This week The Brown Bookshelf and the Highlights Foundation announced the inaugural Storyteller Cohort for their Amplify Black Stories initiative. And if you look reeeaaallly close at the image there you’ll see me! In company with 23 other Black writers of kidlit! It’s a wall of Black Excellence! And I’m so honored to be part of it.
The program is focused on supporting Black storytellers, confronting industry challenges, and fostering change. In addition the work the storytellers are doing, the Brown Bookshelf and Highlights will be conducting seminars and talks with the publishers involved with the same goals. It’s really important that all the work isn’t put on authors since we’re not the ones with the marketing departments and ability to allocate marketing funds.
When I applied to be in this program, they asked why we were interested in writing for children. I admitted that, at first, it was because I happened upon a novel idea that turned out to be a middle grade book. But before I settled in to write my own, I read a boatload of MG books. And after I was done and ready to query, I went looking for more for comps. All this reading and searching made me realize how few middle grade novels there are with Black protagonists that aren’t “issue” books.
I know the importance of books that address issues Black kids face; I also know how important it is to have books where Black kids can see themselves having adventures, or wielding magic, or getting to be joyful. We need way more of this on the shelves. I’m now invested in doing my part in making that happen. I want to support other Black writers doing the same and I want to do whatever is necessary to ensure publishing companies don’t overlook their books.
In several BIPOC writer spaces I’m in we have had multiple conversations about what factors make a book successful beyond it being a great book. Number one is marketing. Too often books by Black and other marginalized authors don’t get enough juice from the marketing department or that department doesn’t know how to market specifically to audiences outside the assumed mainstream. It often falls on the creators to do this work, which is hard when you don’t have the power and connections of a marketer (yet individual BIPOC creators are blamed all the time for an under-marketed book failing). I’m hoping the Amplify Black Voices program is going to help us break this vicious cycle.
They already have a key ingredient worked out: Community. I’ve said it before and will continue to say it forever and ever–community is so important to writers and other creatives. I’m looking forward to creating a tight community of support and celebration with my cohort. We’re all going to learn together, apply what we learn to our careers, share it with our other communities, and sell more and more books that reflect our realities and desires and hopes. WOOOOT!
A big thank you to The Brown Bookshelf and the Highlights Foundation for this program and the opportunity to take part.