Diversify Your Shelves

| Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hey do you guys remember that time our hashtag trended in the top spot on Twitter a full two days ahead of schedule because there were so many people behind it? Haha what even.

There was also that time we started getting picked up by blogs and news sites and it started exploding before it even happened, but that's beside the point. Just go check our Twitter feeds, we're wigging out all over the place.

But that's not what this post is about. This post is about PHASE 3: DIVERSIFY YOUR SHELVES! This is the third part of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks 3-day event, and will take place on May 3. For all the details, please read the statement below, which was composed by the lovely Chelsea Pitcher!


Today we're revealing part three of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, a project that’s near and dear to my heart! Part three is called “Diversify Your Shelves,” and it’s all about taking a personal approach to promoting diversity in literature.

What, exactly, does that mean? Is this maybe something we’ll do for a week and then go back to buying books by old white guys?

Well, no. “Diversify Your Shelves” is a continual celebration of fabulous diverse literature, by fabulous diverse authors. Checking out what books we have on our shelves, and seeing how we might diversify them, is just a jumping off point.

There's also going to be a “Diversify Your Shelves” chat on Saturday, May 3rd at 2PM EST to discuss our favorite diverse books and authors! Use the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag to join in!

But wait! Why is this so important?

Well, there are lots of people blogging about this more eloquently than I, like here, here, here, and here, but some of my biggest reasons are:

Because, at every conference I or my writer friends attend, there are kids asking why they can’t find books with characters who look like them, either on the cover or in the pages.

Because the same thing happens at book signings, except there the kids are saying they’ve always wanted to get into writing, but don’t think they’ll be successful because they’re people of color.

Because queer kids are still killing themselves over being different (or being told that they’re different) and the greater representation they have in books, the less alone they’ll feel.

Because awesome genres like YA wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t moved away from the old, white dude model of literature and started reading stories written by ladies. Diversify Your Shelves is a continuation of that principle—hearing all stories from all voices.

Because it’s 2014, but we still keep seeing all-white panels at book festivals, or even all-white male panels (in genres vastly dominated by women!) and that’s kind of insane to me. Diversity shouldn’t be the exception. It should be the norm.

And because, at the end of the day, when I look at my shelves, I think:

I can be better.

I can do more.

And I’d love for you to join me.

So, without further ado...

Let’s Diversify Our Shelves!

Here’s how it works: this weekend, May 3rd and 4th, we’re all going to head out to our local bookstores* to pick up books by fabulous diverse authors. (Need recommendations? Check out the May 3rd #WeNeedDiverseBooks chat!) Then, once you’ve returned home, snap a photo of your new diverse book(s)** and post it as a comment below! And if you want to get really creative, you can take Before and After photos of your bookshelves: Before, when they weren't too diversified, and After, when you've added in books by fabulous PoC authors, queer authors, and authors with disabilities! Woot!

This Monday, May 5th, one lucky winner is going to win FIVE BOOKS OF THEIR CHOOSING out of the choices below!!! And every Monday throughout the spring, a new winner will be chosen to receive two fabulous diverse books! Woot!

But wait, it doesn’t stop there. Remember when I said “Diversify Your Shelves” was a continual celebration? That means any time you buy a book from a diverse author, or featuring a diverse character, snap a picture of that book and post it to Twitter with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag! We’ll retweet you, and help spread the word about what diverse books people are buying! And by participating in the “Diversify Your Shelves” movement, you’ll be showing publishers the kinds of books you want them to buy, showing conference organizers which authors you want to see on panels, and helping tweens and teens find representation in books! Which, really, is the awesomest prize of all!

Diversify Your Shelves


*Obviously, not everyone has the money to “Diversify Their Shelves” at this particular moment. That’s okay! Because stopping by the library and having them order a book by a diverse author, or even sending them an email about your interest in diverse books, can make a big difference in the “Diversify Your Shelves” movement! You can even snap a photo of a certain section in your local library, and then snap another one after they’ve ordered more diverse books for you! That way, you’ll not only be diversifying your own shelf, but you’ll be diversifying the shelves for your entire neighborhood! Go, you!

**Don’t worry, e-book lovers! You can totally enter the contest too. Just snap a photo of your reading device with the book’s cover showing (or a screenshot of the purchase), and you’re good to go!

