February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Survey Seeks to Shed Light on Publisher Diversity

DiversitySurvey_imageUpdated August 26 2015: Macmillan, a “Big Five” publisher, has agreed to participate in the diversity survey, along with the publishers Chronicle, Lerner, Abrams, and Bloomsbury, according to Jason Low of Lee & Low Books. September 15 is the deadline for other houses to join the survey, says Low. 

So the great majority of children’s books are by white authors about white characters, that much we know. But what can be done to address that trend in an industry that remains, itself, largely homogeneous? You have to assess the problem first, according to Jason Low, publisher of Lee & Low Books, which has launched a diversity survey to gather data on book publishing staff and reviewers.

To date, 11 publishers and four review journals have committed to participate in the “Diversity Baseline Survey.” The publishers are: Albert Whitman, Annick Press, Arte Público Press, Charlesbridge, Cinco Puntos Press, Groundwood, Holiday House, Just Us Books, Lee & Low Books, Peachtree Publishers, and Second Story Press.

Booklist, The Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, and School Library Journal (SLJ) are the participating review publications.

As for the “Big Five” publishers—Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster—they are “still deciding individually whether or not to join in,” says Low, who has personally approached publishers about participating in the survey.


Jason Low

“The goal is to have all major review journals and publishers—from small, to mid-size, to large— participate in this project,” states the survey home page. “If we are serious about trying to address the lack of diversity in the publishing world, this is the very first step we need to take.”

The one-page survey asks respondents to provide their racial identity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status, and is intended for distribution by publishers to all employees, with the exception of interns, according to the site. The results will be pooled to create an aggregate view of where the industry is today. Additionally, “In the interest of transparency we have created a public Google document that shows how the numbers break out individually for each organization,” according to the survey site. Low says he is in the process of securing a third-party partner to manage the data and a yearly study is planned.

No surprises here

“[The survey] is a good idea, and that’s why we’re doing it,” says Mary Cash, VP and editor-in-chief of Holiday House. While she welcomes this self-examination on the part of her own organization, which is poised to send the survey to employees, Cash acknowledges “There is a [diversity] issue here. That won’t be a surprise to anyone.”

It is tricky, however, to release data and also safeguard individual privacy. With only 19 staff at Holiday House, that only invites speculation, says Cash. While she says she doesn’t “feel like we have something to hide” and plans to contribute her company’s findings to the aggregate results, Cash will not allow survey data to be linked publicly to Holiday House “because it will compromise the privacy of our employees,” she says.

Low cites the willingness of major tech companies to “own” their numbers regarding the makeup of their employees as sparking a turning point in the tech industry’s effort toward diversity. “The reluctance of publishers who have declined to participate in the survey does say something about our industry, and it is not good,” he says. “Anecdotally speaking, when asked if there are diversity problems in publishing, people will often agree that there should be more diversity at all levels and in all departments. But if a company is unwilling to share data from a survey that is anonymous but still connected to that company, how are we supposed to address societal-wide problems in a serious way?”

Tech’s Turning Point

Black Girls Code, a national nonprofit that aims to increase gender diversity in STEM fields, and Intel’s recent pledge of $300 million to diversify the workplace are among large-scale initiatives intent on shifting the demographics of the tech industry. In publishing, there’s We Need Diverse Books’ internship program—but Low is hard pressed to come up with any other industry-wide initiatives that might help achieve a tipping point for the book business.

Low says, “It is our hope that revealing staff diversity numbers will serve as a catalyst for change similar to what occurred in the tech industry. The point is, if we know where we are now, in terms of having baseline numbers, we can work toward improvement.”

Next steps

SLJ has completed its survey and has defined some immediate steps for expanding its pool of contributors: “Survey Reveals Demographic of SLJ Reviewers.” Meanwhile, Low is in process with the Diversity Baseline Survey and has not set a timetable for completion, he says.

Kathy Ishizuka About Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka (kishizuka@mediasourceinc.com@kishizuka on Twitter) is the Executive Editor of  School Library Journal.

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  1. Barbara says:

    When I submitted a book enquiry to my publisher, they didn’t ask what colour my skin was and nor did they care. Either they like the book idea and can market it or they don’t.

    • Rene Saldana, Jr. says:

      Barbara: I would agree to an extent, except in cases when the publisher’s ear is a tin ear and likes the book that is wrong and offensive to those of us of color and whose job it is to promote literacy amongst children of color whose faces and voices are either not being represented or are being represented inaccurately.

    • Barbara,
      I would argue that the kind of colorblindness you’re talking about doesn’t really exist. *Why* do editors like a book idea? *Why* do publishers think they can market some books but not others? We want to think these decisions are made objectively but things like internalized bias and institutional barriers do come into play here, affecting what gets published. That’s why despite the fact that people of color make up 37% of the US population, on average only 10% of children’s books feature them. Addressing diversity at the staff level is one way to bring new perspectives and fresh eyes into the industry, which will inform how publishers decide which book ideas they like and which they can market.

  2. Rene Saldana, Jr. says:

    Ms. Ishizuka: thanks for the update on Low’s work. I look forward to my publishers participating. It’s important work.

    • Kathy Ishizuka Kathy Ishizuka says:

      Thank you, Rene. This is important news to the industry, and we’ll be watching the survey’s progress, for sure.

  3. Marybeth says:

    I agree whole-heartedly that there is a need for more diverse books but I fail to see how determining the diversity of a company’s staff and reviewers will help accomplish that. Won’t publisher’s now be pressured into hiring people of different ethnicities instead the best person for the job? Shouldn’t they, instead, be looking for authors and illustrators who will write diverse books and draw diverse characters?

    • Laura Simeon says:

      I would argue that a significant part of being “the best person for the job” includes being culturally literate and possessing some degree of cross-cultural competence. This doesn’t necessarily mean being a person of color, but it does mean being knowledgeable about the rapidly changing demographics of our society and being able to forge respectful relationships with diverse authors and illustrators.

