Episode 89! "School Visit Survey Part 5: Next Steps ," conversation with Michelle Cusolito
Welcome to episode 89 of our kidlitwomen* podcast! Usually, this podcast features an essay about an issue in the children's literature community (Monday) and a discussion about the essay (Wednesday).
In this episode, Michelle Cusolito discusses the School Visit Survey she and Jeannette Bradley conducted in March 2018. You can read the five parts of this survey at the links below and hear Michelle share part 5 on episode 88.
On today's podcast you will hear:
Michelle Cusolito has been exploring natural places since she was a child growing up on a farm in Massachusetts. She has lived in the Philippines, where she first saw colorful fish in the wild, and in Ireland, where she and her family hiked the Burren, an otherworldly limestone landscape. She has trekked in places such as Machu Picchu in Peru and the Sahara Desert in Morocco. She spent ten years as a fourth grade teacher. Now, when she's not exploring around in the world, she's usually in her office or local coffee shop weaving her experiences into stories for children.
Grace Lin, a NY Times bestselling author/ illustrator, won the Newbery Honor for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and the Theodor Geisel Honor for Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same. Her most recent novel When the Sea Turned to Silver was a National Book Award Finalist and her most recent picture book, A Big Mooncake for Little Star, was awarded the Caldecott Honor. Grace is an occasional commentator for New England Public Radio and video essayist for PBS NewsHour (here & here), as well as the speaker of the popular TEDx talk, The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf. She can also be heard on the Book Friends Forever Podcast, with her longtime friend and editor Alvina Ling.
Grace: Hello, I'm Grace Lin, and I'm here with Michelle Cusolito. Hi, Michelle.
Michelle: Hi, Grace.
Grace: I'm so glad to be here with you. I'm a cisgendered Asian American woman who goes by the pronouns she and her. Michelle, would you care to self identify for the audience?
Michelle: Sure. I am a Caucasian cisgendered female woman who uses the pronoun she and her.
Grace: I'm really glad that you agreed to be on the podcast, because we're here to talk about your very extensive school visit survey that you did with Jeanette Bradley. It's really impressive. And it must've been quite a lot of work. Why did you want to do this survey?
Michelle: I personally care very much about school visits. I'm a former teacher and I'm a former PTO chairperson of the cultural committee, which meant that I was responsible for hiring authors and illustrators to come to my kids' school. I was also on the school committee, so I've been very invested in schools and now that I'm an author, of course it's a natural thing for me to want to be in schools working with kids. And I started offering schools at workshops and consultation services for authors and illustrators before I even had my first book come out, because I care very much about helping people make those valuable experiences.
Michelle: But I also would constantly be asked questions like, "Well, how much do I charge?" And the truth was I didn't really know how to answer that question because it was so unclear about how much people were getting paid for school visits. So, Jeanette and I wanted to do it together because we wanted to collect some hard data, like what are people getting paid for a school visit. We wanted there to be more transparency to help people plan better, especially people ... Well, for everybody, but I think especially when you're really new at it, it's really hard to have any sense of what to do for fees, and someone might call you up and ask you to come and you say, "I don't know what to charge."
Michelle: So, we wanted to have more transparency, to open up the conversation, people to start talking about it more directly. And we did hear these anecdotal things that men got paid more and we wanted to find out if that was actually true. We also wanted people to be able to price themselves, to have a clear idea of how much they should charge. And since we published our data, we've had lots of people tell us that they go right to our resources and use that to help set their prices, and in fact they use it to help when they're communicating with schools to sort of say, "This is why I should be paid for my visits."
Grace: It's quite an extensive survey. You've covered a lot in this survey. You've covered how much do you get paid, from where are you in your career and how does that affect your pay to like male and female. There's just so many things about this survey that it's almost too much for us to cover on this podcast. What was the hardest thing about the survey?
Michelle: For me personally, the hardest thing is that analyzing data is not my strength. So, that was hard for me personally. But that's why Jeanette Bradley was so key to this whole thing. She's a former policy researcher who focused on studying housing and lending discrimination, and she has experience with writing and analyzing surveys on sensitive topics. I really needed Jeanette in order to do this. I started exploring the idea and I need someone who can really dig into the data, so Jeanette Bradley was key. And this survey, I couldn't have done it without her, honestly.
