Monday, December 30, 2013

Were almost to the end!- Ayanna Coleman from Quill Shift Literary sits down with Twinja Book Reviews!

We recently had the opportunity to feature Ayanna Coleman on our author blog "G&L Tomas-Our Journey..." Her guest post can be seen here. Hear her talk about ways to promote diversity in publishing. Aspiring author? Perhaps Quill Shift Literary can help!

1. So tell us about yourself!

I would describe myself first and foremost as a reader, then librarian, then maybe cook? I know everyone’s thinking, “Aren’t you supposed to be a literary agent?” Well yes, but agents are readers first and foremost--readers with very sensitive literary palates. 

Librarians have a dearth of knowledge and it’s their job to help connect other with information and resources. They’re listeners, they’re problem solvers, and they’re advocates. Agents must be adept at all of these jobs as well. They have to know the market, they listen to their authors and support them with what they need, and they have to be creative with solutions when negotiating with publishing houses. And at the end of the day I just like to be in the kitchen. 

It’s calming to follow recipes, create new ones, feed the stomach and the soul through comforting sounds, smells, and flavors. I’m sure that can be connected to an agent’s job as well, but really, I just love food about as much as I love a good story.

2. What’s your background in the industry and the type of goals you have with the state of the current industry?

I come from the library side of publishing. After I received my undergraduate degree in marketing, I went straight into my graduate degree in library and information science. I knew I wanted to enter the publishing industry, and to hopefully make myself stand out among the many other applicants, I decided that understanding the way one of publishing’s largest customers thinks would be a great idea. What I didn’t expect was to so entirely identify with the ideology of librarians while I completed the program. Librarians are awesome. They are continually learning, always asking questions, always finding answers, always trying to help others. I am so proud that I can call myself one of them. While in library school I worked alongside the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s books and began reading for three literary agencies, recommending manuscripts for the companies to pursue for the children’s and the adult market.

After library school I continued as a reader for the agencies, but I also landed an internship with Hachette Book Group in their digital department. What a fast-paced, eye-opening experience! My managers were on the cutting edge of digital publishing and they allowed me to jump right into the process and further research where the future of digital publishing might go. While there, I was able to learn more about the inner workings of a publishing house and meet people in different departments, giving me a more well-rounded view of the whole operation. Directly after my internship with Hachette, I transitioned to the Children’s Book Council, the national nonprofit trade association for children’s book publishers, as their Events Associate and Librarian. 

Two years later I’m still the Librarian at the CBC and now Associate Manager of Events & Programs, but I also made the transition from reader to agent at the beginning of 2013. I decided to start my own literary agency, Quill Shift Literary Agency, not long after fully entering agenting to address the problems that I was seeing in the industry--lots of blaming as to why more diverse books weren’t being produced--but not a lot of communication or active solutions to fix these concerns.

3. Your current Indiegogo project seems like a step in the right direction, promising to be an outlet in helping new unpublished authors seek representation from bigger publishing houses. Let's hear more about the project!!!

I decided to put my venture on Indiegogo because first, it lets you disseminate your information easily to lots of different people. Indiegogo already has a built in community of early-adapters who thrive on new, interesting ideas. Then, the platform gives you an organized way in which to share your message to everyone in your community and ask them to support your initiative.

My company has a few moving parts, which I’ve heard makes it difficult to fully wrap your mind around what exactly I aim to accomplish. Quill Shift Literary Agency is a literary agency, not a publisher, not an independent marketing company, a literary agency. A literary agent, very simply, is a person who manages the business affairs of an author. Traditionally, that’s meant sending manuscripts to publishing houses, negotiating contracts, making sure the author gets paid and on time, etc. Quill Shift is looking at the term “business”, which doesn’t just include financial, and expanding it to officially include marketing and promotion for the author. 

Traditionally this has been handled by publishing houses after they purchase certain rights to an author’s work. Quill Shift is making sure that all marketing and promotion that can be done will be done on behalf of the author. That means making sure the author is in the best position possible before their work is even submitted to a publishing house. 

The campaign video explains the process in a flowchart way better than I could in words.

