Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ideas For Indies Who Want to Sell Multicultural Titles?

Random House has kindly arranged a brainstorm meeting tomorrow by phone for some of their staff, several great independent booksellers who want to sell "multicultural" children's and YA titles, and me.

I'm excited and a bit nervous. Seven or eight years ago, I couldn't have imagined being a part of such a conversation. In anticipation, I tweeted this yesterday:

"Chatting this Thursday with some great indies about how to sell books like mine—i.e., lacking paranormality, cleavage, white people. Ideas?"

@dosankodebbie said, "Target international school libraries. There are countless international schools all over the world with non-white and mixed-race kids."

@LisaLOwens tweeted, "You could mention little things like relatable characters, absorbing drama, exciting/fresh settings. Readers like all that!"

@PaulWHankins, a teacher, suggested this: "The stores can show content and curricular connections."

When it comes to a book like Bamboo People, for example, @emilytastic said, "I'd pitch it at teachers and librarians, and at boys reading war and political books."

How would you answer my question?

15 comments:

AudryT said...

THE MILITARY.

English-reading kids and adults are stuck all over the world on military bases that are technically U.S. land. Indies can make a POINT of promoting books and deals to military bases. Make it clear on your store's front page that you WILL ship to APO/AE, to embassies, etc. -- anything that is technically U.S. soil. It costs the *same* to ship to a U.S. military base in Germany as it does to ship to, say, Kansas. And military kids are as diverse as diverse gets.

Random House and publishers in general can create a "For Military Families" or "For Overseas Americans" page clearly advertised on your front page. There you can create a listing of online indies and stores that ship to U.S. soil abroad. You can allow indies to submit their URL & basic info and then just vet it before putting it up. Organize them by categories, including stores with "multicultural content."

Publishers can also create a "Buy Diversity" page and do a similar thing on it -- list all your diverse titles and under each title, allow indies to add themselves as a store that stocks that book. Or, more broadly, as a store that stocks whatever multicultural imprints you have.

Publishers and indie stores could also add categories for their books that make it easy to do searches for diversity. Let readers be able to browse "Lead Characters --> Hispanic or African-American or etc." and "Culture --> Cherokee Nation or New Orleans or etc." and "Religious Lead Characters --> Muslim or Amish or Mormon or Shinto." It's about organizing data so they can find it easily. Create a standard, have an intern tag every book with categories according to those standards, and make sure booksellers get those tags to make their lives easy when organizing their inventory so readers can find it -- online or off.

Make it easy for them to find that special book hidden behind all the generic, middle-class, white-girl fantasy ones.

Jennie said...

Honestly, when doing a display of "good summer reads" or "great books about friendship" or whatever the display is, make sure the display has multicultural titles in it.

Part of the "only brown people read brown books" problem is because we market them as brown books instead of books about friendship, exciting books, etc, which is how we market and sell white books.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Multiculturalism is the belief that anybody can be a hero that everybody cheers.

If you embrace that, it's all green light.

And as a side note, I don't know which makes me more hopeful: the idea that this conversation is happening or that you'll have a voice in it.

Go, Mitali, go!

Hannah said...

I love that this is happening and can't wait to hear how it goes! As for ways to sell multicultural titles, I think it has to be a matter of not setting them aside, not pitching them *only* as multicultural. Because then they become sort of an obligation to read- you're supporting diversity, showing you're not racist, etc. But it's no longer just about picking up a great book, which is what the best reading is fundamentally about.

I really think that ultimately the best way to sell multicultural titles, as others have said, is to integrate them completely into collections and not set them aside, while at the same time encouraging readers to make the effort to read outside their comfort zones. What about a book club that focuses on books by authors of color? Or books that take place in other countries?

Doret said...

This is great news. So excited for you.


If authors have the time they can do an interview via skype for the book clubs.

I agree with Jennie and Hannah, its very important that the books be on display. And not in there own section. If they are treated differently thats what customers will see them as.

Also if you like this try this display usually work. Customers are more inclined to stop if they see a book they like.

And the books should be blurbed if possible.

Do tell us what you can when its over. Much congrats.

tanita davis said...

My dear - have I told you lately how proud I am of you? Not like a "I'm your relative" and pinching your cheek proud, but just -- wow. I kind of know you, and you're doing all these awesome things!! proud.

