I also had a chance to give a book talk on a special book that I recently read--The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore. It's book that represents my desire to see publishers publish more diverse books to more fully represent kid readers of various backgrounds. It is also a book that touches on my favorite period of American history--the Harlem Renaissance. And it represents one of my favorite places to hang: the local indie bookstore.
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My personal reading this year has been specifically targeted toward reading more ethnically diverse books. I am on a mission to figure out who I am going to be as a book publishing professional in light of what I see in our American culture. (You can read more about my mission here.) With all the gathering of stories, characters, platforms, ideologies, and perspectives, I don’t have words yet for how I feel like I have been shaped, emboldened, or propelled by what I’ve read.
What would it be like to be constantly disbelieved for your own experience? To never ever be validated, with or without proof? How does it feel to be dismissed, denied, and rejected? To have your tears and frustration met with responses like, “I don’t believe you. You are lying.”
I invited Sheridan Davis, author of Pretty for a Dark-Skin Girl, to write a guest post for my blog because her book and her passion to encourage and heal people in areas concerning race dovetails closely with what I'd like to see myself do in this next season of life.
Currently the official canon of American Renaissance literature (defined by F. O. Matthiessen as literature written between 1850 and 1855) includes no women and no people of color. Across the US and the world that include American Renaissance, or the like, as part of their curriculum study this time period with only the perspectives of white men. But both women and people of color wrote landmark, culture-shifting works during this time that embody the very meaning of renaissance. I aimed to uncover and explore their works.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is "an eloquent and uncompromising slave narrative" and is "arguably the most comprehensive slave narrative written by a woman." (Encyclopedia Britannica) In her writings we can clearly see the intersecting, overlapping, and oppressive struggle of a person of color and of a woman.
In a Chicago Triune article, Nara Schoenberg quotes Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania: “Fewer than 40 books by African-American authors for adolescents were published in 2015….Every year thousands of books for kids and teens are published, and every year we don’t seem to be able to get that number much over 100.”
The move from twelve years in adult Christian publishing to mainstream children's book publishing was pretty monumental. The only place I've left after years and years of being there was home. Oh and when I moved away from the town I grew up in to come to Florida for the job I held for twelve years then left for this new thing at Scholastic. Yeah, pretty monumental for a tiny person like me. What may seem like everyday, noneventful occurrences not worth talking about are quite the opposite for me.
Yesterday, I left my career home of twelve years. I was a baby when I started and I am still sort of a baby now (at least that's how I feel). And those who are interested want to know what's next. "Where are you going, Jevon?" It's hard for me to just say the company and the job title without sharing the weight of what I feel this next season is all about for me, and, really, for anyone who has an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to them during what I believe is a time of major transition for God's people around the globe. So I'll start with a little background.
Writers have a unique weapon at their disposal that can bring healing to the world. That weapon is the written word. Just like any weapon it can be wielded for good or evil. The right word at the right time can have a huge impact if only on one reader at first, transforming them into a force of change and compassion and producing a ripple effect that can ultimately impact entire cultures and societies.
Today's post is inspired by a question from an aspiring author. Someone heard this person's story and said that she should write a book. This is a very common motivator for people to start thinking about writing a book. She connected with me and said, "Jevon, I have no idea where to begin." This post is how I answered her.
If you are like me and occasionally catch yourself drooling over the awesome bookish scene in some of the major cities, especially New York, but live light years away from all the action, I hope this post will motivate you to CYOBS (create your own book scene).
Staying on the path to achieving your dreams is not easy. Quitting seems like a really good option on most days. Ignore those thoughts. Seriously. When you think of quitting, shun it like the dark evil it is. Recognize it. Call it out. Encourage yourself all over again with stories such as this from Christian fiction author Kariss Lynch. In this piece she shares her story of her journey to publication. I hope it inspires you to never, never, never give up on pursuing what you know you have been specially chosen for.
I ventured out and tried something different on my blog today and let you hear from one of my dearest friends Becky Van Volkinburg, who just became a published author. Becky and I have sang together, cried together, prayed to gather, dreamed together, vented about "stuff" together... I am so proud of her journey and I wanted to share it with you today.
