Don’t Throw Sensitivity Readers Under the Bus!

I wasn’t planning on writing a blog post today. I have character studies, a timeline, and an outline to finish by Oct. 1 so I can start writing! But I saw something on Twitter that got my dander up and I couldn’t ignore it.

A few people were talking about how they were afraid to act as sensitivity readers or at least to be named as an SR for fear of being blamed for problems in a book and/or being thrown under the bus by the authors themselves. I’m not in the least upset about the readers expressing their concerns, but by the authors that have generated these concerns in the first place.

So, as a straight, white, cis-gendered, able bodied, relatively neuro-average, raised-Christian woman, I’d like to speak to my fellow non-marginalized authors for a second. This will be not-so-brief and but also not all encompassing. If I’ve missed something, please feel free to add in the comments. This is about helping my fellow authors who will hire sensitivity readers and how to do it right!

First, let’s talk about sensitivity readers. What are they? If you aren’t familiar with the term (and I really, really hope you are) they are readers who reflect a particular identity that can advise you on whether you have gotten that representation correct. Some offer these services to friends for free. Others are for-hire editors or advisers.

Why would marginalized people be afraid to take on this kind of work? Especially when they are paid? (The going rate is around $250 per manuscript.) Because sometimes—and this is not an ‘always’ so please don’t not-all-white-people me—when a book comes out an author may use those sensitivity readers as a shield to justify what they’ve done. Or others may point to the sensitivity reader and say they got it wrong and allowed an author to write about their shared identity incorrectly. You can see why SR’s would not want to be the scapegoats in any of these situations.

So what can we do about this? Because we all want to continue to write, and hire experienced, knowledgeable people to help us get better, right? Here are a few steps that can make this situation a little bit better for all involved:

Step 1 – Is My Premise Flawed to Begin With?

Some authors jump into writing something they probably shouldn’t be writing in the first place. How do you know if your premise is flawed or it’s something you have no business writing? The best place to start would be to ask other writers or readers or even friends who represent the identity you want to write about and run your idea by them (as in multiple people, not just one). Make sure your basic premise isn’t unfixable from the beginning. Slave/master romance? Nazi/Jewish person romance? Story with a white savior protagonist? Chances are these stories not only have already been done badly, they aren’t even capable of being done well. Some ideas are just problematic no matter the execution. So ask around and get a feel before you delve too deeply into something that even a sensitivity reader can’t tell you how to fix.

Step 2 – Do Your Research

I cannot stress this one enough: IT IS NOT A SENSITIVITY READER’S JOB TO WRITE THEIR IDENTITY FOR YOU! You need to do the work to make this character as appropriate and as true to representation as you can first before the SR ever sees a word of your MS. You have to read, listen, learn, watch vlogs, watch movies, TV, and read books made by people who represent the identity they are depicting (Own Voices). And even then you will make mistakes. You will never write a marginalized character as well as a person who represents that identity. You just can’t. But you have a responsibility as an author to make it the absolute best you possibly can.

Which goes back to whether you should write this at all. There are stories no one should tell (see above) and stories that should only be told by a person who represents that identity. Black character during the Civil Rights movement? Should only be written by a black writer. LGBTQIA character in connection with equal rights and marriage equality? Should only be written by an LGBTQIA writer. Story centering the Muslim religion and Islamaphobia? Should only be written by a Muslim writer. It may be hard to discern if it’s your place to tell a story, so be sure to ask others and read a lot about the subject. You may realize it’s not your story to tell on your own.

Step 3 – Don’t Be Afraid to Pay a Sensitivity Reader

We all critique manuscripts. At least, I hope you do. In order to become better writers and to help out those coming behind us, we are going to need to be beta readers and critique partners throughout our careers. So think about the amount of time you spend on another manuscript. It’s hours upon hours. I like to read the whole MS first, to get a feel for continuity, plot, and reader satisfaction. After that I read it again, critiquing along the way for all the important things like grammar, spelling, sentence structure, word usage, plot, characters, etc., etc. And someone else is doing that for you in return. It’s a give-and-get relationship. But for a sensitivity reader, you generally can’t give back to them without monetary payment. They can beta and critique with their own writing friends, but you need their specialized skill, an experience and knowledge you do not have!

