By Piper Huguley
At the beginning of May, several writers got together and decided to launch a hatchtag on Twitter called #weneeddiversebooks. The writers who banded together to launch this enterprise were championing the need for diverse children’s and YA fiction. The idea began when when two articles were published in the New York Times by the esteemed Walter Dean Myers and his son, Christopher, earlier this year. The campaign behind the hatchtag caught fire when people realized that the organizers of the YA panel at the upcoming BEA convention in New York, had no people of color on it. The decision was made then to launch the hatchtag to bring awareness to a gaping hole in the publishing industry. It was felt that something need to be done about the problem of young people not being able to see themselves on the pages of fiction.
The hatchtag was a very successful campaign in that people began to understand that the entire industry needs diverse books. Hopefully, the campaign made people more aware of the books that already exist. If people buy these titles and spread the word that they exist, then the hope is that traditional publishing may have a better understanding of the need for more diverse books, both with diverse characters and from diverse authors.
Until that wonderful day though, POC authors contrive other ways to be heard. For instance, I have just returned from the 2014 Romance Slam Jam conference, where I had a fabulous time. What is Slam Jam? It is the African American version of the Romantic Times conference where readers come to see their favorite authors. It’s a warm, wonderful celebration and family reunion. In 1995, it started out as being more like the African American version of RWA, but unfortunately, over time, the writer portion of the conference has grown smaller and smaller. Only one editor this year, from the Harlequin Kimani line, came to take pitches. When I first went in 2011, there were about six or seven agents and editors, plural use intended, who came. Clearly, the resources of contact with traditional publishing have diminished. Also, not every African American author wants to write for Kimani.
The fact that the conference exists at all, as well as the fact that representatives of traditional publishing don’t seem to think attending matters, might cause alarm in some quarters. Romance Slam Jam, known as RSJ, was started in 1995 by authors Emma Rodgers, Ashira Tosihwe and Francis Ray. They seemed to feel that nomination to the highest award for published authors in Romancelandia, the RITAs, were off limits to them. So RSJ created the Emmas, voted on by readers.
However, support for aspiring authors at RSJ has dwindled over time. The aspiring author contest has not been held for years. The contest allowed unpublished authors to submit portions of their manuscript to compete for traditionally published editors to review full manuscripts. So while this call for diverse books is wonderful, it remains to be seen who in the writing community will benefit. Some authors appear to be turning their backs on the traditional publishing industry. If they are accepted and chose to publish traditionally, they may not see their characters on the covers of their work. Their book covers may be “whitewashed” with images of objects instead of people on them—a calculated strategy to increase sales.
So, as a diverse person myself, I decided that when I made my foray into self-publishing, I would do things my way by putting people on the covers. I know some people think I have lost my mind in doing so, but it is too crucial. I knew I needed strong visuals for those who might be inclined to pick up my books. I strongly believe that visualization is a way to get through to people what and who the story is about.
One of my self-published stories, due to be released in July, The Preacher’s Promise, is still in contention in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award. I’m using the contest to increase the visibility of this rather unusual historical romance novel featuring protagonists who are African Americans. So to help increase its visibility, I would appreciate it if you would click on the title to get to the excerpt and download it on a Kindle device. It’s free. You may also search by my name or the title. I’ve also linked the picture of my cover to Amazon. Downloads, I believe, will help officials at Amazon’s publishing arm realize that diverse books are out there. Of course, if you are inclined and have time, feel free to leave a four or five star review as well.
Thank you for any part that you can play in showing that diverse books have a role to play, and have potential to make money as well.
Piper Huguley is an aspiring author pursuing publication for her historical romance fiction. She is a 2013 Golden Heart finalist for her novel, A Champion’s Heart—the fourth book in “Migrations of the Heart”, the series of books about the Bledsoe sisters. The first book in the series, A Virtuous Ruby, was the first-place winner in The Golden Rose Contest in 2013 and is a Golden Heart finalist for 2014. Book one in the “Home to Milford College” series, The Preacher’s Promise, was a semi-finalist in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest in 2013. The Preacher’s Promise and its companion prequel, The Lawyer’s Luck will be published in summer 2014. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.