When I launched out into the social media scene, my main purpose was to see what it really takes to build some sort of digital presence, so that I could say to my authors, "You really should have an online and social media presence," without feeling like hypocrite.
New York City is known for being the epicenter of book publishing, and in times past I have often wished I lived in New York--if it had Florida-like weather. But I have decidedly stepped out of my wishing to be there to enjoying being here, and what I've discovered is a flourishing love of the literary arts in my local area.
"How do we know what the trends are in Christian publishing?"
This is one of the most frequently asked questions in the publishing panels I am part of at writers conferences. I am listing it all here for you to peruse at your leisure. Aren't I nice? A one-stop Christian Publishing trends spot.
So do you really love the writing in that book you're reading? Are you so engrossed in the story that you forget you are actually reading? Has this book challenged you to live a better life? Give more? Work harder? Go the distance when you first thought you should quit? Take that leap of faith? Yes? Well, you need to get off your duff and show some love!
Today I am working on an extensive edit, where I am having to fill in large portions of text. And I have actually been battling what I call editor's block. Being a developmental editor, it is my job--and really it's a gift--to be able to see how a theme or topic can germinate into a full-fledged trade book. Basically this is called conceptualization. That part came pretty easily to me for this particular project. But somewhere between the conception and the development, I lost my train of thought a bit.
Now I am knee-deep into my edit and the deadline is encroaching upon, creeping into, or threatening to cramp my creative space.
However, what inspiration I thought I lost has returned full force. Want to know how? I began listening to the author speak on a similar topic. Having CDs or DVDs of my authors speaking or doing media interviews is really a point of inspiration for me when I begin to conceptualize or edit their work. I get fired up about their project just by hearing or seeing their passion about whatever it is they are talking about. I get a better sense of their voice, their mannerisms, their coined words or phrases, and other things that connect them so well with their audience. It helps me to be able to take those unique and identifiable traits and add them to the work I am conceptualizing or developing for them. I think adding those elements strengthens the impact of their book as well.
You may be reading this and thinking that writers have to come up with all their own ideas. That is definitely and hugely helpful and most generally preferred. Then there are times when someone who has adoring fans and incredible insights who needs that extra hand putting an actual book together that strings all of their appeal together into one place and on a solid, salable concept. That is where I come in.
So just a little tip: inspire your editor by sending them a CD or DVD of you communicating your heart to a large audience. It doesn't necessarily have to be about the subject at hand, although it really helps if it is.
If you are editing or writing for someone else, what are some tangible things that inspire you?
Just the other day someone asked me what don't I like about my job as a book editor. I must have been going on and on about what I do like and they must have been like, "C'mon, there's got to something you don't like. It can't be all that." I promise you, I tried very hard to think of what I don't like. I was actually at a loss for words. I just kept thinking, "What don't I like about my job? My day-to-day duties? The authors? My coworkers? Freelancers? Agents? Books? Deadlines? Hmm..." I ran and reran the list.
I still don't know. The core of this job is dreamy. I get to utilize every corner, extreme, middle, and far left of my personality traits and natural skills in this job. I can be creative. I can be logical. I can be an introvert. I can be an extrovert. I can be strategic. I can be spontaneous. I can be OCD. I can be willy-nilly--authors can make you willy-nilly. Trust me. If they push hard enough, you'll catch your hard-and-fast wall of preferences come crumbling down, and from some place far away, outside your gut and core intentions, you'll hear your mouth say, "Aw... what the heck?" Ha! After a while, some things really don't matter.
I can be restrained, and I can be flexible. I have to be flexible.
What's not to like about being an editor?
- Bad manuscripts? No. You just fix 'em or reject 'em. Done.
- Difficult authors? No. You read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People and follow the steps in part 3. Done.
- Impossible deadlines? Not here. Speak your mind and say, "That's not going to get done in that kind of time." OR... Adjust your thinking. There's always a way to get it done, yes? Plus, it's good to get the blood flowing every now and then. Done.
- Small cubie? Salary? Really? YOU'RE DOING WHAT YOU LOVE and you are influencing culture. I mean, honestly, you can't fake it. You're either really here or not. Another truth: you are always in a meeting, traveling, on the phone, or glaring so deeply into your computer screen that you can't see anything else anyway. Done.