I am guilty of querying while Black. I can’t help it. It’s the way I’m made. I write books with main characters of color who have friends of all backgrounds and come from a community of people with shared beliefs and sayings and ways of eating. With that being said I also write paranormal stories, science fiction stories and mystery and romance. My stories are not urban. I don’t know anything about the school of hard knocks. None of my characters will ever witness a drug deal, have a pregnancy scare or run from gang violence. My stories are for kids like me, nerdy, suburban and full of imagination. With the exception of authors like Sherri L. Smith, Jaime Reed and a few others, books written for kids like me are few and far between.
I’m not sure if you can say that I’ve dipped my toe into the querying pool or if I’ve dunked myself full stop, but I will say that it is harrowing journey for anyone and if your main character (MC) is of color then it becomes even more interesting. Most writers take it as a rule that finding an agent is hard work and finishing your manuscript, making it readable, enjoyable and sellable is just the beginning. After you’re fairly confident that you’ve got a good concept and good book you now have to find that one agent who is willing to fight for it.
That’s the hard part.
You’re pitching to a community of readers, chances are you’ll find someone, maybe more than one who will want to read your book, but are they willing to fight for it? If your MC is of color, dealing with issues that are universal, but also those that may be community specific then what you’ve got is a relatability problem, and that’s a big problem when you’re trying to find an agent. Take into account that the vast majority of publishing agents are young, white, and female you’re going to have to steel yourself for some rejection.
Everyone tells you that publishing is a highly subjective business, so who do you query? I’ll admit that if an agent’s wish list doesn’t specifically say they are looking for diverse characters, I usually keep looking, and I’m not totally sure that going the self-publishing route may be where writers like me need to begin.
According to a Pew report in 2012, 50% of new births are to so-called minority parents, so why is it that less than 3% of children’s books feature an MC of color. The percentage dwindles when you reach the Young Adult age group. This is not to discount certain imprints like Kimani Tru that cater to African-American teens, but when you label something just for African-Americans then you run the risk of only reaching Black kids and it becomes a vicious cycle, because those books are separated from the other books at the bookstore, the cover art is different and those girls who grow up to become literary agents aren’t likely to read them.
So it’s Adult Swim time and I’m out there trying to make it. I don’t have the answers, but I’ll definitely let you know how things are going.
The State of African-American Publishing