Michelle: But we were both also, we were concerning with maintaining anonymity so that people would be willing to complete the survey. I'll tell you for example, I had a private exchange with someone, a man, an African American man who was uncomfortable about answering our survey, because we asked a lot of questions about gender, about ethnicity and race, about the region of the country that you're from, and this person was concerned that maybe someone would be able to figure out who he was, because he was kind of, you know, he had some unique characteristics. And I completely understand his hesitation. It can be tricky.
Michelle: We were concerned about maintaining anonymity, but we also wanted to collect the information that would be the most useful to the most people. But then alongside that is kind of uncomfortable. You don't want to put people in a box, you know? And I had a feeling we'd talk about this. I actually would like to read something directly from one of our posts to help people understand how we feel about this, because we spent a long time crafting how to say this fact.
Michelle: People are subtle, complex, and multi faceted, and surveys are blunt instruments for measuring the breadth of human identity and experience. We recognize that gender is not binary, neither is race or ethnicity. But given the size of our survey, we had to split our data into two categories on both of these identity variables in order to protect the privacy of our respondents. But that felt uncomfortable, too, but we couldn't find a better way around it. What that means, for example, is we have two categories now as we reported the data, male and female/non-binary, because of our 419 respondents, just by way of example, one person identified as non-binary. So, you could do the math and see how few people that represents and why we don't want those respondents to be identifiable in our data.
Michelle: So, now we're faced with do we put those folks who identify as non-binary in the male category or in the female category, and I shouldn't be doing that, but how else do we do that? That was uncomfortable for me to try to figure out how to best do that. So, we had to work through it and try to find a way that would best convey the information that we were trying to get at.
Grace: That makes sense. Yes. It's a lot of things to juggle, definitely.
Michelle: Right, right. Maintain anonymity, but not box people in. We had to kind of do that and I was really uneasy about that fact.
Grace: I remember feeling a little disappointed that there were so few men that participated in the survey. You definitely had men, but it was not as many as I was hoping. But then I saw that you wrote it was actually kind of a parallel to our field. I was like, "Oh, actually it makes sense," because the percentages correlated to our field actually about how many women there are and how many men there are. So, I think that even though there weren't as many men as I was hoping participated, I actually think that the results are still pretty on point.
Michelle: Yes. They are reflective of the industry, but I can comment on something about that, which is initially we actually didn't have very many male respondents. And we wondered if maybe it wasn't getting out to men or if men thought that they shouldn't do it because hashtag [inaudible 00:08:22] women, and so we started tweeting directly about that fact, about basically men can be an ally, you can help us out, share your data. And then our numbers started to increase and the number of responses we had. Jeanette was monitoring that and tracking it, so she knew. Then we started tweeting and getting the word out, and then more men started completing it.
Michelle: I was glad that Jeanette noticed that at an early enough stage that we could try to basically recruit more men to respond.
Grace: That's great. What were your biggest takeaways of the survey? Was there something that surprised you?
Michelle: Well, before we started the survey, many people stated that they felt there was an earnings gap between men and women regarding school visits. They felt men made more per visit than women. And that was repeated so often that it felt like a truism. But our results didn't show that there was really much difference in the daily rates. Those are actually pretty comparable. The gap came in regarding the number of visits that people do. Men do far more visits than women and non-binary writers and illustrators, and therefore they have a greater income over time than those women and non-binary illustrators or authors.
Grace: Let me just reiterate that. It wasn't that there was a difference between the pay. Women are not getting paid less, it's that they're not getting the jobs or getting offered the visits as often.
Michelle: That's what our data showed, yes. The daily rate was pretty comparable regardless of gender. Slight variations, but comparable. Nothing's really huge in a variation, but the number of visits was almost double in some cases depending on different groups it was broken down into.
Grace: How do you think doing less school visits play out on a female children's book author's career, then? Or long time career especially?
