Portland State University. Department of English
Publishers and publishing, Book industries and trade, Literature -- History and criticism, Multiculturalism in literature, Children's literature -- Publishing
Aisha Saeed was the first to use the hashtag that would fuel what was (and continues to be) arguably the first digital campaign to speak loudly and directly to publishers and booksellers about the mis-and underrepresentation of nonwhite, differently abled, and queer populations in young adult and children’s literature. Though Saeed’s original tweet received only eleven retweets and seven likes, two years later, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag is now just a piece of the larger organization that generated more than 333,000 dollars in 2014 (its first year as an organization) and continues to promote large-scale programming in schools, organize festivals, award grants, and develop partnerships with organizations and companies from all sides of the YA and children’s book industry––from publishers to librarians to booksellers. Today, the organization functions as a persistent knock on the gatekeepers’ door, demanding entry through the gate and responsiveness from the keepers. The reach of We Need Diverse Books is huge, its message loud, and it’s difficult to know where and how to categorize this new type of influence on writing and publishing. How do digital communities and conversations -- organized by hashtags and hosted on social networking and micro-blogging sites -- shape and inform how and what we read and publish? Still dominated by white, able bodied, and cisgender faces, brains, and experiences (see Lee & Low Books recently released results of the Diversity Baseline Survey), the publishing industry today is challenged to the next steps. What are they? How can publishers leverage a new and rapidly evolving media environment to stay accountable to readers and audiences?
The following examination posits that these emergent, participatory digital environs might be productively considered paratexts, that is, the pieces of a book that surround and extend it, that “present…and make it present…to assure its presence in the world.”5 Taking literary critic Gérard Genette’s original concept of paratext and introducing it to media theorist John Fiske's concept of "the producerly text," we arrive at what I call the "producerly paratext," which not only presents and makes present the book, but also invites outside parties to participate in that presentation. Forging spaces for that participation is the way forward for the book industry and its inhabitants who are striving, and often stumbling, to keep up with ever more rapid technological change, meet a more and more elusive bottom line, and build a more responsive and representative industry.
This exploration will take three turns. The first is a twofold examination that defines the theoretical framework of the producerly paratext and then brings it into conversation with book history, keeping a keen eye toward the capacity of emerging technology to enable paratexts that are sites of resistance and reformulation. The second is a compendium of examples of paratexts that bring that examination to bear in the present moment of media and the book industry. Bringing the We Need Diverse Books campaign’s use of networked, digital tools into conversation with contemporary conceptualizations of paratext yields a dynamic vision of a publishing industry poised to actively become more innovative, responsive, and representative. The third is a blueprint for producerly paratext production: a consideration how the publishing industry might move forward on this particular track, work with audiences to understand paratexts, and build new producerly ones that both hold publishers accountable and function as spaces of resistance and reformulation––paratexts that continue to dismantle the gate and let readers cross the threshold.
Athey, Dory, "Dismantling the Gate, Crossing the Threshold: The Promise of Producerly Paratexts in Building an Innovative, Responsive, and Representative Book Industry" (2016). Book Publishing Final Research Paper. 22.