We Didn't Know EVERYONE Would Be Talking About "It"

Saturday, June 05, 2021
When Sioux contacted me a few years ago for developmental editing before I had started Editor-911 Books, like so many Americans, I also hadn't heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre. She told me her big picture idea and bought a novel draft package. With my developmental editor hat on, I read her manuscript (Sioux is a wonderful writer) and knew that she had spent most of the pages skirting around the actual massacre because she was writing a middle-grade novel, and she was thinking of her audience. I think she wondered if she could write about the horrific details of that event for that age group. But my advice was: Kids, teachers, parents, and librarians will want to read about the event--they need to read about the event. So she worked on the manuscript, and it became the amazing book, Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story.

She tried to get a New York contract. She tried to get a regional publisher. She tried to get an agent. Many loved her work and her writing, but her problem was she was not a 12-year-old Black boy. She was a White 60-something woman, and even though she had done her research and went to Greenwood to talk to historical experts and spent her career teaching this age group of kids in Jennings, MO, and Ferguson, MO, editors and agents were reluctant? scared? unsure? and told her maybe in a few years. But the 100 year memorial/remembrance was not in a few years. It was right around the corner.

She asked me when I started Editor-911 Books if I would consider publishing her book, and I knew the right answer immediately was yes. I don't regret it for a second. I had no idea the worldwide attention this event was going to get. I had no idea "everyone" would be talking about it. I had no idea we would end up with a photo of Sioux standing with Garth Brooks holding Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story in his hand. 

It is crucial for Black voices to tell their stories and to get the same opportunities as White voices. It's crucial that women get the same opportunities as men. It's crucial that historical stories are told. In my opinion for my little publishing house, it was worth any risk or criticism to get Henry's story into the hands of kids. If I wouldn't have said yes, there would still be NO historical fiction middle-grade novel about the Tulsa Race Massacre on the shelves. 

Then today, I read this editorial in the New York Times by Mr. Tom Hanks (yes, the White male actor). He is writing about how kids should learn about events like the Tulsa Race Massacre through media like historical fiction. (I'm not kidding. He actually says that--you can read his entire letter here.) Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love him and think he is probably one of the most genuine people on the planet, and he is using his celebrity power for good when he can. But Sioux and I are over here in our little world FIGHTING to get this book into the hands of kids, to get people to give it a chance, to review it, to buy it for a 4th or 5th grade teacher. We are fighting against things like Amazon removing one review from her only 18 reviews because I guess they decided that one of the reviews wasn't real, even though like all publishers, I sent out Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) to a list of people we knew who would review the book, including the St. Louis Post Dispatch who gave us this review here.  (Thank you for choosing our book to review. We really appreciate it. )

You may be wondering: Did you do anything about this Tom Hanks editorial? Why yes, of course, I wrote a comment on his article about Sioux's book (all comments on NYT are moderated--we will see if they publish mine). Yes, I even tweeted to Tom Hanks that we have just the book that he is talking about that kids need--we have the story to teach kids about the massacre, about racial terrorism. Telling Tom Hanks or the NYT is no different than how I spent last night telling people (aka strangers) on Facebook that our kids are the ones that can do something about these types of historical events and stop history from repeating itself. They just need to learn about them.

I am so thankful that we even live in a time where I could learn how to publish a book for someone else (without a lot of capital which as a single mom, I don't have). I am thankful that I met a person as generous and interesting and kind as Sioux, who, if you didn't realize this, is donating all of her profits from the book to Greenwood. I am beyond thankful that she trusted me to publish this book, and she knew to push me to get it done before the 100-year mark of the massacre. 

But I will tell you that most of us, including Sioux and I, are fighting to be heard and seen in an age-old system against people who may still think the Tulsa Race Massacre is too much for kids. Trust me, around the world and even in our own country, there are still 12-year-old (and younger) kids living in all kinds of horrific conditions and events and facing racism in their own back yards. 

It's okay. I'm not tired. I will keep fighting. Join us--if you know a teacher or librarian, consider sending them a book. You better believe that my daughter's 4th grade teacher received Greenwood Gone as part of her thank you gift at the end of the year.


Margo L. Dill is a writer, publisher, and mom living in St. Louis, MO. Find out more about Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story and other Editor-911 Books here.

Book cover illustration by Jessica Esfahani.  

6 comments:

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--You did not include the one detail that proves I am a great writer: in the draft you read and edited (before I started from scratch AFTER your initial editing), I wrote about a massacre without a whiff of tension. Doing THAT takes a talented writer. ;)

These days, I definitely think smaller is better. When you get to be a bigger publisher, you might not have the time or energy to fight as fiercely (with such frequency) for a book as you are right now. I think the timing was perfect for my book--in so many ways.

Thanks again for believing in me, for believing in Henry, for believing that this story can (hopefully) usher in stories from authors of color. And thanks for being willing to work with me even though I'm on the wrong "team" when it comes to the Hunger Games trilogy... ;)

Angela said...

Margo ~ Thanks for sharing the Tom Hanks article! I hadn't read it. I just posted on Sioux's Butt-Kicker page (our accountability group) about an idea for getting her book into school's curriculums without teachers having to pay for it (ask Sioux ;). You could use Tom's quote in your marketing materials: "How different would perspectives be had we all been taught about Tulsa in 1921, even as early as the fifth grade? Today, I find the omission tragic, an opportunity missed, a teachable moment squandered." He is so right. This needs to be taught in schools today, and Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story is such a riveting, character-driven, accessible story. You both make a great team! I've been telling everyone about it, too. I'm crossing my fingers that Tom reads your tweet! That would be huge if he recommended it.
And yes, Amazon's review policy sucks and they remove reviews or completely block reviewers from posting. There needs to be a better system, but you're doing a great job, and I know how hard you both are working! I told Sioux we could do a review post and giveaway and whatever you guys think would help the cause.

Cinda said...

Margo, this is such an exciting post. It shows what a huge heart you have as a publisher. To me, it shows how successful you will be. I pray that both Tom Hanks and Garth Brooks will promote Sioux's book! I haven't read it yet, but I am about to, because I think a book like this will make a difference in our kids futures. So proud of what you and Sioux are doing!

Cathy C. Hall said...

So impressed with all your hard work, Margo, and Sioux's, too. Sometimes, you have to keep going even though 'cause you never know who will read a book and where that will lead. Keep the faith, y'all!

Jeanine DeHoney said...

The late Rep. John Lewis said, "Get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble." Continue the necessary fight Margo.

Margo Dill said...

Thanks, everyone! We appreciate all these comments and ideas and support. :) It really is an exciting time to be in publishing or really any creative because the gatekeepers no longer hold ALL the power.

I also still believe that in life if you are doing the right things for the right reasons and work hard, you can have success.

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