YAY for you!

As an expat, I very much agree with AudryT's thought - the military and those working for various state department/ambassadorial posts -- are DESPERATE for books.

olugbemisola said...

oh, Mitali, I just jumped out of my chair reading this! Thank you so much for all that you do. Thanks also to the commenters here.

Anonymous said...

What Jennie said.

Also, this article: http://www.theravendesk.org/2010/08/other-im-not-it.html

Oh, this makes me so, so happy. Yay, Mitali!

--Shveta Thakrar

AudryT said...
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AudryT said...
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AudryT said...

I think it's great to mix all the titles together in displays, etc. as is being suggested, so that they get noticed for their genres and themes, and not just the race/color of the characters. For sellers to make a deliberate effort to see that their displays are as diverse as possible is important and crucial.

But I think, for title databases inside of the store's computers, and for a store's online website, it's still important to ALSO list such titles under not just their genre, but under the race/religion/nationality of characters, and I'll tell you why.

I'm Caucasian. When I was thirteen, one of my favorite, most treasured books had the image of a shy, blond girl on the cover. I was a shy, blond girl, and the book was about being a shy, blond girl. There are times when a reader wants to explore the whole world, and times when they need characters they can identify with very closely.

Because of this, it isn't *just* important to make sure white girls notice the multicultural titles and read them for fun rather than for homework -- which is one of the goals of sticking them in a display. It's *also* important to let every girl of every race find the book she can most identify with, whether it includes a character of her own race or not. To do this, you've got to be able to offer every girl (and every reader, period) as many possible ways to look for that book as possible. I think it's key that one of those ways be that she can ask for, or can sort through herself, a list of books organized by characters of race, religion, and so on. I don't like the idea of making all *displays* this way, or even shelving books this way (putting Kimani Tru books solely in their own section seems like a mistake to me), but I think it's really important for readers to be able to sort through books this way on their own, or with the help of a store employee.

If all stores do is offer diversely-mixed displays, while that is great, it mostly serves the purpose of getting the white majority to read more diversely. These displays don't much change the reading habits of minorities, as most of them already read diversely because they have no choice but to do so -- most lead characters are not their color or their race. Providing them with ways to seek out familiar characters is equally important, possibly more important, that getting white girls to read widely.

But, like I said, I'm white. So feel free to disagree with me if I'm off-target with this.

B. A. Binns said...

I know I'm too late for the discussion, but the issue to me is why do we think kids only want to read about their own race? Certainly if they feel the book is a disguised sociology lesson they wil flee from it, but kids are far more curious about what's on the other side of the fence than adults. That's what books do, they put us into worlds we might not ordinarily get into. Whether its historical or science fiction or another culture. Don't sell it as "multicultural" sell it as a darn good book about people facing problems on their journey to adulthood - just like you.

For those kids who are not mainstream caucasian, I think it finding displays that feature more than pale skins on the cover will help bring them back to books.

Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu said...

Send announcements/lists of available multicultural titles to schools in the Indie's area suggesting ways for their use in the classroom. (Also send to organizations and clubs that are associated with the topic.) Offer teacher discounts (maybe with backing from the publishers.) Host in-store or after hours discussion groups for teachers from the area to share ideas. In other words support teachers' efforts.

Targeting international schools is something publishers can do, but ordering from an Indie bookstore would be so expensive. Amazon has an affiliate here in Japan and the shipping is free over a certain amount. other countries may have the same deal. However, a lot of people do return to the States on holidays so maybe a call could go out for speakers to come into the store.

Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu said...

Me again. Indies, got a blogger in your area? Get them to post store activities, announcements or reviews of multicultural books. Any book.

Jaime Adoff said...

"lacking paranormality, cleavage, white people."
Okay that is too funny, almost fell off my chair. I'm with you on the paranormality, I sometimes throw in a little cleavage and a few white people just to see if anyone notices. Just came upon your blog, like it a lot. It would be nice if a book was just a book regardless of the kind of faces we paint with our words and we didn't have to have conference calls to figure out how to sell multicultural books. Having said that it is a very positive step and I am heartened that you were involved.
Hope to chime in more later ..

Jaime Adoff