The Demand for Diversity: How Marketing is Integral to Diversifying Children’s Literature

Diversity within children’s literature has been a long standing issue that has gained a tremendous amount of attention in the past five years. This has resulted in an ongoing discourse  about the lack of diversity and how best to make children’s literature more representative of all the children reading and consuming books that are being published. The lack of diversity within the publishing industry is obviously a contributing factor, with approximately  79% of publishing employees being white/Caucasian (Low 2016). However the successful marketing also plays an integral role in the success, and therefore profitability, of diverse books in the children’s publishing industry.

Successful marketing of diverse books is integral to the overall success and profitability of the book. This is because it is marketing that dictates the audience, key selling features, and positioning of the book within the market to retailers and in turn the consumer. How a book is marketed can therefore make the difference between a best seller or a book that goes unnoticed and is lost amidst the overabundance of titles that are currently in print and available for sale. Therefore a keen understanding of the diversity of the market is necessary to accurately position a book within it. Jean Ho (2016) highlights Kima Jones who runs a publicity company as  an expert in culturally specific marketing. Jones has been brought in to other publishing companies to assist specifically with the cultural marketing on particular titles and also works to promote her clients’ work that represents their diversity, “whether that’s a culturally specific campaign or organizing a national tour aimed to draw as many attendees as possible across the country.” Hannah Ehrlich (as quoted in Ho, 2016) explains that “when you’re marketing diverse books, it’s important to build connections with influencers within communities that the book is about who will become the evangelists.” Each title may have a unique set of “evangelists” but the most common found within children’s literature are librarians and classroom educators. Current trends within education are showing a demand for diversity within the classroom and this includes the need for diverse books. Improving how diverse books are being marketed to teachers and librarians is necessary in order gain these “evangelists”. One potential way to improve marketing of diverse books is to have these titles better highlighted within marketing catalogues. As previously stated successful marketing is integral to prevent titles from getting lost in the vast array of titles currently on the market. Krista Mitchell (2016) explains that “discoverability has always been a major hurdle for publishers… Maybe it’s time we start calling for more diverse catalogues.” For example Groundwood books has created a catalogue specifically to showcase their culturally diverse titles. Providing a unique space in which to display these titles will make it easier for those invested in diversity within children’s literature, such as classroom educators and librarians, to access information about available titles. As this catalogue is still a recent development for the company it is unknown what the long term effects are and if this marketing decision is successful or not, however it shows that Groundwood books is invested in finding new and alternative ways to improve the marketing of diverse books and other publishing companies need to follow suit.

Conversely one issue that has occurred within the marketing of diverse books is the view that these titles are a part of a niche market and are therefore not marketed to a wider public. June Cummins (2017) explains some of the intricacies of children’s literature through a Critical Race Theory lens and explains that “white maleness is so hegemonic that it is considered neutral… [resulting in] the assumption that white maleness is ‘normal.'” (p. 97). Therefore everything outside of this white maleness is considered niche. Classifying books as diverse can aid those searching for titles with these themes however it also labels these books as “other”. Therefore a delicate balance between making these titles easily accessible and also not being branded as exclusively for a niche market is integral to the success of diversifying children’s literature. Ramona Caponegro (2017) expresses a need for two types of diverse books, those that focus overtly on issues of diversity and those that feature characters outside of the white male hegemony where issues of diversity are not the primary focus. Caponegro explains that the need for these two distinct types of books is because “books about our common humanity may make cultural differences seem less threatening. Yet, precisely because cultural differences are still feared, we also need ‘issues’ books.” (p. 126) Caponegro argues that books that focus on the shared humanity of all people will work to deconstruct fear associated with the “other”. Similarly there is a need for diverse characters within genre specific books in children’s literature, such as fantasy, so that readers across genres can encounter diverse characters. However Caponegro acknowledges the intersectionality of experience and the still profound need for books that overtly focus on themes and issues of diversity. Publishing companies need to be careful that their marketing and branding of diverse titles is not done so in a way that reflects that it is only intended for a small and niche audience. Rather they should highlight selling points of an individual title by including but not solely focusing on the diversity within the book.

