Tag Archive | Marketing

Racism? You Don’t Say?

A discussion came up on Facebook regarding the apparent lack of diversity in publishing when Martha Boss, book blogger, educator, and model shared her opinion regarding the lack of diversity at book events. She explained that she had no desire to attend any literary events that didn’t have authors from all walks of life. And in the United States of America in 2017, one would think that such an opinion would be positively acknowledged and celebrated. Unfortunately, an uproar of finger-pointing and finger-wagging ensued by some disgruntled readers of her post. On a positive note, the conversation inspired me to write this post.

Before I delve into where I stand on this matter, I will first give some background knowledge and context.

Most of you may know that my husband is white. I bring up his skin color because of the nature of this post. You see, some time ago Marvel was relaunching Spiderman and making the hero that followed in Peter Parker’s steps a young man named Miles Morales, who is  half-Black and half-Hispanic.

spider-man-miles-morales-peter-parker

I was okay with this change. And as an advocate for diversity, I’m all about the inclusion of more and more people of color in all social constructs. On the other hand, my husband was concerned about this change. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Spiderman, he’s a young man named Peter Parker who happens to be white, like most of the comic book characters that have become not only popular, but also who have become mainstream due to aggressive marketing and appearances in movies (Batman, Deadpool, Superman, ad nauseum). All alternate personas of these heroes are white males. And all but two of them are filthy rich (yes, looking at you, Deadpool and Mr. Kent.)

Hardcore fans are all about staying true to the “canon”. And there are laws that must never be broken.

Two main “no-no’s” are:

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE COLOR OF THE CHARACTER.

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE GENDER OF THE CHARACTER.

My husband was concerned that the writers weren’t staying true to the canon by changing Spiderman’s ethnicity. My husband’s argument was logical especially when he supported it with this gold nugget: “The market should be actively looking for writers with new fresh faces and cultures to add to the Marvel or DC universe. Peter Parker should keep on being Spiderman.”

I agreed with my husband that the Industry or Market should be looking for new material from different perspectives instead of rehashing the same tripe year after year.  Moreover, consumers need to do their job by demanding what they want and if the Market isn’t giving it to them? Well, now. There’s this powerful principle called supply and demand and it’s a beautiful thing. If I don’t like a show, I won’t watch it. If I don’t like a restaurant, I won’t eat there. For example, even if McDonald’s were the last restaurant on the planet I REFUSE TO EAT THERE!

A few months after my husband and I had our third child, he turned to me and said, “I get what you’re saying. You know, about seeing more characters that are people of color. I don’t want our sons growing up not seeing that they’re important. That they exist.”

we need diverse books3

BINGO!

And the cry for diverse books wasn’t enough because then you fall into the bait-and-switch trap that it’s okay for white authors to write books that star nonwhites as the characters. Then, the #ownvoices movement was ushered in to stress how important it is for people of color to tell their own stories in their own voices and not having to fear that they needed to pander to or patronize a white audience or any audience (regardless of color) that didn’t understand where they were coming from.

Too bad these movements aren’t making waves on television. Yet. You see, over the past several months, my husband and I observed a disturbing trend regarding television shows for children. I’ll most likely go into more detail about that in a future post. 🙂

The conversation that my husband and I shared regarding the necessity for diversity in books and comics inspired me to reflect on my childhood as a reader and where I am now as an author and reader. My reflection motivated me to write this blog post.

Now, back to the main topic.

In one of my previous blog posts I discussed the deathtrap of stereotypes.  A common stereotype regarding Black people is that we don’t like to read. It was also one of the arguments that excuses the cold, hard fact that 88% of books reviewed by the New York Times are written by white authors. So, one could ignorantly draw the conclusion that Black people don’t like to write either. Or that they don’t know how to write. But, if they do like to write, they’re not very good at it because they don’t like to read and thus there’s no market for them. And that’s just the way it is.

Uh, no. Just no.

weneeddiversebooksbecause

Yes, indeed. 🙂

When I purchase books for my classroom I choose them very carefully. I want books that will not only keep my students engaged, but appeal to their gender, not only relate to their own experiences, but challenge, and build onto this foundation. My Black students, as well as White, Asian, and Latino students love reading a good book regardless of what color the main characters are . . . or whether or not the main characters are even human. However, there comes a time when nonwhite students wonder WHY their experiences, their truths, their very essence isn’t proudly shown on the cover of a book or even within its pages. I know because I was once their age and wondered these thoughts: Am I not worth writing about? Are people like me not worth reading about? (Well, unless you’re a slave getting the crap beat out of them). By the way, what is the USA’s morbid obsession with Black pathology? Yuck.)

