Self Publishing Children's Books ukSelf-publishing children's books Great Britain
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What's the story? Diversity and children's audience questions in the UK
1 I worked in the children's publishing sector in the USA for seven years, mainly with multi-cultural illustrated publishing houses. I worked for four years as a co-producer wizard at Children's Book Press in San Francisco, a non-profit publishing house specializing in publishing bi-lingual illustrated books. After a year as deputy writer at Orchard Books (a medium-sized publishing house), I worked for two years as a writer at Lee & Low Books in New York City, an independant multi-cultural publishing group.
During these years in publishing, I became conscious of how books are influenced by the publishing sector on several different tiers, from the particular taste of a particular issuer to the specific cultures of each publishing house to general beliefs about marketing and selling. In detail, I have understood how my reactions to text are rooted in my own pedagogical and social backgrounds.
That led me to multi-cultural publishing and the notion of offering books that more closely portrayed the kids who had read them. Though I had my own storytelling and storytelling concepts, I also had my own concepts of my own childrenhood and suitable books for them. Those flavours and reactions were further developed within the publishing houses in which I worked.
3 In many ways, the children's press worked outside the reach of children's publishers such as Random house, Penguin and Scholastic - all located in New York City. Located in San Francisco and not in New York and as a non-profit organization, Children's Book Press was more about missions than profits. So my first four years in publishing were marked by the idea that some books were lacking, such as ethnically under-represented groups such as Filipino Americans in Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel (2006); and by the search for political histories - Friends from the Other Side (1993) is a books in which an illicit migrant is assisted by a legitimate one.
During my time at the children's book press I worked on books like In My Family (1996) by Carmen Lomas Garza, I See the Rhythm (1998) by Toyomi Igus and Michelle Wood and From the Bellybutton of the Moon (1998) by Francisco Alarcón and MaY. The inclusion was the most important factor influencing the children's book press.
4 When I relocated to New York to work at Orchard Books and then at Lee & Low Books, I was much more at the core of the primary and profit-oriented publishing business, even within these smaller publishing houses. I have published books at Lee & Low, among them DeShawn Days (2001) by Tony Medina and R. Gregory Christie, The Pot by Juan (2002) by Nancy Andrews-Goebel and David Diaz, and The Blue Roses (2002) by Linda Boyden and Amy Córdova.
I have, for example, contributed to other essay articles on the editing of the Dilemma, Reflections and Privilege of DeShawn Day. What I learnt was that business concern and the awareness of what the smallest denominator would find bearable had a greater influence on publishing choices than I had seen in the children's press.
Also, I have recognized how my own reactions are cultural. 5In general, I found that this was reinforced by the overall nature of the publishing sector. Child publishers, both in the US and the UK, are predominantly made up of lower-level whites, bourgeois and higher-level men, which necessarily has an impact on public cognition.
The same is true of the marketing channel, as I found out when the individual purchaser of Barnes & Noble's children's books chose not to buy DeShawn Days for almost all their shops across the nation as she did not believe it would be of sufficient interest to her customers.
Institutions' perception of buyers' social and culture identity and how these purchasers can be reached all have a big influence on publication choices. John K. Young in Black Writers, White Publishers, 6Author and the academical Zetta Elliott wrote that in her article "Hot Mess" she commented on the state of the US children's publishing industry:
Criticism has been voiced about the injustice of publishing children's books for centuries, but here we are in the 21st centuries, the so-called "minority babies" who today make up the vast bulk of US birthrates, and yet 95% of the books released each year for kids are still authored by white people, and these writers find their mirror in the teams of experts who purchase, process, post and distribute these books.
7 Partly in reaction to my frustration with the publishing sector, which I found reluctant to deal intensively with these issues of empowerment and voices, I quit publishing in 2001 and turned to the Akademie, graduating with an MA in Children's Literary from the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature or NCRCL at the University of Roehampton in London, where I am now a senior associate professor.
