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Believing in readers and asking people to be the change they want to see- Guest Post by Ayanna Coleman

Published December 27, 2013 by G.L.

BELIEVING IN READERS AND ASKING PEOPLE TO BE THE CHANGE THEY WANT TO SEE

By Ayanna Coleman, Founder of Quill Shift Literary Agency

A post was recently brought to my attention concerning my company and the fundamental ideas behind it. The authors who critiqued Quill Shift Literary Agency don’t believe that readers should have direct input in selecting what they read but, they have admitted that there are problems with the publishing industry. It’s much easier to complain about the problems than trying to put your mind to a solution.

One problem that I see is the significant under-representation of diverse fiction within the children’s and young adult market. A prominent aspect of this problem is the lack of minority characters as protagonists in stories.

This isn’t a new problem.

Twenty years ago there wasn’t a lot of it either. Yes, there’s stories about the civil rights movement in America and those who participated. There’s folktales retold from different cultures. There’s urban lit. But where’s the plethora of stories about the shy, artsy black kid; or the swashbuckling, witty Latina in the year 2044, or the Asian rapper? There are stories out there for “every kid” but the majority of them only show one type of young protagonist—white kids. What does this say to young readers who want adventure and mystery and fun, but who can’t seem to find people who resemble them physically in the books they read?

I read a great deal as a child. I find it hard to imagine anyone who goes into publishing that didn’t. My parents went out of their way to provide me with stories featuring all kinds of kids, but not all parents will do that. That means that those responsible for creating literature that expands and molds young minds should provide literature, more literature, that showcases all the different lives and dreams of kids in this country.

I recently did a Q&A with my alma mater about what I do now and why I wanted to start my own literary agency. I’ve been a reader for multiple agencies since I was in library school and I’ve wanted to be an agent since high school because I knew agents were the people who truly were able to advocate for the authors and books that they believed in. After grad school and working in a children’s research library, I worked at Hachette Book Group in their digital department and then moved to the Children’s Book Council.

In this role I have the privilege of communicating with all the departments in a publishing house, listening to their wants and needs, and finding ways to help them succeed. The idea of Quill Shift Literary Agency came out of many conversations with publishing professionals where I listened to their concerns and then tried to identify ways to help them while, in the end, benefiting the author.

Going back to diversity–if people are complaining about the lack of diversity in children’s books, they really need to look at the people who work in the industry—the gatekeepers. This includes people in publishing houses, but also authors, agents, librarians, and booksellers. These jobs aren’t held by a very diverse group of people. How can more representative works be ushered through the publishing process if a good portion of the creators aren’t also representative, if the editors and marketing professionals, the librarians and booksellers (who are a huge part of evangelizing books) also don’t have a stake in pushing books that showcase different perspectives? Just because you’re not from a certain group doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate and support those stories, but it does mean that a huge portion of the people creating and promoting books don’t know what it’s like to not see themselves in stories and, therefore, it isn’t at the forefront of their minds to create those stories for others.

I truly believe that there needs to be more people in the publishing industry representing the different ethnicities, sexual orientations, geographic locations, religions, socio-economic status, physical and emotional abilities, (and there are so many more!) that can be found in our country. How else can we guarantee that these voices are heard within the stories our children read?

With Quill Shift Literary Agency I hope to add another gatekeeper who is focused on bringing more diversity to children’s and YA lit. Publishing houses are businesses. They are filled with numbers-focused people as much as they are filled with people who love the written word and they all want to make money. It’s become commonplace to hear the phrase diverse books don’t sell. Therefore, through Quill Shift Literary Agency, I’m going to poke holes in that argument by providing books I think will capture readers’ interests to the reader before the publisher has a chance to reject a book without it ever getting a chance in the market.