We Need Diverse Authors

About eight years ago, libraries (some may still practice this, but I’m pleased to say my local library DOES NOT) shelved books based on genre in an obsessive compulsive way that would impress even this guy:

monk-logo

Back then, there were no cross-genres.

mixedupauthor

Dear heart, weep not. Tis 2017 and we live and breathe for literary mashups such as yours. 🙂

No, no, no. Every little book went into its own boxed off little shelfie-welfie corner. Oh yes, yes, yes.

So books like this:

black romance

 

 

 

or this . . . romance_black

 

 

 

 

 

 

wouldn’t appear in the general romance aisle, but be ghettoized or segregated from that oh-so lucrative and coveted section and placed in the African-American books, Street Lit, Urban Lit, or wherever library’s chose to place books with dark brown to light brown faces on the cover. Think about your local grocery store and how soy sauce, butter chicken, and curry are cordoned off in their own aisle labeled “multicultural or ethnic” away from the other condiments. Even poor sauerkraut and gelfilte fish has its place there. If I hadn’t watched the Food Channel or binge watched “Great Eats Around the World” I would remain culinarily (made that word up) ignorant! Now, regarding the segregated books: Was this practice intentionally racist? *Shrugs shoulders*. Not sure. But, one could see how this limits authors of color from being discovered from readers regardless of their color even though it fit in the “general genre”.

A couple of weeks ago while visiting my local library I noticed a lot of newer authors I had never seen before. I was so impressed that the library had become “integrated” that I had to take a picture of it!

libraryintegration

A Japanese author, a Black author, a White author, and even a Native American author all on one shelf! 😀 And all different genres! Ha! Impressive. 

Clearly, people and books don’t belong in boxes. Well, unless you’re dead and boxed in a coffin. Sorry, I digress.

In 2015, Lee & Low, a publishing house that prides itself on finding new authors of color shared the results of the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that overall the Industry is predominantly white and female. Bet you weren’t expecting THAT revelation. But, it’s true. And when I say overall we’re talking about all levels:

  • Executive Level
  • Editorial Dept.
  • Sales Dept.
  • Marketing & Publicity Dept.
  • Book Reviewers

Is this predominantly female white status quo deliberate and thus, racist? Well, if you consider the data . . . the other question is will it be kept this way and by design?

While I hunted for facts regarding the struggle many writers of color — Asian, Caribbean, African, South American — experience trying to get published, I encountered similar stories:

  • Mira Jacob, young author of the critically acclaimed novel, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, shared a powerful speech about her struggles as an (East) Indian woman dealing with ignorance and prejudice in the publishing industry. A MUST READ!
  • Jenny Zhang shares how a white poet, Michael Derrick Hudson, used a Chinese pen name, Yi Fen Chou.
  • Paul Langan, a white novelist writes popular series about Black students growing up in an Urban setting.
  • Brandon Tensley discusses America’s Problem With Writers of Color.
  • PP Wong, author and editor shares how many times her novel was rejected. One of the reasons is really, really, really stupid. And clandestinely racist.
  • Phenderson Clark, speculative fiction writer of Afro-Caribbean descent draws back the curtain regarding racism against fellow Black authors (and the lack of characters) in the science fiction and fantasy community.

To piggy-back on the final bullet regarding the science fiction and fantasy genre that I write and adore I come to a fork in the road. Lately, several of the Big Five publishers that are located in New York are requesting romance novels from Black authors. I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I mean, doesn’t it entail, you know, like a “formula” where handsome guy meets gorgeous lady and they don’t like each other at first until he or she does something and then the tide is turned and then they like each other, but not like that and then they fight and break up and then you know — heck, I DON’T KNOW! So, my point that I’m trying to make is do I just “sell out” and go to the “Crimson Wine and Chocolate Covered Cherries Side” of Le Force and write Romance because it’s popular and I’m more than likely to succeed since there’s an open call for it?

Like I said before, I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I need creepy scenes, an occasional vampire or demon to slay. I need undiscovered elements on the periodic table. I need a nod to the current status quo and how to change it. I need to believe that there are dragons to slay whether they be literal or figurative. I need to hope for windows, doors, closets, basements, or even dreams that lead to alternate dimensions.

I may not write Romance yet, but I could learn, if I feel so inclined, and not because it’s what a publisher wants of me to selfishly benefit themselves.  In other words, why should writers of color pigeonhole themselves? We should be able to write what we want.

