Tuesday, February 09, 2010

An Accurate Definition of "Push"

Last week we discovered that for some white teens, it takes "push" from a gatekeeper to read a book featuring a main character who isn't white. No surprise there, right?

Does that mean we sit back and wait a few decades until young North Americans move beyond the primacy of racial self-identification?

Not if we believe that good stories are for all readers.

Not if we notice that with a bit of push, white teens are buying books about teens who aren't white.

Why put the push onus on parents, educators, and librarians? Isn't "push" another word for marketing? That's a vocation people study in graduate school so they can do it well and hopefully earn six-figure salaries working for successful companies.

Colleen Mondor makes the point that other products of youth culture (music, movies, television shows) cross racial boundaries better than books. Not surprisingly, the buzz for these products begins with a great marketing/sales plan within the companies. We've even noticed that books receiving marketing intentionality DO sell.

While most houses these days can point to published books featuring protagonists of different shades and races, bloggers Ari, Laura, and Doret are on the hunt to showcase those publishers who put marketing talent and dollars behind such books. I've worked with a few myself.

We writers are curious about their discoveries. We want to know which houses are going to spend some time and talent and money getting books about kids of color into the hearts and hands of all young readers. Times are tight and we'll do a lot of "pushing" ourselves, we promise ... but if there's a standout house or two in the crowd with a track record, we want to know, because these are the forward thinkers publishing for an increasingly multicultural story-consuming society.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep writing stories for many young readers about many kinds of young people. And I'll do my best on the Fire Escape to generate buzz for good books featuring protagonists along the margins of prosperity and culture. How about you?

5 comments:

MissAttitude said...

I'll be doing my part to read and review. Thank you for writing the stories that need to be told and shared with all.

I think that while yes it's up to parents to help teach tolerance and respect for all cultures (and the importance of reading about them) it's also the responsibilty of the publishing companies. If we see very little books about poc, the parents, teachers, librarians, etc. will not see the need to push (they shouldn't have to be pushed! Ugh. For a teen of color, reading about a white person is as natural as breathing. It should be the same for white teens reading about POC/) white teens to read about POC, because there are few books about us.

Oh and Laura from Bib-Laura-graphy http://biblauragraphy.wordpress.com/ is helping Doret and I as well

Olugbemisola (Mrs. Pilkington) said...

great post -- and thank you.

J. L. Bell said...

Isn't "push" another word for marketing? That's a vocation people study in graduate school so they can do it well and hopefully earn six-figure salaries working for successful companies.

You might want to ask the folks marketing your books if they went to business school or earn six-figure salaries. I suspect very few marketers in publishing do.

That’s because there’s not enough money in publishing (as it’s currently run) to pay for many people with advanced marketing training, major advertising campaigns for more than a few already established authors, or solid marketing research.

Instead, publishers hire nice people who like books and are happy to talk about them. I suspect most of those people already heartily support any effort to get people to read more books, especially books by or about people of color.

What sort of marketing campaign do book professionals think would succeed at that? What sort of resources do they think such a campaign would need?

Mitali Perkins said...

If a marketing professional goes into the book industry because she is passionate about books, accepting the lower pay, it doesn't mean she lacks the imagination and talent to design a creative push.

My understanding that in a bigger house, only a few books per list are selected for any kind of concerted campaign. What I want to know is if any one of them stands out from the crowd when it comes to taking marketing risks on books that might sell well but isn't about a white kid.

I've been watching MTV with my kids -- youth culture is much more open to racial border crossing than "grownups" in the book industry seem to believe. And that's going to change even more in the next five years.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

I'd like to make a pitch, especially to those folks whose blogs aren't per se dedicated to multiculturalism or a particular underrepresented community.

It's great to see an outpouring of support in response to a current controversy/challenge.

But over the long term, being consistently inclusive in your focus/content may have a bigger impact. (And many of you are already doing that--bravo!).

Keep in mind, this doesn't have to require a major effort/time commitment. For example, during the 28 Days Later Campaign at the Brown Bookshelf, you could pick one interview a week to highlight with a link. Or just link once--with a cheer--to the whole campaign.

No pressure of course. One of the things I love about the kidlitosphere is its wide range of voices and approaches.

But if diversity in youth literature is especially important to you, perhaps consider simply taking step after step after step, day after day after day and keep on going.

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