Michelle: I'm not a data specialist, but to me it seems kind of obvious that if you get more visits, you're in front of more kids, you're seeing more kids, which means you have more readers. And then if you have more readers, potentially you're selling more books or maybe getting more school visits as a result of that and therefore more income. It seems over a lifetime that your earnings would be greater if you were a man than if you were a woman or a non-binary creator.
Grace: Yeah. I think it's like it all feed into each other, right?
Grace: You did this whole post about authors who did not charge for school visits. In fact here, I even quoted, I took a quote from one of your respondents that says, "I know that many authors discourage making school visits for free. However, I enjoy visiting schools and donating my time to make a difference in kids' lives. Sometimes I will sell a few books, which is great. I understand that some authors are trying to make a living doing school visits, but many, many public schools simply do not have a spare dollar to spend."
Grace: This statement kind of made me cringe, especially because I've been doing so many of these interviews on kid lit women. We've talked so many times here about valuing your work and how so often we are told that we should do things for free because it's for the children, it's for the children. To me, I feel like it's very important that authors charge for their visits, and I think you feel the same way. Why do you think it's important for authors to charge for their visits?
Michelle: Yeah, this is a pretty loaded, it can be a loaded issue, I think, for many people. It comes down to this. Authors and illustrators, for me, this is my opinion here, obviously, authors and illustrators are professional people. We are experts in something. We are experts, some times in many things. We are experts in writing, in illustrating, or perhaps if we're nonfiction writers, maybe we're experts even in some other content area. Being compensated isn't only about that specific day that you're in the school. It's about all the things leading up to that school visit, that you should be compensated for your expertise.
Michelle: There's the added fact that if you are at a school, you are away from your desk or your studio. You're not writing something new. You're likely traveling, unless it's in your same hometown. You're traveling somewhere, even if it's an hour's drive. That's through time. And you have to spend all that time preparing your presentation. If you're providing a quality school visit, that takes a lot of time to prepare, and I know every time I finish a visit, I rethink it, what went well. I'm tweaking it. So, it's not like I just bring out the same thing and promote and tromp it around from school to school. It's tweaking as I go to make it better based on how things go in that space.
Michelle: And I'm a former classroom teacher, so that's all part of what you do as a teacher. And I think if people are able to donate their time and choose to donate their time, that's laudable if you're able. And that's great. But I hope that people would recognize that if you are able to do that, that is a privilege, that you're in a privileged position where you have enough income to be able to do that in the first place. By whatever means that is, whether that means you have a spouse who makes a living or whether you have your own money or you make enough money from your books. But many, many creators simply cannot afford to do it.
Michelle: I know I'm in a debut group, my book came out last year. Many of us were actually in the negative for our debut year. So, asking me to come to a school visit for free is really, it's a hardship for many people. Many people work another job and if they're going to do a school visit, they have to take vacation time.
Grace: Or pay for a babysitter.
Michelle: Exactly. If they're a stay at home parent, they're paying for childcare potentially. Any number of reasons. If you're going to volunteer your time, which I some times do, I would encourage people to please just make clear that you're volunteering your time. Say that you're giving an in kind donation so that it doesn't give the impression that all of us can do this for free. For example, this happened to me just this past week where one of my local libraries contacted me to do something this summer as part of the summer reading program, and I agreed to do my visit for a lower, a discounted rate. I'm happy, super happy to do it. This is one of my local libraries. I support them. I've been involved with them. I have reasons to support my local libraries and donate my time. Or a portion of my time.
Michelle: But in my response, I was very clear with the children's librarian to say, "I normally charge X for that visit" or "I normally charge more, but for you I'm super happy to do this as a donation of my time, but also please don't go on librarian list serves and tell everyone that I did this for you at this discounted rate, because then they might expect I'll do it for them at that discounted rate, and I simply can't afford to do that." I can't drive all over the state doing library events and school events and not be compensated for my time. We wouldn't ask a plumber to come and fix a school plumbing issue without paying for their time.