I' ve focused more on research on the subject than on work in the sector, although as a freelancer I currently edit children's books for a Nigeria publishing house, Cassava Republic Press, and have freelanced for publishing houses such as Vezani Publishing (production of books in Southern Africa in the UK) and Safron Press (production of books using the Sikh cultural base in Canada).
8 From this auto-biographical beginning, I will now devote myself to exploring the variety and representativeness of the British children's book. It is not possible to obtain statistical data on how many children's books in the UK composed by and/or about BME (Black and Peoples' Minorities) are produced each year. Cooperative Children's Book Center produces such stats in the US, showing that out of an estimate of 5,000 books released in 2011 (of which they were given 3,400), 219 were authored by colored humans (the US term) and 300 by colored humans.
That means that about 6% of the books released were by and about colored persons, while the actual US equivalents are over 35% according to 2010 US government figures. And in London, where most British publishers are located, this number rises to almost 30%.
Talking where diversity counts: Francesca Dow, then Puffin Books Director, stated in 2006 that by 2010 one in five schoolchildren in Britain would be from dark and ethnical minorities and that publishing houses had both a morality and a funding need to minister to these youngsters.
Even though UK figures are not available, a closer look at the sector over the last decade suggests that the number of books released is far from reflective of the UK young person community and even less representational than those released in the US. The following quotations and proofs help to support this claim.
10 In December 2003, the Arts Council England conducted a consultative study on children's books which showed that "there is a wide perception of "a shortage of variety in children's books, particularly in relation to contents, language origin, culture and race, read ages and format" (Davidson). The Sandeep Mahal of Reading Partnership presented this theme at the London Book Fair 2009.
Mahal says the biggest temptation for a library is to get the books that BME readership wants. Whole groups of individuals whose histories are not available because the publishing houses do not make them public. Writer Malaika Rose Stanley comments on this in a biodiversity-related article in the blog: 12 In fact, there are some British publishing houses that concentrate on publishing books that reflect variety.
Lincoln is a mid-sized publishing house dedicated to this field, publishing books such as Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch's Amazing Grace in 1994 and Na'ima B. Robert's From Somalia with Love in 2009. Unfortunately, Frances Lincoln was acquired by London-based co-editor Quarto in August 2011, and as a consequence they have shut down their publishing house for young adults (Y.A.), which will reduce their contributions in this area.
Another publishing house that concentrates on multi-cultural and multi-lingual children's books (published in 35 languages), Mantra Lingua is another, although many of her books are bilingual copies of books by other publishing houses, such as the best-selling The Very Hungry Caterpillar (originally released in 1969) by Eric Carle. 13 It is important to bear in mind that both Frances Lincoln and Mantra Lingua are small to medium-sized independently owned publishing houses.
Major majors like Random House and Penguin are publishing books with different character. It was an independant publishing house dedicated to publishing books that reflect UK blacks and variety in general. Verna Wilkins was founded in 1989 to address the shortage of books that reflect the experience of her son. Used by Random House in 2007, Dr. Tamaind continues to be published under the name Impress.
You might wonder if Random House actually wanted to adjust and learnt from this small publishing house, or if it just wanted to incorporate the legal notice into its current models. Other Random House publications include Malorie Blackman (the only best-selling UK writer of books for kids who has over 50 books for kids of all ages) and Bali Rai, the beloved British-Asian writer of Y.A. books (Un)Arranged Matrimony (2001) and Killing Honour (2011), among others.
A number of major publishing houses, such as Penguin and Random House, have initiated variety commissions, some of which may have been a reaction to the creation of DIPNet, theiversity in publishing network. Founded in 2004, DIPNet was financed by the Arts Council England and finally administered by the Book Trust, but in 2012 the City University London took over and the name was renamed Equip:
Equal rights in publishing (still financed by the Arts Council England). The DIPNet Charter has established an Equity Charter which requires subscribing publishing houses to undertake a number of equal opportunities activities or campaigns each year. As in the US publishing sector, a crucial factor in UK pluralism and children's publishing has to do with the industry's employees.