      There are many case studies across other fields – politics, public health, education, etc. – that show how diverse staff enhance service to the community. In this case, diverse publishing staff will better serve the diverse readers that make up about 50% (and growing!) of the under 18 population in the US. Too often people define “best” in terms of what is already familiar, an evaluation that excludes those who are different (a case in point being value judgments about text and illustrations that may differ from mainstream norms).

      As far as reviewers go, I have read books (for all ages) that contained offensive or inaccurate cultural information that a well-intentioned reviewer did not recognize, or have appreciated a book because it expressed a particular cultural sensibility that a reviewer did not have an understanding of and therefore criticized. Similarly, I have greatly benefited in my understanding of other books by reading well-informed reviews that placed the work in its cultural context.

      • Agreed, Laura. Cross-cultural and inter-cultural competency is so important. No matter what background I am from, I as an editor will always be editing cross-culturally and have explicit and implicit biases that even when I’m aware of them, I will have to work to eradicate. A greater diversity in staffing means more opportunities for editors to become aware of our biases as we work together on projects, discuss ideas, and mentor each other.

        In addition, diversity in sales staff, marketing staff, reviewers, booksellers–all of these areas of the greater publishing industry benefit from a wider set of perspectives to draw upon. We are already minority majority in our public schools in the United States. How are we serving these students if we don’t understand their diverse perspectives?

      • Stacy, I am glad you mention book reviewers in your post. For the most part, the book reviews I read do not address cultural authenticity in text and/or illustrations. I think it would behoove review sources to examine their own practices in terms of the depth of cultural knowledge/competence required of reviewers.

        Authors/illustrators-publishers/editors-reviewers-librarians/teachers should all own the part each group and each individual plays in providing young people with culturally authentic resources that build intercultural understanding (rather than perpetuate stereotypes). Rather than pointing fingers, we should find solutions and all work together to rise to the challenge of meeting the literature needs of diverse youth.

    • There are many instances where the best person for the job was not necessarily hired because of unconscious bias. Here are a couple examples:

      One experiment involved sending identical resumes to employers with the only difference being that the name was changed on each resume. African American sounding names like Lakisha and Jamal received 50% less call backs then Emily and Greg. Read more: http://www.nber.org/papers/w9873

      Auditions for orchestras were permanently changed to blind auditions because it was observed that oft times male decision-makers overwhelmingly chose male musicians over female musicians. When auditions were changed to blind auditions, this preference disappeared and the very best musician was hired, based on talent instead of gender. Read more: http://www.nber.org/papers/w5903

      Being that the publishing industry is overwhelmingly white, the possibility that an inherent bias among employers may exist that perpetuates the unconscious hiring and promotion of people who look like them (white).

      • Those are great experiments and I can understand why many of the big publishers are reluctant to participate in the survey. On one hand, i have met nothing but terrific people on my journey through publishing. On the other, you know what you know. If you grow up loving a certain kind of book, you may be inclined to search for those kinds of books. If you only know one kind of people, your natural inclinations might be to hire those kinds of people. I don’t believe publishers are reluctant to hire people of color necessarily but they are probably too embarrassed to be seen in a way the survey may paint them as. I feel like every publisher has a go-to diversity person they can hold up as an example, be it writer or staff. I think they’d welcome the chance for more but culturally, it can be a difficult fit. I have been to many social book functions where people of color gather in one spot, outnumbered or are separated under the diversity banner (ie: special awards or presentations to show off diversity). I frankly, am kind of sick of being the diversity guy. I am a writer. Soon, over 50% of kids will be the so-called minority. It doesn’t take a genius to see an marketing opportunity. Publishers would be wise to jump on that bandwagon and help create that space to own that market share before others catch on.

    • Donna Spurlock says:

      Literature reflects life and we would like our lives and communities to be inclusive. That includes looking critically at our office lives, as well as the literature we publish. There are a lot of voices involved in creating a book. They probably should represent different walks of life.

    • Even though I’m not an editor, I have observed that editors will go after stories that reflect what they are personally interested in, which makes sense since editing a book can span a year or more. More power to editors who read cross culturally, but what is more common is for editors to read authors and work with authors who look like them. If the majority of editors are white, it is a good bet that the majority of the authors that they work with will also tend to be white.

      • Yes, editing a book can take a year or more (often much more), and an editor needs to feel invested in a project that will take so much of her or his time and energy. In my experience as an editor of children’s books for many years (both educational and trade), the majority of editors are driven to projects that engage us, expand horizons, and most important, will reflect the experiences of diverse readers while also introducing readers to people, cultures, and situations with which they may be unfamiliar. No matter what the editor’s background is, that is what keeps the work interesting and engaging. That is what makes us want to come to work each day and spend hours editing manuscripts and reviewing artwork. Editors who shy away from projects that represent diversity of content are, in my opinion, strongly and negatively influenced by the culture of the publishing company for which they work. They are driven by the economics of large scale publishing. I have received countless wonderful, diverse manuscripts over the years that have been turned down by big houses because, I’ve been told by agents and authors, the sales projections didn’t “work,” the company was focusing on more “commercial” projects, or nonfiction “doesn’t sell” in the trade. Absolutely, more diversity among all departments in publishing houses is crucial going forward, but unless attitudes about what sells and the economics of publishing in big houses ALSO change, the work of diversifying children’s literature is going to be the job of smaller independent-thinking houses and start-ups that make decisions based on more than the bottom line.

        • Janet Wong says:

          It would be really interesting to know how many diverse projects were supported by editors but “killed” elsewhere (due to negative input–or anticipated lack of support–from sales/marketing or the “powers that be”). This survey can give us a much-needed glimpse of how much diversity there is in board members and leadership positions.

          • Janet, I am also interested in knowing this. Most of my efforts to get diverse speculative fiction published have been killed at the agent stage (often with a nod to the difficult “marketability” of a book featuring few or no white characters), but I have heard of others who get cut off later in the process.

    • Why do you assume that the person of color is not the right person for the job? That’s kind of loaded!