Grace: Exactly. I think it's about the profession of what we do, right? We love what we do, but it's a profession. And when we do things for free like that, we kind of devalue our own work, and devalue what we do. When somebody else does it for free, it devalues not only their own work, but all the other authors and illustrators around them. And that's why it's so hard to explain to people why, please don't do it for free. Or at least make sure that people understand that this is a professional service. It's so hard, but it's so important for them to know that, I think.
Michelle: Yes. I think many people have a misunderstanding or misperception about the income of children's book authors and illustrators. JK Rowling exists in the world, that's true. But that's not the reality for anybody I know. That's just not, most of us don't make that much money. I, like I said, was literally in the negative for my debut year. Many of us were. Or even if you start to earn out from your advance, most of the people that I know personally make less in a year than I made when I was a classroom teacher, and we all know that teachers are underpaid.
Michelle: So, I think that's the thing that's hard. If teachers think that we're rich, well sure we should donate our time. And yeah, if you're loaded with money and want to donate your time, I think that's terrific. But most of us aren't. It can be a real hardship for people to try to go and do it, beyond the fact that we're professionals and should be compensated. It can be a straight up hardship for many people to be asked that. And it's hard. It's so difficult because of course we all love kids. I went from being a teacher to being a children's book author. I love kids. I love working with kids, interacting with kids. It's not that I don't want to. Of course I do. Most of us feel that way. That's our audience.
Grace: We didn't go into it for the money.
Michelle: I don't know. Some people maybe did, but I sure didn't. I had my eyes wide open on that one. I love kids and want to work with kids, so it's not that I don't want to come to your school for free, it's that it's just not a practicality.
Grace: How do you think we should approach schools that have limited budgets to pay for author visits? That seems to be the other end of this kind of balancing problem, be like "Well, the schools don't have the money." How do you think we should approach that?
Michelle: Yeah, that can be a real challenge for schools. And I know a lot of authors have tried to put things on their websites to help get information out about ways you can help with funding for school visits. For example, SCBWI has a scholarship where people can request support for school visits. There are many organizations. I should say, that's the Amber Brown grant from SCBWI. Or I know here in Massachusetts, for example, we have an organization called Wondermore that helps bring authors and illustrators to underserved schools in Boston. Many of the cultural councils, at least in some states, will offer funding for that. You can apply.
Michelle: And if people go to my blog to read these posts, there are links to many of these things right on the blog if they want to look at them. There are other organizations like an open book foundation. Often PTOs can help fund school visits. So, in the case of what I used to do when I was hiring people, essentially all of those visits were funded through the PTO, through fundraising efforts of the PTO and the money was earmarked specifically for that purpose. Some times you could also get local businesses to sponsor a visit, something like that.
Michelle: There are ways to find the money. I acknowledge it's not always simple, but I do think that with some creativity, there are ways to find the money to fund different events like that. I know one recent event, well a few years ago now, that I helped coordinate in our area, we tapped into multiple funding sources to pay for something. So, there was a library grant that paid for a portion of something. There was a cultural council grant that paid for a portion of something. The PTO paid for a portion. And then one of the schools had a budgetary line on that paid for part of it. We'd cobble it together from multiple places.
Michelle: It takes a little legwork and I was the person who was sort of the coordinator of all of it. There were different people helping and I was sort of the one that helped bring it all together and then we had author Lori Griffin Burns had visited multiple schools in the district and she did something also for the library. It was this large coordinated effort between our three public libraries and our public schools. There are creative ways you can do things like that. I certainly recognize the challenges of funding and encourage people to ... sort of creative ways to do it.
Grace: What I appreciated about your survey was that you did head on kind of tackle the diversity issue as well. There's a lot of talk these days about own voices.
Grace: I always go back and forth about that, but the one place I do feel that own voices is really important is at a school visit, because I feel like that's where students really get to see somebody that looks like them. I really appreciated how you said representation also matters when it comes to the author and illustrator standing in front of the school gym. And I actually think it matters more. It matters more at a school visit than it does as the author of the book. I don't know if that came out ... I don't know if I was clear about that. But I meant I think it's so powerful for a student of color to see somebody like them be an author in front of them.
