section, Overall Diversity in Publishers Weekly’s 2013 YA Bestsellers. Continue reading Diversity in Publishers Weekly’s 2013 Young Adult Bestsellers

Interview with Barry Goldblatt of BG Literary

By Cindy Pon

Literary agent Barry Goldblatt has represented many young adult authors including Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Lauren Myracle, and Libba Bray. He recently created the Angela Johnson Scholarship for the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults, which aims to support talented writers of color.

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Cindy Pon: I queried over a hundred agents back in 2008, and I’ll always remember your agency as one of the few that listed multicultural and/or diverse stories as something you were actively seeking. It certainly made a very positive impression on me. Why does diversity in children’s books matter to you, Barry?

Barry Goldblatt: To me, it’s quite simple: I don’t live in a monochrome world, so why should the stories I represent? The world is full of different stories, and as a reader I was always fascinated by reading about people and places that were different from me…and yet, oh so similar. I think good readers long for diverse experiences, and I also think that every reader deserves a chance to see themselves reflected in the pages of a book.

Cindy: How would you respond to aspiring writers who are afraid that including LGBT characters or characters of color in their book will make getting published more difficult?

Barry: I simply do not see that in my experience. I’ve never had a book rejected because of LGBT content, or because of the race or religion of characters in the story. In fact, quite the opposite experience, really: editors are readers at heart, and they’re eager to find a new story, a new approach, a new worldview.

That said, we obviously face difficulties in the marketing of said books, but I think many of those barriers are falling these days, and will continue to do so. If we keep providing great stories, the readers will come, and ultimately, all that will matter to them is that the face on the cover represents the character they love.

Cindy: You recently announced the creation of The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a partnership between your literary agency and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Could you tell us more about this fantastic undertaking?

Barry: I have a long relationship with the wonderful MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts: I’ve represented a number of writers who have served as faculty there or who graduated from there. Their faculty is incredibly diverse, and it seems that would help attract a diverse student body, but when I visited recently as part of a alumni program, it was obvious to me that more was needed to accomplish that. So I proposed the scholarship, making it clear there were no strings attached: no recipient was required to submit their work to me or be represented by me. I just thought it was one small way I could put my money where my mouth is, to encourage writers who might not have even been aware of the program, or unable to afford it, to maybe come give it a try, and to help get their stories—from whatever background they’ve come from—get out into the world.

Cindy: And finally, are there any particular projects you are especially interested in representing right now?

Barry: I never know how to answer this question, because I really don’t know what I want until I read something that blows me away, and then of course I want that! In general, I’m looking for something brilliant, something that punches me in the mouth or the gut with an emotional wallop, or something that sneakily creeps up on my heart and squeezes. I want big stories of bravery and derring do, and I want small stories of love and compassion and understanding. All I ask, is that it grabs me and takes me somewhere else, somewhere new, somewhere unforgettable.

To learn more about the Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency, visit their website, bgliterary.com, or follow Barry on Twitter.

Time and time again, at the bookstore and at children’s book festivals, I have observed white children picking up books with kids of color on the cover, and heard adults express surprise at the choice. “Are you sure you want that one?” they’ll ask. Or, “Wouldn’t you like this book instead?” It’s not the kids who are the problem. Kids really, really, really only care about a great story. In twenty years of connecting children with books they love, I have only seen one child—ONE!—balk at a book cover because the main character was a different race from her own. It’s the adults who underestimate a child’s ability or desire to see beyond race.

Bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle,
“True or False? Multicultural Books Don’t Sell: We Are the Problem,
We Are the Solution”
 (Lee and Low blog)

I think anything you want to write about is FINE. I’m not the topic-police. I’m just saying, straight-cis-white-ablebodied-uppermiddleclass main characters are the vast majority of what fills the ol’ inbox (and, for that matter, the bookstore). So non-default stories, whatever they may be, will feel fresh, and are likely stand out in a good way.

TL:DR — YES, PLEASE DO SEND ME YOUR DIVERSE NARRATIVES. I’M INTERESTED.

Literary agent Jennifer Laughran, “On Diversity and Character Depth”