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djrashn
08-19-2012, 10:22 AM
I write mostly YA and Middle-Grade fantasy. I want to publish stories with POC protags BUT...
When I walk into ALL bookstores: White. Publishers: White. Agents: White. Editors: White.
I know it's not the case 100% of the time, BUT...
With every word I type, I wonder who's going to publish this book about a black kid who's a wizard, swordsman, spy...
My current project, which is on book 2, doesn't reveal that the MC is black until book 3:cry: Part of me doesn't want it to be like this, but part of me feels like it has to be. I'm not trying to trick anyone ;) but I don't want to close any doors before they're opened. But at the same time, I don't want to sell out my own race. I was the little black boy who wanted to read about a black boy like me in fantasy books, but could never, and still can't find any. Sometimes I think, I should just put it out there in book one, but other times I think, if they don't know, they'll read the book, and then once they're hooked they'll keep reading because it won't matter.
UGH
Maybe I'm just fooling myself.
I reread my 1st book and thought it's brilliant that my MC is one of the few characters in the book who's not described, but I'm disappointed also because I want to. Nothing dramatic. Just the mention that he is a black kid.
I shouldn't have to worry about this, but...
Okay, after typing this I think I AM hiding the ball, but is it wrong? Should I be bold and just put it out there, start a new trend????
This is just one of my insecurities that has hindered my writing for years. Any thoughts????? I won't hold it against you:)

Kerosene
08-19-2012, 10:38 AM
I'll say this bluntly: When people read a book, most of the time, the MC's appear within their mind how the reader wishes them to appear like. Unless the writer updates the MC's looks, the reader will keep on reading without a clear description.

Our minds fill in the blanks, even when the have been filled previously.

I have no problem with reading about a black character. Hell, 'Who Fears Death' is about a white woman, in a black world. I had the hardest time reminding myself she was white, while telling myself all the other characters were black. (I'm white) And I enjoyed that book.

Unless your character is a strong black, those who values their root's culture, I don't think anyone will have difficulty.

As long as it doesn't feel like, "you're breaking from the norm", you will be fine.


Also, I don't know any black fantasy writers. Maybe that's the problem. ;)

kuwisdelu
08-19-2012, 08:24 PM
I'd be a bit annoyed to find out something like that in book 3. Not due to him being black specifically, but in the same way I'd be annoyed if I imagined the character with brown hair in books 1 and 2 and in book 3 it's revealed he has blond hair. And I'd probably still imagine him having brown hair anyway. So I'd put it up front in book 1.

LJD
08-19-2012, 08:54 PM
I'd be a bit annoyed to find out something like that in book 3. Not due to him being black specifically, but in the same way I'd be annoyed if I imagined the character with brown hair in books 1 and 2 and in book 3 it's revealed he has blond hair. And I'd probably still imagine him having brown hair anyway. So I'd put it up front in book 1.

Agreed. This really wouldn't work for me.

fireluxlou
08-19-2012, 08:56 PM
Unfortunately you will have to tell your readers in book 1 because the default is white.

Maryn
08-19-2012, 09:14 PM
I'm certainly less than well-read in the genre, but I'd feel cheated to realize the assumptions I'd been allowed to make for two books were incorrect.

I also find myself thinking, Damn, aren't there publishers with vested interest in diversity? Maybe we're not seeing young black wizards--or Araphahoe, or Asian, or Mexican, or wheelchair-bound--because nobody's writing them well enough yet. Your book could change that.

Maryn, who'd have bought such books for her kids

Esther_Jones
08-19-2012, 09:26 PM
You need to describe your character at the beginning of book one. No matter what he looks like, you'll break the reader's concentration and shock them more by springing the description in the third book. If the author doesn't provide a description, most people just envision the character looking kinda like themselves. I'd be upset to find out something like that in the third book, just because it is something so very basic about the character.

It'd destroy the feeling of connection the readers have to the character too. As a reader, I want to believe I've gotten to know the MC inside and out in the last two books. Finding out the image I've built of the character in my mind is completely wrong in book three would yank me out of the story.

