re: Should I Pitch the Ethnicity of My Characters?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I keep reading about the lack of diversity in children’s books and that agents are in search of non-white main characters. I am about to query a middle-grade novel (an adventure across parallel worlds) in which the main character is part Native American and her best friend is Chinese. (The characters’ ethnicities do not impact the plot at all.) Should I attempt to work this into the query letter? Any suggestions as to the best way to do it?

Sincerely,
Mary

Dear Mary…

Absolutely include that fact in your query letter. It’s one more feature that distinguishes your project, and its current status on publishing’s radar only helps. Go the extra step of pitching the colorblindness of your casting, which many people consider the ultimate goal of diversity efforts: The hero is the hero because s/he’s got heroic qualities – skin color is incidental. I’d share this at the end of the second paragraph in a three-paragraph query, where Paragraph 1 pitches the hook, Paragraph 2 presents key plot and thematic elements, and Paragraph 3 touts your credentials. Leading with this topic could imply that ethnicity does actively factor into the story; placement at the end of Paragraph 2 offers it as a feature, but not the primary one. Possible wording: “With a main character who’s part Native American and a best friend who’s Chinese, Title of Book features an ethnically diverse cast without driving racial themes. This is an [adventure/love/whatever] story, through and through.”

Happy writing!
The Editor

15 Comments

  1. I learn so much from your column! I’m saving this for future reference, as I have written two stories about characters with disabilities. In one the disability is incidental; in the other, it drives the story.

    • Indeed, a similar consideration must given by those who include characters with disabilities in their books. I’m so glad this post is helpful to you, as well.

  2. Perfect timing! My current PB’s cast of characters is non-white, but I did not know how to incorporate ethnicity into my query, since it does not drive the plot. Thanks!

  3. Thank you so much for your response. I will get to work on revising my query letter to include this information right away!

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to tell me the blog is helpful, Constance. My warm fuzzy for the day. 🙂

  4. I have never seen this question asked in just this way before but I have thought it! This was so helpful as I have wondered whether or not to mention that the main character’s family in my MG story comes from a Middle Eastern country. While it does not “drive” the story, I’d like to think it enriches it and deepens the themes. It certainly adds to the humor. So thanks for a great question and a perfect answer!

    • Sounds like an enriching detail to me, Maureen. Glad to know this has been helpful to you in figuring out how to include it in your query.

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