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Introducing Kidlit Revolution

| Monday, April 28, 2014

First things first: if you missed it this weekend, a group of us announced our participation in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks initiative, which is scheduled to happen THIS WEEK, starting May 1st. Please go read this post about it! Also, please go follow the Tumblr! We're already picking up steam, and the project has already been shared by Malinda Lo, Laurie Halse Anderson, Rick Riordan, John Green, and so many more authors, agents, and publishers who are showing their support. We would LOVE for you to join us!

Now, here's an announcement on a related project I've been cooking up with Kaye M.!

We've been hinting at a big summer summer project for a while now and holding out on you while we figured out the grand scope and some finer details. You've been waiting patiently, so here's a post that will hopefully shed some light on exactly what we're doing.

Introducing... Kidlit Revolution!

Photo Credit: Pratham Books via Compfight cc

This is a grand-scale project that intends to take all the words and ideas we've all been throwing around about diversity and turn them into real, tangible action. Kidlit Revolution is about building community, supporting authors who are diverse and are writing diversely, and creating serious ripples in the marketplace that can't be ignored. How will we do that?

Kidlit Revolution will act as a central hub for changing the industry through getting the word out about diverse books that don't have a lot of extra marketing support, but we're not going to stop there. Instead of simply reviewing and talking about these books and then moving on to the next, we're going to present a united front to make something happen for these books.

This is how it will work:

  1. Every week, we're going to feature an innovative, diverse kidlit or YA book that isn't receiving the most effective marketing support. We'll tell you about the selection, the author, and other pertinent information.
  2. Every day for that week, we will initiate a specific call to action intended to help that book succeed. For example: buy the book, write a review, read the book, share the book, ask your library to stock the book, pre-order the book, contact the publisher to say you want to see more like that book, etc.
  3. We will also spearhead more ambitious projects intended to affect the industry, such as requests to split the YA Best Seller List into hardcover and paperback books so it becomes less skewed.

This is a very, very simplified version of what we're planning, but it gives you the overview. The primary takeaway is that we are uniting with a common goal to create real change. By creating focused, tangible goals instead of spreading ourselves thin with generalized "awareness" campaigns, we're going to make something happen.

We can't do this alone! The success of this project will rest with the community we build. If enough of us band together to take a stand, we CAN change the industry. We CAN prove that these books can succeed with the right backing. We CAN make sure every kid sees themselves in the pages of a book. We will need the support of people at ALL levels, from readers to publishers.

No matter what happens, we will keep pushing, because these books deserve to be seen.

There are a million more questions to answer and a million more details to hammer out, and we're hard at work building a supportive team of people who will hopefully be able to tackle these challenges. We know that when it comes to the business side, money is going to be what speaks loudest, and we're taking that into account. Our biggest hurdle right now is building a community that's united and powerful enough to make this ambitious idea into a reality. We're going to need a lot of people, but we have faith!

What can you do to help?

Pledge to support this project in whatever capacity you can. Spread the word. Help us make connections with the right people as we build momentum. Be willing to put aside ego and give the floor to others. Dedicate yourself to making real, lasting, positive change in the industry we all love.

This is going to be big. Welcome to the Kidlit Revolution, launching this summer!


| Saturday, April 26, 2014

This announcement was crafted by Ellen Oh and the other members of this initiative. Please share, tweet, Facebook, Tumbl, and otherwise spread the word! Let's make this HUGE!

Recently, there’s been a groundswell of discontent over the lack of diversity in children’s literature. The issue is being picked up by news outlets like these two pieces in the NYT, CNN, EW, and many more. But while we individually care about diversity, there is still a disconnect. BEA’s BookCon recently announced an all-white-male panel of “luminaries of children’s literature,” and when we pointed out the lack of diversity, nothing changed.

Now is the time to raise our voices into a roar that can’t be ignored. Here’s how:

On May 1st at 1pm (EST), there will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. We’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. We want people to tweet, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blog, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.

For the visual part of the campaign:

  • Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you. 
  • The photo can be of you or a friend or anyone who wants to support diversity in kids’ lit. It can be a photo of the sign without you if you would prefer not to be in a picture. Be as creative as you want! Pose the sign with your favorite stuffed animal or at your favorite library. Get a bunch of friends to hold a bunch of signs. 
  • However you want to do it, we want to share it! There will be a Tumblr at http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/ that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1st to weneeddiversebooks@yahoo.com with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on our Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day. 
  • Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be your job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever you think will help get the word out. 
  •  The intent is that from 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word. We hope that we’ll get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets. 
  • The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long we need to keep this discussion going, so we welcome everyone to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st. 