Plus I think all characters should have the option to be influenced by their backgrounds. If you hide something like that, I'd think you're unnecessarily limiting all the very cool cultural knowledge and history the character could have access to.

I don't think having a black main character will prejudice most readers or publisher against you. Maybe the big seven publishers in NY would want an "every man", but the readers won't care. I can't imagine the smaller presses I've worked with caring either. They'd think a black MC adds uniqueness and depth to the story because it does.

Assuming that your readers won't like a black kid is like assuming they'll all be close-minded jerks. Generally the fantasy fans I've met are accepting of all kinds of people, whether real or imaginary. Look at the wild fan following for Firefly. It has two black MC's, and Zoe and Shepard Book are both total bad asses. Or there's Commander Sisko in DS9. Not books, but still very popular fantasy/scifi stories.

I say you should be bold and go for the character and the story you want to write. That book is your heart, and your blood, so make it the best you can. Ultimately, the story sells the books. If the story is great, the agent, the publisher and the readers will follow. Good luck.

Kitty Pryde
08-19-2012, 10:17 PM
I wouldn't hide it. A small percentage of YA books have protagonists of color. What if Walter Dean Meyers was too afraid to write honest stories about black kids? Or Sharon Draper? Or all the rest of the authors who do it. Instead of a few, there would be zero.

vickie p
08-20-2012, 01:30 AM
It seems that many YA agents are actually looking for MC's that are not white, so you should be playing this up, even mentioning it in your query letter. Also, Tu Books is specifically seeking fantasy/sci-fi/mystery with characters of color:

http://www.leeandlow.com/p/tu.mhtml

frimble3
08-20-2012, 01:34 AM
I say describe the kid.
If you want to write for the little black kid you were, write it! You can't be the only one waiting for your swordsman/wizard/spy.
As others have said, it's wrong to tell readers to make something up, if you're going to go "A-ha!" and spring a description on them later. Especially if, odds are, regardless of their colour, they're going to make him white.
And, if the black kid is the only one not described, what message does that tell the black reader? That they're invisible? That they're supposed to be hidden?
A compromise: why not describe him as black, and let the readers make him as black as they want?
For all the 'white readers won't read this' stuff, readers can be weird. I haven't read more than a dozen pages of 'The Hunger Games', but I've heard about the 'Rue' fuss. Apparently some people were able to ignore that dear little Rue was described as black in the book, and appalled that she was visibly black in the movie. People see what they want to see. Or, more to the point, don't see it.

mirandashell
08-20-2012, 02:16 AM
If you are going to describe people, do it up front. I absolutely hate when an author springs a description on me when I've already got a picture in my head of what the character looks like.

One of my favourite authors is Terry Pratchett. And I won't watch any films or TV programmes of his work because I don't want someone else's vision of his characters in my head.

For instance, the Duke of Ankh looks like Ken Stott in my head. That's who he is and someone deciding that another actor should play him would be totally wrong for me. It wouldn't be Vimes. So I don't watch them.

So if I had an idea of how your character looked and you sprung someone totally different on me, I'd be really pissed off.

Do descriptions as soon as possible.

mirandashell
08-20-2012, 02:17 AM
And one more thing, I don't care what colour a character is as long as he or she is a rounded character. A real person. As a reader, I'll go with them wherever they take me, colour don't make a damn difference.

All I ask is don't lecture me.

Rachel Udin
08-20-2012, 06:52 AM
http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=250672

Second post, Kitty rocked on this point. Though it won't prevent her from doing it again by mentioning it here....

And sad, but true, the default is white.

I know how you feel about not finding stories with protagonists like you. It utterly sucks. However, the industry, despite everything, has gotten a little better and more YA is accepting of PoCs (Adult not as much).

