Saturday, May 24, 2014

An Open Letter To Agents, Publishers, Booksellers, and Librarians Regarding Diverse Literature.

Thanks to the incredibly powerful #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign, many of you will soon be heading off to BEA 2014 with a renewed sense of what is marketable.

As you do, please remember that for every wonderfully talented author appearing on BookCon’s, We Need Diverse Books panel, there are countless numbers of us who were out ahead of this movement, yet could not find a champion willing to be in our corner.

If you are truly invested in finding and promoting diversity in literature, you’ll need to rethink the way you view independently published authors of these books. Most of us are talented, hardworking, and brave individuals who refused to let the “no’s” of traditional publishing keep us from telling our diverse stories. We are one of the greatest resources of diverse and multicultural literature available. 

I hope you will keep this in mind the next time you are approached by an independent author of a diverse book. Our champions are found in those who recognize and promote quality literature regardless of who published it.

Kelan O’Connell

Friday, May 9, 2014


A big thank you and congratulations to the team of writers, publishers, and bloggers who worked to bring the message of  #WeNeedDiverseBooks to the world. This wildly successful social media campaign caught fire and has already had an impact: BookCon quickly adjusted their 2014 line-up, adding a We Need Diverse Books panel to the schedule. Now that's a successful campaign with immediate results.

This was my initial post for #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

A friend asked me if I was crying in this pic. No! I was simply very tired and it showed. I've been pushing hard to wrap up a polish on the original screenplay version of Delta Legend along with writing the newest  ____ Legend for both screen and manuscript. Yep, I'm kinda busy.

But I wanted to take a moment to celebrate this great event and relate my own experience.

When I began querying with the novel version of Delta Legend, it never occurred to me that my African American male protagonist might be a roadblock to acquiring an agent and landing a publishing deal. My take was that I had something unique and viable; a story that would appeal to readers of all ages and races. Only when the "Not right for my list" rejection letters began stacking up did I even start to wonder. Then came two rejection letters that alluded to the fact that my male protagonist of color would be a tough sell in the current market—this was 2010/2011.

When I tell people this, their initial reaction is shock followed by anger. Who would say such a thing? Well, if I wanted to, I could probably go back and figure out who. But why? I ceremoniously burned every physical rejection letter and dumped all email rejects in the virtual trash bin the day I vowed to publish Delta Legend myself—my Scarlett O'Hara moment. "As God is my witness…" yeah, yeah.

If I'd had more time to think about it, I probably would have worded my statement for this event a little differently. As is, it gives the impression that I hold a grudge against those two agents, when in fact, I will be forever grateful to them. They had the balls to speak the truth, and that truth ultimately set me on a different course. Most agents simply declined with the safe and generic, "Not right for my list." Of course, not every rejection of Delta Legend was because Calvin was black, but I'm willing to bet plenty were.

Publishing is a business. Period. And one that's been challenged by the game-changing landscape of digital technology. Agents and publishers have to make difficult choices about what they believe will sell. And what was selling like hotcakes at the time I was querying with Delta Legend was Paranormal Romance and Dystopian stories featuring white female protagonists.

When I look back, the irony is rather funny. Here I was peddling a protagonist of color during a time when the hottest thing going was not only white people, but extremely white people! Yeah, them.

When the original screenplay version of Delta Legend got nowhere in Hollywood back in the day, it probably wasn't that my hero was black. The bigger roadblock was that I was a previously unproduced writer trying to sell what amounted to a monster pic with a monster budget—the odds of that happening in Hollywood are slim to none.

Now, as I wrap up the screenplay polish and prepare to pitch once again, it will be interesting to see how having a dual platform is received. Who knows, maybe this time I'm driving a "vehicle" that's got legs.

Okay, I was pressed for time so a pic from Eight-Legged Freaks will have to do. I was hoping for a shot of Wilma Flintstone driving their great car. Guess what, the only image I found was one where it looked like Wilma couldn't handle driving because, well, that's a man's job. So you see, things do progress. 

Back to the literary side of things. I can feel the tide turning with regard to diversity in books. It's all about supply and demand. Thanks to #WeNeedDiverseBooks, the demand is finally being taken seriously, inspiring change and moving people to act. While this makes me really happy, there's an insidious Catch 22 that has yet to be addressed in all this: There are authors who, like myself, ultimately self-publish because our diverse main characters were not considered marketable by traditional publishing. Yet many libraries, bookstores, and bloggers continue to shun independently published books, further perpetuating the state of lack when it comes to diverse/multicultural literature.

I didn't go it alone because I wanted to, I did it because I had to. In the end, it's made me a stronger writer with a true appreciation for everything that goes into bringing a book to the people.

So, as you go forth in support of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, remember to stay open to books by Independent Authors. A good book is a good book. Period.

Here's my "do-over" for #WeNeedDiverseBooks.