On May 2nd, the second part of our campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.

On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of our campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign! More details to come!

We hope that you will take part in this in any way you can. We need to spread the word far and wide so that it will trend on Twitter. So that media outlets will pick it up as a news item. So that the organizers of BEA and every big conference and festival out there gets the message that diversity is important to everyone. We hope you will help us by being a part of this movement.

When Authors Become Stars: Celebrity and Fandom

| Friday, April 18, 2014

Last week, I was watching discussion between some friends unfold and decided that I wanted to write up a post about something I've been meaning to discuss for a while: the incredibly complicated intersection between authors, books, media, celebrity, and fandom.

This isn't something that is easily distilled. I'm going to do my best, but this is an enormous conversation with a million different factors, and one person can't possibly cover all of it. So let's view this as a starting point to a much larger discussion. I want to lay my thoughts on the table, start to organize them, and invite other people with other insight to give their thoughts, as well. I'm not going to have the insight of, say, a publisher, or a multi-published author, or the person in charge of marketing in the current media landscape.

So let's start with the idea of the celebrity author.

I'm pretty sure every writer who's making a solid go of it can relate to the following conversation: "Oh, you're writing a book? Are you going to be famous?" The general public has this idea of what being an author is like, and that idea is Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, John Green. Household names. Movie deals. Millions of fans. Placement in the fabric of pop culture. It never quite registers that people who fit this bill are few and far between, given the literally thousands of books published every year.

JK Rowling, from the Harry Potter Wiki

It used to be something to laugh about for the most part. Oh, ha ha, people think we're movie stars when we're really introverted nerds. Most of us don't make nearly as much money as they think we do, and we're not nearly as famous. We just want to write our books, not constantly bask in a spotlight.

Enter the upsurge in the popularity of children's books, YA, technology, and the internet fandom machine.

Being a "star" is no longer a joke -- it's an expectation. Kidlit and YA authors can relate to this especially well, I think. So much of an author's marketing rests on their own shoulders. It's not enough to make some appearances at your local bookstore and do a few school visits. You have to be constantly on. You should be on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and maybe even YouTube in addition to your regularly-updated blog. People don't just need to like your books anymore. They need to like YOU.

Talk about crushing pressure for a group largely made up of introverts who don't always do well with public speaking or being constantly "on." Time and time again, authors have literal nervous breakdowns and health issues from the combination of wearing themselves thin and forcing themselves into the spotlight in addition to the actual, you know, massive job of creating novels.

That's not to say that many writers (myself included) don't LOVE to do this stuff. My love of Twitter and Tumblr knows no bounds. We're making friends, hearing from fans, bonding, sharing, and it's all great. That's not the problem. The problem is the level of exposure.

Now let's talk about fandoms, particularly fandoms that contain vast quantities of children and adolescents by design.

When a writer's just starting out, their audience is small. Every scrap of praise is cherished, every negative comment cutting. For those who grow their fanbase into something bigger, everything else grows, too. The support is louder, the negativity sharper. When you reach a certain level, the fandom based around your work (or, in some cases, YOU) becomes its own beast. People believe you're so big and have so much money (har har har) that they can say incredibly cruel things and it shouldn't "affect" you anymore.

(Don't mistake this for me saying everyone needs to play nice. I'm not talking about one-star reviews or criticism, I'm talking about THIS AUTHOR IS A TALENTLESS UGLY COW AND I HEARD SHE DRINKS BABY BLOOD AND SHE'S A HORRIBLE PERSON AND IF YOU DON'T HATE HER GUTS THEN YOU'RE HORRIBLE TOO type stuff.)

Stephenie Meyer on the red carpet at the Breaking Dawn premiere, from Zimbo

Your loyal fandom rushes in to defend your honor, going for the "haters" with teeth bared and a massive wall of support at their back. When that fandom is made up of young people, the ferocity is often compounded. When people are still young and developing into the people they'll become, the world can be very black and white, with very little nuance. You are my friend, or you are my enemy. Good versus evil. Right versus wrong. My love for this thing makes it flawless, and anyone who questions it or finds it flawed must be destroyed.

This isn't something that goes away after adolescence -- we all know plenty of adults who still live by this mindset -- but it's heightened during childhood and our teen years when EVERYTHING is heightened.

