One Way to Stand Up Against Whitewashing

Publishing, like most industries, is extremely imitative of past successes. Said imitation drove the fantasy boom of the early 2000s, the vampire boom that followed that, the paranormal and wimpy-kid booms that have followed that. Why? Each big success proved there was a sizable market for such books, and then publishers rushed to sign up books to serve that market, or to create covers that played to that market -- quite often nearly duplicating the covers that inspired the original boom.

So, if you're upset about whitewashing or the proportional lack of authors of color in the industry, here's one of the most useful things you as book-buyers or -bloggers could do to change the situation: Make a huge success. All of you get together and pick a book, new in hardcover or new in paperback, with a protagonist of color on the front cover. (Note: The book chosen cannot be a book that's already won major awards or by an author who's already a major-award-winner/famous, because the resulting success would be attributed to those reasons, not protagonist-of-color-on-the-cover reasons.)

Then everyone buy this book, all the same week, from stores that report to the New York Times bestseller list. The IndieBound or Publishers Weekly bestseller lists would be great as well. And get your friends or family members to buy it too. Get every reader you know. (Note this may require pre-ordering the book from your local bookstore to be sure they have it in stock. All the better: The book will be sure to get that bookseller's attention.)

Get the book on said bestseller list. (It may take a few weeks of sustained book-buying to make this happen; the link above explains why.) I've seen the kidlitosphere come together and do amazing things; I don't doubt this is possible.

Ideally, do it again a few weeks later with a protagonist of a different color.

And then do it again one more time, or as many times as necessary. Making this project a regular kidlitosphere event, like the Reading Challenges or the Blog Blast Tours, would be fantastic.

And then every editor* in future who wants to acquire a book by an author of color or put a protagonist of color on the cover of a book will have solid numerical support that says "These books and these covers WORK." And then we can do more of them, and pay their authors more, and get bigger marketing budgets, and all those good things. The very worst thing that can happen here is that some deserving author gets a lot more attention and book sales, and I don't think anyone will object to that.

(* I haven't had any negative experiences with this myself: Every time I've wanted to do either of these things, I've had Scholastic's full support. But I've been following the stories with interest.)

I apologize preemptively to anyone who says, "Of course there's a market for these books -- I'm a person of color, and I'm the market, dammit!" Many of us editors are genuinely trying to publish books for you, and your flaunting your power here could make a huge difference in that effort. And obviously, there are a lot of pieces to this conversation -- getting submissions from authors of color; matching those submissions to the right editor; having sympathetic editors available; finding the right places to market and sell the books; encouraging readers and adult-book-buyers to cross color lines in buying books -- and I'm in no way saying this would address all of it. This is just ONE piece that would help those of us who are interested in these issues within the industry move the ball forward.

Thanks to all of you for supporting these books.