The end of May is a bid deal for authors, both published and yet to be. It marks Book Expo America, known by the acronym BEA. It brings together the biggest names in publishing. The authors speaking are some of the most decorated and well known, but the event also draws debut authors with books coming out that year. That is where I want to be one day. If the stars align the way I hope they will, I hope to be at the next BEA promoting my first novel.
A year ago, I would never have had the courage to state that to myself, let alone post it to a blog anyone can read. I had this story that I had been committed to for almost two years, but I wasn't sure where it was going. Publication felt more like a possibility than ever before, but I was more focused on completing my MFA and figuring out what I could do with it. There was no agent who believed in the book, and only one other person had read the entire manuscript. I had classmates who had already gotten multiple book deals and were going to be at the upcoming BEA and I couldn't wrap my head around that being me one day.
But, I've grown a lot as a writer since then. Not only because I've written so much in the last twelve months, but because I know more about how important stories like mine can be. After meeting and listening to so many authors talk about the need for diverse books; the need for powerful female protagonists; the need for stories that show a true depiction of the issues teens face today, I feel like my book has a purpose far greater than I imagined when I started. I didn't set out to write a novel that fit this bill. I wrote from the heart and of my personal experiences, but what came out feels so much like what teens today should read, especially given the events unfolding in cities throughout the country.
There are such high rates of poverty in urban areas. Children are going to school for meals and food pantries are struggling to keep the shelves stocked. Young people are frustrated with the lack of options for activities after school, opportunities beyond low wage jobs, and access to college funding. These are the themes writers should write about if they want to capture the attention of today's young readers. Kids are protesting alongside adults and capturing it all on video. They are doing heroic acts like cleaning up after riots and speaking out to encourage other young people to stand up for their rights. Who is telling their stories? Who is capturing them as the heroes they are?
I hope to be that writer who paints them as heroes. I want them to read about others who match their courage and strength. Hopefully my writing can show them that their past, their circumstances and their realities matter. Through reading they can see that their world isn't any less important than the ones that feature tranquility and simplicity where the biggest dilemma of the day is why your equally privileged best friend isn't speaking to you. May they see that it doesn't require money, an elevated social standing, a suburban zip code, or a two-parent home to carve out a future of happiness and justice.
When I first heard of BEA I thought it was the ultimate place to become established as a writer and become entrenched in publishing. It was a very public means to getting noticed and meeting all the right people who make things happen within the industry. As I think more about how it fits me, I see it differently. It no longer seems like a platform for me as an author, but more like a platform to validate that books like mine deserve a place on bookstore and library shelves. When I think about being there some day, I hope that it is to represent a book that speaks to those readers who others haven't known how to reach. As authors are booked for the day, I want to see more writers who take risks with their writing to appeal to the kids so few have appealed to. It would be phenomenal if the line up included those who write about heroes with special needs, kids saving the world while challenging gender norms, protagonists who shun societal standards and take the road less traveled. It would be refreshing and reflective of the world we live in and that is an experience I will continue to work towards.