Now let's talk community and responsibility.

Fandoms are, ultimately, community. I completely believe that young people often do well with community and support from their peers, and I think community can be important. Vital, even. Today's spread of information and ease of communication makes it possible to connect with people on the other side of the planet over something you both love, and that's astounding and beautiful. It makes complete sense that passionate young people are finding one another and forming these bonds. They're doing incredible things with their passion.

The thing about communities is that they're formed AROUND something, and in the case of fandom, that something is often a piece of media, which is ultimately tied back to that media's creator. In an environment where YA authors are becoming celebrities, willfully or not, that comes with some incredible opportunities... and some important responsibilities.

There's no doubt in my mind that many kidlit and YA authors had no idea what they were getting into. They never expected to be a household name, or somebody who could fill a conference hall. For the biggest "stars" in the industry, I imagine the pressure and exposure is beyond intense. They never asked for this kind of responsibility, this kind of power.

But they have it.

John Green on the set of The Fault In Our Stars, from LA Times

So, where is the line, here? When fandoms start growing, no one can control who joins (though they may try). At a certain point, you'll have all sorts in the ranks -- kind and cruel, thoughtful and reactionary. People who will go for the jugular for any perceived offense, believing themselves to be coming to your defense. In some contexts, this is welcome. Of course it's wonderful to have people stand by your side and tell some asshole journalist to actually read the damn book instead of mouthing off about the sorry state of YA, which they don't read wonk wonk wonk.

On the other hand, when you know a segment of your fans is behaving badly, what's your responsibility there? Certain fandoms are well-known for swarming a perceived "threat" and issuing everything from anonymous insults to full-scale threats of violence. We all talk about how this sort of activity is never okay, but some stay mysteriously silent when their own fandoms are participating in this behavior.

I don't expect anyone to catch every instance of their fans' misbehavior and call it out individually. That's not feasible. I also understand that there may be significant pressure not to "alienate" fans. But when we know this kind of stuff is happening in our community, in fandoms centered around our work who view us as a sort of figurehead or friend, I think we do have a responsibility to issue some general commentary. We should say "if you're doing this, you need to stop" and "I do not support this behavior, ever, and if you're doing it on my behalf, I'm not okay with that." As the comic once said: with great power comes great responsibility, and even if we didn't ask for it, we must wield it wisely.

We need to recognize our power, even when we might think we don't have much. When your support circle numbers in the tens (or hundreds) of thousands, you have power. When so many eyes are on you, valuing your opinion, it's essential to make sure they know that even stanning for something they believe is right can get out of hand, and help them learn to recognize when they're getting out of line.

It's not about controlling every arm of our audience (which is impossible), it's about understanding the power of our words for the people who look up to us, and letting people know what you are and aren't about. Silence often speaks louder than words. They may be responsible for their own actions, but we are responsible for our reactions.

Like I said, this is an unimaginably huge, complex issue. There are too many factors to count. This is one part the culture of forcing people into the spotlight in order to be "successful" and one part creating powerful communities for children and teens and one part love of writing and a hundred parts of something else. I don't have any answers.

But I hope we can talk about it. What do you think?

The Nice Girl Gets Friendzoned

| Monday, April 7, 2014

This is going to come as a revelation to the entire planet, but it's an absolutely true fact: ladies are also victims of The Friendzone. Actual true story! As a teenager, I was a serial Friendzone resident. I had sadfeels and books of poetry and really emotional music and a journal and everything.

Of course, I didn't think of it as The Friendzone. I thought of it as "getting shot down by my crush, which really bummed me out, so I usually found a new crush." I was also a serial crusher. I didn't even have a set type. My fragile little teen dreamer heart would flit from skater boy to WAY too-tall jock to drama geek to the kid from summer camp to goofball musician to gamer nerd to you get the picture.

I had Big Plans for each of these crushes. They were always The One. The movie played in my head, influenced by a million romantic comedies where some sort of obstacle keeps the couple apart but you know they'll be kissing all up on each others' faces before the credits roll. It never played out that way. I tried every trick in the 80s-90s teen movie playbook. Notes intricately folded into hearts as only a 14-year-old girl can fold. Mix tapes. Terrible drawings. Scavenger hunts. Gifts. Public displays. Private displays (not that kind). I was goddamned ADORABLE.

