Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

We Need Diverse Books, One Year Later

One year ago, We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) started with a hashtag. The hashtag, which later became the nonprofit’s name, was part of a tweet exchange about the lack of diversity at last year’s BookCon.

Last Friday, one year later, I was able to attend the We Need Diverse Books panel at Book Expo America. It celebrated its anniversary by hosting three panels at the very event they originally protested: one panel during the third day of BEA and one on each day of BookCon.

The panelists on Friday included WNDB President Ellen Oh, VP of Communications Lamar Giles, and authors/advisory board members Linda Sue Park, Matt de la Peña, and Tim Federle. The panelists were equal parts entertaining and informative while talking about the current state of diversity in publishing and how to improve it even more for the future.

We Need Diverse Books has come a long way in just one year. “I feel like we’ve sort of empowered a lot of editors to be able to go into the acquisitions meetings and be like ‘hey, there’s an audience for this stuff now’” Giles said, also noting that many publishing houses have approached them about working together.

Currently, WNDB is working on a few new initiatives, including an award to recognize diverse children’s authors called the Walter Dean Myers Award and five internship grants to encourage diversity at publishing houses.

A big emphasis of Friday’s panel was to encourage publishing’s gatekeepers to provide children with all the options, meaning books by and about characters of different races, abilities, cultures, and more. de la Peña refers to this approach as also, not instead. “Whether you’re a writer, a publisher, a bookseller, a librarian, you want choice and variety for the readers you are trying to reach. More choice is better!” Park added. “It’s good for business.”

The group also has some goals for the future. de la Peña mentioned possibly creating a diverse summer reading list that they could then give media like The New York Times and NPR to help them formulate their lists.

According to Federle, “The minute we have a true breakout book that features diversity – a true breakout, like a Top 10 Book of the Year – that to me is going to be the critical mass moment.”

Until that moment, We Need Diverse Books is a necessary resource to help readers discover new voices and encourages anyone else who discovers great diverse voices to share them with everyone they know.

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