This scenario brings this excerpt from Rachel Deahl’s Publisher Weekly’s article, “Why Publishing is So White”:

So how does the industry move forward and do better? Right now, publishing seems to be struggling with the difference between words and actions. Take, for example, a situation a publisher at a reputable Midwestern press recounted. Claiming he is “always trying to diversify our staff,” he brought up a recent editorial assistant search that initially yielded 250 applicants. The press narrowed its options down to eight finalists, five of whom were white and three of whom were people of color. Although all the finalists were “excellent” in his estimation, the position went to a white woman. The reason? “There’s no room for tokenism at [our press].”

Dude, there’s no need for tokenism! What a cop out!

There’s always going to be a first and you don’t have to stop there. A first — if that’s the intended direction you want to go — will lead to a second and a third.

It only takes one to turn the tide.

The need for diverse books from diverse authors with different stories to tell isn’t a trend and never will be.

I'mnotatrend

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet with me @moniquedesir

 

 

Getting Down To Business . . . Or Else.

Getting Down To Business. Yup. That’s the ticket, dearies!

Growing up during the 80s, I loved watching animated series like Jem and the Holograms, Robotech, Voltron, and The City of Gold. The above video clip is from Jem and it melodically introduces what I need to do.
After returning to work full-time, (middle school reading teacher – need I say more? Didn’t think so. Heh.) I’ve encountered many obstacles, hindering me from completing the draft for the second book in the Gabriel Lennox Series.
What to do about it?
Well, I have lots of ideas.

Threats: I’ve told close friends, a couple of fellow writers, and my family members that I HAVE to write. And if I don’t, they can punish me. 😦 My oldest is a teenager, so believe me, this plan is foolproof!

Public Appearances: Since my recently released novel is a young one – merely months old – I need to continue to be face to face with the public, by visiting conventions, bookstores, and libraries. Even though writing has always been a reward within itself for me, I know that gaining fans that want to read my novels and look forward to the next book is also a much desired motivator too! My recent author event at a local Barnes & Noble further proved this theory. I sold more books to people who had never heard of me until that initial greeting and handshake, than those who work with me on a daily basis or know me personally. It was a lot of fun shaking hands, taking pictures, and serving cake to these wonderful new souls.

Banning Social Media (or at least dwindling my usage to no more than twice a week):
As a writer, in order to be noticed and “staying relevant”, I (supposedly?) need to tweet, post, and pin. However, I noticed that the more I did that, the less time I have to do what I ultimately love – WRITE. So, I asked a fellow writer for advice who not only has a huge following, but is able to make a good amount of income solely on the books he publishes. He mentioned that instead of “marketing” my book and “tooting its horn”, I should simply write. And keep on writing. The more I write, the more readers will want, which will in itself increase potential buyers. This thinking made sense to me because I don’t want to fall into One Book Wonderland. So, I shared on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter that I won’t be available because I need to focus on writing and writing alone.
Rewards:
Being a mommy, working full-time, taking online classes, and taking care of the home for hubby leaves me limited on “Me Time”. So, I’ve been thinking of ways to reward myself for successful writing sessions. I love reading so it would be wonderful if I could read without interruption from the latest sibling squabble or crisis. I also love to play video games (Final Fantasy Tactics, an RPG has caught my attention yet again) and indulge in pedicures. Sooo, here’s looking forward to being pampered every once in a while.

What works for you to keep to a schedule dedicated to productive writing? How do you balance writing and marketing? Please share! I need all the help I can get!

Violence, Sex, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears – Oh My!

Violence, Sex, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears – Oh My!

The fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is one of my favorite fairy tales. I even enjoy modern day re-tellings of fairy tales and I can’t continue typing another word without sharing the Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life and Times, written by James Finn Garner, where Goldilocks is described as a “melanin-impoverished young woman” and a “rogue scientist”. Excuse me while I chortle like a little piglet at this genius use of humor.

*Chortles like a little piglet*.

Now, back to business. This particular fairy tale is more than a good read that teaches a lot of moral doctrines:

  1. Little children should not trespass into someone’s territory
  2. You shouldn’t steal or meddle with something that doesn’t belong to you, and
  3. Intruders not only endanger themselves, (in versions where Goldilocks is Bear din-din) but also endanger the well-being and security of “the family”.

The fairy tale is also used to teach young children how to select books for their own independent reading.

Mama Bear books are cozy, comfortable, easy, and basically junk food reads (TOO SOFT!)

Papa Bear books are difficult, challenging reads that leaves the reader’s head spinning (TOO HARD!)

And Baby bear books? Well, say it with me, “They’re ju-uuuust right.” The reader can read each line with ease and if a challenging word or two pops up, the reader can dispatch them with a combo of wise reader strategies to decode the syllables with ease and carry on.