No, this is not what traditional literary agencies have done in the past, but times have changed and are continuing to change. There are digital books now that people can buy from their couch at 99 cents a pop and not even bat an eye at who the publisher is. There are writing communities where aspiring authors from all over the world are contributing their full novels in serialized form for readers in that community to share and talk about for free—and people have gotten publishing deals from those communities. There are websites that allow great ideas to see the light of day because a mom from Idaho or a guitar aficionado from Nevada connect with them and are able to donate to something that resonates with their life.

When creating Quill Shift, I looked at not only the changing atmosphere in publishing, but the changing ways consumers connect with their products and the companies that produced them.

Here’s what struck me:

  • Authors are using platforms to create the work they want as fast as they want and are leaving the publishing houses out of the process.
  • Readers have wider access to stories than ever before on multiple platforms, yet are starving for more quality content where and how they want to engage with it.

But, there’s still a need a large need for publishing houses.

  • Even though authors embrace self-publishing, they still want to feel legitimized by being chosen by a publishing house and international sales are more likely to occur if a book is published in print by a publishing house.
  • Readers still seem to trust published books over self-published books in most genres and in both print and eBook formats.

Combining these observations with the lack of diverse kid lit on the market compared to what is produced overall led me to ask the question why the end consumers, the readers, weren’t being involved more. If the articles about needing more diverse lit are any indication that people want change (like here, here, and oh, here), that they are demanding change, then asking them to put their money behind their convictions shouldn’t be a far reach.

Like any other literary agent, I will read and evaluate all the manuscripts that are submitted and choose the ones that I believe are worthy of publication. But, unlike other literary agencies, instead of sending the manuscript straight to publishing houses and letting them decide the fate of the manuscript, I want to give the authors the best chance of publication by involving the final readers in the process, those same readers demanding change. I believe this will show that there is a market for their work, taking some of the guesswork out of the equation for the publishing house.

I launched Quill Shift Literary Agency on December 1st, 2013 and have an Indiegogo Campaign running until January 3rd, 2014 to spread the word about this new idea and connect with other forward thinkers to increase involvement in my venture. No matter how much money I receive through the campaign, it’s already a success in my book. People are reading about the agency, people are submitting manuscripts and signing up to be readers. Engagement is happening and I’m so excited about that.

Quill Shift Literary Agency’s Official Website

Quill Shift Literary Agency’s Indiegogo Campaign Page

Join us for our Diversity Month giveaway!

Published December 5, 2013 by G.L.

 Finally got the widget up and ready. It may change in the course of a few days, just in case other authors who haven’t, decide to donate a book, but even so, look at all the great prizes to be won! It is on our Twinja Book Reviews book review blog!

1. Tiffany Trent’s “The Unnaturalists” and “The Tinker King” paperback bundle
2. Ellen Oh’s “Prophecy” paperback and “Warrior” hardcover bundle
3. Kelan O’ Connell’s “Delta Legend” paperback
4. Lisa T. Cresswell’s “Hush Puppy” ebook
5. Heather Heffner’s “Year of the Wolf” ebook
6. Tricia Drammeh’s “The Seance” ebook
7. Jacinda Buchmann’s “Indigo Incite” ebook
8. Camille Picott’s “The Warrior and the Flower” audiobook
9. Two copies of Alicia McCalla’s “Breaking Free” ebook
10. Two copies of Alicia McCalla’s “Iniko” ebook
11. A paperback and ebook of Red Harvey’s “Cursed”
12. Janiera Eldridge’s “Zombie Curse” ebook
13. Aya Ling’s “Girl with Flying Weapons” paperback
14. An amazon 5 dollar e-gift card to the US site

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Do we really need more Diversity in books?-Guest post by Rachel Halpern

Published December 4, 2013 by G.L.

Today we have a lovely guest post by the founder of a new online magazine in the works by the name of Inscription magazine. The project spoke to my sister and I on such a deep level. Here is this young woman in our generation who finds representation in all forms important in books and that’s exactly what Guinevere and I are trying to promote! It’s always great to find like minded people and when we discovered her Indiegogo campaign to launch her magazine, which would be offering free diverse stories to teens in our 2 favorite genres, Science Fiction and Fantasy; We just had to help her spread the word about her Project!And now to our Guest post…….

