You probably still remember the books that filled your shelves as a child. Rows and rows of colorful spines with the same white-washed stories. Characters named Jill and Jane and Sam and George, white Christmases and blue skies. Compelling stories that sucked you in but subconsciously made your experiences seem less important. How old were you when you realized this? What happened when and if you tried to change this?
If you’re a writer in any capacity, you might have followed the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag on Twitter where traditionally published authors shared their advances in an attempt to expose the disparity in pay between Black and non-Black authors. The data can be accessed here from The Transparency Project (Twitter: @transparencyprj) but the inequality, though not surprising, is pretty clear from the tweets alone. The New York Times recently published a summary of the movement here.
It is up to every one of us to ensure representation and diversity in our specific industries, and the publishing industry is one that affects us all - writers and readers alike. While the push for diverse books has seemingly been on the rise, the stats show no progress. Take a look at this Diversity in Publishing 2019 survey by Lee and Low - the industry is still predominantly white!
How you can change this as a reader
- Do your research on the author and publishers you support before you head out and spend on their work.
- Question everything! The new release you’re being drawn to - who wrote, published, marketed, and reviewed it?
- Get diverse book recommendations from experts such as Here Wee Read.
- Support #OwnVoices stories - seek out writers who have written about their experiences because those are the most authentic stories you will find.
- Use this questionnaire by Lee & Low to analyze your home library, you can also use it to guide your future book purchases and library trips.
- Make your purchases through independent booksellers who handpick diverse and inclusive literature.
- Support your own community because children need to see themselves in between the covers of the books they read.
- But also set aside a goal to support other communities and fill your shelves with experiences and people different from you. This is the reality of the world and the books we choose should reflect that.
- As you can see from the stats of traditional publishing, self-publishing is not always the last resort, it is an attempt to revolutionize our bookshelves. Support self-published authors and independent publishers who align with your vision.
- Buy books that represent your goals for your family.
How you can change this as a writer
- Do not be discouraged!
- Keep writing your stories and experiences.
- Bring fresh perspectives to the table - if there can be a gazillion books on Christmas, we can never have enough books on hijab either.
- READ! The best thing you can do as a writer is to read relevant books and try to identify the gaps in the market.
- Invest in courses and programs specific to writing for your community.
- Connect with other writers who share the same concerns as you. There is so much power in unity!
- Educate yourself on self-publishing.
- Never compromise on quality, make sure the work you put out there is the best it can be. Surround yourself with mentors who can help you bring that out!
Above all, remember that you have the power to change the narrative. All you need is the right tools. Educate yourself on the importance of representation for everyone and implement what you learn by buying and writing books that make an impact on the bigger picture. We're all in this together! How do you plan to contribute to this cause?