“But I’m white—or whatever your non-marginalization is—I can read their non-marginalized characters and see if they’ve got it right.” Well, you see, this doesn’t work, because where you need them for their lived experience, they live in a world where they are expected to live, know, and conform to your non-marginalization every day. They probably already know your identity as well or better than you do. It’s not an equal trade. You wouldn’t bat an eye at seeking an expert’s opinion on something like science or medicine or government, so don’t discount the value of a marginalized person’s knowledge and experience when it comes to characters reflecting their life.

Step 4 – Don’t Be Afraid to Hire Multiple Sensitivity Readers

Okay, this one is difficult, because hiring SR’s costs money, on average $250 a pop. Most beginning authors (like me) can’t really afford that. I’ll be honest, I have only hired one SR for my current MS on submission. I have spoken to people prior to ever writing and received advice as to the direction I should take, but I have not been able to put more money into a novel that might not sell. But you can be damn sure that if I’m offered a contract for this book, I’ll be hiring more SR’s even if it comes directly out of my own pocket. One opinion is not enough, especially if you’re writing about multiple marginalizations like I do.

It’s understandable if you can’t hire SR’s, or multiple SR’s, but you need to then consider: Am I sure this is an acceptable premise to begin with? Will I hire SR’s later when this MS has financial viability? And if I can’t afford to hire SR’s should I be writing this story in the first place?

Step 5 – Listen to the Advice of Your Sensitivity Reader

When you work with a beta reader or critique partner you need to make a decision based on their critique and your own belief about the story whether their advice is really the best for you. But when you work with a sensitivity reader, ignoring their advice can be fatal for your book. You’re stating then and there that the vision you have for your book is far more important to you than the representation you offer the world and the feelings of your readers. That your view of the situation supersedes the knowledge and experience of a person who has actually lives your character’s identity.

I don’t like to be unequivocal. There’s no hard and fast rule for “you must do everything your sensitivity reader tells you to”. There are exceptions, but they better be damn good. You need multiple other sensitivity readers’ opinions that counteract the one that tells you to change it, and not your one (insert marginalization here) friend who says it’s okay. And even then YOU WILL HURT READERS! Someone somewhere is going to have the same opinion as the sensitivity reader who disagreed with you, and they will be hurt by your words. Which brings us to Step 6.

Step 6 – Understand That No Identity is a Monolith

This should really go with out saying, and if this is news to you, you probably shouldn’t be writing that marginalized character. What harms and offends one gay man, is another’s lived experience. What seems inaccurate to one Latina could be the way another grew up. You will never get an absolute consensus on a person’s life. For that matter, no white person, no straight person, no anybody has a tried-and-true-always-happens identity. And if you’re thinking that all lesbians or all people with Cerebral Palsy or all Muslims are the same as the next, that’s called a stereotype and you should really re-think whether you’re the right person to write this story.

Step 7 – Determine with Your SR’s if They Want to Remain Anonymous

Every SR should be thanked in the acknowledgements of your book, but the question is whether they should receive a general “I thank all of my SR’s for their hard work and all inaccuracies and mistakes are mine and mine alone” or if they would like to be named as you often do with critique partners. This is primarily up to the SR. They may be proud of and happy with your work and what they have done to perfect it. Or they might not want to be blamed in case you didn’t take their advice or their advice differs from another’s lived experience.

Everyone has different feelings on this and you need to take theirs into consideration. You do not want to create a problem for them. Whether you took their advice is your fault, not theirs. And if they advised you based on their experience, then they have done their job to the best of their abilities and should not receive flack for it. It’s okay for others to disagree in reviews, but that doesn’t mean an SR should take personal attacks for the differences.

Step 8 – Be Prepared to Take Criticism Graciously and Apologize if Necessary

You should probably accept right now that someone somewhere is not going to like the representation you present in the book. As we discussed before, no identity is a monolith and everyone is going to have unique experiences to draw from. In fact, even marginalized writers receive criticism for their own experiences because they are not the same as another’s experience and can be considered incorrect or problematic. So a person who does not represent that identity is going to almost certainly have concerns brought up in reviews.