Grace: And it's very powerful for somebody who is not of color to see people of color being authors, that they are more than the stereotypes that maybe they see, because I do a lot of school visits actually and the whole thing about own voices was ... When it first came onto the scene, I was a little nonchalant about it. But what kind of changed my mind was doing all these school visits and over the years seeing how much it meant to so many Asian students to see me, and what it meant to even the students who were not Asian, who needed to hear from an Asian American. I mean, so many kids were asking me like, "How come you speak English so well?"
Grace: They had never ... They didn't mean it in a mean way, they just didn't know that an Asian could be an Asian American, plus an author of the books that they read. It's these kind of things were so important and so eye opening to me. I like how one of your posts you talk about how we can help the diversity issues. Would you mind going over some of those things?
Michelle: Sure, yeah. I do agree. Jeanette and I agree 100% with what you've said. There's a lot of talk about own voices and who writes the books, but I agree 100% that who is in front of the gym, it really is so important, too. I think ... So, what can we do? Is that what you're asking me about, kind of a summary from that?
Michelle: Yeah. Recommending books by authors that you love from groups that are historically underrepresented at your school visits is a great thing to do. I do this at the end of my visits as much ... Every now and then I forget. I get on a roll and then I forget, and then I turn around and realize the books are still sitting there. But I hold up books by other creators I admire and say, "I think you'll love this book," and I do a mini book talk super fast. But I promote other people's books. For a while I was doing especially books by women and non-binary creators, and then other times people of color, really trying to promote books by different kinds of creators when you do a school visit.
Michelle: And of course, promoting them on social media. Whether that's through tweets or reviews, or online. Blogging about it, anything like that. And another thing related to the school visits aspect is if possible, bring flyers about school visit programs from authors who are in underrepresented ... So, when you meet other folks, if you know that person and respect them and know their work, take along some brochures to hand out to the school and say, "Maybe you want to think about this person for your next visit." I have a small stash of those from people I've collected over the time that I can hand out. Or when someone says, "Who would you recommend?", I have a few. I need to get more. I'm still kind of newbie as an author, so I haven't always interacted directly with as many people where I can grab those. But I try to do that as much as possible.
Grace: Yeah, I think-
Michelle: You know ... Go ahead.
Grace: I think what you just said is completely, that's the simplest but very powerful way. You do the school visit and you say, "Oh, who are you thinking about getting for next year?" And of course they'll be like, "I don't know, do you have any ideas?"
Grace: And the most powerful thing you can say is, "Oh, I think it would be great if you got Christopher Paul Curtis. I think it would be great." Or maybe you think about somebody who maybe might not be as well known. "I think it'd be great if you got Susan Tan. She did this great book called Cilla Lee-Jenkins," things like that.
Michelle: Right. Yes. I did this, I wrote an article for Knowledge Quest magazine, which goes out to librarians. My focus was I wrote about school visits and I made a point to specifically highlight ... All of the people I highlighted were women and they were people from different groups. There was a woman, Tracy Sorell was in there. She's a member of the Cherokee nation. Andrea Wang was in there. I made a point, I just did it. I don't draw attention to it, it's just part of what I do as part of my promotions when I'm talking about school visits. I'm going to talk about people who are from all different backgrounds. I'm not going to just show people who are like me as part of my promotion.
Michelle: It's a simple thing to do. You don't have to announce it. I don't announce it, in fact. It's better to just don't say, "And here," you know, just make that part of your promotions.
Grace: Yeah, I think that's great. And I think that's just a small thing that we can all do to help that. Also helping new authors and illustrators. That was another part of your survey. A lot of respondents mentioned they didn't know how much to charge or if they should even charge, which of course we covered already. How can we help them?
Michelle: I think really in the same way as we're just talking about with helping diverse authors. Also in that article I was mentioning, several were debuts like me, you know what I mean? It's kind of just worked into the way I think where I ... There are many authors and illustrators who I just love so much, but they get loads of press. So, it's not that I don't love them, but I might put my energies into someone who's a newer, less known person like people from my Epic 18's debut group or people coming up who I know are debuting. I think it's the same kind of thing, just helping get the word out about people who are newer in the industry, helping share. If you love their book, tell them. Promote them. Tweet about them, whatever. It takes only a few minutes.