You might also want to look up Cindy Pon if you get discouraged. She's an AWer. Her story went that she had to submit it to 104? places before she got published and she was flat out told to her face that a publisher wouldn't publish her book because Chinese settings simply don't sell. She still sold and got a second book out after it. Her books, in my personal opinion, rock my socks off. Especially the first edition cover of the first book, which to be obtuse, if you can find that cover buy it over the other one! Support PoCs on covers! =P

Fight! I know it's hard, but fight. Be heartened, because I went into an indie bookstore today (after a trip--soo worth it. I think I'm addicted to that smell) and I found that there was a PoC on an Octavia Butler cover. I about died of happiness. OMG, there is a PoC on the cover. (I wanted to scream it to this section of AW instantly.) A black woman on the cover! TT And she wasn't alone. (The Barnes and Nobles wasn't like that for the same book. It had an edition without anyone on the cover. Boo.) If a PoC can make it to the cover, (which has been an issue for years) I think that you can safely write a young black man into a book and find a publisher. Especially YA.

So be brave and mention it in the first book. I have a lot of things stacked against me, too, and I'm not sure if it will get published because of those things, but remember that what we are fighting for is a generation that doesn't have to look at bookshelves and feel absolute despair. Because you know as someone from that group, you can do it better than anyone else outside of it.

If you fight, everyone else will and then you won't be fighting alone. There will come a time when publishers aren't like that. And I will say it, but some indie bookstores are better than your main chain for this kind of thing. (I was spazzing out today and dying by taking down titles I'd never seen before. PoCs (A shelf dedicated to the subject in sociology)! And Persian cooking. oooo~ Books on Hmong! Women's rights studies... Ooooo~ They also stocked books on racism where none of them started out with colorblind is a good thing. YAY! )

I've got a book cooking that breaks the conventions, too. It doesn't do Minority Pathology Porn. It's not set in a common era known to any of the countries it refers to. Most people will auto-think it to not be historical at all. And the POV characters are females. Three strikes, at the very least, but I'll still try. If that one fails, jokes on them there is a second story I can ship out on its own I can work on in the same area and time period. I'll keep trying until I hit it.

Because it's like you said, you don't want another kid like you wondering where all the books are that truly represent them. I'm willing to fight for that.

djrashn
08-21-2012, 07:15 AM
Thank you all for your time and responses. I really thought someone would say, "THATS A GREAT IDEA."
BUT....
You've all given me a lot to consider.
Thanks.

stacylwhitman
10-03-2012, 09:08 PM
I know this is an old thread, but I just ran into it and wanted to pop in and mention that I'm not the only editor out there actively looking for PoC in SFF for young readers. You might be interested in checking out the Children's Book Council's Diversity Committee (http://www.cbcdiversity.com/), which is just one of the many ways that we're working on awareness in the industry, particularly editors reaching out to sales and marketing to break down old ideas about what books sell and don't sell. The mission of the Diversity Committee is to talk about it within the industry, but we're also reaching out to writing organizations and schools. The SCBWI is working on its own outreach to writers of color as well.

The numbers, as you can see from the CCBC's annual stats (http://www.education.wisc.edu/ccbc/books/choiceintro12.asp), are abysmal in both diversity of content creators and diversity of content itself. We've got a lot of work to do in this industry, and it will require everyone up and down the chain to be more open to diversity--selling it, buying it, and writing it.

Be bold! You're definitely not the only one.

Lots of editors are looking for more diversity--and we're working on getting the word out to agents, too. Personally, that's the only kinds of books I work on, so by all means, do consider us at Tu Books when it's ready! :)

djrashn
10-04-2012, 01:20 AM
:)Thank you, I certainly will.

Emmet Cameron
10-04-2012, 01:23 AM
I'm working on a project with two PoC in the protagonist's immediate circle, and didn't find an excuse to bring up either one of their ethnicities until page 52 of this draft.