One of the reasons that children’s publishing companies are hesitant to produce diverse books is the fear that they will not be profitable. Christopher Meyers (2014), son of famed author Walter Dean Meyers, discusses at length in his article “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature” the profound lack of diversity in children’s literature and the harmful repercussions this has on children. Meyers comes to the conclusion that “The Market” is responsible for the lack of diversity in children’s literature. It is evident through Meyers’ tone that The Market is not actually at fault but that it has become the scapegoat that the publishing industry shifts blame onto. Meyers laments that “The Market, I am told, just doesn’t demand this kind of book, doesn’t want book covers to look this or that way, and so the representative from (insert major bookselling company here) has asked that we have only text on the book cover because white kids won’t buy a book with a black kid on the cover — or so The Market says.” The Market in this article is presented as a pre-existing and non-changing entity that dictates what books will and will not sell. This notion is however troubled when Meyers points out instances where The Market does change and allows for new and different types of children’s books, such as the rise in popularity of fantasy. The Market is no different than Warner’s (2002) concepts of publics. Just as there is not one Public, there is also not just one Market. The Market is not a unified and homogenous group that is fixed but rather a series of publics that are organized through the distribution of texts and are constantly changing and evolving. The publication of texts is done with an intended public in mind but it is also the responsibility of the publisher to adequately market so that the potential public is formed. Meyers explains that throughout his time working in the children’s publishing industry he’s “heard editors and publishers bemoan the dismal statistics, and promote this or that program that demonstrates their company’s ‘commitment to diversity.’ With so much reassurance, it is hard to point fingers, but there are numbers and truths that stand in stark contrast to the reassurances.” It is not enough for publishing companies to simply acknowledge the problem but actual progress needs to be made. Diverse books are being written and it is not up to just the author to ensure that they are made available, but the publishing companies need to better market these titles to find their intended publics.

The success of diverse books in children’s literature is so dependent on proper marketing by publishing companies. Culturally specific marketing needs to occur so that titles can be successful and find their “evangelists” who will continue to promote the books. However the marketing should not be done in such a way that diverse books are presented as simply for small niche audiences and segregated away from other titles that are available. Finally the idea that diverse books are unprofitable and that The Market is a force working against making children’s literature more diverse is false and fails to represent the role of the publishing company in finding and marketing to different publics. Significant work has been started to improve the state of children’s literature but there is still much more that needs to be done to properly represent all children readers.

 

Works Cited

Caponegro, R. (2017). Peter’s Legacy: The Ezra Jack Keats Book Award. In K. B. Kidd & J. T. Thomas Jr. (Eds.), Prizing Children’s Literature: The Cultural Politics and Children’s Book Awards (pp. 118–129). Routledge.

Cooperative Children’s Book Center. (n.d.). Publishing Statistics on Children’s Books about People of Color and First/Native Nations and by People of Color and First/Native Nations Authors and Illustrators. Retrieved from https://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp

Cummins, J. (2017). The Still Almost All-White World of Children’s Literature: Theory, Practice, and Identity-Based Children’s Book Awards. In K. B. Kidd & J. T. Thomas, Jr. (Eds.), Prizing Children’s Literature: The Cultural Politics and Children’s Book Awards (pp. 87–103). Routledge.

Ehrlich, H. (2015, March 5). The Diversity Gap in Children’s Publishing, 2015. Retrieved from http://blog.leeandlow.com/2015/03/05/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-publishing-2015/

Ho, J. (2016, August 9). Diversity In Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers — Marketing Matters, Too. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/08/09/483875698/diversity-in-book-publishing-isnt-just-about-writers-marketing-matters-too

Low, J. T. (2016, January 26). Where is the Diversity in Publishing?  The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results. Retrieved from http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/

Ly, D. V.-K. (2017, April 19). Publishing Diversity with The Boy & The Bindi: A Case Study of the First Children’s Picture Book From Arsenal Pulp Press. Simon Fraser University. Retrieved from http://summit.sfu.ca/item/17278

Mitchell, K. (2016, March 8). We Need Diverse Catalogues. Retrieved from https://www.booknetcanada.ca/blog/2016/3/8/we-need-diverse-catalogues?rq=children

Myers, C. (2014, March 15). The Apartheid of Children’s Literature. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/the-apartheid-of-childrens-literature.html

Warner, M. (2002). Publics and Counterpublics (abbreviated version). Quarterly Journal of Speech, 88(4), 413–425. Retrieved from http://knowledgepublic.pbworks.com/f/warnerPubCounterP.pdf

One Response to The Demand for Diversity: How Marketing is Integral to Diversifying Children’s Literature

  1. aleenadeandra says:

    Diversity has always been a problem in any industry, and now we are talking about children’s books in particular. The niche market that is not reflected in the trial balance and profit/loss analysis certainly contribute a lot, as Ashley has pointed out that profitability is one of the biggest consideration on why publishers are reluctant on publishing children’s books that are rich in culture, not just white boys with his dog. However, I would also like to point out that the lack of diversity in children’s books is not entirely publisher’s fault, but rather than the market aka the parents. They are the ones who create the market, the buyers who buy those books and create the demand for them. They are the ones who could drive the publishers and/ authors to achieve profitability, or a total loss. They are the ones who know that their kids need to see a broader worldview that will eventually stick with them well into adulthood. They KNOW that reading to their kids about different cultures, races and even gender identities could well open their minds. So the question here is : are they willing to do so? I am not speaking about the facts or number that are existed out there, but rather than a small observation on how minorities are often considering that white-washing their kids could make them be a cooler parents. They buy their kids stuffs that are well representing the stereotypes. So who’s at fault here? If only a small part of the diversed market are willing to change their mindsets and the rest are still reluctant, then no matter how many culturally diversed children’s books out there, their market will still be insignificant.

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