Michelle: If you have the time, a quick review is always great on somewhere like Goodreads or something. And I didn't say this out loud, but it's also on our blog post, but absolutely supporting ... We need diverse books in other organizations that are working hard to develop diverse creators. They have mentorships and internships and things like that. We Need Diverse Books, for example, I think supporting that is great. I think we wrote this in the blog. I wrote this so long ago, I was reading it to remember today. But another thing you can do if you are a male, a Caucasian male or a Caucasian woman and you want to help promote people who are from diverse backgrounds, maybe you could ask people to make donations to We Need Diverse Books on your behalf.
Michelle: I know I've done this in the past where I don't want gifts for whatever birthday or holiday, "Would you please donate your money over here in my name?" Asking for that is a great way to support, because there's people in the trenches doing hard work over there.
Grace: Yeah, definitely. One of the things that you mentioned on your post about supporting new authors and illustrators, which I thought was really good and I've been doing it for a long time is being transparent about your fees. I actually put my fees right up on my website, and you can see how much I charge and everything. And I think that is really important. I think, when I first did that, I remember getting some pushback from some other authors who said like, "Oh, I don't know. It looks kind of crude to show how much you're getting paid right on the get go. Also, what if kids see it and they see how much you're making?"
Grace: And I remember I said back, "Well, you know, we live in a day and age where Paris Hilton gets paid $10,000 just to show up in a pair of jeans at a bar. I think it's kind of nice for kids to see that authors get paid, too, and that they're valued as much as well." I also think it's a really good transparent thing for everyone, so everybody can kind of see one, that you are expecting to be paid, and two, that you deserve to be paid. And also, there's going to be people like, "You should raise your fees." That's always helpful, too.
Michelle: I actually agree with that point, 100%, putting fees on the website. Mine are on my website. And I agree for all the reasons you just stated. And also there are some other maybe less obvious reasons that people might not consider. And there are some people who choose not to and it's a personal choice, and I respect everybody's personal choice. My personal position is that I think it's helpful for the reasons you stated, but also for example, it saves you having five emails back and forth to discuss what your fees are. It saves time.
Michelle: And also, as someone who used to hire people to do school visits, here's the truth. If your fees weren't listed on your website, I never contacted you, because I assumed either your fees were too high or whatever. I didn't have time. I was a volunteer and more often than not in a school, the person who's doing the hiring is either a volunteer or someone who's doing the work as a volunteer. They're volunteering to do more work in order to organize you coming. So, if I don't know as a hiring person, if I don't know even remotely what your fees are, I don't have time to try to figure that out. If I don't know ... It helps me to know. If I know you charge $2500 a day and I literally have $1000, even if you state that your rates are negotiable to some extent, we're probably not going to ever meet on an agreed rate. But if you post that you charge $1100 and you're negotiable, maybe we're in the right ballpark. I might contact you.
Michelle: It just made it a lot easier for me, because there was a time when I, at the very beginning when I was really gung ho and excited and just starting, I asked someone and the rate came back and there was just no way I could afford it. So, now I've wasted that author's time of emailing me and pitching me their thing, because it was never going to happen. I wasted my own time. I really did reach a point where if the rate wasn't there, I would not contact you. That's just me. But there have to be other people who work like me, I'm sure, in their busy, busy lives. Where are we starting from? I need just a ballpark of what we're starting from, even if you're willing to negotiate.
Grace: And it also avoids that really awkward conversation of people who think that you should come for free, people who have never done it before and they're like, "Oh, will you come to my kid's school?", and they don't understand that you'd like to be paid. It's right there, so they know better.
Michelle: Right, exactly. It does help-
Grace: And then you can just avoid the awkwardness of it.
Michelle: You will still get those things some times, because people will just email you or contact you directly if they know you, but yes, if they're someone finding you through your website, hopefully they will have seen that.
