Hello everyone~ Fenrir here with a quick bite of some Food for Thought! Tonight we’ll be having a look at a weekend event that might not have been on your radar, but that certainly shook up the publishing industry: Book Con 2014.
Billed as an event “where storytelling and pop culture collide”, BookCon brought together celebrities, authors, book-sellers, book-buyers, and fans for a day-long celebration of all things neat in the literary world. And as someone invested in books and working in the publishing industry, this was an event I had to go to. So, how was this year’s BookCon?
If there are two words I can use to summarize the con, it would be something short, sweet and simple: free and crowded. This one day event had a lot of ground to cover in between the panels and the book-signings and the merchandise–so intrepid publishers were eager to draw in fans old and young alike with plenty of free swag. I got to the con at about 9 am and already the packs of teens were armed to the teeth with tote bags and sample copies of books and–a happy surprise–graphic novels.
I passed by Image Comic’s booth and picked up a volume of Saga that I was missing and got to chat with the peeps at the table. It was a very busy day for them–and it was in the wee early hours of the con, too. Honestly, I could feel it–from the constant press of teenagers sporting “Okay? Okay” shirts and other John Green quotes to the haggard parents trying to herd them all together, it was a bit of a tight fit at BookCon.
Lines for popular signings started early and clogged up the space pretty fast. Partly because unlike New York Comic Con, BookCon was limited to half the floor; the other space was off-limits to BookCon pass holders, but open to industry professionals who were here for the Book Expo of America that was simultaneously hosting events. I can’t help but feel that the overcrowding was the one real disappointment about the Con.
Otherwise, once you finished perusing the booths, the panels were a treat, opening up the kind of discourse about popular literature that people yearn for. And my favorite panel from the event was hosted by the grassroots movement, #WeNeedDiverseBooks.
Founded by YA author, Ellen Oh, the team at “We Need Diverse Books” seeks to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. They aim to put “their money where their heart” is, too, and are dedicated to uplifting authors of such books through awards and campaigns that will help diverse books reach a wider audience. For interested aspiring writers, Lee and Low Books/Tu Books will launch a “New Visions Award” for a middle-grade reader/YA fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color. The winner will receive a $1000 cash prize and a contract with the Lee & Low’s Tu Books imprint (which is geared towards sci-fi/fantasy).
Other projects include a collaboration between the team at #WeNeedDiverseBooks, Read Across America, and First Book to promote multicultural books and authors through the “Diversity in the Classroom Initiative”. Together, they will purchase 10,000 copies of multicultural titles to distribute to young readers across the country.
I am very much excited about these initiatives to highlight new authors and to buy books, because one of the big “obstacles” for many “diverse” books are the idea that these stories are for a niche market, only. So on the publishing side they’re a hard sale, and thus not as attractive to pick up and market. (Even though recent releases, such as Marvel’s Ms. Marvel, say otherwise)
Besides the announcement of profit-based initiatives to make diverse books visible in the marketplace, the panel of YA authors and illustrators had several lovely comments about the state of the industry and how we can do better. After all, “multicultural” books are not just for a niche section of “multicultural” readers. Matt de la Peña, a prolific YA author, related an anecdote about how his books–which feature Hispanic characters–resonated with a young, suburban “white kid”, who wrote to him personally saying how much he loved the characters and found himself in their stories.
Arguably, it’s not a matter of if non-POC can relate to an “ethnic” story, it will always boil down to if these stories actually make it to the shelves. Illustrator Grace Lin recalled a similar anecdote where she was on a book tour and went to visit an elementary school that was “forced” to have her talk to their kids. Her little readers were enthralled with her children’s book, and the event went off without a hitch–so much so that the school librarian took her aside and said: “Wow that went well. You know, I was worried. Ethnic books don’t go over well.”
To summarize her story, Lin stated: “If I never came–children would never have been able to read it.” Again, it’s all about exposure and support for these books and the benefits for all children to read diverse narratives. Which the movement seems to address with its plan to buy and expose diverse books to a wider audience.
Overall, it was a great panel that addressed an issue and offered a potential solution that happily satisfied this budding-publisher. Of course… After the panel it was back outside and into the packed BookCon. With the growing crowd, I actually beat a retreat; though the rest of the day featured a star-studded line-up of other cool events including a panel with Stan Lee, Amy Poehler, and more–like that YA “powerhouse”, John Green.
Again, I would have preferred if it was more evenly spaced to stave off some of the crowd control problems, with lines morphing into non-lines and people plodding through haphazardly. But, BookCon did have some exciting stuff (And it was a nice networking opportunity if you work in the business, haha). I do hope that for future BookCons that the space is more spread out to accommodate the masses, but there definitely is a need (and a big want) for a public event like this, too.
Annnd that’s all there is for this rambling and sprawling bit of Food for Thought! Tune in next time when we ramble about all sorts of pop-culture errata 🙂