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Will #weneeddiversebooks work without authors?

By Piper Huguley

My first novel-length book will be released on July 31, 2014.

My first novel-length book will be released on July 31, 2014.

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.

 The Preacher’s Promise

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.

 

https://www.facebook.com/piperghuguley

Twitter: @writerpiper

http://piperhuguley.com

 

 

Sandy Elzie - May 13, 2014 - 5:05 am

First of all, Piper, I absolutely love your cover. I appreciate covers reflecting the characters. I read a book years ago that had a young girl on the cover, but when I read the book, the character was in her late twenties.

I’ve seen discussion of this issue online before…although not in a while. I did a quick search for publishers looking for diverse characters…”people of color” and also “Latin” characters…without much success. (sigh) Things are always changing in the writing world, so just hang in there and never give up. Congrats on the upcoming release!

Walt Mussell - May 13, 2014 - 6:32 am

Piper,

I’m part of a Yahoo group called “Authors of Asian Novels.” The push for more non-traditional types of books is something all of talk about. The group is constantly forwarding to each other any information about potential publishing possibilities involving Asian settings.

Can’t wait to read your book!

Piper - May 13, 2014 - 7:09 am

Sandy,

I’m hopeful that the discussion can spark some honesty in terms of the debate. Really, I understand that it comes down to money, but there is money to be found in what an interested agent called “a niche, within a niche, within a niche.” Thanks!

Piper - May 13, 2014 - 7:11 am

Walt,

Isn’t it wonderful that there are opportunities to connect about all sorts of things? This is a real advantage of social media. You know, of course, that I heartily support your writing, but I did I think of you when I wrote this post. Glad that there are sources of support for you. As Sandy says, we have to keep plugging away and never give up. Thank you for stopping by!

Marilyn Baron - May 13, 2014 - 7:41 am

Piper,
I agree with Sandy. Your cover is phenomenal. For some reason, I don’t prefer people on my cover because I’m not sure a picture of a model could capture my character and it seems too limiting. The closest I just came to wishing I had a couple on the cover was the Outlander movie poster I recently saw on Facebook. Sometimes you can capture it, sometimes not. But when I write women’s fiction, I always tell the cover artist at the publisher NOT to put people on the cover. I think women’s fiction concepts are difficult to capture. Also, two of my women’s fiction novels featured two couples from two generations of a family so that would be hard to depict. And I loved the way the two covers turned out. But, in your case, I love what you did on the cover. Best of luck on your new book.

Julie - May 13, 2014 - 8:09 am

I am so glad that there is growing awareness of the issue of lack of diversity in books of all types. The fewer opportunities for writers is rather scary because more narrow the writing world becomes the smaller our brains become, IMHO.

Cheering you on!

Piper Huguley - May 13, 2014 - 8:18 am

Marilyn,

People on the cover are always a risk. And it was a big one in this case because I made no descriptions and the cover artist lives in Sri Lanka. It was a big gamble, but it paid off. Most of the other artist just depicted Amanda. Still, this artist got it just from my blurb. Somehow, he pulled my hero right from my head. The eerie thing was, I didn’t say anything about how he should look. I’ve got to look up that Outlander movie poster. Thank you for stopping by!

Piper Huguley - May 13, 2014 - 8:19 am

So true, Julie! We can’t afford smaller brains in this complex society–we need all people understanding one another. Thanks for stopping by!

Denny S. Bryce - May 13, 2014 - 8:35 am

Great post, Piper, and CONGRATULATIONS on making it to the elite round in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award, and your new release, and your fantastic cover, and for your second year in a row for the RWA Golden Heart. (I love being able to pile on the good news)!

But not done yet…

And for hanging out with me at Romance Slam Jam. So glad I had a chance to make it on the last day, and to attend the closing ceremony. What a fun night!

See you soon!

Piper Huguley - May 13, 2014 - 8:58 am

Thank you so much Denny, for piling on–lol! We had a great time and I’m glad that it worked out for you to be able to come to the closing ceremony. We did have a good time and more fun times are ahead in San Antonio! Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Velmer - May 13, 2014 - 10:11 am

First of all, Piper, your cover is beautiful.. Believe it or not a cover is what usually draws me to a book. If I were out looking for books and that cover caught my eye,, I would buy it. That just a silly quirk of mine, so please keep putting out those beautiful covers. Thanks.

