Friday, May 23, 2014

Tell me if this is a good idea...

So, next week, I'll be speaking on the WeNeedDiverseBooks panel at BookCon. As you know, I've been very gung-ho about the campaign. Even though this is an issue we've been talking about for over 15 years (yes, my first book was published over 15 years ago! eeks!), I am hopeful that maybe now the time has come for some real, concrete changes.  As I said earlier, I have some ideas...


My biggest concern about diverse books is that the general public does not realize that these books are for them

A million years ago, I was a bookseller at a children's bookstore. I was not a very good one (mainly because I was socially inept) but I did learn a couple of things.

1. A customer who doesn't know what she wants can decide in two nanoseconds what she does not want.

2. A bookseller has only one of those nanoseconds to change the customer's mind.


It was very easy for me to interpret "That's not for me," when a customer had only looked at the multicultural cover. Customers put books in different compartments in their mind to decide whether or not they wanted it and the books with diverse covers were immediately put in the "multicultural" box that they had already decided they weren't interested in.


However, a bookstore floor is no place to deliver a lecture. Moreover, these customers were definitely NOT racists or horrible people in anyway. They were wonderful, intelligent people who loved books. I'm willing to bet money most probably didn't even register why they had immediately felt that the book wasn't for them.


So,  what I thought would be interesting would be to create a "Cheat Sheet" for booksellers that would help them "refocus"the customer's view of the book.  It would be fast, easy, non-diversity focused descriptions for the customer to relate to. The idea is that it would help booksellers get consumers to put the book in a different compartment than the "multicultural" box that they've already decided they aren't interested in:






However, does this"refocusing" the sales pitches of diverse books make it seem like we are trying to hide it or are ashamed of it? That is NOT what I am trying to do. I think multicultural books are more than their ethnicity--in the end they are stories with universal themes. The point of this "cheat sheet" would be to be focus on those themes.

But maybe this is a slippery slope? Would it be a step backwards? What do you think?



7 comments:

Grace Hwang Lynch said...

Hi Grace, I'm a big fan of your books. I think your idea is a good one. In this age where our children's generation is growing up with a much different demographic than our generation did, multicultural books ARE for everyone. I can see how (and I've experienced this just showing or giving books to people) that people are sometimes daunted by an "ethnic" cover or characters. Ultimately, people want a good story, and booksellers/librarians/friends etc. might need to have some talking points to explain why good stories are not just told by white people. Or dragons, or dogs, etc.

Jane said...

I like this idea. I've often thought the way books get described closes out great books to readers (is The Secret Garden a story about a girl orphan who grows a garden or about an angry loner who unravels a family secret?). I believe that educating booksellers and others who put books into kids' hands (teachers, librarians) is a big part of getting great diverse books to all readers. Books aren't just for kids who look like the main character--it's obvious when you say it, but you're right that people need to have better ways to booktalk. And they need to push themselves to make sure they're recommending all kinds of books to all kinds of readers.

mclicious.org said...

This is what I try to tell people all the time! NOBODY wants a book if you describe it as "Well, it's about this girl - oh, she's African American, by the way - who does blah blah and goes to la di da." Even as a child of color, anytime someone told me about a book like that, I instantly did not want it, because it represented that person's lack of familiarity with what the book was actually about and their lack of respect for me and what I liked to read, which was urban fantasy and realistic fiction about kids like me (I just also wanted them to look like me), not a book about anything just because it happened to be the one thing that said someone like me existed. I've had a lot of success with booktalks because I pick almost exclusively books about nonwhite or non-straight or non-cisgendered characters to talk about, but I focus on things that actually matter to readers, like the adventure or the romance or the historical setting. That's not to say that you can't find a reader that you know really needs something that speaks to their experience and hand it to them, but if the only way you know how to describe a book starts with "It's about this gay guy" or "It's about this Korean girl," you're doing it wrong. And, frankly, you don't seem to know much about how to read, and that makes me sad.

So, basically, LOVE this post!

Grace Lin said...

thanks for your comments! Barring a deluge of comments with the opposite sentiment, I'll get to work on it, then!

Mary Kinser said...

As a librarian and former bookseller, I LOVE this idea. Story is what sells books. I think people are put off sometimes by the thought that a book is diverse just because they believe it will be full of heavy issues or unrelatable to them. Talk about what readers are interested in -- story, characters, etc. -- and let the rest fall into place. Good books (like yours!) stand on their own!

Ms. O said...

I think it's a great idea as well. I've been weeding in the library and feeling bad that so many of the books that Just. Aren't. Moving. seem to be the ones with diverse characters. They get display time ... they just don't get checked out. And like you say ... I really don't think it's anything anyone is thinking about intentionally or passing up for ill will. Something help in talking them up to my students and staff would be much appreciated. I read a lot but it's hard to read everything!

nitaspitas said...

I've heard of something similar where a librarian used a similar tactic to get boys to read books with female leads. If I remember correctly, he didn't show the cover until the boy was interested in the book.