You should be prepared to apologize. And more importantly, learn. Listen closely to what reviewers are saying. If it’s too difficult for you to read criticism like that, ask a friend to read them and summarize the concerns in a non-confrontational way. And listen to it! If a reviewer is telling the world they have been hurt by your words, that’s on you. That’s not someone being too sensitive or trying to be mean and hurt your feelings. They are not bullies, even if we feel that they are. We threw the first punch by writing something that hurts. Don’t expect people to be gentle with your feelings, even if you didn’t know you were throwing a punch in the first place. Time to own up and apologize.

Step 9 – Do Not Throw Your SR’s Under the Bus

And no matter what, never blame your sensitivity readers. Remember, no identity is a monolith. Everyone has unique experiences. An apology that in any way says, “But my SR said it was okay . . . ” even indirectly or implied, is not an apology. It’s trying to get the heat off you.

It’s not only unprofessional to push the blame on a business partner (because that’s what an SR is) it is also peak trash human. Don’t do it. Sensitivity readers put their emotional well-being on the line to read your work. Yes, they are getting  paid for it, but $250 is not really all that much when you consider the amount of time it takes to critique a manuscript, adding on the fact that they are opening themselves up to reading potentially harmful words. Reading stories with bigoted or problematic content is emotionally harmful to the reader. And we should be falling on our knees thanking our SR’s who are taking on that job so that readers in the future—teen readers—don’t have to endure that pain.

My Year of Diverse Reading Part 2

rainbow-books

There were so many things I wanted to say in my post yesterday (My Year of Diverse Reading), but it was getting pretty long and I had to cut it short. So I’ll try to address a few of them here, though my thoughts are a little scattered, so I hope this has some coherent structure, but I promise nothing.

First, when I started my reading year, I hadn’t made any kind of choice for this to be a year of diverse reading. I’d been trying for years (albeit not as hard as I should have been) to broaden my reading horizons. But I didn’t have any plans for this to be the year it all changed.

But I was writing characters with diverse identities, and had plans for more, so it only made sense to add more books to my reading list that reflected more than cis-het, white, abled, and Christian. I’d already done countless hours of research online reading blogs and articles, watching Own Voices movies and TV shows, and of course reading diverse YA, but the percentage in comparison to non-diverse YA was small.

And let’s talk for a second about “diverse” and “non-diverse” or privileged. I’m not a fan of the current label of “diverse”, though I use it in default of anything else. It’s so normative. If you are LGBTQ+, disabled, non-Christian, or a person of color,  you’re “diverse” as in “not normal” as in normal = white, straight, able, cis gender, and Christian. Why does an identity that differs from the “expected norm” have to be called something like “diverse”? Why is there a norm? Why is anyone “different” if we are all essentially different from each other in some way?

I don’t have an answer, so I’ll use the terminology for now, but I look forward to the day when we no longer have to have these conversations. I’m doubtful it will happen in my life time.

Next, I want to talk about why I wrote the post about my reading last year. It wasn’t for “ally cookies” or recognition. I don’t deserve accolades for doing something we should all be doing anyway. I wrote the post in the hopes that maybe even one reader (hopefully more) would be inspired to increase how many diverse and Own Voices books they read in the next year. I listed some of my favorites from 2016 (not all diverse) to give some examples of what books maybe they could pick up in the future. And I wrote the post to normalize the idea of reading diversely.

We talk about “normalizing” a lot on Twitter. Mostly in the context of “Don’t normalize Trump/White Supremist hateful views and behaviors.” But there’s a flip side to that too. We have the opportunity to normalize diverse reading, empathy, intellect, kindness, etc. I know this alone isn’t going to defeat what has happened to our country both in the election and the dredging of dormant views of white supremacy, but it’s a start. Providing all kids with books that reflect themselves as well as the diversity around us will only increase empathy and understanding. It will hopefully lay the groundwork for better discourse in the future and more empathetic individuals to lead this country.

I mentioned a term in yesterday’s post that I’d like to talk more about: monetary voice. It’s the voice that speaks when I spend money. Often it’s the most powerful voice we have. (Which is completely sad, but sometimes you have to work within the system you have.) Purchasing diverse and Own Voices books speaks volumes to a publisher. The more we spend on these books, the more publishers will realize that they are a valuable market. Publishers will then acquire more, put more money in advances for diverse authors, and put more money toward marketing those books, which will then increase their sales and exposure.