Do we really need more Diversity in Books? By Rachel Halpern

haircut styled

The goal of Inscription Magazine is to publish short stories for teens, with diverse characters, diverse authors, and diverse sci-fi and fantasy worlds.

I’ve talked more about the vision I had for Inscription on the diversityinya Tumblr, here. And you can read more about Inscription, and the fundraising we’re doing for it, on the Indiegogo campaign page, here.

I wanted to address here what I think is often the first question I get when people see Inscription Magazine, or blogs like this one – do we really need more diversity?

The answer is a resounding yes. In the 250 top-grossing films, 83.6% of the lead characters are straight white men, even though they make up only 31.3% of the population (x). And it’s not because diversity doesn’t sell! A recent study found that television viewers are actually more likely to watch shows with racially diverse writers and racially diverse casts (x). It’s just that our society is built to privilege some voices and some stories over others.

Does that matter? So what if representation isn’t equal? Can’t people just identify with the people they see on television regardless of race?

I’m sure that happens to some extent, but of course it’s not as good as having someone who looks like you on TV, or in the stories you’re reading. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in outer space, said seeing Nichelle Nichols play Uhura in Star Trek was a key inspiration for her, and she wasn’t alone; even Martin Luther King, Jr., pressured Nichols to stay on the show because of the difference it was making to television viewers (x). Representation really does matter.

Maybe it’s better in children’s and young adult books, though! Everyone knows Hollywood has its problems, but surely teens are being exposed to more diverse literature!

Unfortunately not. Study after study (after study) has shown that diversity is lacking in both the authors of and the characters in YA novels.

Publishers like Tu Books; anthologies like Diverse Energies; and the incredible work of authors, bloggers, and publishers everywhere are making some changes, but it’s slow going. I wanted to help speed up the process, to give more young adult readers a chance to see themselves in diverse science fiction and fantasy stories.

That’s what Inscription Magazine is all about. Telling great stories that can appeal to everyone. Telling stories that give young adults great role models. And telling stories that tell teens they can become anyone and anything they want to be.

And beyond that, we hope it will become a community. Even the most inspirational stories can lose their power if they sit in a vacuum. We want to have forums and discussion threads where young adult readers can talk about the stories we publish, the books they’re reading, and everything else happening in their lives. It’s easy to feel alone when the media you consume doesn’t reflect you; we want to help young readers find a place where they can be themselves.

If that’s something you want to help us accomplish, you can check out our Indiegogo campaign here. Every dollar and every post can help us work toward our stretch goals and provide our readers with more content and more opportunities to build a sustainable community. Take a look and consider donating or spreading the word!

Inscription Magazine’s Indiegogo Campaign

Inscription Magazine on Facebook

Inscription Magazine on Twitter

Inscription Magazine on Tumblr

Rachel on Twitter

Rachel’s Tumblr Page

Guinevere has been featured on “The Attic!” New design changes coming soon!

Published December 1, 2013 by G.L.

While it is for our book blogging review page Twinja Book Reviews, we just thought it was worth mentioning! You can either scroll down to learn more about Guin(pronounced Gwen), or click on the link The Attic Reviews.

We hope all who participated in the NaNoWriMo got far! I didn’t always mark her progress as much as Guinevere did, but we didn’t win! But it isn’t about winning or losing, just about gaining better writing habits, so feel free to let us know if anyone had the privilege of becoming a winner!

On our sister site Twinja Book Reviews, we will be hosting a month long of interviews of bloggers, authors(both self published and traditionally so)agents, editors and more who promote diversity in the publishing world. We have about a dozen definites, but a few will make appearances on the way! Were even hosting a giveaway that includes a Tiffany Trent bundle of her book “The Unnaturalists” and her ARC for it’s sequel “The Tinker King!” It’s starting tomorrow with our first guest steampunk fiction author Balogun Ojetade!

