I’ve been wanting to write this post for a couple of weeks, after an incident on Reddit that baffled me. But now it seems more urgent to address this and what we, as blogger and readers can do to help black authors and other minority groups (people of colour and LGBTQ+) who want their books published.
This conversation has been going on for years and many people, both in the industry and on the sidelines, have been fighting for more inclusivity. We want more #ownvoices, stories written by people who experienced it. This usually means the representation of the topic is accurate, instead of based on second-hand stories or stereotypes. #ownvoices authors know what the characters go through and can describe it more accurately. That’s why it’s valuable.
So let’s talk numbers, shall we?
Diversity in numbers for traditional publishing
The last couple of years, people have taken more interest in the diversity numbers in traditional publishing. They want to know how many PoC are working in the industry and in what role. The traditional publishing business is still mostly white across all the positions.
Lee & Low Books started a thread about black numbers and highlighted what it means for every role:
— Lee & Low Books (@LEEandLOW) June 3, 2020
R. F. Kuang tweeted about how they can whitewash your book even if you and your book are about PoC:
ways publishing can be racist even after you get the book deal:
– cover art
– how they market/describe you in publicity materials
– which events or panels they do or don’t send you to
– how they prioritize you against white authors
— Rebecca F. Kuang (@kuangrf) June 3, 2020
I suggest you read the comments too about the experiences of other authors.
Many professionals in the publishing industry are aware of the lack of diversity and want to reach out to aspiring black authors to give them a push in the right direction. If you’re a black aspiring author, don’t be afraid to reach out to these people. Follow them. Ask for advice.
seen a lot of publishing people offering support, so: a reference thread of resources for Black writers/creatives
— Grace Li (@gracedli) May 31, 2020
Getting published as a PoC is harder than as a white person and this has everything to do with gatekeeping. As an aspiring author you have to go through so many gates before your book ends up in the stores, and every time you have to pray to be let through that gate. First it’s the agent, then the editor, then marketing, then sales. Beyond that, there’s the bookbuyers and booksellers. Having a store buying your book isn’t enough to get it sold well, if at all. If booksellers don’t think you’re worth it, they won’t put the book on prominent display or recommend your book when someone asks.
The road is long and hard for a story to go from the first draft to the reader’s hands. Even as a white person. But PoC and LGBTQ+ have to fight at least twice as hard along the way.
Is indie publishing the way to go as PoC?
Indie publishing is always an option and it might be easier for a PoC to get their book published. But we still have to get our book in the hands of readers. You’ll still have to stand out in the millions of books published a month. You won’t have the channels of marketing from your publisher. Now that sole responsibility is on you, the author. Are you ready for that?
You’ll still have to make hard decisions. One of them is your pen name. My last name is hard to pronounce and long. I know most people won’t remember it easily. But I didn’t want to whitewash my name. I want my readers to know I have an Asian background. I want them to know I’m a woman. I don’t want to continue the ugly trend of women having to adopt a male pen name to be taken seriously. It wouldn’t fit my brand of women-centred stories.
If you did that, or plan to do so, good on you. As long as it’s a conscious decision. Your pen name will be your brand.
Another thing is the cover. You have full control of what’s going on the cover, so take that chance. If your main character isn’t white, don’t shy away from putting them front and centre. The cover is your most important marketing tool, next to your synopsis. This is where you sell the story. This is where trad pub will take creative liberties to make your book more appealing to their audience. As an indie writer, you get to define your audience, and your covers.
Then again, one thing I noticed with cover designs is the overwhelming amount of white characters on the covers. I look a lot at premade covers in the fantasy, paranormal, and romance genres. The majority of the people on covers is white. When a new cover designer asked in the self-publishing Reddit what we as authors would like to see more off in premade covers. I said I wanted to see more diversity. More Asian people, more black people, more disabled people, more mixed couples, more same-sex couples. I was downvoted a lot. For stating my opinion, my wish. One other Redditor even went so far as to explain at length why he couldn’t put his MC of colour on the cover with her girlfriend. “Because that would alert the readers there will be an LGBTQ theme and they wouldn’t read my book”. Another argument I heard was “the reader doesn’t care about the colour of the characters”. News flash: they do.
Finding your audience
If a white person won’t read my book because it has an Asian girl on the cover, I probably don’t want them as a reader anyway. I write for girls and women like me, the ones who felt left out when they were young. The ones who had hardly any main characters to read about they could identify with. If a close-minded reader won’t pick up my book, I probably won’t get a negative review either.
If you’re self-publishing and worried about not selling enough when you don’t whitewash your story, that’s already a battle lost. It’s an opportunity for more diverse voices to get heard. But this road isn’t for everyone, regardless of skin colour. I’m sad that even in the self-publishing community, where we can bend the general rules of what can be published, there are still people who are trying to be a gatekeeper, who are self-censoring, who don’t want other voices to be heard.
What can reviewers, book bloggers, bookstagrammers, and booktubers do to help PoC?
We as readers and book lovers can do so much to help diversify the bookshelves in stores. And especially your own.
- Boost works by PoC and LGBTQ+
- Talk about diverse books
- Share new releases by #ownvoices authors
- Ask the PR department of publishers if they have new books by non-white authors
- Highlight these books on your social media
- Recommend the book to others
Please share your links talking about diverse books below. If you’re a content creator who regularly highlights diverse books, drop your links and I’ll share your channels on my Twitter and I’ll follow you where possible. Let’s do our best to make the entire publishing industry more diverse.