With spring comes book festival season and I’m a huge lover of any celebration of books. Here in Southern California the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is one of the biggest festivals around with an estimated 150,000 festival goers, according to the LA Times FOB website. It is a perfect place to be introduced to up and coming authors as well as seeing your old favorites. I attend every year ready to listen to authors speak on panels, get autographs, and of course, spend lots of cash. However this year, as many friends pointed out, there seemed to be a lack of “color” shall we say. I like to go to panels with authors of color to support them, but this year I only went to 2 panels (would have been a third, but scheduling conflict) and while there were a number of interesting YA panels, I chose not to attend them because the diversity in the panel was glaringly absent. I also did not see publishers pushing any of their authors of color and that made me extremely sad. There were some authors of color there signing books, but the ratio of authors of color to white authors was disappointing. Now, I do know that YallWest was the following weekend and there was more of a balance in terms of signage and panels, but even then, more books by authors of color were not pushed.
So what do I mean by being “pushed”? I’m talking about giveaways, signage, call to action items, etc. I saw very little pushing for authors of color at LAFOB, and there was some push at YallWest*. At both festivals, publishers were giving ARC’s, holding raffles, etc for authors and unfortunately between both festivals only about 4 books by authors of color were promoted in such a manner. Why is that? Why were more not given the push? Why didn’t publishers/publicists push for more authors of color to participate in panels at the LAFOB? A number of the best sellers were represented, which is great, but what about everyone else? What about the debuts by mid-level authors? What about sophomore novels by authors of color?
Book festivals are the perfect opportunity for publishers to expose readers to different voices and promote authors of color to a wider audience. Book festivals also give teens of color a chance to meet authors who look like them, maybe even inspire future writers. I’ll never forget the look on a former student’s face when I introduced him to Jason Reynolds at YallWest last year. His eyes lit up at the fact that he was meeting a cool looking author of color just like him. I encourage my students to attend both LAFOB and YallWest in the hope that they get to meet their favorite authors, as well as meet new authors, specifically authors of color. I can’t imagine I’m the only teacher to do so. In fact, last year at YallWest, there were buses of teens, specifically teens of color, at the event. That was the perfect opportunity for publishers to push their authors of color, as we know that when teens love a thing, they really love a thing, and will spend money. I understand that publishing is a business, but as Disney found out, when you actively make your product more diverse and push diversity, you will make more money. So, I have a plea for publishers – please put more money and effort in promoting your authors of color. There is a hungry market out there for diverse titles, you publishers just have to go find them, and trust me, you will not be disappointed when you do.
*Disclaimer – I was unable to attend YallWest due to reasons, but I had a friend attend and give me the scoop.