Don’t forget to check back at our blog. Design changes are coming as yamulticulturaljunkie.wordpress.com has now become http://www.gltomas.com

Anyone who has followed us before wont have any issue, as it will redirect any newbies back here, even if you type in the old URL.

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Hey there, Readers!

Please give a warm welcome to Guinevere!

GuinevereName: Guinevere Zoyana Tomas
Blog: Twinja Book Reviews
Has been blogging since: Since March of 2013
Read/blogs about: Twinja Book Reviews is a book blog dedicated to spreading diversity in books with fantasy, science fiction and paranormal undertones. We only review books that feature multicultural main characters be they Latina, of Asian Ancestry, African descent, Gay, disabled, plus sized, You name it! We also blog about how representation in books is important for young readers as well as older readers. We get into some heavy stuff!

Describe yourself in five words. 
Geeky, Urban, Stylish Afro-Latina ;D

Why did you start a book blog?
Well I started a book blog with my twin sister because we really like reading books. But one thing I noticed coming onto the circuit is that there was very little focus on books that featured characters other than the “default” white, able bodied, male, cisgendered, thin and straight character. While I read books that don’t feature diverse characters, I thought it was time that another multicultural blog came into the circuit because I lot of my friends who don’t read is for one simple reason….They can’t find a book that includes diverse main protagonists. So i’m attempting to make the search easier for people who do want to read books that incorporate not only diversity but some culture as well.

What do you when you’re not reading or blogging?
Well in my spare time I work, write(I have a few WIP’s), I try to travel at least twice a year whether it’s networking or personal. But where I spend most of my time is an open gym practicing my “Tricking” and preparing for my next belt in Tang Soo Do.

What does your “to be read” pile look like at this moment? (Either take a picture or describe it!)
It’d be easier to show a pic.You see I have about 4 full bookcases in my living room and a small one in my room I consider “TBR”.

MyTBRPile

The_Partner_Track_by_Helen_WanWhat have you read recently that you loved?
The Partner Track by Helen Wan. It was a compelling tale of what it’s like to be a minority in the corporate world told by a female protagonist of Asian Ancestry.If you only knew what goes on out there, you’d be disgusted!

What is your all time favorite quote from a novel?
“I like knowing that sometimes the impulses can go the other way. That maybe it’s possible to have an impulse for good”.
The words of Jasper Dent from the novel I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga. The book is about a teenager who has a serial killer for a father and he’s fighting the urge to be be like him.It’s pretty spooky!

Tinker_KingbyTiffanyTrentWhat is an upcoming release that you are most excited about?
I don’t always anticipate releases because I buy more books that are a few years old than I do new ones, but I’m really looking forward to Tiffany Trent’s sequel to The UnNaturalists called The Tinker King. The guy on the cover is delectable!

Do you have a favorite bookish memory?
I’m not sure if I even have one 😛 I’m terrible with questions like this

Guinevere&TravisGarland

I’m a huge music lover/music snob so I have to ask, what are you currently listening to?
Well it’s hard to say because I don’t really have one artist that I listen to but I recently seen an artist I’ve followed for years in concert named Travis Garland. He’s a blend of R&B, Pop and Soul music. He was the nicest celebrity i got the chance to meet(I’ve met a few)

Do you listen to music while you read?
Well I find it a bit distracting because I used to be a dancer and whenever i listen to music I envision dance steps in my head. Can’t really concentrate on reading when I’m seeing steps in my head, lol.

It’s time for a game of this or that!

Normal or paranormal? Hmmm…..I’m going say Paranormal

Chocolate or vanilla? Uhhh…Vanilla

The power to see the future or the ability to travel into the past? Travel into the past!

Paperback or hardcover? Hardcover!

Cats or dogs? Dogs, I’m allergic to cat hair.

Thanks for participating, Guinevere!
I think the concept behind your blog is awesome! I like how you focus on just one topic–it does make it easier to find a specific kind of book. I just tend to review whatever I read, which is kind of all over the place, but most of them do seem to fall under the typical stereotypes when it comes to main characters. I was stuck in a paranormal rut for a while, then I started forcing myself to branch out into contemporary, and more recently into LGBT. I’ve read so many amazing books that way!