You see, right now we have a situation where diverse and Own Voices books don’t sell particularly well (there are exceptions, I’m speaking in general terms). So publishers pay small advances, print fewer copies, and put very little money (if any) toward marketing those books. The books are not readily available, haven’t been advertised, have little buzz, and aren’t prominently displayed on a B&N bookshelf. In case you missed it, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You know the old addage: If you believe you’re going to fail, you will. Well, if a publisher believes a book won’t sell, guess what . . .

We need publishers to start taking more chances on diverse books through not only buying them, but aggressively marketing them as well. But that’s not under our control. So what can we do? Buy more diverse and especially Own Voices books. Publishers will see dollar signs rise, and put more effort into acquiring and marketing those books.

But what else can we do to increase the sales of diverse and Own Voices books? Well, let’s go back to normalizing the reading of these books. First, read them, whether you buy them or get them from a library, you are telling someone that these books are in demand. Second, review the books. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads are all prominent places where readers look to find out about books they might want to read. Even just giving it a star value on some of the sites will help, though a written review is more likely to sway a reader deciding if they are interested. Third, use your social media to spread the word. Share your reviews or just talk about the book online. The more people see you reading these books, the more they will normalize it as an option for them.

Though all of the above mentioned points are valid reasons to increase the reading of diverse and Own Voices books, there’s another great, basic reason: THEY ARE AMAZING BOOKS! I have been blown away this past year by the beauty, the grace, the poetry of some of the books I have read. For me, they are windows into a world I could never really know about any other way. For many others they are mirrors and there are far too few mirrors for marginalized youth in this country. There were heartbreaks and up lifiting moments, adventure and beauty, love and revenge. I cried tears of sorrow at soul-crushing endings and sighed with contentment at HEA’s. These books will produce all the feels, OTP’s, and ships you can possibly come up with. And I promise you, if you make room in your TBR for diverse and Own Voices books, you will NOT feel like you are missing out on other books. They are just as good (often better) than some of the novels publishers push as The Next Big Thing.

I’ve run out of things to say right now, though I’m guessing about midnight when I’m trying to sleep, some other thoughts will pop into my head. That’s how it always works. For now, please consider some of the above ways you can help increase the exposure of diverse and Own Voices books, and how reading about all kinds of characters can help our kids grow to be better people.

And now, I have a lot of reviews to write . . .

My Year of Diverse Reading

rainbow-books

Last year I read 129 books. That’s a record for me. I mean, I think it is. I’ve only been keeping track for the last three years, but I’m pretty certain I have never read this many in my life. 2015 came out at 86 books, while 2014 was a whopping 52. So there’s been a lot of improvement in the numbers.

But total numbers isn’t the only improvement. I’ll admit, until recent years I never made much effort to broaden my reading horizons. I read what was available. Or if I was writing something I might try to read everything available that was similar, but for the most part my reading tastes veered toward whatever appeared on a B&N end cap.

And to be honest, I was always okay with that. I was a white cis-het girl living in a white cis-het world, and it didn’t even occur to me that that was a problem.

But it is a problem. A big one. I was doing what millions of teen readers do: read what is available, as well as read what I see. I see white people . . .

So what made me change? Well, getting more involved in book communities both on Absolute Write and on Twitter opened my eyes just a crack to the huge disparity in children’s literature that is available. And even more than that, the fact that ALL kids need to see themselves reflected in literature, but also that white, straight, middle America needs to see ALL kinds of people in literature too.

So I started reading more diverse books. It wasn’t easy. Living in a mostly white community in rural Michigan where almost everyone is Christian, straight, and cis means that books that reflect other walks off life are few and far between. So I had to start ordering titles on line just to get a few, but my book buying budget is limited. A Kindle helped, especially when I’d wait for books to be on sale. But what really saved me was Inter Library Loan!

The librarians began to tell me I didn’t need to request 20 books at a time. They’d still be there when I wanted them, but no! I needed to have them now! Beautiful little books lined up on my desk just begging to be read! It was like the candy dish you can’t stop eating from because it’s there!

Anyway, reading more diversely was a priority for me not only because I wanted to read and promote diverse books and authors, but also because I wanted to learn and do better so that when I wrote characters unlike myself I could do a better job at it. Nothing can replace the value of Own Voices stories, but writing responsibly is the least privileged authors can do.