UK publishing (for kids and adults) has an extreme low level of ethnical differentiation in the number of staff, and this percentage diminishes further when we look at the editors who select the text to be published. According to an article in The Bookseller 2007, the UK's UK publishers, the UK's Variety in Publishing Network conducted a poll, "which found that less than 4% of those working in publishing editing and management positions within the publishing sector belong to minority groups, and the predominant view of [the] publishing sector is that it is the white mid-tier that dominates" (Davies).
It' also hard to get a publishing career. "Full Colour" was a story published as a supplement in The Bookseller: 15 In addition, the starting remuneration is low and often professional practice is needed to get a foothold in the business - in other words, the youngster must be able to make a living on low wages in order to make himself known and seen in the sector.
And all these things make it harder for individuals to get into the business if they don't have either child support or relationships. Nowadays, the shortage of staff has a huge effect on the type of books we produce, from the taste of each editor to the perception and processes of distribution and advertising.
Malorie Blackman said in an essay in The Guardian, 16From this overview, that it makes good sense to move on to the perspective of several writers and performers, mostly from the BME background, who are currently producing and editing children's books in the UK. In this section, I would like to introduce the voice of those who work in the sector and produce the books, and gather local views on children's publishing and variety.
To counter act the mid-market whiteness that is generally mirrored in the publishing sector, I have deliberately used individuals from different background to collect alternate comments on the sector. Both of the major resources are a round table debate in February 2012 and authors' reviews conducted in November 2011.
On 8 February 2012 I worked with the Runnymede Trust, an organization focused on UK and European biodiversity, and Pop Up, a school and local authority program and literature festivals, to organize a round table debate. 14 publishers, illustrated writers and cartoonists took part in this event: It was our goal to collect awareness about publishing among others among kids and variety, and while the interview was far-reaching, we summarized the most important relevant commentaries and questions posed as follows:
Importance for kids to be able to read books with either blacks or Asiatic fonts, and even greater importance for BME kids when they find out that an writer is not necessarily whites; restricted publishing perspective - publishing houses want to release only one copy of a particular story with a blacks (or other ethnically minority) bias at a given moment.
There were concerns about biotyping and books that focus on topics (such as bonds or forcible marriages). There' s the notion that books should not have too many themes on one side, but the notion that books with multi-ethnic character are sometimes urged to be too thematic; it seems afraid to show a non-traditional inner stance, such as a Afghanistan story narrated from the perspective of a Taliban member; letter "from the heart" can be efficient.
Being able to compose on the basis of one's own culture can allow a novel to really be resonant; at the same moment, humans want to be able to compose /illustrate about anything they want, not just about their own race or culture-identification. I sent a questionnaire to ten British writers from different ethnical and religions, including those on the authors' own stories that were released, their perception of multiplicity and children's books that were released in the UK.1 Their answers help to further deepen the issues addressed at the Round Table.
Have you felt that your culture has influenced your publishing experience? Sita Brahmachari, for example, writer of the Y.A. novel Artichoke Hearts (2011), said: "I believe that different personalities and histories that reflect a varied community are wanted by editors for young people. "Of those who felt that their backgrounds had a beneficial influence on the publication, some rated their answer.
Comments Sarwat Chadda, Autor des Y.A. Romans Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress (2012), kommentierte : And I think it was remarkable useful because I think I am bringing a different point of view than the (typically) white-bourgeois point of view that is the publication standard. Publishing houses are always looking for new votes and getting out of the stream is a big benefit in this case.
On the contrary, my whole goal is to expand the attractiveness of East scenes and ethnical personalities and make them part of the primarystream instead of just preaching for converts. 20 The issue of the degree to which an writer appeals to a minor group in relation to a general public is an important area of conflict.
It also shows an interest in barrier-free living and ensures that its books are attractive and comprehensible to a wide public. One of the things proposed in this quotation is that an writer must stay away from reference or plot that is considered too alien to the primarystream. "These questions raise the issue of what kinds of story are released and how it is possible for singular, subtle and alternate votes to have acces to the release.