If you are interested in participating in Behind the Blogger, please fill out THIS FORM.

Happy Reading!

We invite followers at “My Path…” to join us at Twinja Book Reviews for our monthly giveaway!

Published September 30, 2013 by G.L.

Good afternoon(or night, or even morning depending where you are :p) to all that have graced us with your views!

We just wanted to inform anyone who is interested, that at our book blog “Twinja Book Reviews”  is hosting a huge month long giveaway! We are interviewing five authors who are either POC authors or authors who write with multicultural themes.

Unfortunately this giveaway is only open to residences of the United States. We are hoping to offer physical copies of book during giveaways to people overseas in the future, so please dont let this discourage any readers overseas!

It will go on for any entire month, so there is plenty of time to enter! It starts in a few hours, so be sure to set reminders to enter! First author interview will be Natasha Hanova, author of YA dystopian novel “Edge of Truth.”

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Advice on writing for a character outside of your race, sexual orientation or religion

Published July 20, 2013 by G.L.

Since becoming a book blog reviewer and part of an assortment of book loving communities I’ve engaged with many aspiring as well as published authors. I have to say I’m always the biggest fans of the ones who make a conscience  effort to incorporate some kind of diversity in their writing. This doesn’t always mean you HAVE to have a checklist of what’s missing in your book. For example:

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Do I have at least one Asian character? CHECK

Do I have at least one Black character? CHECK, CHECK

Do I have at least one gay person? CHECK, CHECK, CHECK

If that’s someone’s approach I advise you to put down your pens, laptops or other useful writing aids and take some time out to read this post.

I don’t think authors should ever feel pressure to write characters that they aren’t emotionally attached to. I also don’t think authors should write characters of different backgrounds just to “do it”, because that makes it come off as a chore. Writing from a different perspective other than “what you know” is such a rich learning experience, especially if you do it well. But for others who are still confused on how they should go about it, here are some tips to help writing for diverse characters easier.

First of all I want to point out that this is not a post to help white authors write non white characters, but a post to help ALL authors write for different characters. Gay, straight, Muslim, Buddhist, Sri Lankan, Brazilian, Angolan, disabled, plus sized or whatever you’d like to explore. Because face it writing “what you know” is becoming a really lazy excuse to why authors aren’t writing characters outside of their own comfort zone.

I think the main problem with writing a character outside of one’s race, culture, physical makeup or religion is that too many writers focus way too much on how we differ as people and not enough on how we’re similar. Forget about how we look on the outside for a few moments and recall the things people go through on a regular basis. Just graduated from USC with whole bunch of student loans and a job that will barely keep you afloat? So does Juan from East LA. Fall in love for the first time?Guess what so has Ravinder from Richmond Hill, Queens.Going through some tough times since your mom passed away about a month ago? Your coworker Keshia lost her mom 3 years ago and knows exactly how you feel.

All I’m saying is that we all go through similar if not the same issues. Problems are not “race”thing. Everyone in life has problems.The only way authors make writing for diverse characters difficult is by going to extreme measures to make a character “authentic”. And authentic to one writer may mean “Stereotypical” to the next.

The way I define authenticity is writing a character that is both honest and relatable. If that honest, relatable character just happens to be of Asian ancestry, then they just happen to be of Asian ancestry. I know a lot of writers are worried that they will have to do a ton of research to “nail” their multicultural characters but I have to say i disagree. Unless you’re writing about someone that lives in a different country you don’t have to spend hours at the library looking into Japan’s history to write about a Japanese American. Other than the types of foods you eat at home, the language you speak with your parents or the way the people of that culture conduct themselves socially, the only research you’ll need to do will be based on what YOU want to do with the character. If an author writes about a black teenager named Penelope adopted into a white family from Bixby Knolls,CA; the character is not going to talk like Yolanda from The Bronx. Keep in mind where your characters live and what their lives were like before the events in your story, because that will make a huge impact on what you put on paper.

