Not Your Mother's Market

One of my pet peeves is when a gatekeeper doesn't represent, publish, promote, or buy a great teen or tween novel featuring a nonwhite protagonist because "that's such a small slice of the market" or "we just don't have that population in our community."

That's old school, people, for two reasons.

(1) Do YOU read only those books featuring protagonists who share your particular mix of class, ethnicity, and educational status? Oh, so you're reading your autobiography again and again, then? Compelling reads are supposed to take us across borders, and that's why we adult readers love them. Why should young readers be any different?

(2) Checked the youth market lately? Tune into MTV or the Disney Channel and do an ethnic survey. Or watch the movie version of Twilight. When Ms. Meyer set her story in the small town of Forks, Washington, were you picturing the multicultural group of high-schoolers who appear in the film version? A cast like that is fairly standard for young Hollywood these days, and teens and tweens in urban, suburban, and rural North American communities expect it on the big and small screen. Why not on the page?

We can write race all we want, but until excellent, entertaining fiction with a mosaic of protagonists, antagonists, and sidekicks are sent from the publishing houses into the mass market, the book industry is stuck in a last-gen world.


tanita davis said…
I don't know what I would do if confronted with that so directly. It hurts to be told that you or your culture is invisible, to be sure, and the fear of being told that, or of having to try to tone down one's cultural identity in dealing with those gatekeepers drives a lot of people out of traditional publishing, which works for some people, but for others, it loses them audience and in some cases, credibility. Until we are willing to celebrate quality writing by all writers regardless of color - and not just writing by writers of color regardless of quality - we're going to be weaving between one extreme edge of the road to the other on this. The gatekeepers need to let go and lighten up -- definitely. And those of us on the other side of the fence must step up our game, have a product worth reading, and keep pushing ourselves out there.

All of that sounds hard, though, just after hearing comments like those. Gatekeepers: open your eyes!
literaticat said…
So smart Mitali.

From your mouth to publisher's ears!
Living in very very white Connecticut, I am happy to see the wide representation of race in popular tween media.

I'm also glad that as it turns out, my daughter's best friend is one of only a handful of African American kids at her school.

The ironic thing (or perhaps because of the nature of her friendship), she is absolutely color blind, yet as she spends time with her and her family (her mother also happens to be an immigrant), she learns by experience that we are all people.
Summer said…
haha Zeke and Sharpay are the best couple in HSM!
Pooja said…
*standing ovation*

And Tanita, well-said.
suzi w. said…
hear hear!!
cocoapebbles said…
ditto ditto! seriously. ditto.
Doret said…
We need more teen characters of color. Publishers should be willing to take more chances. However more bloggers should be reviewing authors of color, or books featuring multicultural cast. I always thought one of the purposes of kidlit blogs was to get the word out on great books that may not be getting all the exposure they need or deserve. I also think it says something to publishers if kidlit bloggers aren't talking about or reviewing authors of color or books featuring a multicultural cast on a regular basis. If you agree with this post and you have a blog. Ask yourself how many books by authors of color have I reviewed this past month? Whatever the answer is x2 and do that much more this month. And Mitali I promise my responses won't always be this long
AliceB said…
Well said, Mitali.

Well said.
Nisha Sharma said…
Here, here, Mitali!
I hate gatekeepers like that, too. Don't worry, you're paving the way for it to be the norm in literature!
lurban said…
right on, sister!
susan said…

Last week you were our C.O.L.A link. And did you know you're referenced again here:

We like what you do and we support you.

Much respect and love as we like say in the hood. :-)
susan said…

I hear you and I agree. There is a link Doret shared with me about a discussion about the quality of work. In short, the writer said it is insulting to imply that a reader is choosing a poc writer irrespective of the quality of the work. She argued why not assume the reader is reading the work because it is quality literature. Well, amen to that.

You can find that link and other worthwhile reads at our Little Lov'n Monday feature. Mitali's been on this list, too.
ryrostad said…
I, too, am interested in the question of portraying minorities in YA fantasy (not just race, but gender & sexual orientation.)

When I was growing up, I tried (and failed) to find YA fantasy books where the protagonist looked like me. (Finally came several years later, with Tamora Pierce's Melting Stones.)

Thanks for the great post, and please check out my project The Next Frontier ( It's just getting off the ground, so if you'd like to promote it, that would be amazing.