Writing While Black & Latina

    Dear World,

I’ve been working on a YA novel for about 7 months. I have a regular job, and am lucky enough to say I love the people I work with. When the day’s done, I come home to spend time with my husband and daughter. When they’re asleep, I play God and give birth to characters who live in a supernatural world.

I’m usually tired. I don’t remember what a good night’s sleep feels like. But I’ve never been happier. I dream I’ll someday see my books alongside Kristin Cashore, Cassandra Clare, Maggie Stiefvater, or Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia. The highest compliment from a reader would be “Damn you! I missed my stop ’cause I was lost in your book!”

I’m not unlike any other writer out there who stresses about someday being a published writer.

Here’s the thing: I worry that I won’t get published because I’m a person of color, or if I do get published, I won’t be as successful as the writers whom I admire. Think I’m wrong?

Here are stats put together by Stacy Whitman, Tu Book’s Editorial Director for the 2012 New York Children’s Book Writers & Illustrator’s Conference:

75% of the book-buying public is white

*SIMBA Children’s Publishing Market Forecast 2011

About 90% of the major characters featured in YA books are Caucasian

93% of children’s writers and illustrators are Caucasian

*Cooperative Children’s Book Center, 2010

The reality is that the publishing world moves like Niagara Falls, and as a person of color, I feel like I’m standing on the shore with no way of getting into the awesome, thunderous river. There’s a complex set of factors that play into these numbers. History, and class are two of the most obvious reasons. Other writers have looked at these issues, and have done a great job at it. My concern is very personal. Writers of color who want to write for a mainstream market have a harder time getting into the stream than Caucasians. So, am I wasting my time?

I want this blog to be about my journey. I hope to meet people along the way, not just writers of color though. I live in a diverse world now, and will continue to do so.

-diverse writers who are in the same place I am

-writers of all colors who are willing to share their experience

-writers who want to write about diverse characters, but want to have a dialogue about getting it ‘right’

-readers who want stories about characters from diverse backgrounds

Unless life gets in the way, I plan on posting three times a week. I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

Best, Yahaira

twitter: ycwrite

10 comments on “Writing While Black & Latina

  1. Hi Yahaira and welcome to the world of blogging. :-)

    I understand your concerns about the industry, but I can only give you my opinion as an unpublished writer and someone who doesn’t aspire to break into YA industry because simply I never wanted to write YA books.

    I think any kind of racism, bigotry and unfair categorisation of human beings is wrong and abhorrent. One needs to see the actions of people and not the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation. I know I am preaching the choir, but what I am trying to say is that you look like you are a fighter and you seem like you have a dream. Therefore you need to keep fighting for your dream, while at the same time decry any attempt to marginalise your work because of stupid and irrelevant reasons.

    There are a lot of good people out there who not only will support you if you are treated unjustly but will also join you in critising and putting down the people who want to judge you by the colour of your skin.

    All you need to do is keep fighting and never stop pointing at the unjustices attempting to be enforced by some of the worst humanity has to show. Never stop, never lower your head. Be proud and loud. :-)

    • ycwrite says:

      Hi Natalie,

      thank you! thank you! thank you!

      I feel incredibly blessed to know you’re out there supporting me.

      The subtext of your comment is that I should put the best work out there, and people will eventually find me. Am I right?

      You’re right about me being strong. I work hard, and I don’t take b.s. from anyone. However, I think what’s so frightening about the publishing industry and the mainstream consumer is that no matter how hard I work, and how amazing my work may be, the possibility exists that I won’t make it because of the color of my skin.

      You know what though? I can’t predict the future. I can only work hard, and hope that enough people out there will want to read my work. Which is what you said!

      Let’s keep chatting!

      Best, Yahaira

  2. Yahaira,

    I loved your post and can relate. I, too, have a normal job and write when I can, which usually means when my daughter is sleeping or school vacations. I am exhausted all the time, but I keep writing because I can’t help it.