21 Another respondent was the Indian Cynthia Leitich Smith, writer of the Y.A. novel Tantalize (2007), who followed a similar stance in the US, albeit with perhaps a slightly different intention. It has moved from Indian story telling to more "commercial" books containing different personalities, which is responsible for the change in this way, I have withdrawn momentarily from Indian protagonist work.
22 Realistically, this is perhaps the most efficient way to diversify the books produced by most major children's publishing houses, although it is difficult to allow a variety of votes and presentations. Whilst many publishing professionals claim that they would like to have more different writers and books released, they are working in an enterprise-wide, profit-oriented environment.
We have a increasing emphasis on the production of "commercial" books, especially for teenagers. The writers who can work in this way, while also incorporating more varied personalities and points of view, could move things forward well and provide a business case for books with BME personalities and histories. Malorie Blackman is the only one whose books are on the bestseller lists.
These books are grounded in a high conceptual level (racial relationships inverted in a kind of concurrent universe) - and are composed in a commercially paging mantra. 24 Another writer expressed her concern when asked how her story had influenced her publishing experience. A Nest of Vipers (2008), Catherine Johnson, writer of the mid-range novel, commented: "Sometimes my books... are seen as "only for read by black/ethnic minorities", which I would describe as untrue.
" As one of the anonymized interviewees said, "Publishers seem to believe that books that have been created by or about "people of color" are only for color and, according to a recent e-mail to my agents from my publisher, "will only work at a certain standard. "25The notion that books with BME characteristics will only be of interest to kids with this backdrop is a recurrent theme in many debates and one I have been faced with in my work as an author.
Clearly, this is not the same thing for books with blank letters. It is another sensitive issue, as the forecasts are often predicated on the publisher's past experiences with selling books. Commenting further on this, Catherine Johnson said in the Bali Rai-led variety blogs post: "26Johnson points out that the low number of books released is part of the issue - there is not enough to test their real upside.
It also raises the questions of how strongly a publishing company advertises a particular product and how marketing can work. Quote Johnson from the musical industries, which have changed significantly, showing that there can be a large audience for different community types of work. My argument would be that there is a similarly undeveloped UK audience - both in relation to the openness of the general public to more varied storytelling and to a large number of young BME-backed BME readers who would want to buy books (text or digital) if there were more books with a much wider spectrum of experience and storytelling, and if publishing houses were exploring alternative forms of marketing and selling.
27 While it is important for BME -background kids to see themselves as kids in the books they are reading, it is just as important for young adults with other background to see kids who are different from themselves, and not only in themed books that concentrate on racial or ethnic differences.
Bishop articulates the powerful theoretical books that act both as a mirror and a window in her powerful essays entitled Reflections, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors. "If there are enough books that can serve as a mirror and window for all our kids, they will see that we can be celebrating both our difference and our commonalities, because together they are what makes us all human" (Sims Bishop).
Publishing houses, as mentioned earlier, often answer an emerging writer by saying that they already embrace "diversity" through the work of an already released writer - and that can often be a writer in black and white written on multi-cultural topics such as Elizabeth Laird or Beverly Naidoo. Over the years I have moved to the idea that it is important for all human beings to include variety in their books, even those who write outside their own backgrounds.
It' s important to make original personalities, not to resort to a stereotype as it is to tell a good tale. However, there is a danger that a narrative that has been authored by a writer from the whites will be more convenient for an editorial writer and readers from the whites. 29An unnamed writer said on this point: "There are many publications with people from other lands - but many of them do not have the true nature of actual cultures behind them because they are composed by outside people (tourists) who impose their own cultures on the people.
": 31 I would suggest that while the story of racial and migratory phenomena in Britain is different from that in the US, some of these same tendencies remain - the wish to produce more traditional and convenient stories that do not address awkward and complicated racial and political issues.