But despite my “purpose” in reading diverse books, I discovered something very quickly: I couldn’t get enough of them. There were so many quality books out there that I hadn’t encountered before. I had been missing out! And so are all the readers like me who are settling for whatever YA series the publishing industry has decided will be The Next Big Thing!

Okay, so to the stats: (I don’t feel like making a graphic, so I hope the numbers will be fine.)

  • Total Books: 129
  • Non-Fiction: 9 (6.9%)
  • Books Featuring LGBTQ+ Characters (MC or important Side Character): 41 (31.7%)
    • Non-binary Characters: 8 (6.2%)
  • Books Featuring Characters of Color (MC or important Side Character): 65 (50.4%)
  • Books Featuring a Disabled MC: 9 (6.9%)
  • Books Featuring a Female MC: 98 (75.9%)
  • LGBTQ+ Identifying Authors: 13 (10.1%)
    • Trans Authors: 2 (1.6%)
  • Authors of Color: 47 (36.4%)
  • Authors w/ a Disability: 3 (2.3%)
  • Female Authors: 95 (73.6%)

Some books were counted in more than one category for obvious reasons. And for others that weren’t so obvious, a trans author is counted under LGBTQ+ Identifying, Trans, and possibly Female if that is how they identify. Same with Female MC. Female Identifying and Female are the same in my opinion, so that’s how I counted them.

So looking at the stats, I need to read more authors with a disability and stories with disabled characters. In my defense, I searched pretty hard for these stories and they are not easy to find. I can also improve on LGBTQ+ Identifying authors and stories, and luckily there are a lot of great examples (not as many as there should be) but definitely a variety.

One problem I encountered is that so many books written by or about people with marginalized identities are “issue” books. It’s like the publishing industry doesn’t want to publish anything that doesn’t involve people with marginalized identities suffering for those identities. We need lesbian space princesses saving an alien race, and brown kids bringing down a dystopian government, and disabled characters riding dragons to fight a horde of trolls. And most importantly, the marginalized part of their identity is not the point of the book!

*sigh* I know I’m not telling any of my fellow writers things they don’t already know. We’ve been talking about these issues in publishing for years. But as a reader, I’m going to make more of an effort to read diverse books, and diverse authors. Not only because I need to use my monetary voice to make my wishes heard in the industry, but because they’re just damn good books!

Edit: Realized i forgot to include numbers for:

  • Own Voices stories: 51 (39.5%)
  • Muslim MC (Own Voices): 3 (2.3%)

Looks like I can do better on reading stories with Muslim characters and by Muslim authors.

*****

So here are my Favorite Reads of 2016 in no particular order. And yes, there’s a lot of them. Fight me. I can’t pick a favorite child anymore than I could pick a favorite book. They’re all beautiful and special!

  • A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC & A GATHERING OF SHADOWS by V.E. Schwab
  • PROMISE OF SHADOWS by Justina Ireland
  • SINCE YOU ASKED by Maurene Goo
  • THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp
  • THE LESSER BLESSED by Richard Van Camp
  • BLACKBIRD FLY by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES by Randy Ribay
  • PANTOMIME & SHADOWPLAY by Laura Lam
  • BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray
  • A HISTORY OF GLITTER AND BLOOD by Hannah Moskowitz
  • THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma
  • SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN by Jeff Garvin
  • THE RAVEN KING by Maggie Stiefvater
  • THE WINNER’S TRILOGY by Marie Rutkoski
  • IF I WAS YOUR GIRL by Meredith Russo
  • GOOD KINGS, BAD KINGS by Susan Nussbaum
  • JULIET TAKES A BREATH by Gabrielle Rivera
  • THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig
  • THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi

Check out My Year of Diverse Reading Part 2 for more thoughts on my 2016 reading.

Post #32: Accurate Representation

Diversity Puzzle

I have talked several times and shared posts about needing diversity in children’s literature, and as before, I will state that this applies to more than just books. We need it in movies and our schools, music and history education, on the news and in our everyday lives. So though it may seem like I harp on one topic that doesn’t really apply to non-writers, it truly does. It applies to the books you buy for your kids, the movies they see, and who they see in important positions like teacher, principal, mayor, policeman, senator, president.