4. The word on the streets is that publishers are LOOKING for more diversity in books, but the amount of books released with multicultural themes is greatly lower than ones that aren't.....What gives???

Publishing houses are companies. Companies filled with well-intentioned employees, but still companies with bottom lines. If there’s a pervasive thought within the industry that yes, diversity in books is an overall good thing, but diverse books don’t sell, then why would publishers invest money in creating more of them? Then, when they do publish books with characters deviating from the norm, they aren’t seeing the sales that they’d hoped for. Why is this? Is it because the publishers are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy where they don’t invest time and money into books and therefore they don’t do well or is it something more? Either way, I do believe publishers want more diversity but the above thought is part of the reason we aren’t seeing more come through the pipeline.

5. On Twinja Book Reviews we talk a looooot about diversity in books, but what does diversity in books mean to you?

Diversity in books means more characters of different skin colors, backgrounds, religions, political views, family units, abilities portrayed consciously and empathetically. I want more as protagonists. I want more fully-composed supporting characters who have as much stake in the story as the protagonist. I want more stories about different countries and cultures from people from those countries and cultures. I want more strong, authentic female characters who female readers aspire to be like no matter what they look like, instead of who female readers just moon over their love interests. 

6. Conversing with many authors, there seems to be a lot of pressure to create "bi-racial" characters rather than "non-mixed race" characters for a more "universal" experience to readers (especially when featuring black characters). Even an author we love who's latina and wrote this great book featuring latinas of every race was advised to cut all of her black latina characters out because people would be less likely to buy it. Have you noticed a trend like this going on in the industry?

That’s an interesting tidbit and I hadn’t heard of this particular trend. I do know that the world is becoming more of a mix of different races and ethnicities and we need to see that thoughtfully introduced when describing characters in books. It’s normal for kids and teens to see different shades and colors of people in their everyday life. Why can’t adults producing art that reflects life for children?

7. What are some ways aspiring authors can get over the obstacles of finding representation for their works that just happen to be multicultural?

I don’t think “just happening to be” is a bad thing at all. That’s what I’ve heard more publishers want and I know as a kid that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want to read a book about the black experience. I’m African American. I know that experience. All African Americans don’t have the same experience, though, and I distinctly remember feeling like I didn’t want to read about that experience because what the books were passing off as the every black person experience was not mine. That’s what pigeonholing is and no one wants to be stereotyped, even kids who don’t quite know what that means feel the injustice and disconnect.
When authors create any characters with consideration, it’s never a “just happen to be”. The author has created a whole person that has a history, a story before and after the one that’s written down in the pages. But like any person you meet on the street, characters need to be so very much more than just their heritage, their spinal dystrophy, their bisexuality, their single-parent home. The quicksand that writers may find themselves in happens when they write a character that “just happens to be” and then they don’t elaborate and make that character a whole person.
8. What are some of your favorite children's, MG, YA or NA multicultural reads?

Two of my favorite books growing up were Yolanda’s Genius by Carol Fenner and The Rough-faced Girl by Rafe Martin. The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman also completely opened up my eyes in terms of how one thinks about religion. Recently, I’ve enjoyed The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, Proxy by Alex London, and Pinned by Sharon G. Flake. I’m still ambivalent about the whole New Adult genre. I like cool characters and if they happen to be 12 or they happen to be 24, they better be doing cool things. One book series that I’m loving right now that I think fits into the New Adult fuzzy genre is the Chicagoland Vampire series. It hit its stride before the New Adult genre was solidified, but it is a fun, engaging supernatural series for the twenty something age group that weaves in a diverse cast of characters.

9. Seems like a project worth looking into! Where can readers and aspiring authors find out more about your project, agency and ways we can help???

I’m so glad you think so! The Indiegogo campaign runs until Jan. 3rd, 2014, so if you’re interested in learning more and possibly showing your support to a company that is trying to make change for the better in children’s books, please visit the campaign page! I’m currently accepting manuscript submissions on I’m especially looking for middle grade and YA novels. Last, if you’re interested in deciding what kind of books Quill Shift Literary Agency represents, what books you as a reader would love to see out on the market, sign up to be a Shifter.

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