    • I’ve been in the industry a long time and I once met a reviewer of one of my books who recognized my name. She said she remembered my book and had loved it. She’d wanted to give it a star but ‘she didn’t feel qualified to say if the book was true to the culture’. Omigosh I wanted to punch her! Since I’m from the culture! And they go e stars to all kinds of crap that white authors write about us!
      I think this survey is an excellent idea but I’m not surprised a lot of the bigger publishers haven’t come on board. They’re like the Titanic. They’re incredibly huge with tiny little rudders. They don’t see that the societal currents are changing and they need to change course before they smack into an iceberg.
      Speaking from my own demographic community, people are starved for books that represent them in a fair and accurate light. But they don’t frequent bookstores because they don’t expect to find the books. Start filling the need and people will come.

  4. As one who has worked in both education and literacy for more than 25 years and one who has also worked on community outreach particularly minority community as well, I am glad these surveys are taking place and i am a strong proponent for greater diversity in these arenas and also in educator fields. Like Stacy, i firmly believe that the diversity of staffing and in reviewing, teaching, and publishing is important because it is time to recognize cultural authenticity and inauthenticity. To Barbara and Marybeth, this is not about just pressuring the industries and fields to hire people of other ethnicities or experiences and therefore “losing out” on the “best person for the job,” or why not search for those diverse authors and illustrators and books and characters.” In fact, those “best people” have been there all along and often overlooked as have the excellent and prolific diverse authors and illustrators. And yes, we not only need diverse voices but also people who are already there or striving to get there who need to learn from other voices and know that young readers, teen readers need those diverse characters and voices, not just because they look like them but also because they don’t look like them. As Kwame Alexander put it so well, the kids get it. a school full of white kids may love and get the Crossover, they don’t have to look like Kwame’s characters. A hearing student will get CeCe Bell’s El Deafo, Sometimes it’s the adult who doesn’t put the book on the shelf, doesn’t let the child read the book, or doesn’t see the stereotypical image or name choice, who thinks there’s only one kind of book that will resonate. They are the unfortunate gatekeepers of learning and imagination. We own that, as Kwame would say and i agree. I’ve seen a book by a well-known popular author and co-writer that makes me cringe, because i see stereotypes of different people and places that make me ache for the young readers who will be exposed to this book. And reviewers didn’t see it but i did and so did my children and their friends. And on colorblindness or post racial–that’s not this world, my kids and students can tell you that. And teachers and librarians and writers and illustrators, they know it and are asking for the diversity. I think it’s time we all listened.

  5. Just as educators, librarians, and parents are gatekeepers of learning and imagination publishing houses are gatekeepers as well. We all are attracted to what resonates most strongly to ourselves and it is very difficult to choose “windows” instead of mirrors. Perhaps this survey will reveal the patterns that result in such sameness among publishing. I find it interesting that the small presses, for the most part, are the ones who are not afraid of, actually seem very supportive of getting some data behind the patterns in the publishing field whereas the publishers who in my opinion seriously lack in the diversity field are reluctant to join in the study — let’s hope Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster see fit to be part of the solution.
    Meanwhile kudos to Albert Whitman, Annick Press, Arte Público Press, Charlesbridge, Cinco Puntos Press, Groundwood, Holiday House, Just Us Books, Lee & Low Books, Peachtree Publishers, and Second Story Press. And to review publications: Booklist, The Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, and School Library Journal (SLJ) . I will be very interested in the outcome of the study.

  6. I wholeheartedly agree that publishing houses act as gatekeepers as well. As the population of the US becomes more diverse, we need children’s books that will reflect this, not only because it’s important for kids to be able to see themselves in these stories, but also because reading diversely can teach respect and acceptance of other cultural groups.

    As mentioned earlier, you don’t necessarily have to be a person of color to know and appreciate culturally competent content. As with any sort of project, whether it’s an academic paper, filming a TV show, or publishing a book, research into accurate representations and forming relationships with people that are experts on a certain culture can make a huge difference between coming off as insensitive versus well-informed.

  7. There are many reasons why diversity is important. America is a diverse country and our media should reflect that. TV is starting to become more diverse, and the numbers prove that that is what people want. It isn’t a fad or a trend, but something that is a necessity. It’s necessary and imperative that people have access to different voices and stories. There is a danger in only a single narrative. Then we’re more likely to accept stereotypes as truth. It’s also true that people tend to seek out what is familiar to them. If the gatekeepers of publishing are mostly white, and not going out of their way to seek cross cultural stories, we end up with what we have now, where only 6% of books published last year were by people of color and only 14% of books published last year were about POC.

    There are also many studies that show that reading cross culturally makes children more empathetic to others, versus children who don’t. It’s important for *everyone* to have access to high quality diverse books.

    This survey will help shed light on the lack of diversity. Seeing numbers and statistics can make it easier for us to understand what exactly is going on. Then, we can start to make concrete efforts to minimize the problem. Lack of diversity and representation isn’t a problem that will magically go away on its own; we all have to work hard and make a concerted effort to fix this.

    • As I POC author, I agree with this completely. When diversity isn’t represented in children’s books, it sends a message to the children who read them. Because I didn’t see myself in books, I grew up thinking my story wasn’t important enough to be told. I don’t think children should grow up believing this. When the publishing industry itself isn’t diverse, it can also send a message to children, who come from underrepresented backgrounds, about the professions that will be available to them when they grow up. It seems from the very beginning, marginalized groups are being told they will never be “right” for the job. My daughter is an actor, but what message is she receiving when an Asian American woman has never won an Oscar for best actress? One could argue that an Asian has never been the best person for the job. But one could also argue that with so few roles, an Asian woman has never had many chances to prove she is the best person for the job.

      I don’t think the intent of the survey is to shame but rather to shed light on the reality of the situation.