This all has an effect on which story and which author are selected for publishing. Given that the children's publishing sector employs a large proportion of whites writers (Catherine Johnson explained that she could come up with two blacks or Asians in the Bali Rai blog discussion), I believe that this would benefit whites writers who write variety storytelling, especially if they are already entrenched.
32 It is important to recall that there are UK-based publishing houses that are committed to this. Lincoln is known for publishing books by different writers that mirror different histories and experience. Writer of the novel The Hen in the Oven (2012), written by the medium-sized business community, she is a young female Moslem national.
Said in the interviewer that I don't think I would have made my first medium-sized volume if it hadn't been for my crazy "cultural" experience in Britain and Algeria. I was tired of Muslims being poorly or not at all present in their fictions, so I was looking for an active editor to encourage the reader to think beyond prejudices).
In 34Savita Kalhan, writer of the Y.A. novel The Long Weekend (2008), this concept of a stereotyped image was discussed in a different way. Up to now I have only been writing a history in which the main character are British Asians. It seems to me that the editors refused this publication on the basis that it did not "positively represent" India's cultural and social life.
35That puts squeeze on an writer who would not be there to represent "white culture" - and leaves the reader with the feeling that a novel should be a reflection of a general experiential one. 36That takes us back to Malorie Blackman's previous quote about the publishing sector; that to really make a distinction in the books we publish, there has to be more variety in the workforce.
Such dependence on a stereotype is more likely if those who purchase and sell the books are not more diverse (in breed, grade or region). The foundation has already supported an internship to place BME employees with publishing houses, but this no longer applies. This would require a dedication and deliberate modification of publishers' recruitment practice to alter their workforce demography, recognising that they could broaden their markets by reaching a wider readership.
37 Finally, I asked respondents how they felt about the latest state of publication and variety in the UK. Here are some quotes: "The general perception was that the character in books and publications were still dominant in whites, although some respondents were more upbeat than others. As Leila Rasheed, writer of the 2008 novel Chips, Beans and Limousines (2008), said, I think children's science fiction in Britain was very much white until recently - you'd look at the bookcases and hardly see non-British titles.......
Humans with blended or second or third generations have the self-confidence to compose, and it is not only about problem books about racial or cultural issues, but also about fantasies, adventures - all types of story. 40 These commentaries suggest that some believe that the picture is getting better, and that there are more books with different personalities that have been created by writers with different background than there once were.
Most, however, said that there was still a shortage of books and that the publishing sector could do more to enhance the variety and representativeness of books made. I would like to concentrate on some "good practices", such as new variety and representational activities in children's publishing in the UK and areas where I see the greatest room for improvements.
Center for the children's book. This prize is awarded to a medium-sized script that pays tribute to rich culture in the broadest possible way, whether in relation to its history or the ethnical and culture background of its writer. So far there have been three prizes and Janetta Otter-Barry, Frances Lincoln's journalist, has ordered or edited eight books by submitted authors.
Interesting to see if the variety in the jury will lead to a more varied winner in 2013. The 43Puffin Books and Commonword (a write evolution organisation located in Manchester ) also launched a competition in 2012. Commonword Children's Data Protection Award is the highlight of a fortnight-long Commonword scriptwriting workshops in Manchester and an yearly master class for aspiring authors, supported by Puffin and Rogers Coleridge & White, who have the ability to write children's fictions for kids from 7+ to teenagers.
Winners must accept ethnical variety either through their own race and cultures and/or through letter typing and will be awarded a 500 pound money award, professionally supervised and 100 pound puffin books. 44 Quotations from her advertising materials further underline the necessity of such a price. According to Shannon Park, editor-in-chief of Puffin Books literary works, "As an editorial staff at Britain's largest children's publishing house, I'm always looking for thrilling new votes for Puffin's Liste.
I have always had a problem with the shortage of different playwrights and personalities - our homes and our societies are so much more varied than the present children's books fair might suggest. RCW's children's books mediator, Catherine Pellegrino, continues: "As a children's books mediator who lives in one of the world's most cultureally varied towns, I noticed that there was a gulf in the children's books fellowship; in the playwrights I represented, in the playwrights who were released, and consequently in the books we can provide for our kids to enjoy reading, books that should reflect our wealth of culture, but so often not.
