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Aisha Saeed is the author of WRITTEN IN THE STARS, which is published by Nancy Paulsen Books. Aisha is also co-founder and Vice President of Strategy of We Need Diverse Books. In WRITTEN IN THE STARS, Naila, a smart Pakistani-American high school senior, is forced into an arranged marriage by her own parents. I was stunned by the trials Naila had to face. In our interview, Aisha shares what the hardest chapter was for her to write, the specific technique she used to query agents, and what has surprised her most since joining the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.
Janet Umenta: Did you draw from any real-life conversations while writing WRITTEN IN THE STARS?
Aisha Saeed: I definitely drew from real-life experiences while writing WRITTEN IN THE STARS. Growing up, I had childhood friends who were coerced and pressured into marriages they would not have chosen for themselves. While my novel is entirely fictional, those stories always stayed with me and served as the inspiration for my novel. Continue reading
The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign started with a simple Twitter exchange between authors Ellen Oh and Malinda Lo about the lack of diversity in children’s literature on April 17, 2014. One year later, we’ve seen huge support on social media and in major book and author events, including BookCon and BEA. However, there is still more work to be done to make #WeNeedDiverseBooks a reality.
Alis Franklin is the author of LIESMITH, a queer urban fantasy novel published by Hydra. In LIESMITH, Sigmund Sussman, a shy young man working in low-level IT support in Australia, falls in love with Lain Laufeyjarson, a Norse god. Below, Alis addresses the problem of the underrepresentation of minority groups in literature and what needs to be done to improve diversity in publishing.
One of the most fascinating things to realize about the (Western) publishing industry is that it’s been around, in some form or another, for something like 500 years. That is one old industry. It’s also an old industry that’s seen an enormous amount of disruption, to the point where it seems every year brings something new to shake things up.
If 2014 rattled anything on the manuscript-stacked table, it did it via talk of diversity, a.k.a. the way marginalized and other non-majority authors are treated and their stories told. This is particularly relevant as we enter April, which marks the one year anniversary of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. Originally intended to spotlight the lack of diversity in children’s literature, over the past twelve months it has since grown beyond its original mission statement, spawning conversations in every corner of the industry.
And for good reason. There’s plenty to talk about when it comes to publishing’s relationship to diversity and, to set the scene, let’s begin by pointing out that…
1. Publishing is super, super homogeneous
No matter where you look–from fictional characters to their creators to their producers–the consensus is that the publishing industry is white and it is (with some exceptions) male and it is middle-class. “Write what you know,” says decades worth of well-meaning writing advice. Which, according to a quote attributed to US sci-fi author Joe Haldeman, is “why so many mediocre novels are about English professors contemplating adultery.”
Plenty has been written about this topic already, noting the homogeneity of characters appearing in genres as disparate as children’s lit and erotic romance. Employment wise, the publishing industry as a whole isn’t much better than the fiction it produces, with indications things are getting worse as publishers poach executive talent from the notoriously white and male tech sector. Meanwhile, white male authors are not just more likely to gain critical acclaim–particularly when they write in genres traditionally considered to be “for women“–but to get sympathetic pats on the head from prestigious media outlets when they do “lose out” on literary awards in favor of women or people of color. Continue reading
Stephanie Chandler is the founder and CEO of the Nonfiction Authors Association, a marketing community for writers. The 5th Annual Nonfiction Writers Conference begins May 6th, and the keynote speaker will be Julia Cameron, author of THE ARTIST’S WAY. Participants can attend live sessions by telephone or Skype. Stephanie shares why she started the Nonfiction Authors Association and her experience being a self-published author.
Lucy Silag: First off, what is the Nonfiction Authors Association and why did you start it?
Stephanie Chandler: The Nonfiction Authors Association is a marketing community for trail-blazing writers! I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. When I quit my corporate job in 2003, I opened a 2,800 square-foot bookstore in Sacramento and planned to write novels in the back office. (When you’ve wanted to write your whole life, you naturally assume that a novel is the way to go.) But it turned out I didn’t have a knack for fiction, so I wrote my first nonfiction book (a business start-up guide) and was astonished by how much I loved writing nonfiction.
