Monday, August 31, 2015

Why I'm Asking that the #BigFiveSignOn

Hey all!

If you don't know, the largest multicultural children's book publisher in the United States, Lee & Low, has enacted a diversity survey for all publishers to take. In their words,

"Publishing suffers from a major diversity problem. It is obvious that the vast majority of books published are by white authors and about white characters. The majority of the staff behind the scenes, which includes publishers’ employees, and reviewers, are white. For decades there has been overwhelming agreement in the industry that there should be more diversity at all levels and in all areas of the book world, but even with greater awareness, the problem never seems to go away. Is this problem too big to solve? 
The answer is, we have no idea how big the problem is. While there is now data available about diversity among books published, there is still only minimal data available about diversity among publishing staff and reviewers. 
As in any business, when you have a problem you must understand it before you can solve it. 
Our goal with the Diversity Baseline Survey is to establish a baseline that shows where we are now so we can start taking concrete steps to address the problem."
The diversity survey will measure staff diversity among publishers and review journals in four areas: gender, race, sexual orientation, and disability. This survey will help many identities, not only the racially marginalized. Getting this information is crucial, but the trouble is, publishers and journals have it upon themselves to voluntarily sign up to take this survey. Out of the five major book publishers (Macmillan, Hachette, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster), only Macmillan has signed on (thank you Macmillan!). That's a problem.

The deadline to sign on is September 15.

We have to show the other four publishers that we readers and writers really need this information. The best way to do that? Social media!


We need to show, online, that this information is crucial. We only have a little over two weeks for them to sign onto the survey. This is crunch time. #BigFiveSignOn has to be trending - today.

The Guidelines to this Twitter Storm

  1. Kindness and love. These publishers are probably on our side! They care about readers and great books as much as we do. Don't assume they do not want to do the survey.
  2. Consistency. One or two tweets won't be enough. To get this trending, we need more. We need to be tweeting throughout the day, and to be tweeting a lot, which brings us to...
  3. Community Discussion. Retweet other people's tweets! Tweet your own stories about why this is important! Respond to others in the community, affirm them, talk about the issue, get into deep intellectual discussions about systemic problems, societal issues that funnel into the lack of diversity, how unpaid internships make publishing jobs less accessible for racial minorities (who are generally poorer). Get talking! Why is this so important? Share stories, share experiences, and discuss!
  4. Direct Action. We have to contact the publishers directly so they can't look away. This is crucial. As much as possible, include at least one of the four publisher's Twitter handles (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins) in your Tweets. Try mixing them up throughout your Tweets!
The Twitter Prompts - if you're not sure what to tweet about, try responding to each of these prompts.
  • Why do I want the #BigFiveSignOn?
  • How will it help the publishing industry if the #BigFiveSignOn?
  • What will it mean to children and young readers if the #BigFiveSignOn?
  • What change can be sparked if the #BigFiveSignOn? How will the future of publishing diversity initiatives look like?
  • Why shouldn't the #BigFiveSignOn?
  • How will I feel if the #BigFiveSignOn?
  • How will it help me if the #BigFiveSignOn?
Tweetables! Click to tweet fast (although, remember, your own personal Tweets will be much more powerful):

".@HarperCollins @HachetteUS @penguinrandom & @simonschuster, I'd love for you to follow Macmillan's lead! #BigFiveSignOn to the survey!"

"I want the Big 5 publishing companies to sign on to @LeeAndLow's diversity survey. #BigFiveSignOn"

"Please, @HarperCollins @HachetteUS @penguinrandom & @simonschuster. Sign on to the diversity survey! #BigFiveSignOn"

".@HarperCollins @HachetteUS @penguinrandom & @simonschuster: Will you sign onto @LeeAndLow's diversity survey? #BigFiveSignOn"

And now, the blog hop!

If you feel like it, and if you have a blog of your own, take a moment to write up your own blog post about why you think the Big Five should sign on. Share your own stories, write about whatever you want! Take an academic angle, a sociological one, a personal one, etc. Here's mine.


I've always wondered why there just aren't good stories about Indians on the bookshelves. Never once have I sympathized, related, or connected with any character in any book I've read. This is okay, and for so many years, I normalized it.

I'm learning about different identities, I'd think. I'm learning empathy. I'm learning about realities outside my own.

But then I realized that no one was learning about my own identity, my race, and my culture as an Indian American. The most people saw of my race was on the Big Bang Theory, or various other forms of the nerdy Indian male. Mindy Kaling is great, and a fantastic person. At the same time, she rarely speaks about the Indian American experience, and I can't relate to her that well either. My experience, and the truths of many others who share this experience, have not made it into mainstream storytelling.

Instead, when we are "represented", we get something harmful. Stereotypes that reinforce the Model Minority myth, of us as good hard-working, overly-educated doctors and engineers. These stock narratives don't include the amount of stress many Indian children have with the pressure to succeed. The academic freedom of Indian children is also commonly limited. Careers in art, writing, history, activism, teaching, politics, human resources, and more are discouraged even if the Indian child would love to pursue this career. The reasoning behind this is severely complex; it involves cultural expectations from Indian society, and also a protective desire for Indian parents to ensure their child doesn't take up "too much space," "lead," or cause waves in the United States of America. Causing waves as a brown-skinned child of immigrants is a dangerous thing. Parents love, and parents want to protect. Being a doctor or an engineer is a safe job, well-paying and not obtrusive.

The time has come for first-born Indian Americans, like me, to feel at home. To feel like we have an identity. We go around in America not feeling at home because few people know about our experiences, and we do not feel completely Indian because we were raised in America, unlike many family members. I want my story to be told honestly, truthfully. The stories I see being published don't reflect that. And it hurts.

That's the thing. No one knows the Indian American experience like an Indian American. If publishing houses had Indian editors, the books being published that concern or have Indian issues would be much more honest. I can imagine bookshelves filled with Indians that aren't the main character's nerdy best friend, that aren't the tokenized minority, that aren't the laughing stock. I can imagine bookshelves filled with people that, for the first time in my life, reflect me.

That's a dream worth fighting for.

(Hopefully the linky list is working right - technology is not my strong suit! - but if you see the linky list below, feel free to write up your own story on your blog, and then link your blog to the list. I'll share it on Twitter, comment on it, etc.)