Piper Huguley - May 13, 2014 - 10:14 am

Thank you Velmer! And it’s not just a silly quirk of yours. I’ve come to understand, from authors and readers, that covers are serious business. I’m extremely happy and fortunate that mine have worked out so well. Thank you for stopping by!

Evangeline Holland - May 13, 2014 - 10:21 am

Wow. I had no idea the writer/publishing industry portion of RSJ had diminished so drastically. It’s shocking considering how many authors are published by mainstream publishers (not just HQN Kimani) and have well-known agents. It’s even more shockingwhen RSJ and RT are both held in the same city–New Orleans–this year! I am seriously blown away by this because it is indicative of the lackluster desire to nurture, publish, and promote authors of color.

Piper Huguley - May 13, 2014 - 10:28 am

I may be wrong, but I think the scheduling of RSJ was done by RSJ to accommodate the authors who wanted to stay for RT. The overlap in time won’t happen again next year, even though they will both be held in the same city (Irving/Dallas). They will be about six weeks apart in 2015.

Although Mark Coker of Smashwords did come and give a very informative presentation, I did feel the need to put the information out there to see if others would come to the same conclusion as you and I did, Evangeline. If there is some other way to read this decline, I would love a different viewpoint, but it’s hard to see this disinterest by traditional publishing in another way. Thanks for stopping by!

Carol Burnside - May 13, 2014 - 11:43 am

Piper, I just love your cover!

When the book releases, or even now, you could gain interest by utilizing Goodreads. Explore further than just adding your book to the mix. Add it to Listopias, create your own lists and add others to it. For instance, there’s lists for Best Black Historical Fiction, Multicultural Books for Children and Black/Mixed Race main characters (to name a few). It can’t hurt to have it in lists where people may be searching for specific books. :-)

Now I’m off to take a closer look at your book. Best of luck with sales!

Connie Gillam - May 13, 2014 - 12:51 pm

Piper-

The lack of support from traditional publishers for African American authors has been a point of discussion for my critique partner, Pamela, and I for years. This is the main reason I decided to self-publish.
I love your cover, btw. And congratulations on the Golden Heart finals for 2013 and 2014.

Suan Carlisle - May 13, 2014 - 1:11 pm

Piper,
I think there is a place in the reading world for everything. People just need to know where to find it and it should be available without looking hard.
I too, love your cover. How could someone not want to read it?

Piper - May 13, 2014 - 3:15 pm

Taking careful notes Carol. Some of those I’ve never heard of before. Thank you for the good wishes and your comment!

Piper - May 13, 2014 - 3:17 pm

Duly noted, Connie. I began to realize the same thing around the end of last year. I’m glad that you like the cover and thank you for your congrats and for stopping by!

Piper - May 13, 2014 - 3:19 pm

Susan,

I agree completely. I think self-publishing is making what you say a reality–it’s the question of finding things, as Carol discussed that is the issue. I appreciate your kind words very much. Thank you for stopping by!

Maxine Davis - May 13, 2014 - 4:34 pm

Piper, congratulations on taking the plunge and I wish you much success. I, too, love the cover. And it is strong and I think will cause many people to buy it. Good luck.

Sonali - May 13, 2014 - 4:40 pm

Piper, as usual, excellently said!

I used to think that all we could do was write the stories we love and make them as good as we can possibly make them and the readers will follow. But that’s like saying as women if we kept proving how smart we are, being able to vote and be paid as equals would follow.

This is a soapbox so worth climbing on. And I stand on it next to you with pride. One day soon people will read stories for the stories, for the protagonists and the tragedy and the laughs and not even notice the color of the characters except in as much as it pertains to the story.
Hugs,

Piper - May 13, 2014 - 4:53 pm

Thank you for your kind words Maxine. I certainly hope you are right. :)

Piper Huguley - May 13, 2014 - 4:56 pm

Hey Sonali,

Yes, I think that you are right. In these days with as many titles as are out now, it takes something else, something more to be noticed. And, standing on the soapbox with you, I hope for that day too, my friend. Thank you for stopping by the blog!

