Well, it has been one year since I self-published my Children’s book: Joshua’s Amazing Gift. It was released in June 2016. One of eleven books published by members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in 2016. My first post on this topic Diversity and Inclusion in Children’s literature, explained my frustration when I searched for books for my son and learned how few books that feature diverse characters there are. I set a goal for myself. My goal was to increase the number of books with diverse characters. Over time, I have received several recommendations from people who read my first post: One of the more interesting recommendations was for African folk stories. I have found these stories open another trove of content, not generally coming out of the United States.
When I started working on the book, it was projected by one of the presenters at a “Meet-up” I attended that the number of books featuring African American characters published in 2016 would stay flat at around 11% for the year. However, a University of Wisconsin study found that the number of books published in 2016 by African American Authors that featured African America characters stood at just 7.6%. In comparison,
the number of books featuring white characters was 73.3%. The trend for other ethnic groups was similarly situated.
The bias extends beyond ethnicity. Gender bias is another area we should raise our awareness of. According to an article written by Janice McCabe of Florida State University, this gender bias even surfaces in books where the main characters are animals. Male characters appear 23% of the time compared to 7.5% female.
The point is that there is a lot of opportunity for authors and illustrators to create stories that reflect the market we live in. Self-publishing has two big roles. It definitely requires you to act creatively and use your business sense.
The artist in me has been honored by the amount of positive feedback I’ve received from parents and children. For example, one little boy taught his class the songs in Joshua’s Amazing Gift. Another little boy listens to the eBook version over and over so he can learn to read along. There was even a budding editor who was trying to work out a grammar issue. It was a nuanced verse of a song. I am impressed with the idea that someone so young was thinking of that. Reading live to children has also been encouraging. Schools and libraries often hold “Author Days,” when an author comes to visit and reads to the children, then offers their book for sale to parents. The other area that the children’ book industry is very reliant on is book reviews. You can pay to have book reviews completed. It’s an important thing to consider as a self-publisher.
The entrepreneur role has been much more of a challenge. I appreciate the roles sales, marketing, finance and technical functions play in organizations. Whether you navigate the riddles of social media or hear the hard pangs of sales calls that go unanswered, sales and marketing is a critical but challenging task. About 20% of my sales have been to county libraries. I’ve learned that a lot of libraries want local people to request a book before they will consider it. Elementary schools generally have contracts with large book retailers and they use fundraisers to promote their book sales. This is another sales channel traditionally published authors use. Book publishing firms market their traditionally published authors using this method.
There have been some surprises. For example, I have a profound gratitude for the global community. I have received “Likes” on Facebook and retweets from around the globe. We tend to hear more about diversity in the U.S., but other parts of the world seemed just as energized about the topic.
There is an element of the Internet that is very unsavory. Some people react extremely negatively to this topic. For example, I received a tweet that stated, “Diversity Advocates like you should be burned to death.” Given this is a children’s book, and not meant to be political or controversial, I was surprised. Luckily, the amount of positive responses far outweighs the negative. In my experience, Facebook users tend to visit my author website less than the Twitter users, but the Facebook crowd seems to stay engaged longer. The conversion difference is 12:1 with Facebook and 2:1 with Twitter, the decision for where to direct marketing dollars is not straight forward. It’s critical to decide where to direct the limited resources. Then there is the finance aspect–cash flow is no joke. I have even had to defend my website against various spam attacks etc. I feel that I’ve grown as a small business owner.
Some of the responses I’ve received have stated that it shouldn’t matter what ethnic group the characters belong to-we should just have good stories. My question is: if that’s true, whyhave humans drawn pictures of things that we find beautiful and important for so long? I think because it does matter what the character looks like. If you consider everything from 18thcentury Italian paintings to Native American artifacts, the subject of the art matters. When archeologists dig up books from our time, will they see what we valued and considered beautiful? Moreover, children of my targeted age group (5-9) are learning to read and rely heavily on the pictures in the book to comprehend the story. Therefore, the characters should reflect the world they live in. Finally, I believe there are parents who are very conscious of what is poured into their children. The message of the story and the beauty of the illustrations work together to leave a powerful impression on young children.
As is the case with most things worth investing in, the goal of contributing to the world is greater than the struggle. I am going to create another story in the coming months. I am using Kickstarter to crowd-fund the production because I know there are others who feel the same way I do. Excited by another opportunity to delight the children who enjoyed the first book,we are, once again, going to provide more options to people who expect great stories that reflect our diverse world. My Kickstarter Campaign will launch at the end of July 2017. Please follow me on Facebook or my Author website if you wish to support my next project.