But another important aspect to needing diversity in our lives so that we see people and not “other”, is accurate representation. Though stereotypes can be found in real life, using stereotypes in our forms of media, and only stereotypes, is as damaging as no representation at all.

Please read the following post by Jessie Devine, a fellow writer, in which he discusses this topic.

Jessie Devine: Accurate Representation

*New readers may wonder why I’m sharing these posts and why they’re numbered. Here’s a link to my post I’m Giving Up HATE, PREJUDICE and INDIFFERENCE for Lent.

And here are my latest 5 posts in the series:
Post #27: When no gender fits: A quest to be just a person
Post #28: DeRay McKesson: Tackling Racism in the Black Lives Matter Movement
Post #29: Never assume that you’re magically free of prejudice . . .
Post #30: Intersectionality
Post #31: Almost Asian (But Not Quite)

*Please remember to leave the sites I post clean. We are here to learn, not debate. Even if you disagree, we need to learn that just because we have an opinion, doesn’t mean we need to share it all the time.*

Post #16: Listen and Learn . . .

Shannon Hale, author of Princess Academy, Ever After, Austenland & more

Shannon Hale, author of Princess Academy, Ever After, Austenland & more

Today’s post is a link to a Twitter thread Shannon Hale, NYT Bestselling author, created. In it she specifically talks about how white authors can be a positive force in the push for diversity in children’s literature, but I think it speaks beyond the interest of a writer. It’s something we can all try to do in our everyday lives and interactions with others: listen and learn.

Shannon Hale Diversity

Read the whole thread. It isn’t long, but I think what Shannon says above is one of the most important things you can do. Surround yourself with voices that teach you something, even if you don’t agree with everything that is said.

In a pond with no movement, we stagnate. But in a river fed with flowing water, we travel to new places.

Shannon Hale: Listen and Learn

Lenten Challenge 2016
Post #2: Coming Out Again, and Again, and Again . . .
Post #3: Dalia Mogahed and why she wears a hijab
Post #4: Why diversity in Children’s Literature really Matters
Post #5: The Emotional Toll of Growing Up Black in America
Post #6: Picture from the Box
Post #7: Diversity 101
Post #8: Study examines television, diversity and self-esteem
Post #9: Growing up Muslim in America
Post #10: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
Post #11: Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person
Post #12: It’s a Choice! Oh Shit!
Post #13: Representation Matters
Post #14: #DisabledTwitter Needs to be Dominated by Disabled Voices
Post #15: #BuzzWordsBeDamned

Post #13: Representation Matters

ObamaAndKids

I wanted to share this article by Michael Skolnik on why he created #ObamaAndKids on Twitter. I’d noticed the hashtag a few days ago and was excited to see some amazing photos of our president and all kinds of American kids. It’s heartwarming, uplifting, spikes tears in my eyes.

Even if you don’t support President Obama, I’d like you to understand what he means, what he represents to the people in this country. For that little boy in the picture above he is affirmation that people of color can indeed ascend to the highest office (and anywhere in between.) But to kids who have been taught by media that people who look like President Obama only make the evening news because of crime, or maybe taught by their parents that someone like him is a reason to be cautious while walking down the street, it’s proof that people of color are good, positive forces in this world.

By striking down more barriers and creating more opportunity every generation, we create another one that will do better than us.

Michael Skolnik: Why I Created #ObamaAndKids

Lenten Challenge 2016
Post #2: Coming Out Again, and Again, and Again . . .
Post #3: Dalia Mogahed and why she wears a hijab
Post #4: Why diversity in Children’s Literature really Matters
Post #5: The Emotional Toll of Growing Up Black in America
Post #6: Picture from the Box
Post #7: Diversity 101
Post #8: Study examines television, diversity and self-esteem
Post #9: Growing up Muslim in America
Post #10: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
Post #11: Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person
Post #12: It’s a Choice! Oh Shit!

Post #9: Growing up Muslim in America

Interesting read on growing up Muslim in a country that is taught to hate you . . .

