Shattering the Multicultural Myth of the Market. Let's go.

"A young adult book featuring a protagonist who isn't of European descent will never become a bestseller."

"The majority of readers won't read a young adult novel featuring a protagonist who isn't of European descent."

We imagine these kinds of comments, spoken or unspoken, governing the publishing industry. In our guts, we know they're not true. We gripe about this issue. We try to disprove such claims through social media and conferences, panels and articles, speeches and radio shows. Unfortunately, nothing so far has resulted in such a young adult novel breaking through into widespread success.

The truth is that, for all of our good intentions, publishing is a for-profit industry.

Money changes minds.

"Adults don't read books for young readers." Harry Potter shattered that one, didn't it?

"Boys don't read girl books." Along came Suzanne Collins with Katniss, and middle-aged men were tearing through The Hunger Games trilogy.

Yesterday I tweeted this:
I got several suggestions including books like Joseph Bruchac's Killer of Enemies, The Living by Matt De La Peña, Fake ID by Lamar Giles, and Prophecy by Ellen Oh.

But Ellen raised a good question:
I do think that film can take a book to the next level, but it must achieve some widespread market success before moviemakers begin to pay attention. There are two necessities to achieve this kind of success.

First, storytellers — RISE UP! Write a great story that rings with authenticity featuring a protagonist we love who is not of European descent (I know the label stinks, but you get my drift.) It must be a page-turner. It must knock our story-hungry socks off.  By the last page, not only are we are ready to read it again,  we are reaching into our wallets to pre-order the sequel. We are tweeting, texting, status-ing, and insta-ing that book until our friends are convinced they must buy it right now or their quality of life will diminish.

I may complain about the market and choose to blame my lack of breakthrough success on the r-word, but let's get real—I need to write an AMAZING STORY. Once I've achieved this (and the veracity of such a claim has been thoroughly verified by countless words and reviews of readers who don't know me), I might be able to question why it didn't become a blockbuster.

I know that one part of us believes our mothers and thinks our books are beyond incredible, but another part says, "Maybe it was good, but get better, get better." Let's listen to that—time is short.

Second, readers, be on the hunt for such a story. In the old days, we relied solely on publishing houses to put publicity and marketing big bucks behind fiction. These days, social media and virality are increasingly key to launching a novel into bestseller status, which feels like the collective "we" have a bit more power.  How can we use that power to get behind a title? Maybe we can add our small voice of influence to help it sell like crazy.

Who is likely to discover a young adult novel with blockbuster potential featuring culturally marginalized protagonists (gosh, I hate race labels—what do you think of that one)? I trust indie booksellers and librarians. That's why I tune into their voices on twitter (feel free to follow my lists of 197 booksellers and 359 librarians.) If booksellers like Elizabeth Bluemle and librarians like Betsy Bird, champions of "add-your-own-label-here" books for years, don't discover this myth-shattering story, nobody will.

I believe that changing the market can and will happen. And when it does, I promise you I'll say I told you so.


Jennie said...

I hear this over and over, along with the idea that readers don't want works in translation and yet... at my library, and most libraries, which section is the most popular?

Oh yeah, the manga. Translated from Japanese. Starring Japanese people.

I just wish I knew how to better leverage that popularity into exploding other areas of fiction.

Mitali Perkins said...

Yes, Manga is a great example of stories that are consumed widely.

Laurina said...

I agree that the market will change -- action is key.