I really didn't intend for it to be that way, but with the first person narration, it just felt really awkward and tokeny to have her say "YP, my Chinese-Jewish friend" or "David, who is native." She doesn't introduce anybody else by physical characteristics, so it didn't make sense that she'd introduce that as a surface detail. So I decided to wait until something in the story made it relevant, and...yeah. That's how long it took, at least this time around.

But I am concerned that in the space I've left, reader prejudices are going to sneak between them and the text. I don't give them any reason to assume the characters are white, but I don't give them any reason to assume they're not, which is kind of the same thing in our cultural climate.

So. Anyway. It's a challenge. I'll figure it out.

djrashn
10-04-2012, 04:42 AM
I feel your pain, that has been a part of my problem. I don't want to just throw it out there for the sake of, throwing it out there, but if I don't, then...


And sad, but true, the default is white.

However, I'm hopeful that the way I've done it will work.

akaria
10-04-2012, 10:19 PM
Emmet, your POC are supporting characters so you have more time to reveal who/what they are. I don't think pg 52 is that big of a deal.

Reader prejudices start before they've even opened your book. Most characters in any book that isn't an "issue book" are perceived as white, straight and able bodied. Sucks, but until more marginalized people get into the biz on both the creating and publishing side it's what we're stuck with.

akaria
10-04-2012, 10:28 PM
djrashn, I'll bet you the Brooklyn Bridge you've unconsciously put out cultural markers that point to his ethnicity without needing to wave a big neon sign. Even in a world with wizards and magic the way he talks will show if he's Southern or inner city or second generation Caribbean or recent African immigrant.

Worrying about if readers get it is an exercise in heartbreak. If they do great. If they don't...well as long as they buy the book right? ;)

djrashn
10-05-2012, 05:04 AM
Thanks akaria, but even though I hope I'm not doing that, I won't take that bet. Sure I want everyone to buy the book, but I am also setting out to prove to the publishing world, and maybe America, that PoC characters can be great main characters.

And furthermore:Soapbox:That it can be done without them being buffoons, criminals, comedians, drug users or dealers, ghetto, rappers, come from broken homes, uneducated, and/or any other stereotype I'm forgetting at the moment.

I strongly believe Harry Potter could've been some other race, and it wouldn't have changed the story one bit. But that's me...;)

djrashn
10-05-2012, 05:21 AM
I also should mention that when I first started this project, it was just one book, and I was never going to mention his race at all. As the story grew and I plotted the third book, it finally hit me to put it out there, but I wanted it to be subtle.

Even after posting here and reading the responses, I hatched a brilliant plot to not divulge his race until book 3, if it got that far. I hoped that it would be so good, that it would be on the table in the middle of Barnes and Noble instead of tucked away in the ethnic section. Then once the white kids were hooked, SHAZAM, he's black!!!

But the more I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote. And came back and read the posts here, and discussed the issue with my family and friends, I decided it is what it is, and I'll just keep fighting until what I want to write gets published. Whether it's this story or another.

djrashn
10-05-2012, 05:27 AM
And not to beat a dead horse, but if you want to do some interesting reading:

http://fanlore.org/wiki/RaceFail_'09

You may have already followed this, because it's old, but between this and walking through any bookstore, it can make the task seem daunting at best.

juniper
10-27-2012, 08:40 AM
I read a wonderful book called "Zone One" by Colson Whitehead because I heard an interview on NPR with the author.

It's not YA, so maybe this isn't relevant. But in "Zone One" it wasn't until about 3/4 of the way through that another character says something about the MC being black. It's just not mentioned before - the focus is on the post-apocalyptic storyline - the characters all relate to each other as equals - survivors clearing zombies out of NYC - he's the only black person working in this crew.

The author is black. I haven't read any of his other works, although I will, so I don't know if this is his usual style or not.

The "reveal" didn't bother me. But there wasn't much interaction between the characters - it was more of a monologue - thoughts of the MC about old world vs new world -

I'm not doing a good job of describing the novel - I loved it, admired it - so here's a review if you're interested.