Anna Fifield: Growing up Muslim in America

Lenten Challenge 2016
Post #2: Coming Out Again, and Again, and Again . . .
Post #3: Dalia Mogahed and why she wears a hijab
Post #4: Why diversity in Children’s Literature really Matters
Post #5: The Emotional Toll of Growing Up Black in America
Post #6: Picture from the Box
Post #7: Diversity 101
Post #8: Study examines television, diversity and self-esteem

Post #8: Study examines television, diversity and self-esteem

Legend of Korra

Legend of Korra

So I’m still looking for a blog post on the importance of #ownvoice stories. I can’t believe no one has written this. In fact, I think I’m just looking with the wrong keywords. But I won’t give up, because I want you all to know about this. In the meantime, this article on the effects of television consumption on kid’s self-esteem is an example of what I’d like to share. Not seeing yourself in books and television, or seeing yourself in a bad light, can have profound effects on the psyche of kids.

Marissa Lee: Study examines television, diversity and self-esteem

Lenten Challenge 2016
Post #2: Coming Out Again, and Again, and Again . . .
Post #3: Dalia Mogahed and why she wears a hijab
Post #4: Why diversity in Children’s Literature really Matters
Post #5: The Emotional Toll of Growing Up Black in America
Post #6: Picture from the Box
Post #7: Diversity 101

Post #7: Diversity 101

diversity forum flyer graphic_0

 

Ran across this post on Justina Ireland’s blog while looking for an #OwnVoice stories blog post. Still haven’t found that, but this is a nice little primer for those who may not think diversity in media is all that important. Or at least coalesces into one post some of the main talking points for those of us who agree, but maybe don’t understand the whole picture.

Justina is a YA writer of color. And a damn fine one too. Her book PROMISE OF SHADOWS has been one of my favorite reads this year.

Justina Ireland: Diversity 101

**And remember, just like in nature, let’s leave the blog as we found out. No comments. Or at least no negative comments. Let’s not leave our trash behind. Thanks.**

Lenten Challenge 2016
Post #2: Coming Out Again, and Again, and Again . . .
Post #3: Dalia Mogahed and why she wears a hijab
Post #4: Why diversity in Children’s Literature really Matters
Post #5: The Emotional Toll of Growing Up Black in America
Post #6: Picture from the Box

What Do YA Readers WANT?!!

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Wouldn’t we authors like to know! Preferably, a good two years before YA readers actually want it, so we can write, edit, publish and market just in time to reach your ever changing moods, er needs. Just kidding. I read as much YA as the average teen, possibly more, so we’re in the same boat. I have wants of my own, and I also want to write a book that will resonate with readers.

Lucky for you, we have a little—just a little—insight into this very question. Recently Teens Can Write Too! ran a blog chain entitled What kinds of published books would you like to see more of? All of the respondents are teens who blog and write beyond their blogs. In fact, quite a few of them have some pretty amazing things to say, so when you’re finished reading this, check out their posts too.

While I was patiently—or not so patiently—waiting each day to read a new teen’s perspective on what they’d like to see published, I was also following a thread on Absolute Write entitled What would you like to see more or less of in YA? Between the two I was reading some great ideas about what books should be published in YA.

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Light bulb moment: I should compile the information and write a blog post about it!

Stress. Woman stressed

Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The sheer mass of data was daunting. It’s taken me hours to compile it into any sort of usable format. You can check the data here if you like. But I’ll try to make some kind of intelligent response, since I promised I would, and I always keep my promises!

Part of the problem is that I didn’t really know what I was doing while compiling the data. Now that I’m finished, I might have done it a little differently, but there is no way I’m doing it over again! It’s like having a term paper almost finished two days before it’s due, and realizing you should have taken a different approach. No ‘A’ is worth the work it would take to start over. Sorry, but I have a life. 🙂

And what everyone wants is as diverse as the respondents themselves. I saw everything from wanting fan fiction traditionally published to requesting a book from the POV of a toddler! Funnily enough, I did have the idea to write a novel about babies and toddlers who turn into teens when they fall asleep and wake up in a fantasy adventure. Yeah, I haven’t written that one yet.

But there were some clear winners, and losers, so if you want the nitty-gritty details, check out the data, but I’ll give you an overview of the most common responses in this post.

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22 teens responded to the question: What kinds of published books would you like to see more of? on the TCWT blog chain, while 40 respondents of an unidentified age responded to the question: What would you like to see more or less of in YA? on the Absolute Write Watercooler forums.

