If you’re going to the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta over the coming days, you’ll have a chance to hear some great speakers, and maybe even do some committee work and attend the 2017 Youth Media Awards announcements. Although the Midwinter Meeting is not as program-oriented as the annual conference in summer, it will, like any library conference, have a large contingent of publishers in the exhibit hall. This makes it a perfect time for you to speak up for diversity directly to publishers.
Back in 2014, the incredible Cindy Pon, a long-time advocate for diverse books and super talented author, approached me and some other librarians about heading into the exhibits hall with the determination to ask about and talk about diverse books with publishers. Hannah Gómez wrote a post about it for YALSA’s Hub blog and that’s the basic template I, and many other librarians, have followed for canvassing the exhibits and posting our results. Since Cindy’s original idea, the goal has been to raise the online profile of diverse titles (build that buzz, get people wanting them as hot books) and also to let publishers know that we, the buying public - especially librarians and educators - want diverse titles and appreciate the ones they put out. You can check out the #diversityatala hashtag on Twitter and see the Twitter account.
I am urging all of you to join me in this effort. What we’re looking for, more than anything, is numbers. We want there to be wave upon wave of people asking publishers about diverse books, particularly by #OwnVoices authors. We want publishers to know these ARE the books we want to buy, promote, and share.
Here are a few tips I think are especially effective when taking the diversity conversation to publishers in any exhibits hall:
- Be positive. You know how much it sucks when a patron starts yelling at you about how their $1.75 fine pays your taxes so you’d better do what they say? Because, among other things, they just don’t understand the hierarchy of how your library is structured? That’s what it’s like when you go up to a random publisher booth representative who does publicity and marketing for the school market and start a conversation about how much you hate one of their books.
Now look. Most of you probably know that I’m the last person on the planet to urge you to “play nice” and “be kind.” I am a huge fan of directly and unceasingly calling out bullshit! But most of the people working the floor are not editors or execs. The thing they want to hear the most and the thing they get the most use out of is knowing what you do want and what is popular in your community, classroom, and library. That’s what makes them want to sell and promote MORE, not just to you but to everyone.
Look at nametags. That’s just good manners, for one, so you know who you are talking to and it also lets you see what this person’s actual job is - maybe you will end up talking to an editor or someone higher up at a company. That can absolutely impact what kind of conversation you have.
So here’s what I mean when I say “be positive” - talk about a diverse book from that publisher that you love, your patrons love, you love using in class, or you never have on the shelf because they’re always in circulation. Tell them WHY it is amazing. Find a picture or a copy of it in their booth if they have it and make a huge fuss over how wonderful and popular it is. Mention that the diversity is part of why you love it and would love to see more books like it from them. You don’t have to lie and you don’t have to fake enthusiasm - but you can build on the truth.
- Be specific. “I’d love to see more books from Native authors. Have you read In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III? It’s from Abrams and it’s amazing.”
“Are you familiar with the concept of #OwnVoices books? They’re some of our favorites at my library. My teens have loved Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed and If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo.”
“I’m so happy you published Niño Wrestles the World and Rudas: Niño’s Horrendous Hermanitas. We have such fun with them at storytime! I’d love more books like that for storytime.”
Know what you are talking about. Have specific examples. If you’re afraid of blanking, prepare some notes beforehand to take with you to the booths, or take a minute or two to look around the booth and see what books they have out that you’re familiar with and can talk about, or that you want to know more about.
- Make them sell you. Ask the booth reps what diverse books they are excited for. Put them on the spot. Selling books, and selling you on the books, is their job and they should be able to do that for diverse titles and POC/FNN authors. And one way we can make sure they’re ready to promote these books to everyone, not just those of us doing the specific asking, is to consistently ask about them. And if they can’t booktalk a diverse book? Tell them that’s what you’re looking for, and let them know we want the sales pitch from them in the future.
- Stop by small publishers too. This is sometimes harder at Midwinter, since they often don’t have as much of a presence, but it is still worth keeping on your radar. You should always take time to seek out smaller publishers - especially because they are often doing THE MOST work in publishing #OwnVoices authors. I think every person who visits exhibit halls during conferences should read René Saldaña, Jr’s post Forgive Me My Bluntness: I’m a Writer of Color and I’m Right Here In Front of You: I’m the One Sitting Alone at the Table, and not just consider what it says but consider how it will impact your time in exhibits. I always have at least a few small publishers I want to visit to talk about specific books with or just hear about what they have coming next. Our support and enthusiasm for their work - as well as letting them know that we can and will financially support them in our buying - is important and this is a good chance to let them (and their authors) know.
- Spread the word. Use the hashtag. Share pictures of the books on social media. Be excited about them to the booth reps. And tell them why. Tell your colleagues to go ask the same things. Show that there is demand every chance you can get. Buzz for books is made by PEOPLE. We can amplify buzz, we can make diverse books and #OwnVoices authors hot. We can do this all the time, of course, but exhibit halls are this opportunity on steroids and a chance for us to do this directly with the publishers in real time. We’ve got to make the most of this.
So if you’re going to be at ALAMW, please consider joining us! One of the biggest problems diverse books face, especially #OwnVoices titles, is the FALSE assumption that they’re like medicine. “Well, I don’t really wanna read this but, SIGH, diversity, I guess.” Our enthusiasm, our excitement, our focus can show that’s not the case. Let’s use our voices to make a difference.
Ava, who blogs at Bookiness and Tea, put together a list of 60 Diverse Books to Look Forward to in 2017
And if you see me anywhere at ALAMW, please come up and say hi! I love chatting (surprise) and meeting new people and even going around the exhibits on missions!