    The statistics you quoted make my jaw drop, but I’d say the only way to change them is to get in the game. Write well, write often, and never give up. Create diverse characters and pursue your dream. Be inspired by the black and Hispanic writers who have made it.

    I look forward to reading your blog and hearing more about your YA novel.

    Cindy

    • ycwrite says:

      Hi Cindy,

      You’re absolutely right about not giving up. Also important that us up-and-coming writers support each other as much as possible. My goal isn’t to focus on the negative, but create a blog that will help writers of color figure out how to break in, as well as have a dialogue with all writers who want to write about characters who’s backgrounds they’re not familiar with. I hope you’ll follow the blog, and comment!

      • Yahaira,
        I agree. Supporting one another is important. I am following your blog and will definitely be checking it and commenting. There has been a lot written lately about the need for YA covers and content to be more diverse, so I think your blog will be a great resource. Best of luck with your YA in progress. Maybe someday we’ll be on a Latinas in YA Book Tour :.)
        Cindy

      • ycwrite says:

        Cindy, let’s make sure we push to have our publishers put us on hotels near the beach. Oh, and they have to kid-friendly hotels for both our daughters! :)

  3. Welcome, Yahaira! You are definitely NOT wasting your time. Persevere and good things will come to you. From my own experience in breaking into the industry, do your best work and query many, many people, and you will eventually find someone who will champion your work.

    • ycwrite says:

      Thank you, Laura! That’s my plan. So far, I’ve learned writers of color have a harder road to climb. This year, around 60 YA books were published with african american characters. Hispanic? Zero. And even when there are characters of color, writers should be suspicious that their publisher will ‘whitewash’ the cover. The most recent example that I know of is Julie Kagawa’s The Immortal Rules. So, all that to say that is that there might be a different set of rules for writers of color: a hundred times harder to get published, a thousand times harder to get readers to notice you. Still, I’m glad to hear from others who are giving me support!

      • My protagonist is non-white (Seminole Indian), and my editor told me that the multi-cultural element was attractive to her (my editor is Indian, from India). As you can see from my gravatar, I am white, but I wasn’t asked about my background when I was querying agents, nor when my agent submitted my manuscript to publishers. Only after my novel was accepted, did my editor ask me my background, and I think she would have rather me been Native American, though she never said it explicitly.

        To further explain, when we were in the process of revising, my protag’s mother was Seminole as well, and also an alcoholic, but my editor and I too, felt that was playing into harmful stereotypes, so we changed the mother to being white while keeping her father Seminole.

        When we were choosing cover models, it was difficult finding a Seminole Indian model, much less Native American. There was another model with a darker skin tone, but she was South American Indian, which I felt was a misrepresentation, so we ultimately went with the model featured on the cover, who is half-white, half-Native American (her tribe is unknown to me). I also brought up the fact that I didn’t want her to be white-washed. The model is somewhat fair to being with, but more importantly, the lighting reflects the industrial feel of a mental institution, which is the setting. She actually had to wear a wig for the photo shoot because her real hair was brown, not black.

        All this is to say that some publishers (mine at least) are becoming more concious of these imbalances, and some agents are actively seeking multi-cultural stories where race is not the issue. Mine is one of them–Caryn Wiseman at Andrea Brown Lit. I know the road ahead is harder for you, because you are black and Hispanic, but I hope my personal story give you hope. And realize that your job is that much more important because teens need role models that reflect their own backgrounds, not just as protagonists, but as writers too! How inspiring you would be to speak in front of a group of teens who love your book and aspire to be writers themselves!

        Good luck and KIT!

      • ycwrite says:

        Hello again, Thank you for elaborating on your experience! I’ve definitely learned a lot from you, and I would think other writers who stumble onto this blog, or perhaps yours, will feel the same way. You’re right to point out that the road is harder for me because I’m Black AND Hispanic. I don’t fit into any neat categories. Yet, the world is moving into more and more complicated entanglements, which ultimately makes life much more interesting. All my best wishes for you and your book! I’m putting it on my goodreads list right now. Sincerely, Yahaira

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