For those seeking to support and amplify the Black presence in the YA literature category, Los Angeles-based writer Melody Simpson has created the website Melanin in YA—which, as the name suggests, is a database of “all things Black in traditional young adult publishing.” The site has been in soft-launch stage since August 30, with the official launch scheduled for January 4, 2021.
Simpson chose the site name “to make sure visitors know they’re supporting Black voices, specifically in this age category. I feel like a lot of publishing industry people are making empty promises right now about uplifting Black voices, so I wanted to create a no-excuses database that’s as accessible as possible, so you can’t say you don’t have an avenue to support Black authors.”
Created on the Wordpress platform, Melanin in YA’s main page will feature news such as book deals, cover reveals, new releases, awards, and more. A directory page will list Black authors, agents, editors, audiobook narrators, cover designers, and BIPOC resources such as Asian Author Alliance, Latinx in Publishing, LGBTQ Reads, and We Need Diverse Books. List pages will include influencers who champion YA literature written by Black authors; released movie and television adaptations of YA titles by Black authors; New York Times YA bestsellers by Black authors; and Black-owned brick-and-mortar bookstores.
Simpson singlehandedly created the site while juggling her full-time job as an office manager with writing a YA sci-fi novel and a nonfiction pop culture history book. She also runs a blog, called Hollywood the Write Way, of entertainment reviews and interviews.
The site’s startup costs were financed via GoFundMe, with a goal of $1,750—which was met and surpassed in four hours. With the excess funds, Simpson fulfilled a promise to purchase 60 hardcovers for future giveaways. At her local Barnes & Noble, she “went down every young adult aisle, and bought one book by every Black author in stock. Those books will be given away over the course of the next few months to readers, to librarians, people who want to read these words.” Fundraising for the site has transitioned to Patreon, where donors can participate in long-term support, and to Ko-fi for one-time donations.
Based on her understanding of soft launches, Simpson said she had expected it to be a quiet experience. “I did not know that this would gain so much support so quickly—and the feedback’s been so positive!” Since August, she added, the site has had 10,000 views, and the corresponding Twitter account has had half a million impressions.
In response to her survey asking for feedback on the site, Simpson heard from many agented authors who said they wished they’d had such a resource when they were querying. “And about 20% of the surveys were filled out by librarians—I was not expecting that! So I definitely have to figure out how I can better serve librarians on the website.”
Having artist parents—her mother, Stacie Simpson, is a singer and her father, Howard Simpson, is an illustrator whose clients include comic book publishers and animation studios—is another reason Simpson says this project is so important. “I grew up going to comic conventions and seeing the Black authors and artists that my dad hangs out with and supports, like Jerry Craft, so I know the industry on that end very well. From the inside, I can see how it’s grown over the years and how people have flourished; it’s been truly amazing. But from the outside, there are so many people who say, there aren’t Black books about this or that. Are you kidding me? I know these books are out there because my parents bought me these books. You just have to put some effort into finding them, because often these publishers aren’t supporting them because they’re not the front lead titles. So it’s really rewarding knowing that all the hard work that’s being put into Melanin in YA is already helping people.”