What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
I think people are really starting to understand the need for diversity. Some would call it a trend, but I would prefer to think of the growing conversation around the need for diversity in books for young people as a watershed moment that’s been building for quite some time.
As far as content trends, I’m seeing a lot more contemporary mystery and suspense, which has been a gap in YA for quite some time. Our own Ink and Ashes by Valynne Maetani, which just came out in June, has gotten a tremendous response from readers and reviewers so far.
There also seems to be a shift from dystopian books to post-apocalyptic and harder science-fiction. We’re seeing that in the excellent response to our own Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac, which has a sequel coming out this fall, Trail of the Dead.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
Tu Books is the middle-grade and YA imprint of Lee & Low. We started publishing only science-fiction and fantasy, and then we expanded to mystery. Now we’re seeking all genres for those age groups, as long as the main character of the book is a person of color.
I’ve been seeking a good Asian steampunk for a while—a story set in the Victorian era but somewhere in the colonies—from the perspective of a person indigenous to the region (India, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, etc.). I’m also on the lookout for strong contemporary or alternate-world fantasy starring African-American, Caribbean, or African characters. There is such a wide variety of cultures within the African diaspora and in Africa itself, with their own stories that have been inspirations for several recent excellent books, but not nearly enough of them.
I am also particularly on the lookout for new writers of color. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center keeps track of children’s books by and about people of color. From their numbers, we estimate that only about 10 percent of the books published for children per year (on average—it was slightly up in 2014) are about people of color, and half that are by people of color. Roughly 5 percent of all children’s books year after year being by people of color is far too low.
At Lee & Low, the New Voices Award for a debut picture book by a new writer of color is in its 16th year. Books that have won this award have gone on to win recognitions, including the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award Honor and the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List. Patterning off that successful contest, I founded the New Visions Award for the Tu Books imprint for a debut novel by a new writer of color for middle-grade and young-adult readers. Our first award winner, Valynne Maetani, was published this spring: Ink and Ashes, which received a starred review from Kirkus.
Both the New Voices Award and the New Visions Award are open for submissions from U.S.–based writers of color who have never been published. Submission details can be found at the website. The deadline for New Voices is Sept. 30, 2015, and for New Visions, Oct. 31, 2015. Submissions information for other authors of middle-grade and YA (unagented submissions welcome) can be found in our Tu Books submission guidelines and for picture books can be found in the Lee & Low Books submission guidelines.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
Trends tend to come in cycles, and we’re in the downward cycle for dystopian and vampire stories, so, at least for a while, those are not really going to tickle me unless the book does something so innovative that it reinvents the subgenre.
I’m also not a big fan of animal fantasy, and given that we focus on human diversity, fantasy that stars no humans doesn’t really fit what we’re looking for. (However, that’s different from talking animals that interact with humans—for example, in Kimberly Pauley’s Cat Girl’s Day Off, the main character can talk to cats, and the cats have very distinctive, snarky voices in turn.)
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
Lee & Low Books is an activist company, so in addition to publishing great books, we also have several other projects we're working on to help increase diversity in publishing in different ways. Our biggest project at the moment is the Diversity Baseline Survey, which seeks to establish benchmarks for measuring diversity among publishing staff. Our goal is to get all publishers and major reviewers to sign up to participate, which will give us the clearest picture of diversity among publishing staff and reviewers—not just racial diversity, but also diversity of gender, sexual orientation, and disability. So far eight review journals and 20 publishers are on board. We also started a petition for readers who support this initiative to encourage more publishers to join us. So far, the petition has more than 1,700 signatures, which is very exciting.
In addition to the survey, we also established the Diversity in Publishing Internship last spring, which is specifically open to diverse candidates, in order to help address the lack of diversity in publishing from the recruitment side. We were happy to partner with the We Need Diverse Books internship program to secure an additional grant for our first intern this summer.
Stacy Whitman is the founder and publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books that publishes diverse middle-grade and YA fiction. Books she has edited include Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac, which won the American Indian Youth Literature Award, and Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, which was named one of School Library Journal's Best Books of the Year. In 2013, Stacy founded the annual New Visions Award, which honors an unpublished writer of color. She was a founding member of the CBC Diversity Committee and currently serves as a publisher liaison to We Need Diverse Books. She holds a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College. You can find her on Twitter at @stacylwhitman.