Stacy Whitman - May 14, 2014 - 1:06 am

Hi Piper, I hadn’t ever actually heard of RSJ. Do they include YA in their lineup? If so, I know several children’s/YA editors who would love to be connected to your RSJ community (we founded the CBC diversity committee several years ago). I know several who would participate either by attending or just to be able to let them know that they are looking to acquire diverse books. I personally publish middle grade and YA fantasy, science fiction, and mystery (we’re @tubooks on Twitter, and I’ve linked our website above).

Discovery is one of the hardest parts of keeping the momentum up on a movement for diverse books (and #WeNeedDiverseBooks–of which I was a part–is just the latest iteration of something these authors and others have been working on for years, some for decades; my parent publisher, Lee & Low, has been publishing diverse picture books since 1993). It’s hard for readers to find the books, and sometimes it’s just as hard for editors (many of whom aren’t used to having to reach out to diverse communities and let them know they’re interested) to connect to writers.

When I started Tu Books, I reached out to the Asian American Writers Workshop, the Carl Brandon Society, and so on with my call for submissions. Not many editors do that kind of leg work, though–they often have too much work just sifting through what’s sent to them. But I didn’t know about your group, even though I work in diverse books. I’d love it if you could email me or get me in touch with people involved with RSJ if they welcome children’s/YA; if not, if you happen to know of similar organizations for children’s/YA writers who are POC, please get in touch.

Also, you might be interested to know of a Latina writing conference that has a similar aim (though their subject matter is more broad, covering all ages and genres): Comadres y Compadres, which is hosted every October in Brooklyn at Medgar Evars College.

Thanks!

Piper Huguley - May 14, 2014 - 6:55 am

Hi Stacy,

Thank you for your very through response. I have heard and seen of Lee and Low’s efforts and I applaud them (as well as your participation in the campaign). There were several YA authors at RSJ and they had an event on the last day catering to teens. I know that the author A C Arthur who writes YA as Artist Arthur organized the teen event. She might be someone for you to contact for next year–or she would know who you could contact for the Irving/Dallas team who will organize the event. Just as you did not know about RSJ, I did not know about the outreach of other writers who have organized themselves in a similar way. It makes me glad that I wrote the column–education is what it this is all about! Thank you for stopping by!

Tiffany - May 15, 2014 - 11:07 pm

I love your cover. Best of luck with your book!

Piper - May 16, 2014 - 7:20 am

Thank you Tiffany and thank you for stopping by!

LaShaunda - May 16, 2014 - 5:47 pm

I started SORMAG – Shades Of Romance Magazine because there wasn’t a lot of sites promoting multi-cultural books. 14 years later there still aren’t a lot of sites. Most of the AA bookstores are closed and the AA book section in the big bookstores are slowly going away too.

I feel like we’re back in 2000 again. Trying to sell a book to publishers who don’t get that your characters aren’t the color they are.

Back then self publishing was frowned upon. The writer’s groups didn’t consider you published if you did it yourself.

Now those same writers who had a problem with self publishing have gone indie. They didn’t have a choice. We still don’t have much choices. If you want to see your books in front of readers you have to work hard to do that.

I do the best I can with helping promote books, but there are so many out there that I don’t know about, so I do believe we have to continue to help promote multi-cultural books or we will go back to 1999 when we only had 4 books a month.

I think the cover is what sells a historical. I would have never found Beverly Jenkins if she didn’t have African-Americans on her cover. I’ve always loved historicals and always wanted one that feature someone who looked like me. Beverly answered that wish. I look forward to reading your book Piper and added you to my favorite historical writers.

Piper Huguley - May 16, 2014 - 6:15 pm

Wow. Thank you LaShaunda for that historical perspective on publishing. There was a panel at RSJ this year about “The Golden Age of African-American Romance” with discussions about how to get back to 2006. The means of social media are what is helping us, but you are right. There are a lot of books out there and we have to be creative and find ways to be visible. For me, these contests are my way. It’s wonderful that you have continued your work with SORMAG for so long, and I’m honored that you asked me to podcast with you next week. Every bit helps and I thank you for that.

The cover is an important clue to what is inside and I’m fortunate my cover does help me to be visible. It has gotten me more attention than I might have otherwise, and I am happy and grateful for that. I pray it will pay off. Thank you for your kind words LaShaunda and I hope you stop by again!

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