While rereading one of my dark fantasy drafts I wondered about the readability of my books. The prologue is bloody, violent, and gripping. I decided to use violence early on in the beginning because I wanted to show readers what was at stake for the main characters and their world early on. I realized that students as young as twelve could most likely read the words with little difficulty and comprehend them.

Regarding the content of a book, primarily the Naughty Three — violence, sex, and profanity — sometimes there’s either too much, too little, or just the right amount.

Chekhov’s gun

CHEKHOV'S GUN

The use of violence, (and also the other taboos) I believe falls under the useful plot device of Chekov’s gun.

According to Mr. Wikipedia, Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle which requires that every element in a narrative be necessary and irreplaceable, and that everything else be removed. Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Thus, according to this technique, I comforted myself with the unbridled use of blood spilling violence, which appears on the tenth page of my dark fantasy/paranormal novel, “Forbidden” (will be out in May) and even earlier on page four of my dark fantasy/science fiction hybrid “Prelude to Morning”.  The violence was not only relevant to the story, but necessary, and irreplaceable.

However, I still ask myself: “Would you feel comfortable having your oldest child read this?” At war with myself, I considered the Japanese animated shows he watches, such as “Attack on Titan” brimming with macabre, bloody violence where large, demonic-like giants roam the earth, hungry for humans, and popping them into their gaping maws with glee like I bite off the heads of Animal Crackers.

New Adult Genre

I also wonder, “What sets adult books apart from Young Adult Books? And is this new genre, New Adult, I’ve been hearing so much buzz about the bridge that spans the gap between Young Adult and Adult books?”

No, bridge isn’t a good analogy. It’s more like a doorway, a very loose doorway or gateway to taboos enjoyed by adults, like marijuana is the gateway to other illicit drugs.

If you do a Google or duckduckgo search of New Adult books or even a search via Goodreads.com, the covers of New Adult novels are quite . . . *ahem* saucy. No, saucy is putting it mildly. Or maybe I’m just a prude? Here, you be the judge:

pic

(The prude in me chose a tiny, teeney-weeney photograph and the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to make it larger than a thumbnail . . .)

Want more? Click and investigate, you voyeur you!

https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/new-adult

In this post, I choose to show how there is a gross imbalance of sex, profanity, and violence or what I’d like to call the Goldilocks and the Three Bears Effect (GATBE) in the genres of Young Adult and New Adult fiction that fills me with dread and anxiety.

This will be a longer post, so please get cozy, and stay awhile.

Sex, Profanity, and Violence – Taboos R Us

Many may argue that sex, profanity, and violence are commonplace in videogames, music, music videos in our society, but I strongly believe that doesn’t make it right for children and teens to be exposed to it on a regular, daily basis, like the popping of vitamins or the changing of underwear.

The overuse of these taboos (for adults and especially children) implies that the adage, “Sex Sells” is true.  Moreover, looking at the covers of magazines (movie stars and their latest sexually-charged plastic surgery investment), the latest movie trailer of the most recent best-selling book (cough cough Fifty Shades of cough cough) one would be led to believe that our country is like a New Rome, decadent, oversexed, and reveling in it! On a comical note, Gabriel Iglesias charmingly and accurately comments on the sexual presentation of commercials on Latin TV (starts at 1:08):

But does sex really and truly sell? Perhaps. And if so, should authors feel pressured to give into that tactic just to become and remain relevant in the oversaturated book marketplace? Also, should we allow it to have so much power at any cost that it cheapens the act and us as loving human beings?

I think not.

Several months ago, I took my Multicultural Club students on a field trip to SPIFFs. A hot pink sign sitting directly above the bus driver read: “The following radio stations won’t be played on an Astro Skate bus.” I wasn’t exactly sure why, but I assumed it was the musical content these banned stations played brimming with explicit lyrics of sex, drugs, and violence. Banning these stations, however, did not make any perceivable difference because the station the driver was “allowed” to play strung out songs that were just as inappropriate for the preteens I chaperoned.

For example, when the song with the repeating chorus “Don’t tell ‘Em” sung by blah blah in his sexually charged contralto voice, all of the little girls began singing along word for word. I found it disturbing.

As a child, I admit I was sheltered and would have remained a virgin until marriage (like my mum) if Madame Life hadn’t decided to remove her frilly, prissy gloves and backhand me with a tragedy (at age 18) I care not to share via Internet at this point in time. I was ridiculed and called a mutant (minus the ability to kill with my mind and stop bullets – darn it) for not engaging in sex, and an abnormality. And even though I was sheltered, I did experience crushes and all of those squishy, butterflies-in-my-stomachs feeling that adolescents experience then and now. Sex though didn’t preoccupy my every waking hour. I had other passions crooning for my attention: drawing, writing, reading, singing, and learning to speak Japanese.