  8. Jessica says:

    As an editor who started out in one of the bigger houses many years ago, I was one of only a handful of people of color in my division. Our division probably had more than one hundred employees. What effect does this have? Let’s look at cover images. If a book did not specify a race or ethnicity for its main character then the “natural” default for the cover image was always white. I witnessed this time and time again. It was never questioned or debated. Over the years, I’ve had conversations with fellow publishing people about diversity, and a few voiced that they were uncomfortable with bringing in more diversity because it felt forced. They wanted it to feel “natural” and “organic” to the story. I understand this sentiment to a certain point. No one wants to see a character of color shoehorned into a book or cover just to check off the diversity box. However, the sentiment that you never think about race or diversity is also one of privilege. This privilege of deciding what is “natural” and “organic” is something I hope my fellow publishing colleagues are starting to become aware of. I often wonder what the conversation would have been like in those early covers meetings if the makeup of the room had been different. Would someone have raised their hand and asked, “Hey, why can’t the story about a kid growing up in the Midwest have an African-American, Asian-American, or Latino on the cover?” Or, “maybe in this post-Apocalyptic, dystopian novel the heroine is Filipino?” You might not think having people from diverse backgrounds and experiences will make a difference, but it does.

    • I totally agree with you Jessica, that having people of diverse backgrounds ane experiences in book covers will make a big difference for the simple fact that it will represent who we truly are as an American culture. There is no turning back, we are becoming more and more diversified in our population. I see it in my classroom every day. I see it in the schools I visit all over the country as an author. There are so many reasons to move in this direction, millions of little reasons, all with eyes that see and ears that listen and lips that smile, and they are all sitting in classrooms across the nation. We need to service the children of our country by truly representing, respecting them, and honoring them for who they are and where they are in the books they read.

  9. This is an important survey, and I applaud Jason Low for initiating this information gathering and applaud the presses who are participating. We humans are curious creature, aren’t we? Objectivity about a manuscript or an applicant? A myth. At best, we learn from our diverse friends, colleagues, books, art. We can struggle internally yet know our unstated prejudices linger. For years, I’ve written and spoken about the importance of fostering a national diverse book community: authors and illustrators, publishers, editors, publicists, reviewers, award committees, librarians, teachers, families, and readers of all ages. Our country’s plurality as reflected in our schools needs and deserves books that share our voices and stories. We Need Diverse Books–books by diverse authors–reviewed by major outlets; published, creatively marketed, and purchased by libraries, schools and families. I agree with Anita’s statements about the importance of change . We are each needed to create this national diverse book community since literacy for all is essential to our democracy. Our children, all our children, deserve the full cultural literary wealth that is their inheritance.

  10. Vicky Smith says:

    As a book-review editor (at Kirkus) who has not yet completed her survey, I would just like to say that I am fully engaged in the goal of adding diversity of all kinds to my roster. Over and above everything that has been said, it is simply the right thing to do. I think that the “right person for the job” argument is a problematic one; there are so very many plainly accomplished nonwhite, LGBTQ, disabled, and otherwise nonnormative (forgive the word, please!) people in the world that it strikes me as slightly ridiculous to say that one of them might not be the “right person” for any but a job that is so specialized I can’t imagine it right now. Certainly not among children’s-book reviewers. I have found that it can take time for me to learn the idioms and rhythms of individuals who do not spring from my sociocultural matrix, but that does not mean that they are not the right people for the job. (I hasten to add that this does not mean that I believe that just anybody can review children’s books – just that the universe of qualified people is a pretty expansive one.) I am leery of engaging reviewers of color or other diversities in order to spot “offensive” content, however; offensive is as offensive does, and I have encountered instances where straight, white reviewers have found offense where readers of the culture in question have not. Intelligent people disagree about many things, and what may constitute cultural offense is just one of them.

    • Vicky, this is so true: “offensive is as offensive does, and I have encountered instances where straight, white reviewers have found offense where readers of the culture in question have not. Intelligent people disagree about many things, and what may constitute cultural offense is just one of them.”

      In my opinion, tokenism and authenticity are linked concepts. If you have one writer on your list who is from a particular region or culture, then that writer by default becomes a kind of cultural ambassador, and is then expected to “get it right.” The problem being that there is no such thing as “right” because we vary hugely not only in our slices of experience, but also in our beliefs, our perceptions of the world, how far along we might be on our writing journeys, our approaches to the craft, our personal distance or closeness or complications relative to the culture(s) in question, and simply hundreds of other factors. As long we’re hankering after authenticity, we’re more likely to go for “worthy” than richly creative. It seems obvious that one way to encourage change is to increase the set of what you call “idioms and rhythms” among decision-makers in the publishing world. Me, I’ve been at this work for over 25 years now, and I keep waiting for a time when this conversation will no longer be necessary.

      • Uma, I completely agree. We’ve been at a stasis in this industry for so long–these conversations keep coming around, but not making much headway (or I guess, it feels like sometimes we’ve got the wind in our faces).

        Your cultural ambassador observation and the heavy responsibility that falls on PoC authors to “get it right” is a symptom of the current state of publishing. Since there is a lack of representation in authors, the onus lies with the few who do get published, which is unfair. This social inequality is obviously not shared. When was the last time you heard a white author shouldered with the pressure to accurately reflect his/her culture? (I’ve heard “authenticity” issues in regards to specific experiences, but usually not culturally related for white authors, and when they are, often intersectionally–religion, disability, etc.)

        Which is why more voices at the table are definitely important. I like what you and Vicky are saying about “idioms and rhythms.”

  11. I’m sad but not remotely surprised that small publishers are willing to answer this survey (though I agree that it can be potentially problematic to publish specifics and risk outing someone who doesn’t necessarily want all of their identifiers shared) and big publishers are not, since small publishers are already the ones likely to be doing good social justice work, not big ones. I really hope they’ll realize that the only way to be allies and activists is to BE allies and activists and to actually participate in surveys such as this one.

  12. Megan Schliesman says:

    We all work in fields where stories matter—where they are the point. That’s why we all do what we do, whether that work is as writers, editors, publishers or reviewers, or as librarians and teachers putting books directly into the hands of children and teens. But as we ask what we can do to achieve a real shift in terms of increasing the number of diverse books published not just in a single year but across every year moving forward, we have to rely on more than anecdotes and stories, no matter how powerful they may be. We also need data. This is an effort to gather one type of data. It won’t tell the whole story but it will provide information—another business I think we are all in–that can be useful, perhaps even critical, as we work to understand and act on ways to creating lasting change.

