Posts Tagged libraries

Diversity in MG Lit #17 Equity for Black books and their creators

It’s my goal with these posts to shine a light on new diverse books for young readers at the middle grade level. It’s a regular feature on the Mixed Up Files Blog because the disparity in attention that diverse books receive is an ongoing problem. Recent events, however, call for a more systemic look at racism as it exists within the children’s book industry.
I have been writing for the last 25 years and have had published work for the last 11 years. In that time I’ve met people at all levels of the publishing and bookselling industries. Across the board I’ve found kind folks with good intentions. There has been an awareness of the inequalities in the industry as far back at the 1920s or 30s. Efforts have been made over the last hundred years, and yet time after time they have come woefully short of anything that looks like equality.
Rather than cast blame I’d like to look at the retail side of the equation and a handful of concrete ways all of us can make book sales grow, especially for POC authors & illustrators. It’s not the entire solution, but one sure way to make more money available for Black authors is to make books more available to Black families. Here are a half dozen steps you can take to do right by authors of color.
  1. Buy your books from Black-owned bookstores. Here’s a list of them by state. If there’s one near you, please become a regular customer. If not order from one once in a while and have them ship the books to you.
  2. Support Indie bookstores. Most new voices are first discovered and promoted by indie booksellers. Indie bookstores are a venue for book events for local authors not given a publisher-sponsored tour. And indie bookstores selling books at their cover price are the ones that give an author their full royalty. Those venues on line or elsewhere that offer discounts on books are giving the author less in royalty. Royalties are what make it possible for an author to continue writing.
  3. Donate to BINC. BINC is the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. They provide assistance to booksellers which helps them stay open in the face of difficulty. The assistance includes help with serious medical expenses, eviction prevention, funeral expenses, disaster assistance, domestic violence survival, utility shut-off prevention, and many other things. Donate here. Every little bit helps, especially now when so many book stores are struggling.
  4. Read books from Small Presses. Even the big publishers agree that the most daring and diverse books come out of small, independent, regional, and university presses. If you are a librarian, especially one on a book award committee, please give equal attention to the small press gems from Amistad, Just Us Books, Cinco Punto, Orca, Charlesbridge, Lee & Low, Enchanted Lion, Lerner, , and the many others listed here.
  5. Get involved in small business politics  If I could wave a magic wand I’d love to give every neighborhood and town it’s own vibrant independent bookstore. Sadly many people live in a book desert. If that’s your community, spend some time at your town’s council meetings. Ask the local small business association what you can do to bring a bookstore to town, The American Booksellers Association has a small business issues section that offers, state-by-state some suggestions for advocacy for bookstores. This kind of advocacy can be boring and feel far removed from the heat of the moment but if we want Black businesses to flourish in the future we have to lay the groundwork for it now.
  6. Use and promote your public library. Librarians are often at the forefront of advocating for diverse books. If your local library is not as inclusive as you’d like, The American Library Association has materials to help a library conduct a self audit and take steps to diversify the books on the shelf. If the books on your state reading lists and battle of the books lists are not reflecting Black lives, speak up. Librarians choose those lists; they need to hear from you. If they’ve consistently done a good job of serving the Black community—give them that feedback too. Help your library by using it regularly, requesting Black-authored books regularly, and supporting it with your votes when the library levy is on the ballot.
  7. Advocate for a full time teacher-librarian in every public, private, and charter school. Librarians pay a key role in introducing young readers to diverse voices. They also support diverse authors by buying their books. Show up at school board meetings. Pay attention to how school funding is allocated. Make sure there is always budget for diverse books and the librarians who support them.
  8. Most important of all–Vote. Vote in every election, especially the local ones. Be a well-informed voter, drawing your information from a variety of sources. Be a passionate voter, advocating for free access to the ballot box for all. Speak up when voting abuse happens. And always, always, keep in mind the readers you serve as a parent, teacher, librarian or bookseller. Serve not just your immediate interest but their long term benefit.

Behind the Collection Development Curtain: De-mystifying Library Book Buying

The MG fiction section of the Ronald H. Roberts Temecula Public Library

Earlier this year, Publisher’s Weekly published the experience of an author who was frustrated in his attempts to get his local library to buy his book. The author, who published with an academic press, looked at the library as a way to sell a few extra copies. For writers of kidlit, libraries play a far more vital role in that they are one of the few ways to directly reach our audience.