And it seems as if the oversexualization of children is increasing with each passing year.

I find it sad that violence, sex, and all of those other “taboos” have slipped so easily (and seemingly without much of an outcry) into young adult books and I wonder where I, as a writer, teacher, and a parent, should draw the line?

Preteens and Teens Aren’t Naive

Some people argue that teenagers have sex, but just because they’re doing it doesn’t make it right or a good idea, especially if the sex is unprotected. I mean, I could run around with scissors while riding a bicycle.

But it’s not a good idea.

I could even fashion a bow and arrow with a plunger in place of the point in order to leap around like Link, from Legend of Zelda or LOTR’s Legolas and shank the baggy pants off of “kewl” teenagers from afar and escape unscathed.

But it’s not a good idea . . .  wait a minute, maybe I . . . Nah.

Teenagers aren’t as naïve as we think, but they also have more class than we give them credit for. Often during independent reading my students will come to me and show me a book that has too much profanity in it. Or books that have scenes they feel uncomfortable reading. We discuss as a class if the book should be dismissed from our Classroom Library. For the most part, we don’t ban books, but we let other students know that this book may not be good for you, due to its content. And there are students who enjoy reading books riddled with gang battles, abusive parents, and bullies who are downright psychopathic. And with a proud smile they tell me: “This is nothing. I watch the Walking Dead!” For the most part, I’m proud of my students and how they know what works for them and have the ability and bravery to move on if something doesn’t.

Now, on a legal note, teenagers aren’t even allowed to watch porn. From my perspective, the reading of sex is equivalent to watching sex. However, depending upon how explicit the author’s writing is, the erotic images painted by a sex scene are capable of replaying over and over again like the words of a popular song in the reader’s mind again and again. The way I see it, reading sex is the same thing as watching sex, if not more explicit. Sex, as pleasurable as it can be, doesn’t need to be on the minds of any person, (regardless of age) at all times, especially young adults and teens.

Good Writing Sells

If sex sells, then why are the most popular YA books like Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Hunger Games missing excessive amounts of sex and profanity?  Because if the story is good enough and the characters are real enough then swearing and sex are not necessary. Instead, adding such spicy taboos only takes away from the book as a Ghost Chili pepper smacks the flavor of a good meal out of your mouth. Ask Adam of Man vs Food. 🙂

adamFeel the burn, darling!

(Yes, I’m well aware that these exemplary titles include violence and I’ll get to that in a little while. Patience. Patience.)

IMHO Reasons Violence, Sex, and Profanity Should occur (on various GATTB levels) and only if necessary:

  1. It depends on the book because authors have an obligation to their readers and themselves to be consistent and true to the characters, setting, and plot of their multifaceted stories.
  2. Comfort Zone for the writer – Too Hot, Too Cold, or Just Right? What’s too hot for me, regarding the amount of sex, profanity, and/or violence may be just right for you. However, writers should be sensitive to the comfort zone of the audience they’re writing for. Again, think of the movie theater ratings and the age group of your audience . . .
  3. Does this particular (taboo) scene add to the plot? I recall reading a great book on writing page-turning scenes and the author (whose name eludes me) repeatedly stated that if the scene doesn’t advance the plot, stake it, cut off its head, and burn it, burn it, burn it! Well, not in those exact words, but you get the point. Talented writers must cut out weak scenes that are basically fluff and filler in the grand scope of a great story. So, any scene that includes violence or sex should either alter the plot or the characters in some way, whether it be for better or worse.

Where I Stand

Based on my comfort zone as a writer, mother, and teacher, I hope my students wait to read my more violent books that may or may not be laced with racy sex scenes, and riddled with naughty swear words. To date, I’ve begged them to postpone reading my “older” books until they’re at least fourteen and let their parents dip their toes in the water first if they so choose. And when these kiddos are much older, I hope they enjoy my books as they age into adults and become lifelong supporters of my literary worlds. Why do I hope kids will wait until they’re a little older?

Because I respect and want to protect their innocence, their hearts, and souls in a world where purity is increasingly growing scarce and the numbers of those willing to protect it are rapidly decreasing. I think that YA, and especially MG books should keep in mind the innocence of their audience.

And who knows . . . perhaps, such practices may ensure the future of mature, dedicated readers to come and stay.

Comments are always welcome and appreciated.