    • Nina Lindsay says:

      Megan, thanks for emphasizing that this data is one piece of the the story, a story we need to understand better so that we can change it. I hope more –all!– publishers will contribute. The point is not to point fingers but to understand collective issues, own them, work together to change them.

      In my public library, I recently got my hands on some demographic data comparing us to other city departments and…well, the numbers prove what I know: that we have work to do. It’s an issue with the library profession in general, but we are simply more white than our other city departments. It was demoralizing for a moment. But then I remembered that I was looking at this data because *I can, and want to be, part of the solution.* We can’t make it better if we can’t face the problem.

  13. Make it 12 publishers! Tradewind Books just emailed me to participate in the survey.

  14. Wolf Edwards says:

    I would like to think that all publishers would respond to this survey. I would certainly question why any publisher would not want to contribute to this useful data base.

  15. Rene Saldana, Jr. says:

    I’m excited to read all these comments. To add my leftover two-cents: recently, a colleague and I organized a school-wide read-aloud at a West Texas Title I elementary school where the majority of the children (preK through 5th) are Latino. There are also some Black kids and White kids. We made it a point to recruit readers from the immediate community that reflected (racially, ethnically, and culturally) the children we were there to serve: Latino/a and Black readers, a small handful of White, from all walks of life: grocery store owners (Pronto Mart), our supermarket chain (United), non-profit folks, professors, a coach from the middle school, a university basketball player, the principal: the gamut, if you will. Some read in English, others in Spanish. We chose Xavier Garza’s bilingual picture book, LUCHA LIBRE: THE MAN IN THE SILVER MASK. (It was our contribution to Pat Mora’s Día de los niños/día de los libros.) Get this: the principal ponied up the cash from a grant so that each of his 600+ children and teachers would receive an autographed copy of the book: a few thousand bucks, actually. A handful of us even wore Mexican wrestling masks during our reading, though it did get hot under them. The kids KNEW lucha libre, they knew the narrator’s story, his language. In one class, the week following, the kids were given the option to read silently or to work on their computers. Several eagerly reached into their desks and pulled out their copies of Garza’s work. It is their story, after all, and now they own it. For many of them, it is their story sanctioned for the very first time by the educational system. This is why we need representation at all these levels of the publishing industry.

    • Paola Ferate says:

      Rene, thank you so much for your commitment to the children and to Día. I am glad to hear your voice in this conversation as you and Pat are an inspiration to so many! Gracias!

  16. Another set of data that would be interesting to gather is historical. I assume the current survey is about diversity of reviewers right now. It is baseline data but am wondering if review journals could generate a list of their past reviewers, too. If so, Horn Book would be able to say they had a Native reviewer (me) in the 90s.

    • So glad you brought up the history component, Debbie. And let’s all remember: The gathering of numbers is only part of the process. There are stories behind those numbers that need to be told.

      • Eye on the prize. Let’s talk about historical benchmarks after we get the benchmark for where we are now. The reason I say this is that the number for the here and now may seem like a simple request, but to many publishers I’ve spoken with, this survey is considered too much to ask.

  17. Oralia Garza de Cortes says:

    It’s painful to process just how reticent the major (and still some minor) children’s publishing houses are to change, particularly given that we live in a world of such an accelerated rate of change. The publishing industry rode and continues to ride the technology wave well. In the process, however, they may well have been asleep at the wheel as the face of America changed but they were too engrossed in new technologies to notice. A recent article in the U.K.’s Independent


    cites a statement by Geena Davis that at the current rate of change, it may well take 700 years to see women be on equal terms with men in the film industry. Will the same be said for the children’s publishing industry with reference to publishing more voices that reflect our plurality? It’s just a simple survey, folks. Step 1. Much, much more needs to be done and fast if we are to make any progress in the publication of diverse books, particularly the miserable number of books published by people of color on any given year. At the end of the day, it is about access to the publishing houses and breaking down the color line barriers of those gatekeepers who stand in the way of real progress.
    On this Mother’s Day, the words of Mother Jones resonate loud and clear: “ Don’t mourn! Organize! “ Let’s do it, together, for the sake of our children and our survival as a just, literate nation. Si se puede!

  18. I sincerely hope that publishers will also seize this as an opportunity to examine and evaluate whiteness in their companies’ cultures–not just as reflected in the #s, but also in the cultural norms and values they hold dear. Simply upping the number of non-white employees will not necessarily eliminate a white culture that dominates every aspect of our society. Too often, white people (like me) think of white cultural norms as “default”, “universal”, or “the way things are.” We have to unlearn that. I constantly refer to this article for help in that process: http://www.cwsworkshop.org/PARC_site_B/dr-culture.html

  19. Self examination is never easy, not for an individual and not for a company. When that company is a publishing house, a business whose success depends upon public consumerism, it seems logical for that company to view whether its employee base reflects the consumers it hopes to attract. In this age of social media, where the company’s complexion is readily represented by the faces working for it, it’s all too easy to see when a publisher or review journal has a homogenous workforce, and to see that homogeneity reflected in that company’s titles, author roster, or the books it chooses to highlight for review. No one suggests that publishers hire editorial and production staff, or trade journals hire reviewers of specific races just to fill quotas. Perhaps the fault lies elsewhere — perhaps people of color simply aren’t applying for jobs at publishing houses or journals. (Personally, I don’t think that’s the case.) There is no easy solution to solving the problem of diversity in the publishing industry, but gathering data that illustrates the complexion of key parts of the industry would help provide better insight as to why there continues to be such a lack of diversity in the books we see published. Every publisher should participate in Mr. Low’s survey. It’s not an indictment. It’s a step toward improving the industry we love.