So, how does your book get into libraries? Like so many things in publishing, the answer is subjective. It depends on the library. However, as is also the case in publishing, there are a few things that you can do to improve your chances.

Make sure that your book is available through our vendors. Like any government entity, libraries work with a list of approved vendors. The three major vendors for libraries are Brodart, Baker & Taylor, and Ingram. If your book is available through these three companies, it makes it a lot easier for your local library to purchase your title. There have been titles that authors have sent to me that would have been a great addition to the library’s collection, but because the book was only available through the author’s website or Amazon, I couldn’t purchase it.

Reviews, patron requests, and word-of-mouth help to guide purchasing decisions. LitReactor published a reaction piece to the Publisher’s Weekly article with great advice for authors about interacting with libraries. The main takeaway was that libraries don’t serve the interests of the collection development librarian — (if they did, my library would only have spooky middle-grade books). Libraries serve the interests of their community, which is where reviews come in handy. From professional journals like School Library Journal and Booklist to crowd sourced review sites like Goodreads, reviews tell librarians about the book and about the reactions we can expect from patrons. Many librarians also follow book blogs and BookTube to gauge patron interest. Some libraries even have policies that prohibit them from buying books that have not been reviewed by a professional source.

Word-of-mouth means that our patrons will hear about your book and request it. Patron requests help to drive purchasing decisions because if a book is requested, librarians know that at the very least, the requester will check out the book without staff having to hand-sell it to patrons. And don’t request your own book as a patron. In this case, you’re attempting to sell your book to your libraries. (After all, you’ve read your book, you’re probably not going to check it out to read it again.)

About Advanced Readers Copies and donated copies. Librarians love ARCs. They help us gauge how excited the publisher is about a book but sending librarians ARCs doesn’t guarantee that a librarian will read it. It definitely doesn’t guarantee that the book will be added to the collection. More often than not, ARCs end up as giveaways and prizes for our patrons. You would be better served getting those ARCs into the hands of reviewers.

Similarly, donated copies often meet the same fate or are sold in book sales. Even though the book may be free, there is still a cost to process it (all the stickers, labels, adding the book to the online catalog). Often, this type of processing is handled by the vendor, which goes back to my earlier point of making sure that your book is available through those vendors.

Some libraries offer local author collections, and donated copies will sometimes make their way into those collections if you are a local author or the book holds particular local interest.

A short note on formats and covers. Most libraries purchasing kidlit want to purchase hardcover copies because they’ll be able to be checked out more. They are more visible than paperbacks, which tend to either get destroyed after only a few checkouts or lost in the shelves. Also, a professional-looking cover is a big plus. Librarians must judge a book by its cover because we know that our patrons will too.

So, what’s the best way to get your book into libraries? Just like in publishing, the answer is research. Research the library’s collection development policy. Research the community. Find the best way to contact the collection development librarian with the pertinent information about your book, including a pitch, reviews, and the ISBN. If your book fits our community’s needs (and our budget), there’s a good chance we will buy it.

This article is reprinted from SCBWI ProInsider.

A Fond Farewell

Once upon a time, there was a school librarian who retired to care for aging family and to celebrate books and reading outside the classroom.

Along with some middle grade writer folks, she had time to create her dream of many years: a regional history resource site for MG teachers and their students.

She sought other ways to celebrate reading, too, and when the perfect opportunity to cheer about books for her favorite age-range arose at From The Mixed Up Files, she jumped at the chance to join in.

She met many wonderful people and rejoiced in the new ways she could be a cheerleader for children’s literature. It was an honor to help to build the team and make things hum there, too.

Time passed, and things changed. The history website became the children’s imprint of the publishing company she had inherited from her father, and her path was clear. The school invited her back to work on making the library collection, system, and spaces better. Celebrating books had a different face for her once more, and it was time to bid farewell to this particular Middle Grade home.

I’ve had a wonderful time in this vibrant community of kidlit champions. I look forward to seeing what’s next for From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors.

Happy reading!