Grace: The last thing I definitely wanted to talk about was in your last post in this series where you talk about confronting the male rock star author phenomenon. Of course, that piqued my interest. That's the whole thing, why we started Kid Lit Women. There's that strong perception that publishers are sending more male authors and ... Especially on publisher sponsored school visits, for tours and things like that. What was disheartening but not surprising was finding that your data pretty much backed this perception, that not only were male authors more likely to have publisher sponsored school visits than female authors, what was even more striking was that winning a big award didn't change it that much. Female authors who won a national ALA or ALSC award, like the Caldecott and Newbury, they still had fewer publisher sponsored visits than men who had not won an award.
Grace: I just found that so disheartening and fascinating. Yet, at the same time, like I said, not surprising.
Michelle: Yes, exactly. I felt the same. I'm not going to use any names in it, but there are many of these so-called male rock stars who I 100% love their work and admire tremendously. I love their books. It's not about dissing the male creators in any way. I always worry people will think that that's what, we're like bashing the men. It's not that at all, because I love most of those creators who people might be envisioning right now. It's more that they get a lot of publishing dollars, it seems, put behind them, and our data would bear that out, that they're sent on the road more often and they see a lot more kids.
Michelle: And as we talked about before, you see more kids, that means you have more readers, you have potentially a bigger career over time. And it's concerning to me that that's the case. But you know what I mean, some of the big, big tour things that we see happening, by people who I own their books. They're on my shelves, I love them. But those dollars don't seem to be flowing to women and non-binary creators as much as to the male creators.
Grace: It's kind of pointed in a weird, weird way. What do you think we can do about this?
Michelle: I think one of the things that I was really glad about, as I mentioned earlier, was that when we pointed out we weren't getting many male respondents to the survey, then men started to respond and I'm thankful for the men who did, because we were able to get the data and figure out kind of what really is happening there. So, that transparency at an industry level, it's helpful to us. So, I think that was a good first step. But I think it would be helpful if more male creators were more publicly promoting female and non-binary creators. I have seen men posting things like promoting female illustrators or female illustrators of color, or things like that. Promoting more people of color, indigenous people, more women. Use your platform, use your big platform to help promote more women. And there are men who are doing that, so I'm not saying it's not happening. But it would be great if even more got on board.
Michelle: Or read a book you love, tweet about it. Promote their school visits. Write reviews. I've noticed, this is not directly about school visits, but I think all these things feed each other, but I've noticed there have been some key notes I've attended where for example a male illustrator only references male creators as people who inspired them in their careers. And I'm not asking, I don't want those male creators to lie and say females created things that they admired when they were 14 years old if that weren't the case. Maybe they didn't have access, I don't know what the situation was. But maybe to acknowledge it and say, "You know, now I see that I had a gap in my education, and here are all these modern current female creators who I love and admire."
Michelle: I sat through a key note within the last year-ish, let's say. And I leaned over to my friend through the whole thing, "Another dude, another dude. [inaudible 00:36:43] another dude." And some of it was modern people quoting a modern day musician, a man. Things that it wasn't only about the influence, people who influenced that person as they were growing up. It was really over time. And all of that feeds to getting the name out, getting the word out about creators, other-
Grace: Yeah. And it's also reinforcing the myth of the male genius, right?
Michelle: Yes. Yes. And it was interesting to talk about that later. There were other women in the room and we were later discussing it. And this was all within, I'll say within the last year. I don't want anyone to try to guess what this was or where this was. I'm not comfortable with that. I really don't, I genuinely don't think this man realized that it happened.
Grace: I think that's pretty pointed, because honestly I was not at a key note with you listening to a key note with you any time that I can think of in the last year, yet I too have heard, the same thing has happened to me. So, I think this is a pretty common thing and it's a real call out to males to please try to be more allies. And I guess maybe it's a call out to the rest of us to try to bring some over, to make more of an effort to create male allies. Because yes, we're never going to get through this without all of us fighting together.
Michelle: Right. And I think that most of the people I interact with on a daily basis, from all backgrounds, all genders, are supportive for the most part of each other, if we're trying to move forward in positive ways. People try to lift each other up in positive ways, is I think ... in the kid lit side. I write picture books, you know? So, a lot of people I interact with are picture book and middle grade writers, and I feel like there are lots of men that I've seen speaking up and making strong cases, and really being allies in many ways that are really wonderful and helpful.