Alas, the loves of my adolescent life would all give the same answer: no. Sometimes accompanied by laughter, most often accompanied by "but we, like, have such a good friendship, though."

(I eventually stopped crushing on little assweasels and moved on to crushes who actually kind of cared about my feelings a little bit.)

Allow me to share my pain, so you might understand that your whiny ass is not alone in your tortured youthful lack of love.

Photo Credit: i.am.rebecca via Compfight cc

I am 11 and in lust with this dork who really wasn't that impressive in retrospect, but by sixth grade standards, he was a stone fox. I spend hours carefully selecting songs that are rife with meaning, like Spiral Staircase's "More Today Than Yesterday," and record them onto a mix tape. Carefully, with the help of my friend, I plan it so I can sit next to his desk during an educational film and slip the tape inside. I wait. Absolutely nothing happens. Completely ignored. I will never love again.

I am 12 and this bleach-blond skater kid is the love of my life. He's actually a terrible person, but his HAIR and his LONG SHORTS and his SQUEAKY PRETEEN LAUGH, you guys. I think I'm going to be real cute and smart this time. I write nine riddles, one for each letter of my name, and sneak them into his backpack. He figures it out on like the third riddle, at lunch, and proceeds to show his entire crew of little junior high gargoyles, who all point and laugh. My heart is a cavern filled with tears and regret.

I am 16 and this guy on the swim team with me is really IT for REAL. This crush is long and agonizing, overwhelming 2.5 years of high school memories. We're in the same classes, we're on the team together, we're both smart and kind of dorky. He's really good-looking, I am... a teenage girl with dyed strawberry blonde hair, but we have THINGS IN COMMON. It's going to happen this time. I'm going to write a heartfelt note saying all this really deep stuff. He's going to understand. We're going to make out and it will be awesome. I hand him the note and back away to a safe distance. He reads it. His friends all read it. They say "you should say yes, dude." I hear them. VICTORY IS NEAR. He comes to me later as I'm holding my breath and vibrating in my flip-flops, and he says, "I think we make really good friends." I AM NEVER GOING TO GET LAID, EVER.

I am 18, it's two weeks until my university's summer break, and one of my new college friends is the hottest guy in the universe. Like, STUPID hot. He is the skater boy, the funny guy, the musician, and the gamer all rolled into one. He is The Supreme Guy. And we're friends! It's all falling into place. I'm pretty sure he knows I'm bonkers in love with him, but I'll try to play it cool anyway. We're hanging out at a friend's. I've had half a wine cooler and I am THE BRAVEST. We walk back to our dorm in the beautiful movie-set night. I ask to come up. His roommates are out. I'm wearing my leather pants and I'm on a wine cooler high and I know this is it. So I tell him. He's SO HOT and perfect and hilarious and I just want to know if I can please, please kiss him? Just one time?

And he has this LOOK, this sad look, and he says he can't. It would RUIN OUR FRIENDSHIP. But look, he'll give me a hug! It's okay! We're still friends! Cheer up, buddy! My heartblood is dripping down his walls as he rubs my back. Everything is destroyed.

Photo Credit: i.am.rebecca via Compfight cc

Don't worry, everyone. I'm not going to leave you with blue tubes from all these missed opportunities. The girl in this story does eventually Get It. She Gets It Good. Just not with these guys.

Here is the moral of the story: just about everyone gets shut down by (someone they think is) The One. I'm making light of this stuff because it still causes me actual gut-wrenching embarrassment and pain, and it's easier to pretend it was all silly teen crush stuff even though it felt like it was breaking me at the time.

The takeaway is that you move the fuck on. Yes, this shit made me one hell of a sad panda. I felt angry, frustrated, drawn and quartered. But it's life. You're not the only person to experience this phenomenon. Your pain is not unique. Instead of lashing out and lamenting about how your affection should AT LEAST result in some quality dry humping, buck up. If they said no the first time, they're DEFINITELY going to say no after you keep whining about it for a year. Find the person who actually gives a shit.

Speaking of which, let me play you out on the good stuff.

My husband and I had a long, sexually tense, flirtatious courtship in which neither of us made a solid move for like, TWO WHOLE MONTHS. It was torture. He finally asked me out, but still wouldn't make a move because he -- guess what -- wasn't sure if I just wanted a friend.

So I invited him over for a movie night and we stayed up until 4AM talking and sharing music and when I thought I might actually explode from the tension, I kissed him.

He kissed back. He kissed back hard.

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