RE: your original question - The reviewer says: "The only ostensibly interesting things about him are his nickname, Mark Spitz (the explanation for which is withheld so long that the payoff stakes rise perilously high) ..."

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/books/review/zone-one-by-colson-whitehead-book-review.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Corinne Duyvis
10-27-2012, 10:18 PM
There are woefully few of them, but YA fantasy with PoCs protagonists DO exist, from both debut and established authors. On top of that, many agents and editors (and readers!) are looking for them. It's unlikely to stop your book from getting published. (Which is not to say you won't encounter any prejudice...)

I wouldn't hide your character's race either way. In addition to the excellent reasons listed above--well, if you hide his race, then how will the kids you're trying to reach know that they're reading about a character who looks like them? In my opinion, that's more important than trying to hook the white kids.

L.C. Blackwell
10-30-2012, 08:37 AM
With every word I type, I wonder who's going to publish this book about a black kid who's a wizard, swordsman, spy...I'm late on the thread, I suppose, but I would adore reading something like this, and I don't even read MG/YA that much. And also I'm totally white.

I don't know what the publishing culture is like on this, but I am very sure there's a much bigger market than you think, and it includes more people of all skin tones than you think.

Write it so well an agent can't put it down, and see what happens.

(And yes, do let us know up front who the character is. No bait-and-switch.)

Best wishes! :)

Susan Lanigan
11-04-2012, 02:17 AM
To the original poster.

Write the truth as this character has witnessed. Don't hold back. Don't conceal anything. Your character has a story to tell and things to say about his life. Don't play him false. I know that it is a very biased market out there - that Hunger Games thing was horrible - and it is difficult. But if you are afraid and hold back, every line of prose will betray that fear. You will be unable to write freely and confidently. If you can't root your character (literally) in his own skin, he will be shallow and constrained. If you tell his truth and yours, you set your prose free.

And if anyone has any problem with that - f*** 'em. No seriously. The hell with them and the horse they rode in on.

Bonne chance and let us know how you get on.

srgalactica
02-12-2013, 05:09 AM
I write mostly YA and Middle-Grade fantasy. I want to publish stories with POC protags BUT...
When I walk into ALL bookstores: White. Publishers: White. Agents: White. Editors: White.
I know it's not the case 100% of the time, BUT...
With every word I type, I wonder who's going to publish this book about a black kid who's a wizard, swordsman, spy...
My current project, which is on book 2, doesn't reveal that the MC is black until book 3:cry: Part of me doesn't want it to be like this, but part of me feels like it has to be. I'm not trying to trick anyone ;) but I don't want to close any doors before they're opened. But at the same time, I don't want to sell out my own race. I was the little black boy who wanted to read about a black boy like me in fantasy books, but could never, and still can't find any. Sometimes I think, I should just put it out there in book one, but other times I think, if they don't know, they'll read the book, and then once they're hooked they'll keep reading because it won't matter.
UGH
Maybe I'm just fooling myself.
I reread my 1st book and thought it's brilliant that my MC is one of the few characters in the book who's not described, but I'm disappointed also because I want to. Nothing dramatic. Just the mention that he is a black kid.
I shouldn't have to worry about this, but...
Okay, after typing this I think I AM hiding the ball, but is it wrong? Should I be bold and just put it out there, start a new trend????
This is just one of my insecurities that has hindered my writing for years. Any thoughts????? I won't hold it against you:)

I form an image of a character in my head as soon as I start reading about them. Personally, I would read your book whether the protag was a PoC or not, but I would like to know from the get-go so that the image in my head is closer to the image in yours :)

Kim Fierce
02-12-2013, 07:15 AM
I have been noticing mainstream book covers/characters more often, too. My book is about a teen lesbian MC living in a post-racial era, so I don't desribe her as white or black, but as having light brown skin, a dark mother and pale father. And I don't actually give this description until about the second chapter, because I admit I was thinking the same way you do . . . if it's known right away that this character is non-white, some people might not read it. But I think those of us who want these kinds of stories told, should keep at it and not give up.