Grace: Yay for them. But we need more.
Michelle: Exactly. Exactly.
Grace: Is there anything you're worried about that people might misunderstand about the work you did?
Michelle: I don't know about if it's a misunderstanding. One thing that's key in my mind is what I mentioned at the top of the interview here, about if people are uncomfortable with the way we have the combined groups, because I was uncomfortable. And I'm pretty sure Jeanette, I know Jeanette felt the same way. Was like ... But we have this survey and we have to keep it anonymous because we promised we would keep it anonymous, so that's what we had to do.
Michelle: And I think we've covered it pretty clearly, but initially I was a little concerned that people might be worried that, "Oh, their data found there's no pay gap." Well, we didn't find a pay gap necessarily, but there is a gender ... Doesn't mean there isn't a gender gap. So, the gender gap is more in men being chosen over women and men getting more gigs than women, if you will, more visits than women is the key finding that we had.
Grace: Great. And I think the other thing that you mentioned, too, a little bit later on when you said that you were really worried that people might think that you were against the men, and I think that's something that's common with everything we talk about here at Kid Lit Women, is the biggest ... That's my biggest fear is that people misunderstand what we're trying to do. They think that we're like anti-men, and that's really not what we're trying to do.
Michelle: Not at all. Not at all. 100% that is not my goal. I mentioned, I have so many close friends in the industry and I have books by people who I don't know who are men. It's not about that at all. It's about finding something quality for all of us.
Grace: Great. Okay. I have the last two questions that I ask everybody on the podcast. The first question is what are you working on that you'd like to tell our listeners about?
Michelle: Well, I have a project that's really in the baby stages right now that I'm super excited about and I'm going to be really vague because I'm not prepared to sell the details, but it involves [inaudible 00:40:48] Graphic Institution. I'll be doing some research kind of in real time. My author research will be focused on real time science research, and I'll be ... It looks like I'll be able to go out on a research cruise with them and document their work, and that's all I'm willing to say, because it really is just coming to me. I had my first meeting down there last week and they were saying, "Oh, we're excited to work with you on this project." So, I don't know the details yet of how it's going to come to be, but in my mind right now it will be a middle grade nonfiction book.
Grace: Wow, that's so cool. Why don't you tell the audience about your latest published book, just so they can look you up?
Michelle: Yeah. My first and latest published book is called Flying Deep, Climb Inside: Deep sea Submersible Alvin, and that is a picture book, a nonfiction picture book that invites young readers to imagine themselves as the pilot of Alvin diving two miles below the ocean's surface to explore and find out what kinds of animals are living at 9 North, this very specific location about 500 miles from Mexico.
Michelle: And it's really fun, you see lots of really cool animals.
Grace: The illustrator did a wonderful job. Who was the illustrator again?
Michelle: Her name is Nicole Wong.
Grace: Yeah, that's right.
Michelle: And she is amazing. I love her work so much, it's just gorgeous.
Grace: All right. And here's my last question for you. And you're a listener, you told me you listen to this podcast, so you know it.
Michelle: I know it.
Grace: What is your biggest publishing dream? Of course, with the caveat that it's something that you're ... such a big dream that you are embarrassed to share it, with the idea that we don't have to be ashamed of our ambitions. So, what is your biggest publishing dream?
Michelle: This is such a hard one for me right now, Grace, because my agent left the business in October and right now I'm in this very, I want to get a new agent and sell more books. It's hard to think beyond that, I'll be honest right now. That's what I'm really focused on. But I know you're going to push me. I was like, "She's going to make me say something harder, I don't even know." I don't know. I guess something like to win some sort of an award, like a Sibert or a, I don't know, something like that would be amazing. Really, I'm having a difficult time thinking beyond the short term at this particular moment in time.
Grace: You can do it. Think short term and long term at the same time. You should think, "Which agent would be most likely to get me to the Sibert?"
Michelle: Oh, yes. Okay.
Grace: Well, thanks so much, Michelle.
Michelle: Thank you, Grace. It was great to talk with you.
Grace: Thanks. All right.