I began attending writers’ conferences and eventually started speaking at them as my author career took off. I noticed that nonfiction authors were largely neglected at these events. We didn’t quite fit in with the fiction writers and had different needs and approaches. So I launched the Nonfiction Writers Conference in 2010—an event conducted entirely online. I had no idea if it would catch on, but it did. Each year our attendees kept asking how they could keep the momentum going, so I finally answered them by launching the Nonfiction Authors Association in 2012. We needed our own community and now we have one with over 8,500 members and growing every day. Continue reading
We’re happy to have Valerie Emmerich on the Book Country blog! Valerie is currently workshopping a literary fiction novel titled ROOM TO SPARE, which was a December Editor’s Pick. Valerie shares how she developed the idea for ROOM TO SPARE and advice for fleshing out characters.
Janet Umenta: Growing up, what books inspired you?
Valerie Emmerich: I don’t think I can point to one book or books that specifically inspired me. I’ve always just loved to read and write. There were lots of books around our house, and I practically inhaled them. I loved Dickens and I remember being enthralled by THE TRAVELS OF MARCO POLO, THE DIARY OF ANN FRANK, THE GOOD EARTH, and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, all quite different books. As I got older I ventured into the “grownup” books on the living room shelves and remember reading MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR (yes! A Jewish girl from the Bronx!) and IN COLD BLOOD. That may have set me up for my proclivity for reading contemporary literary fiction in my adult life. Continue reading
The American Society of Journalists and Authors will host its 44th annual conference from April 30th to May 2nd in NYC. Writers from across the country will attend 50+ informative sessions; one-on-one meetings with editors, agents, and publishers; three pitch slams; networking events and a keynote speech by bestselling author Jennifer Finney Boylan. Laura Laing, a freelance writer, shares why the ASJA conference is a crucial investment in her career. This post was originally published on the ASJA website on February 18, 2015.
My family knows not to schedule anything for the last weekend in April each year. For the last five years, I’ve spent those days at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City at the ASJA annual conference.
It’s not easy to rearrange my work and family schedules. And I could spend the money on something else. But it’s worth it—every single time. These days I don’t even question the decision. And here’s why. Continue reading
We’re happy to have Book Country member Gloria Oliver with us today! Gloria is currently workshopping INNER DEMONS, an urban fantasy novel. INNER DEMONS is one of April’s Editor’s Picks on Book Country. INNER DEMONS was published by Mundania Press in early 2014. Gloria shares what it means to be a speculative fiction writer and tips on choosing the perfect title.
Lucy Silag: Tell us more about yourself. How did you become a writer, and how did you find your way to Book Country?
Gloria Oliver: As I kid, I always had a hard time falling asleep. This led me to making up stories in my head to entertain myself until slumber finally came. One day, one of these stories kept bugging me to actually put it on paper – so I did. A few years later, the bug bit me again as I got a neat idea for a fantasy novel, and this time the infection set in deep. I’ve not looked back since.
I heard about Book Country back when it was being put together. The day job at the time had slow days here and there, and I’d found out about an evil Outlook add-on that would convert Twitter items to email and put them into a personal folder. This was just around the time social media was catching on big time, and I followed people like Kristen Lamb, Chuck Wendig, and many other writers and publishers. Through them, I learned of Colleen Lindsay from Penguin and followed her as well. And soon after Colleen started talking about a venture she was very excited about – a “Sekret Projekt” she was involved in, one where she and her peers hoped to create a place where authors could meet, share, help each other, and create a long lasting community.
Colleen even did a ‘reveal’ presentation in Dallas during the DFW Writers Conference back in 2011. The goals and concept of Book Country sounded fascinating and well thought out, so I signed up! Continue reading