What kind of stories attract book publishers? Sex and tell-all sell books, or if you are an A-list celebrity, reality show star or involved in some kind of scandal, count on getting some kind of book deal. Why? Because their names, plastered in tabloids and social media, that alone can sell books. What about a normal people with no industry ties or a scandal tied to them, can they sell books? Uh, not!
What about children’s literature? What sells? Will a picture book about a cat chasing a ball is string sell more books than a picture book that teaches a child about a different country? Will the cat book sell more than a book about adoption?
What about a housewife who is not on any reality show, can her manuscript submission warrant a second look? Maybe one or two of them could hit it big, especially if it’s about vampires and warlocks. But what about if the housewife wrote about diversity, race, or being mixed-race? Maybe if she is a celebrity she can get published. But, will she be on the best seller list? Only a handful of books on diversity makes it on the best selling list. Publishers need to make money, and in their eyes, only mainstream books sell. That is why publishers hardly publish books about diversity, and because of that, authors are afraid to write them.
How many best selling books that talk about diversity, race, being mixed-race, disabilities, LGBT, adoption, multiculturalism, and other non-mainstream subjects are there? Recent articles written by CNN Reporter, Ashley Strickland and an article in the NY Times, by Walter Dean Myers talk about the lack of diversity in literature.
This is my story on the trials and tribulations I experienced in the mainstream publishing world. I wrote “I am Flippish!” while I was fighting breast cancer and going through chemo in 2007. It was St. Patrick’s day and my Filipino-Irish son proudly wore a hat that says “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” A mom told my son that he should take the hat off because he doesn’t look Irish. He was upset and asked me if he was Irish. I replied that he is half Irish and half Filipino – he is Flippish! I was very upset with the mom for saying what she said. After the incident, I looked for children’s books that talk about multicultural families at major book stores and I didn’t find any. Oh, there was a book that came close – about mixed animals. No thanks. It didn’t address the issue directly. I was disgusted by the lack of children’s books that talks about multicultural families. I immediately saw a need for a book to explain to children why they don’t look like their parent or parents. “I am Flippish!” was born — a story written exclusively to explain to my children about their mixed heritage. Later on, I shared my manuscript to my friends who can relate to my story.
After encouragement from my friends to submit my manuscript to be published because of the growing need for books about multicultural families, I finally did 2009. Little by little, the rejection letters trickled in. Here are some of my favorites:
“Thank you for your submission, the material you sent does not meet our current needs or requirements.”
“We did not feel your manuscript was something we could market at this time.”
“Your manuscript won’t resonate with the mainstream audience.”
I get it, there is no demand for a book that talks about ancestry and multiculturalism. Message received. The manuscript stayed in my filing cabinet until 2010.
Five years ago, publishers weren’t ready for a book about mixed race family that talks about why the Filipino-Irish boy doesn’t look like his fair skinned Irish American father. They only saw that it’s only about mixed race families and wouldn’t cater to their mainstream audience. When I asked my son’s teacher Eric, (who is Caucasian) to read my manuscript, he saw beyond what the publishers didn’t see. He saw a book that helps children discover and celebrate their ancestries, and teaches them about diversity, acceptance, and tolerance (his words, not mine). Eric told me that it’s too important of a story to keep to myself and I should take the bull by the horns and self-publish. What? Sacrilege! Self-publish my book? Vanity press? Really? The horror of it. Mainstream publishers scoff that self-published books don’t go beyond friends and family customers. Well, guess what, it was the best decision I ever made. “I am Flippish!” went to press in 2011. Three years later and numerous author visits and press later, I have gone beyond “friends and family.” Thanks to social media, “I am Flippish!” received a wonderful reception from teachers, parents, and children from all over the US, and recently, people in Europe such as the UK (Yes, they are fighting the same battle for more diverse books) have purchased my book.
In the past, the voices demanding more diversity in books, television, cinema, and other arts and media outlets are barely heard — a slight whisper. Now, thanks to social media, the world can come together and make one loud demand — enough to be heard. The companies who have been listening and recently jumped on the diversity wagon are Cheerios Honey Maid Coca-cola Stubhub, Old Navy, Macy’s, Banana Republic, and McDonalds, just to name a few. Television shows such as Modern Family, The Mindy Project, and Scandal are wonderful shows that celebrate diversity. Now, if we can only convince publishers to join in and publish more books celebrating diversity… Thanks to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, journalists, social media, bloggers, and communities demanding for more books that celebrate diversity, they just might do that. We hope.