Shine a Bright Spotlight on Unsold Diverse Books: An Idea Inspired by Hollywood’s Black List

By Patrick Flores-Scott

I’m happy to have the opportunity to be blogging here at Latin@s in Kid Lit!

Once again, I’ve got the We Need Diverse Books movement on my mind.

If you’re reading this post, I’m sure you’re very aware that children’s literature does not reflect the true diversity of this land. And you’re very likely to agree that it must.  And you can explain the myriad reasons why it must. And you’ve most likely asked yourself, How do we fix this? And I bet you’ve got ideas.

It’s going to take many ideas from myriad sources and a lot of people working together in every phase of the publishing industry to make change happen.

I’d like to use this post to throw one possible idea into that mix. For many reasons, I’m not the guy to put this one into action, but I think it’s an idea worthy of consideration, and it would be very cool if someone ran with it.

The idea is stolen from Hollywood. It’s called the Black List. I’m not referring to the mid-last-century process of blacklisting supposed Hollywood communists and those who refused to name names, in an effort to keep them from ever working in this town again. And I’m not referring to NBC’s TV show, The Blacklist. I’m referring to the Black List, which is a list of the best unsold scripts for each calendar year. Simple as that.

The List was started by Franklin Leonard in an effort to bring attention to scripts that otherwise, may never have seen the light of day, and in an attempt to create a path to success for yet-to-be-produced screenwriters.

Check out this link to an interview with Franklin Leonard. It’s is a great introduction to the Black List.

In the interview, Franklin Leonard states that:

“…the more that we can do to shine a very bright spotlight on people doing ambitious and very high quality work, the more likely it is that those scripts get made. I think the role we play is to shine that bright spotlight and say, “Here’s a bunch of stuff that maybe you overlooked, that maybe you loved but you didn’t pull the trigger on for whatever reason; it might be worth taking a second look.”

He goes on to say that’s exactly what happens when the list comes out each year. There are meetings all over Hollywood where executives go over the list and reconsider scripts they’d previously passed on, or they find new scripts that they then request from writers and agents.

Since 2005, over two-hundred films that made it onto a Black List have been produced. Some of them include Argo, American Hustle, The Descendants, Juno, The Wolf of Wall Street, Slumdog Millionaire, The Social Network, and The Wrestler.

In an attempt to start a dialogue, here are some ideas about how the Black List could work in the world of kid lit:

The Kid List (or whatever it’s going to be called) committee would solicit manuscripts from writers from underrepresented backgrounds, or manuscripts with underrepresented main characters, regardless of the writer’s background.

The purpose of The Kid List would be to connect publishers with manuscripts that an esteemed committee would deem worthy of publication. It would also be a vehicle for connecting unrepresented writers with agents. Furthermore, the list could be used as a form of mentorship for writers of promising manuscripts that do not make the list. These writers would be given quality feedback and the opportunity to resubmit to the list the following year.

The manuscripts could be sent from agents or from individuals who do not yet have representation. I picture manuscripts coming from unpublished writers, but I think it’d also be appropriate for a published author to submit a manuscript that has gone through the traditional editorial submission process without garnering a deal.

At the end of the year, the committee would create a list made up of  (whatever number) of manuscripts that they feel are worthy of publication. I picture the list being unveiled by the committee during one of the major book conventions.

The make-up of the selection committee would be crucial to the success of The Kid List. In order to shine that spotlight that Franklin Leonard talks about, the folks on the committee would need to be bright lights in their own right. They should be influential librarians, well-regarded booksellers and big-name authors. It would be a major time commitment—maybe like being a member of the BFYA committee—but I think there are enough big-time players out there who value diversity in children’s literature and who would like to play a role in making that diversity happen.

Recruiting a selection committee, creating its rules and structures… all that, would be a big challenge for some dynamic, driven passionate individuals. Are you one of them?

My big fear would be that the list would come out… and nothing would happen. Editors and agents would greet it with a big whatever. I just don’t think that’d be the case. I truly believe that, for the most part, editors would like to publish more “diverse books.” But change is hard. People need a nudge. They need help. They need to be educated and they need someone they respect telling them it’s okay to go for it. But more than all that, The Kid List would create marketing buzz for books before they’re even sold. What publisher wouldn’t want a piece of that?

I could picture the first Kid List coming out and one book being published off that list. It might not seem like much, but editors and agents would know that a cool book from an unknown author was sold, at least in part, because of The Kid List. They’d check it out a little closer the next year and maybe then a few more books would be published because of The List. From there, it’s not hard seeing a time and place where The Kid List has done for diversity in kid lit what the Black List has done for Hollywood.

And it’s not hard to picture young writers from diverse backgrounds, inspired by the idea that there’s a path that I can take to get a book published. And the characters in that book can look like I do.

There it is. One idea. Let me know what you think. Or don’t, and just go for it.

PatrickFS1Patrick Flores-Scott was, until recently, a long-time public school teacher in Seattle, Washington. He’s now a stay-at-home dad and early morning writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Patrick’s first novel, Jumped In, has been named to a YALSA 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults book, an NCSS/CBC Notable Book for the Social Studies and a Bank Street College Best Book of 2014. He is currently working on his second book, American Road Trip.

5 comments on “Shine a Bright Spotlight on Unsold Diverse Books: An Idea Inspired by Hollywood’s Black List

  1. This is genius. It’s an industry-wide notion that could expand what we’re beginning to do with the Pitch Fiesta: create visibility for folks who haven’t (yet) had success navigating the paths into publishing. I think the next question is: what would it take to make something like this happen? Could we get YALSA, for example, to put committee power behind it? I might throw this post at my agent and editor–both rockstars who’ve had success with diverse titles–and ask them to comment on the idea.

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