#WeNeedDiverseBooks Librarian Dhonielle Clayton on Publishing, Mentorship and Finding Your Tribe

imagesEditor’s Note: Here at The Debutante Ball, we strive to give an insider look at our experiences with the publishing industry. But we also like to contribute to the dialogue on important topics in publishing, which is why this week we’ve decided to focus on diversity— and have each asked a guest author to discuss their experiences in the industry. We know we can’t solve the issues with a few blog posts, but we’re hoping we can add to the conversation and perhaps even spark some new ideas. 

My guest this week is my partner-in-crime – and CAKEDhonielle Clayton. She’s my co-author on TINY PRETTY THINGS, and her debut fantasy, THE BELLES, hits shelves in December 2016. A middle school librarian and part of the WeNeedDiverseBooks exec team, Dhonielle is smart, outspoken and completely driven. Chatterboxes that we are, we have a lot to say about diversity in publishing, so listen in – and then enter the TINY PRETTY THINGS giveaway by leaving a comment!

Many have called diversity a trend. Expound.

Dhonielle: Diversity is not a trend – but publishers might still think it is. Let’s make no mistake: I can’t change who I am, so to me, diversity is just who I am and the way I live. I can’t call it a trend. Instead, I call it reality. But to publishers, it may seem like the flavor of the month – unless we keep writing diverse books and selling diverse books.

Publishers still think diverse books don’t sell, though. What can we do to change that?

Dhonielle: The biggest things we can do is buy diverse books. Walk the walk. If diverse books are selling, publishers will take notice. And I think the idea that they don’t sell is bullshit. Look at TV as an example – the Empire effect, in a way. It’s so important for people – especially kids – to see themselves reflected. It’s critical.

Do you think publishers are buying more diverse books now? 

Dhonielle: Yes and no. I think they’re more open to it, yes. But as you and I have often discussed, there’s still sometimes that one-book-per-list mentality. One Asian story, one African-American story, one disability story. That’s frustrating. But what we’re trying to do with CAKE is work around that – by creating delicious page-turnery reads with organic diversity that’s layered and relevant, but not the central focus of the story. That’s what I was looking for as a kid: a brown girl who got to kiss boys or save the world. That’s what I’m still waiting to see.

What advice would you give a writer from a diverse background trying to break in today?

Dhonielle: As a diverse author, you have to be a gazillion times better. As my mother – and many other mentors – told me, good enough is simply not good enough. The deck is stacked against you, and you really have to shine to get noticed in this world. Find mentors, find confidantes, and when you find success, pay it forward.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned on this crazy publishing journey?

Dhonielle: Finding your tribe is so important. It will take a while, and not everyone will be rooting for you. But it’s so worth looking for the people you really connect with. We found that in each other, and especially in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks team, which is made up of smart, passionate, committed people. This is a tough business, and you need people you can rely on to share the lows – and the highs.

GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by Noon (EST) on Wednesday, August 5th to win one a copy of TINY PRETTY THINGS (U.S. only). Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winners on Tuesday. Good luck!

dhonielle-clayton-photoDhonielle Clayton spent most of her childhood under her grandmother’s table with a stack of books. She hails from the Washington, D.C. suburbs on the Maryland side. She earned an MA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University and an MFA in Writing for Children at the New School. She taught secondary school for several years. Now, she is a librarian at Harlem Village Academies and co-founder of CAKE Literary, a creative kitchen whipping up decadent — and decidedly diverse — literary confections for middle grade, young adult, and women’s fiction readers. Her debut novel TINY PRETTY THINGS (with Sona Charaipotra) is on shelves now. Her YA fantasy series THE BELLES is coming in December 2016 from Disney/Hyperion, and she is represented by Victoria Marini at ICM/Gelfman Schnieder. Twitter: @brownbookworm

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An entertainment and lifestyle journalist published by The New York Times, People, ABC News, MSN, Cosmopolitan and other major national media, SONA CHARAIPOTRA currently curates a kickass column on YA books and teen culture for Parade.com. A collector of presumably useless degrees, she double-majored in journalism and American Studies at Rutgers before getting her masters in screenwriting from New York University (where her thesis project was developed for the screen by MTV Films) and her MFA from the New School. When she's not hanging out with her writer husband and two chatter-boxy kids, she can be found poking plot holes in teen shows like Twisted and Vampire Diaries. But call it research: Sona is the co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book development company with a decidedly diverse bent. Her debut, the YA dance drama Tiny Pretty Things (co-written with Dhonielle Clayton), is due May 26 from HarperTeen. Find her on the web at SonaCharaipotra.com or CAKELiterary.com.

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2 thoughts on “#WeNeedDiverseBooks Librarian Dhonielle Clayton on Publishing, Mentorship and Finding Your Tribe

  1. ” But what we’re trying to do with CAKE is work around that – by creating delicious page-turnery reads with organic diversity that’s layered and relevant, but not the central focus of the story. That’s what I was looking for as a kid: a brown girl who got to kiss boys or save the world. ”

    This makes so much sense to me. I’m writing my first hispanic character (Puerto Rican to be precise). She’s only a close friend in my current book, but her cousin will be the lead in (what I hope) will be my third. It would never have occurred to me to do this (sad, I know) if it weren’t for the WNDB team and all their hard work. Thank you for stopping by The Ball!

  2. “Diversity is not a trend – but publishers might still think it is. Let’s make no mistake: I can’t change who I am, so to me, diversity is just who I am and the way I live. I can’t call it a trend. Instead, I call it reality.”

    Yes. Yes. Yes and yes. I couldn’t agree more. Diversity isn’t about filling a quota or having one diverse book & thinking it’s good enough to mix things up a bit. It’s simply a part of reality. We’re here not to add spice or color to anyone’s lives; we’re here because we ARE.

    Can’t wait to go back and read all of this week’s posts!

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