 

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Fantasy received the most votes for a genre with at least 34% of respondents requesting more in some form. I say at least because it was one of those cases where I would have tallied the votes differently in hind sight. I might have missed a few votes asking for a specific aspect of Fantasy without actually requesting Fantasy in and of itself. Anyway, you get the point.

There wasn’t any one type of Fantasy that was a stand-out winner, but many different kinds were mentioned. In fact, I got the impression that readers would like to see more pure, traditional fantasy, not other types of stories posing as Fantasy, i.e. Romance set in a Fantasy world, Dystopian set in a Fantasy world, etc. The one thing they did not want to see was more Fantasy worlds based on Medieval Europe or books based on Western (Greek/Roman) Mythology. Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian and Celtic were mentioned (I know Celtic is Western, but at least it’s something other than Zeus and Poseidon!)

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On a similar note, Science Fiction, which 17% of respondents requested more of, also seemed to center on more pure forms of its original genre. Readers especially seemed to dislike Dystopian disguised as Science Fiction. They want to see robots, cyborgs, cool technology that’s not the bad guy, and fun adventures that explore new worlds and revel in the joy of future technology and uncharted worlds.

Dystopia was a mixed bag with 9 readers wanting more while 5 wanted less or none. One thing was fairly clear though. Readers want something different than the tried-and-true Dystopia we’ve been experiencing over the last few years. Diversity, LGBTQ+, new settings, and most importantly, move away from the cliched tropes. No big, bad, government that’s outlawed something as the end-all of society and the rebel character fighting against it.

Re-tellings as a category received 10 nods, with respondents asking for non-traditional and non-European fairy tales, classics, Shakespeare, mash-ups and even re-tellings of Anne of Green Gables. One interesting note: only 1 of the 10 votes for re-tellings came from the unidentified age group. Clearly, teens are more interested in re-tellings than their older counterparts who read YA books.

Other than specific genres, another winner was seeing more Families in YA. 26% wanted to see healthy family units in some form, whether it’s present parents, quirky families, complex sibling dynamics, big families and any of the aforementioned relationships being the main emotional stake of the story.

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One of the clear losers was Romance. Not so much the genre of Romance, but rather romance in YA books in whatever genre it happens to appear. 26% of readers said they are completely tired of or would like to see less romance in YA books. 18% said they’d like to see fewer or no love triangles and no “insta love” stories. 9 respondents asked for healthy teen love relationships with a wide variety of realistic relationship requests from LGBTQ+ to mutual breakups to relationships that end and the characters actually learn from them.

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While there were many other responses I could talk about, the last one I’m going to discuss is Diversity. This was another category with a broad scope that I wish I had compiled the data differently. For example, 12 respondents requested diversity in all forms, while 16 specifically said they want novels where the diversity is not the issue of the book. I could have tallied all respondents that called for diversity in any form and had a large number of people wanting something more from their YA, but I didn’t do it that way. And since some readers requested multiple kinds of diversity, I couldn’t just add up all the specific requests because the number would have been inflated.

Anyway, over and over again I heard YA readers saying they wanted to read more about people of color, characters of all sexual orientations, people with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses, neuro-diversity and ethnic people living their culture in contemporary and futuristic settings. The one overriding theme to all of this was the diversity needed to be a part of a character’s life, and the readers want to see how it affects their lives, but it can’t be the point of the book. They want to see people of color in fantasy, a teen detective with Chron’s disease, a wheel chair bound action hero, and romance between characters of all sexual orientations. Those examples are made up based on some of the comments I read, but they’re pretty spot on from the types of diverse ideas they want to see written. They want to see a cross-section of America, and in some cases the world, that isn’t white, Christian and straight.

So, how do we use this information? Well, first of all it would be great to see agents and publishers take a look because my agent research has indicated that agents are looking for Contemporary right now. Yet that had extremely low response numbers from this completely unscientific poll. Unfortunately I don’t have any agents or publishers that follow my blog, so chances are slim for that. 😉

I guess, if you see your book in these results, then congratulations! Get working and get it published! If you see some inspiration in any or several of the requests made by these responses, then once again, get busy! You’ve got some writing to do! But, if you see your book in some of the requests for NO MORE!, well, don’t despair. Even these YA readers couldn’t all agree on what they wanted, so there are readers out there for all kinds of novels. Just keep writing what you love. It’s all any of us can do!