The number of children’s books featuring racial, ethnic, or cultural diversity has not kept pace with the growing diversity of the United States population. Census data from 2008 shows that 34% of the population is minorities. In contrast, the number of children’s books reflecting diversity is about 13% of the books published each year. Since 1994, when the Cooperative Children’s Book Center started to keep statistics of children’s books published by and about people of color, I’ve watched this percentage inch up and down. But there has never been a significant improvement or decline.
These statistics show the reality of the situation, but my immediate perception of the world of diverse books is somewhat skewed, since I see publishing through the lens of our own list, where there is no shortage of diversity. All our books are about people of color, and that’s not likely to change soon, since we currently have acquired projects for the next several years. In a market where “multicultural” publishing has never been the Next Big Thing, how can we keep doing what we do, year in, year out?
One of the reasons we are successful is because we have always subscribed to a less-is-more mentality. We limit ourselves to the number of books we can afford to publish well, which has dictated some specific ways we operate in order to ensure that we do more than just survive. While last year’s downturn in the economy forced other publishing houses to be more selective, we have always been selective. This self-imposed limit has resulted in a focused list of high quality books that we think have the best chance of finding their niche audiences and being profitable. Even so, experience has taught us that it is very difficult to make much money on books. Keeping small and to our mission is key. For us, twelve good books each year are infinitely preferable to fifty or sixty because we have the resources to promote and stand behind each book proudly. Because of our less-is-more mentality, we are still publishing the books we want to publish, and look forward to many more great stories to come.