  20. Tony Medina, author says:

    The Diversity Baseline Survey should be embraced by anyone who truly cares about American diversity and how American children and youth are culturally socialized regarding literature. If the recent SONY private email scandal revealed is that our nation has a tremendous problem when it comes to representing the true reflection of the reality of American multiculturality. It showed that people of color—even when successful as actors such as Denzel Washington—still do not get a fair shake at acting, writing, directing and producing films and television shows. The same can be said of the publishing industry. Were it not for independent presses that are at the forefront of publishing diverse books for children and teenagers, young people of color would have no reflection of their reality and dreams in our nation’s literature; nor would white children be exposed to the rich expanse of cultures outside of their reality, which is quite skewed. I know for a fact, as an author of children’s and young adult books, who has published with fine independent presses such as Lee & Low Books and Just Us Books, that white children love ALL kinds of literature. I remember distinctly, visiting a school in the outskirts of Chicago proper, invited by PEN American Center, conducting a creative writing workshop for a class of 4th graders who had been gifted my book, LOVE TO LANGSTON, a bio in verse of African American poet Langston Hughes, and noticing, during a break period, a white child sitting alone, pouting. I assumed someone was bullying him or he was unhappy with the reading and assignment. I asked him, “What’s the matter?” He looked at me intently and shook his balled fist emphatically, “This is my favorite book in the whole world!!!” I have never been so choked up at a class visit before when that child revealed how much he loved LOVE TO LANGSTON and how much he identified with Langston Hughes’ story and his childhood. This is what books, what films, what stories are supposed to do. We live in a vast and rich society with a vast and rich populace of so many peoples and so many cultures. It is dismaying to walk into a bookstore and go to the children’s section to buy a gift for a friend’s daughter on Christmas Eve, only to be leveled with such an ominous feeling of depression at the lack of books reflective of children of color. It makes me think, “Our kids don’t stand a chance in a society that renders them invisible.” I urge ALL American publishing companies to participate in this survey, because it is a matter of national importance. We are living in a time where people of color, youth and teens, are being demonized, criminalized, imprisoned and, tragically, killed at what is an alarming rate. There is a deep racism and hatred that still plagues our nation. Literature has always been one of those magical spaces and places we could go to in order to connect with one another and to learn to empathize. This is greatly undermined when there seems to be a concerted effort to deny many peoples and cultures their stories, their humanity. Let us embrace the actions of all those involved with seeking solutions to the lack of diversity in American publishing and in children’s and young adult literature. It is a movement long overdue—and it is linked to the current movements for peace, justice and equality we should all, as a nation, be striving toward.

  21. Publishers have a responsibility to take this survey. It is imperative that publishers take a closer look at how many of their authors background matches the characters in the book. Books about American Indians need to be written primarily by American Indian authors, we need to hear the voices of black authors of every class and region, we need to have more stories published about Deaf characters written by Deaf people (not another story about a deaf character who has super lip-reading skills or plays in a band). We need to stop worrying about the exceptions to the rule where a white person or a hearing or able bodied person can “do a great job” at writing another person’s story. Yes, it can happen, but let’s stop making that point as those mainstream authors aren’t being shut down and are well represented and let those who are underrepresented get that choice publishing spot. We know the stories are out there. We know the authors have the skill and the talent. We know they have written the stories. We know what kind of stories don’t get picked up in favor of what does get picked up.
    I may be an 80’s throw back but let’s “Just do it”.

  22. Lucia Gonzalez says:

    From the outside looking in, I don’t see much diversity among the decision makers in major publishers of children’s books. Is it a matter of perception, or an issue that needs to be identified? This survey is necessary.

  23. I wonder how often publishers re-examine what the “urban market” wants. There hasn’t seemed to be a whole lot of change since I was a kid. It was full of history inspired stories back then, and it still is. After a while I got bored. I’ve seen the same thing happen with my kids who would much rather read a Percy Jackson book than yet another book on George Washington Carver.

    It would also be nice to see more diversity in reviewers. I’ve done a syndicated comic strip based on a family who happens to be African American for almost 20 years. I’ve done three successful books based on the strip. But I get reviews that say that the teens in my book don’t seem like typical black teenagers. So even though I WAS one, I teach them, and I am raising two of them, the reviewer still knows more than me on the subject. I didn’t have them in the projects, there was also no drugs or gangs. My review also suggest “other books” that the readers should get instead of mine, which I don’t know if I ever see in a typical review. My fan reviews are awesome, even from reluctant readers, my industry reviews make me wish I worked at the Post Office.

    • Jerry, your comment brings up a subject worth expanding on. More than once I’ve felt that the culturally relevant details woven into a story or illustration I create are glossed over by reviewers. And I wonder, why? Yet, when I share my work with the many Latino kids in American public schools these kids “get it” and their classmates learn something new. I yearn for past times, when SLJ had Críticas Magazine; and it was trilling to get a review from them, knowing that the reviewers understood the subtleties of the language, traditions and folklore portrayed in a book.
      It would be so wonderful if ALL publishers participated in this survey! It’s not about pointing fingers, like it’s been said before. It’s about recognizing who we are, where we’ve been, and who can we become in search more diversity in the children’s book field. EN LA UNIÓN ESTÁ LA FUERZA.

  24. I’d love to see more conversation about this failure to appreciate culturally grounded content and stylistic approaches. Personally, I’m often struck by the elegance, wit and creative finesse of my Native author colleagues and disheartened that it too often does unrecognized, let alone heralded. I’m an optimist, yet I grow weary of the real-world need/pressure to advise my mentees to navigate their authenticity with the well-intended (and determinative) expectations of white liberals in mind, least they risk being effectively silenced in the conversation of trade published and celebrated works for young readers.

  25. i think this is such an important endeavor. many of us already recognize that this is a systemic issue, and i think this survey would shed light, and hopefully, raise awareness and galvanize change. as a chinese american author writing chinese inspired young adult fantasies, do i think i’ve been affected by the homogeneity within the industry? definitely, in both blatant and subtle ways.

  26. Robin Fogle Kurz says:

    This survey is important for many different reasons, but I can see why many of the big publishers may be resistant to provide feedback. Just as we’ve seen glacial progress in the numbers of books for youth from and/or about communities of color since Nancy Larrick’s landmark article in 1965, I would imagine that we will be similarly disheartened by the lack of diversity among publishing and review staff. Anyone who has walked the publishers’ aisles at ALA Annual Conference or a similar conference is aware of the homogeneity in the field. If anything, the people who edit, publish, and review books for youth are likely to be even less diverse than the books themselves. Increasing diversity in those quarters could go a long way toward increasing diversity of authors, illustrators, and books.

