Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Further Action on Whitewashing for Booksellers

So I'm swamped with my second job starting up again FYI -- you'll be getting more fully thought out posts later, but I wanted to talk about more things booksellers & buyers can do about whitewashing.

First of all, talk to all your publishers reps (or get your buyers to talk to them) about whitewashing generally and the examples we've seen lately specifically. Don't assume that your reps know what's going on in any detail at all, or that they're even aware that there's a controversy. Show them specific examples in their catalogues of excellent books and less excellent ones. Don't just talk about whitewashing of covers, but also of the need for more genre fiction with main characters of color. Talk to them about J. Woodson's covers being all blurred out or not having people on the cover at all. Tell them about great examples put out by other publishers.

But it's not enough to just talk to your reps. This seems counter-intuitive to me, but from everything all of my reps have told me, their word counts for pretty much nothing with the marketing folk. (You'd think publishers would want to listen to the folk in the field, but no). So you must also write letters to the publishers yourselves, identifying yourself as a bookseller/buyer/manager/etc. Target the sales departments and the senior executives of the company. Be nice. You catch more flies with honey. They're just following the money so show them how their racism is going to bite them in the butt. I'll post my letter soonish as an example.

But if you want to have the most impact, get your act together a little bit and get your customers to sign a petition that you will later send to publishers stating "We will buy books with people of color on the cover no matter what race we ourselves are." Go in to more detail, tell them all the things you want to see (not what you don't), use positive phrasing, tell them you appreciate the good books they've already published. Send the petition to every major publisher you order from whether they've been part of the recent controversies or not. Put the petition at the desk, certainly, but set up an online petition that your facebook & twitter fans can sign and you'll get way more response. Don't just direct them to a petition that's already been set up. Get them to sign yours and then print that sucker out and send that big fat envelope to the publisher with a note that say "LOOK. ALLLLL of these customers of ours are saying that THEY will buy books with kids of color on the cover. Get to it."

But it's still not enough. If you want to really change things it's not enough to just get customers to sign the petition. After all, very few people who you explain it to are going to refuse to sign it. It's not the signing that matters. Their opinion doesn't really matter, their actions matter. It's changing their buying habits that you really want to do. You have to get them to really understand that publishers are putting racist covers on books because they think that that they won't sell otherwise. You must get your customers to actually consciously commit to buying more books with people of color on the cover. And not just for today. Your goal has to be to get them to change their habits long term. You're going to need a Really Serious Life Changing Display-A-Mundo of Power, my friend. I'll post pictures of ours later (when I have access to a camera), but think about making a window display. Hell, it's black history month, lets do something useful for once. Make that display really, really clear. Put lots of example books in the window with notes to explain them. Post copies of articles about whitewashing. Use big clear text. Tell people to sign the petition inside. Don't forget that customers have attention spans the size of a pea. Make a smaller display inside to remind them about the problem. Put a sign at the desk reminding them to sign the petition. Remember that customers don't read signs, remind them verbally when they check out. Don't be afraid to put that pressure on. You're an independent bookstore, after all, taking a stand is what you're supposed to be all about.

When you're done with all this, send each publisher a fat envelope of the petition, pictures of your windows and display(s) (don't forget to claim that co-op either!), copies of articles about white washing, and your own letter explaining that you are so not down with whitewashing, and giving specific examples of what you'd like to see from publishers in the future in regards to race. And keep the pressure on, don't let your customers, reps, or publishers forget about it. This isn't over when covers have been changed and it won't be done when black history month is over. Keep calling publishers out on their crap.

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