A certain school project comes to mind a few years back. In one of my creative film classes , I had to write my first screenplay.(I’m working on turning it into a novel )

I choose to write from a male point of view and mapped out his entire backstory.

1.He loved Baseball

2.He was a native New Yorker but since graduating from North Eastern, made a new life in Boston,MA.

3.He worked as a Junior Executive in Marketing.

Halfway through the story, I realized I mentioned very little about what his race was and what he looked like. I started to experiment on what race I would make him, what his sexual orientation would be, what features would he have. Days went by and in those days he was Asian, he was black, he was gay, I even painted him white in my head for a day. Want to know what i came up with? Kelly Rodriguez, a Brooklyn native of Puerto Rican descent. Nothing really else changed about the way I wrote him other than how he identified himself culturally, but the thing is I wrote the story first and in my second draft is when I painted his picture. When his culture came into play I was able to add some things that made him special, like the fact that he was bilingual and his love for New jack swing music but other than that it was very easy for me to write him Puerto Rican because I don’t see people in this culture any differently than I see myself. We all have relationship issues, we all have money issues and we all cry at the Lion King(well maybe not), but I guess the point I’m trying to make is that characters outside your norm are not Aliens. They’re people just like you!

We may have different accents, or speak different languages or look different on the outside but our everyday experiences are what makes us the same. Next time you decide that maybe, just maybe you want to write a gay character(because gays fall in love too)or a Latino character or a disabled character; take this ounce of advice first: Write a story that you’re passionate about. Write the story that makes you want to not procrastinate and finish already. Write the story that rings true to you. And please don’t ever let the race of your character dictate what they will experience and how they will behave because you’re the writer of the story, only you can dictate how your character will behave and what they will experience. To follow old rules is falling into the trap of old times and from here on out readers want to read modern stories!

In short, just write a story. If, when you’re finished with the story you find it so universally appealing that the race, sexual orientation, religion or mental state could be added later on when you’re going through your second draft(because no one’s first draft is the final draft)then you may just be on the right track!

Helpful Links:

FIVE WRONG-HEADED REASONS FOR NOT WRITING DIVERSE CHARACTERS IN SCIENCE FICTION

DEGREES OF DIFFICULTY: WRITING THE OTHER

WRITING THE OTHER

photo credit: Daniel*1977 via photopin cc

Showing my support digital artists!

Published July 13, 2013 by G.L.

Recently, Libertad and I have been working on interesting ways to promote our future project!

Due to the editing process being a taxing process ;p , we’ve put up the money to create companion books for our “Sterling Wayfairer Series.” It is a Young Adult time travel fantasy based novel, although it crosses a few genres, such as science fiction.

Since it creates a lot of multiculturalism as far as race(I haven’t crossed much as far as sexuality, but it has a lot of characters of different races, and incorporates spirituality) and because for so many the default with most books are Caucasian characters, we have been working with two digital arts to create the characters and landscapes of our series, as well as our future work. We figured a promotional gift companion book would take out the mystery behind the main characters races. And with the extensive world building, we were interested in making it come to life with our own eyes. It’s been an interesting and fun process!

Alice Bessoni- Originally from Brazil does our character art. She has very reasonable rates and can be found at:

http://alicebessoni.daportfolio.com

In fact our characters can be found on her “Character Art” page.Labeled as “The Mark of Noba.”

Our Landscape art is done by:

Jose Borges-Originally from Puerto Rico, he is based in the United States. He is very detailed, and captures landscapes beautifully! He is also studying abroad, and has a kickstarter that I thought would be great to promote =D

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1887115899/portraying-traditional-and-contemporary-japan-thro

Our landscape of Noba is the second picture on the kick starter project. But he can also be found at:

http://www.jcborgesdesign.daportfolio.com

Im just curious to know, have any other new authors ever considered companion books? Would any readers enjoy the idea of self published authors releasing companion books to promote their work?

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