    • Completely agree. One of the reasons I love what We Need Diverse Books has accomplished/is accomplishing is because they’re looking at the issue from a variety of points. I’m on the internship committee, which is working on making it possible for POC interns who might not be able to afford it otherwise to have an additional stipend to help them afford to live in NYC while they’re on an internship. Knowing what I know about how I avoided NYC for the first 10 years of my career *because* of financial pressures–because there was no way I could afford it–I know that this will make a big difference.

      • Cathie Mercier says:

        Sorry to be a latecomer to this discussion.
        As someone outside of publishing but for whom the publishing industry directly influences my academic work and teaching, I approach this conversation with the driving concern of ACCESS. It’s not just about wanting to create access, but also about figuring out how to create access. Like Stacy, as an undergraduate student or as a graduate student, I was working summers and semester breaks to pay my tuition. I simply did not have the financial bandwith to take advantage of opportunities such as internships or study abroad. Heck, even paid internships in another city (NYC or Boston) may have paid the summer rent, but they didn’t give me the earnings I needed to return to college and pay tuition. I could save much more money living at home and working crazy hours as a short-order cook.

        Much of my work now is about finding and creating opportunities to increase access to graduate study of children’s and young adult literature and to create access for those diverse students to pursue internships in a variety of fields — publishing is high on their list.

  27. In my work at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I’ve had the privilege of being involved in developing an overseas residency in collaboration with Bath Spa University in the UK, which we’re launching this summer. I find myself wondering how these issues have played out there, and wish we could have the benefit of British voices in this conversation. I know that Laura Atkins did some work on this when she was at Roehampton, but that’s already 6 years ago: http://www.winchester.ac.uk/academicdepartments/EnglishCreativeWritingandAmericanStudies/Documents/w4cissue2cApr.pdf

    • I believe that the UK has an Equality Charter that a lot of publishers signed several years ago. Yes, here it is: http://equalityinpublishing.org.uk/. Which is more than what we have here, but I don’t know if it’s kept the same steam over the years as it originally had. It doesn’t seem to be associated with the same group, and when I tried to click on the 2014 charter, it gave me a 504 Error. However, here are the past signatories: http://equalityinpublishing.org.uk/equalities-charter/members/.

    • We’re having these kinds of conversations about diversity in books for young people right now, here in the UK. My students on the MA Writing for Young People at Bath Spa are very aware of the issues: Sarah Benwell (Last of the Falling Leaves) is organising a conference on the subject for next year. I think UK children’s publishers are beginning to wake up to the need for books where all children can ‘see’ themselves; stories which reflect our diverse world, though they are sometimes overly cautious about ‘getting it wrong’ ( and concerned about sales figures). Our children’s laureate Malorie Blackman has been brilliant at speaking out about diversity in fiction for young people. There’s a growing movement among authors which is encouraging. But we could ask the same questions about the profile of faculty in our universities, and the students on our creative writing programmes…

  28. Paola Ferate says:

    I applaud Jason Low for launching this survey as a first step to solve the lack of diversity in publishing. As a public services librarian working with low income children in Austin, many of whom are Spanish speakers, I struggle with how unbalanced our children’s book collection is. Our book selectors have a hard time filling our needs because access to these types of materials is so limited. There is a huge need for kids to read books that reflect themselves and also their peers. We live in a country that is becoming more and more polarized. Folks stand in one or another pole in their interpretation of how the world should be run without taking into account the validity of others’ points of view. Books give readers that type of validation and understanding either by being mirrors or windows. Just like words and language shape and reflect culture, not finding different kinds of people in our books makes most folk believe that either they don’t exist, or that their existence does not matter; that my existence and that of my people and that of others that look differently than “the norm” portrayed in most books does not matter.
    Mr. Low has identified a problem in the publishing industry. We all humans tend to like to meet, talk, discuss with people that think like us. It makes us uncomfortable to go to a place where we are singled out because our ideas or values are different than the “norm” or because we look unlike everyone else. When filling positions, it is only human nature that makes us like candidates that have similar values to ours; that we can relate to. It is this fact which makes the survey so valuable. Finding out the current state of diversity in the publishing industry is the first step to diversify the market, to plan out the future path. That future path does not mean that people like me would advocate for publishing houses to hire minorities for the sake of hiring minorities without regard to their qualifications. Instead it means that we as the public, as consumers, are in need of editors and authors and publishing houses that go out of their way to look for stories, authors and illustrators that can expand our world, that can show us characters that look like us and our children, and our neighbor’s children. Those authors and illustrators are there and need to be discovered. Some are still in our schools, little seedlings waiting to be shaped, and taught and nurtured by good stories and by the belief that they too can write and become published authors someday. A more diverse industry where more folks of diverse backgrounds have a stake on the firm’s success would be more welcoming to these creative souls and be able to see the gifts that they bring to our shelves and would feed new authors in the making. Thank you Jason Low for your work and for your commitment to diversity in publishing, and thank you to all publishing houses and review sources that are taking part of this survey.

  29. Two more additions: small publisher, Pomelo Books and reviewer, Library Journal. Welcome!

  30. Elizabeth Bluemle says:

    I think we already know how these numbers would play out, but publishers should participate (at least in-house, but preferably in an honest, anonymous survey) to face what they may not want to…. The UK has been addressing this issue for some time and created a Diversity Charter that many major publishers have committed to. Their charter and more info are here: http://equalityinpublishing.org.uk
    They conducted a similar survey of the makeup of the UK publishing industry across racial/ethnic lines, with these results: http://equalityinpublishing.org.uk/recommended-reads/report-highlights-shocking-lack-of-diversity-in-publishing/. I’d be interested to see how their efforts have progressed over the past several years.