Discussing this topic with Commonword and Puffin Books is an extremely interesting experience and I am sure that together we will discover inventive and gifted newcomers. 45 Both people working within the incumbent publishing sector recognise the limited variety of contributors and the books they publish and the need to correct this inequality.
Both Frances Lincoln and Puffin are committed to this topic by co-financing these prizes. Lincoln has released several books submitted for the award, which hopefully will also be the case with Puffin Books. Also, the commonword award's mental coaching approach is useful and offers budding writers the chance to build their work.
It' s interesting that neither price means that the writer has to come from a BME-history. While working for Lee & Low Books in the USA, I won the New Voices Awards in my first year. Founded in 2000, this distinction is for a storybook script of a color gate that has not yet released a storybook.
In my opinion, the requirement that author contributions must originate from colours was critical to really winning different votes, and on the basis of the earlier commentaries on a possible distortion of publishing in relation to books author ed by whites, I would regard that as a good thing to be added to British initiative.
" There are still awards, such as the Orange Prize, which only applies to female writers, and I see a genuine reason why this should also be done in children's books. 47 Based on my experiences in working with multi-cultural publishing and the research I have done in this area, I have thought about how I could become more engaged in making a difference and working for changes.
At first I thought about the idea of developing workshop sessions to be held in publishing house newsrooms to look at the editor's reactions subjectively to text and also to consider the broader range of pressure from institutions and its effects on variety and publication. But with the growing focus on business acumen and my sense that few publishers are interested in fundamentally changing the current situation, I have looked for alternatives where I see the greatest upside.
48 As I said earlier, I have worked with individual people who start or publish their own publishing houses (such as Cassava Press in Nigeria, Safron Press in Canada, Vezani Publishing in the UK and Wendy Hue, who has released her own novel about a Nigerian young man moving to England, Tópé arrives (2011)).
There is much greater room for new voice provision as new technology enables individuals to post their own works and share them in digital form over the intranet. Although there are promotional and sales issues, there are still opportunities for major publishing houses to be dominant. A lot of bookshops do not stock self-edited books, and many educators and library staff buy books from incumbent dealers or buy books basing on review (from critics and dealers who do not stock self-edited books).
So, although there is great individual growth in publishing their own works, this itinerary still poses major barriers to reaching a large audience. 49 I was particularly emboldened by the Pop Up initiative, a business start-up scheme to involve kids, young adults and family members through literacy and storytelling launched in 2011.
Headquartered in northern London, it has concentrated on working in local churches and colleges that are often under-represented in books, and on unrivalled festival and literature outings. In 2011 I worked with the Pop Up team, and we had some discussions about the development of a new publishing arm for the venture, although for various things this cooperation is not progressing at the present time.
In my opinion, there is a genuine partnership opportunity between community-based organizations that work with kids and those that want to make more varied material available to young adults - in printed and electronic form. Because I believe that new technology and distribution channels for "books" will fundamentally change young people's approach to and reading of text, it might be useful to work with individuals from the musical and gaming industry to think about how to better engage a wider audience.
So far, I haven't been too much taken aback by the publishing industry's reaction to this change, although there are some publishing houses that are leading the way (like Nosy Crow or Winged Chariot in the development of books apps). However, publishing houses generally appear to be reacting slowly to technology change and remain tied to stationery and print-based text.
50 It is difficult to see how publishing will evolve. However, I believe that the current state of affairs will ultimately be improved with new technology and means of bringing books out, even self-publishing, together with changes in demographics as the populace becomes more varied. The major publishing houses may be abandoned if they do not go beyond thought in relation to short-term gains and their perception of the markets and begin to take into account a wider audience and new ways of achieving them.
The ones who will be successful will be those who are looking for ways to commission and produce books/stories outside the majorstream publishing sector, using new technology with a genuine opportunity to change the publishing environment forever.