The biggest YA debut publishing deal of 2016 went to a west-African inspired fantasy trilogy by a Nigerian-American author named Tomi Adeyemi. Her upcoming first book will be published in March of 2018! Adeyemi has described her book as “Black. Girl. Magic.” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Black Lives Matter.”
Why does this matter?
The YA fantasy market has been trying over the past few years to become less homogeneous. The nature of the publishing business makes this difficult (read: not impossible) for agents and editors who want to place their faith in books and authors that either already have a dedicated fanbase or who will cater to what’s popular at the moment. Ever notice how trends like vampires, assassins and authoritarian dystopias come in waves? But readers want more diverse books, they want better representation for LGBT+ and POC authors and characters, and they want new and exciting stories.
Authors, too, are trying to do their part to make the publishing world more diverse. “In some ways, YA is trying and improving, but we’re still extremely lacking,” bestselling author V.E. Schwab told Fictionist in an interview earlier this year. “Publishing needs to have more diversity so that the books can have more diversity. … So, it’s the industry as a whole; you can’t assign blame to the lowest part of it. You have to go to the top.”
Diversity in publishing is important for multiple reasons, not the least of which is representation for its readers. Young readers, especially, benefit from seeing characters like themselves in media. For more information: We Need Diverse Books has a good amount of information on the benefits of diverse books.
Movements like #ownvoices and We Need Diverse Books have inspired publishers and agents to sign more diverse authors and more books, which has helped LGBT and POC characters and authors fight to find a place in YA that wasn’t really acknowledged before. The YA market still has a long way to go, and it’s an uphill battle.
This year, however, one of the “biggest YA debut novel publishing deals ever” broke up the homogeneity. It’s a west-African inspired fantasy trilogy by a 23-year-old Nigerian-American woman named Tomi Adeyemi.
Who’s Tomi Adeyemi?
Adeyemi’s journey started long before last year’s Pitch Wars competition, but that’s perhaps what brought this measure of success. We have a feeling that her writing would be a success with or without the noteworthy online competition, but Pitch Wars definitely didn’t hurt. Once her manuscript was chosen by a Pitch Wars mentor, it was polished up and presented to a range of agents — many of whom requested more from Adeyemi.
The Last Airbender + West African Mythology pic.twitter.com/Hia56dO7or
— Tomi Adeyemi (@tomi_adeyemi) November 5, 2016
The deal for Children of Blood and Bone was ultimately a “hotly contested” auction that resulted in a six-figure deal with Macmillan Children’s Books. Her amazing success story doesn’t stop there, though. Adeyemi’s yet-unpublished debut novel was then picked up by Fox 2000, this time for seven figures. That is, in addition to the original six-figure deal with Macmillan. Not that anyone’s counting or anything.
Much of Adeyemi’s research and inspiration for Children of Blood and Bone comes from her post-grad work through Harvard — did we mention she’s also a Harvard grad? — and her Nigerian heritage.
“My parents immigrated from Nigeria in their 20s, and in 2015 I received the Le Baron Russell Briggs Fellowship from the Harvard English Department to go to Brazil and study Orisha, the West African deities prominently featured in my book,” Adeyemi said in a Pitch Wars interview. “One of my favorite things about this manuscript is it gave me a chance to explore everything I love about my heritage, portray the social justice issues I feel passionate about, and write the adventure I wish I had as a kid!”
Adeyemi is using her upcoming fantasy debut as a way to weave social justice — Black Lives Matter, to be exact — into fiction literature.
— POPSUGAR (@POPSUGAR) May 20, 2017
“This is how I try to help the world,” Adeyemi told Teen Vogue. “This is how I can protest and how I can say something. Often problems like racism or police brutality feel so much bigger than one person, and we ask how we can deal with these [issues]. If I write this and I can make people understand, then I feel like I’m doing my part to fight this and I feel like I can fight this.”
Don’t be too intimidated by Adeyemi — she may be a 23-year-old college grad with one of the biggest YA publishing deals ever, but she has a sense of humor (and a very active Twitter presence!).
— Tomi Adeyemi (@tomi_adeyemi) May 23, 2017
What about the book?
Want to know more about Children of Blood and Bone? Adeyemi has described the book as “Black. Girl. Magic.” as well as “Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Black Lives Matter.” Here’s a plot summary:
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.
The first six (!) chapters are up on NetGalley right now for anyone who wants to read them, and the cover was revealed earlier this year. Adeyemi also has an email list that fans can sign up for to get the latest news on CoBaB.
Readers are already getting excited for CoBaB’s release in March 2018:
— 🦋Lilly🦋 (@LairOfBooks) July 20, 2017
— Johanna Kirby (@johannakirby) July 20, 2017
— Rachael A Edwards (@RachaelAWrites) July 21, 2017
TL;DR: One of the biggest YA debut publishing deals ever went to a west-African inspired fantasy trilogy by a Nigerian-American author named Tomi Adeyemi. Her upcoming first book will be published in March of 2018. Adeyemi has described her book as “Black. Girl. Magic.” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Black Lives Matter.”