  31. I also applaud Jason Low for launching this survey. It is heartening that many publishing houses are participating, yet disheartening that the big voices in the industry remain silent. The bottom line: children need to find themselves in the books they read. Authors and illustrators create diverse characters/stories, but if the books do not get published, or marketed/promoted well then they aren’t recognized enough. Consequently, parents/teachers/librarians who want more of these books don’t often know specific titles or authors to ask for at a book store. The stores then assume there is no need. It is a huge, frustrating issue. For more diverse books to reach the children who need them, we need the big companies to do more. Let’s consider author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s concept of the dangers of a “single story.” This results when people of one culture hear only one thing repeatedly about a different culture. In her words, “The single story then creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Our world is richly diverse; our books need to reflect it.

  32. Emily Chiariello says:

    Thank you SLJ and Lee and Low! Teachers and districts are starved for high quality diverse books that reflect the lives and experiences of their students. Educators know that young readers who are exposed to windows AND mirrors have more affirming and positive literacy experiences. In an increasingly diverse America, the need for more mirror texts has never been greater. That need is LARGELY met (or unmet) by publishers and reviewers, whose expertise and resource educators depend upon as standard bearers.

    A baseline diversity survey is a fantastic idea as a starting point. I hope publishers and reviewers will see this as a kind of self-assessment and an opportunity for goals setting, not about competition or blame.

    Educators already evaluate texts for diversity when making instructional choices, using tools like Teaching Tolerance’s Project Appendix D http://www.tolerance.org/publication/project-appendix-d

    Publishers, reviewers and their audiences all stand to benefit from a diversity audit.

  33. Jamie Naidoo says:

    I will probably not be as articulate as many of the others who have commented here to date; but, I think it is extremely important for there to be more diversity in children’s book publishing in general. This includes the cultural diversity of the authors and illustrators creating the books; cultural diversity of the editors, marketing managers, translators, etc. at publishing houses; cultural diversity of the characters depicted in texts and illustrations of children’s and YA books; and cultural diversity of the librarians and educators reviewing books. Equally important is providing opportunities to develop the cultural competence and cross-cultural understanding in those whose culture is represented by the mainstream White, heterosexual, fully-abled (not the right word – apologies please) population. Many important points have already been made so I will not repeat them. I applaud the publishers, review sources, etc. that have already completed the survey and hope others will join as well. We need baseline information to build upon to ensure children and teens have access to print and digital materials that reflect their diverse realities. Kudos to Lee&Low for getting this discussion going!

  34. Adriana Dominguez says:

    Resounding applause to Jason Low for putting this survey together. While I am very proud to personally know many folks in the industry —diverse and not—who are truly invested in diversity, and who show it with everyday actions and through the books they publish, the fact is that many of us continue to be the only “diverse” folks in the room when we discuss diverse projects that we feel passionate about and that we know will entertain, inform, delight, and simply touch the lives of ALL children. Those of us who undertake this work, often act as cultural translators for folks who may not carry the same cultural and societal references that we do, and, just as importantly, we are often not the decision makers in those rooms. Just as it’s been sad of “diverse” authors and books—that we’d like to move to a time when we refer to each as just “authors” and “books,” many of us working hard to get those books in the hands of children would likely love to move from being “advocates” to simply “editors, agents, reviewers, librarians,” etc, just like every one else. A more diverse publishing industry will necessarily bring on a more diverse production of books, especially when that diversity reaches all the way to the top, where decisions are made, as Jason has so eloquently proven with every single one of his actions over the past year or two. I do hope that the big five will decide to participate so that we can move on to the next phase, and nurture diversity in every facet of publishing. I would personally applaud and celebrate this first step from every single participant, larger or small, rather than chastise them for not making the numbers just yet. It’s a first step.

  35. Moxie Rich says:

    Thanks Jason Low. Traditional publishing is on of the most segregated in America.

    Publishers are clueless about how to market to minorities and seem to believe if a book is not worthy of the NY Times style section , it’s not fit to be published at all.

  36. Jason,
    I just want to commend you for taking the initiative and forging ahead in this great endeavor. This survey is an important tool in that it will help us all see where we are so that we can begin to have the conversations regarding where we need to be and, most importantly, what we can do to get there. Thank you for taking up the torch so bravely and with such grace.
    All my best,
    Guadalupe Garcia McCall

  37. I’m super late to this discussion but I think it’s a great idea to do this survey, and I hope more major publishers will find a way to participate, even if it’s anonymous. I think most of us believe that the results will be unsurprising, but you’d be surprised by how shocked people can be by statistics that simply underscore what we see every day. This survey could be another valuable tool in our fight to increase representations of diversity in books. Good luck to Lee & Low!

  38. Jane M. Gangi, PhD says:

    I think we tend to choose books that resonate with ourselves. Acquisition editors need to be aware of this propensity to select books about characters and people who look like they do. I think Jason’s baseline survey is an important one.

  39. Hello! I was very happy to be part of an organization that is taking the survey but I was very disappointed when I saw the survey and the limited selections. The survey I completed gave no opportunity to self-identify by writing something in, placed trans and intersex in the “sexual orientation” category, and aggregated every non-heteronormative identity as one choice. I respect and applaud the intent behind this survey but I would hope you revisit and carefully consider the design of the survey. The process of data collection itself can be dehumanizing and Othering especially when “Other” is the only choice available to a person. The need/desire to gather data quickly and simply should not supersede compassion and respect for the people for whom you advocate.

    • Leonicka, Thanks for your feedback. Since the survey is already underway we are holding off on making changes to the questions as that would cause the data to be out of synch if different questions were introduced half way through. At the same time, we are taking your thoughts seriously, and have been compiling notes and changes for version 2 of the survey.

  40. Robyn McGee says:

    Artists of color in the film industry have taken to Twitter to call out the studios about their lack of diversity. Perhaps we writers should do the same. Check it out http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/7464554?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000047

  41. Gathering information is the first step to understanding anything. There is no need for publishers to feel defensive about a situation which is common to most American businesses. Anyone willing to address the issue by taking this survey should be proud to be known as a person who is concerned about our children’s future in a very diverse world.