3 Ways Readers Can Increase Diversity in Publishing

I firmly believe that each of us can fix the publishing industry’s diversity problem. To help, I’ll share three ways you can do it, right now. These tips are for the readers–that’s all of us, right?

1. Read more books by people of color.

This may seem like a no-brainer but whenever I mention how many books I’ve by people of color, my peers are surprised I’m keeping track. “I never pay attention to that,” they say. Well, start paying attention. Go to your bookshelf, your to-read pile, or your Goodreads page and take a careful look at your books. How many where written by people of color? When I did this two years ago I was shocked by the low number. If you don’t pay attention, the majority of the books you read will likely be by white people.

“But I can’t pay attention to that! I just look for great books!” these peers continue. Can you hear the subtext? Here is the same excuse from a different industry: “We just look for the best actor for the role!” Do you hear it now? Do you hear the insulting insinuation that great books just happen to be written by white people, just like great actors just happen to be white?

You don’t have to do a fancy study to know books by people of color aren’t as readily accessibly as books by white people. Just walk into a book store. So you are sorely mistaken if you believe you’ll simply stumble upon great books by people of color at the same rate as you would great books by white people.  To increase diversity in publishing, you must actively seek out and read books by people of color.

2. Tell your friends.

This part should come naturally. We’re book people! We love talking about the books we’ve read. The more books you’ve read by people of color the more likely you’ll talk about books by people of color, thus activating the magic of word of mouth recommendations.

This happened to me most notably with The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson. Y’all. I could not shut up about that book.  I’m pretty sure I nagged people into saying they’d read it.

3. Put money behind it.

The way you spend your time and the way you spend your money are clear reflections of your values. If you value diversity in publishing, show it. This ties in neatly with reading more books by POC. You have to get those books somewhere, right? Buying books written by people of color is a small and tangible way you can dispel the “books by people of color don’t sell” myth. If your bookstore doesn’t have the book you are looking for request so they know there is a demand. If you don’t have the budget to buy as many books as you want, use the library.

Libraries are amazing and as far as I’m concerned, checking books out counts as supporting the book. The library did buy the book after all and the more people check a book out, the more copies they’ll buy. If the library doesn’t have the book you want, request it and they will usually order it for you.  Want to show extra support? Ask the library to order the book, even if you plan to buy it yourself. That way it will be added to their collection and someone who can’t afford it will have the chance to read it.

Have you taken a good look at your bookshelf? Do you have more tips for readers?  Share your comments!

11 comments for “3 Ways Readers Can Increase Diversity in Publishing

  1. December 10, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    I love that last suggestion to buy *and* request from the library. A quick GoodReads search netted three lists devoted to authors of color. I’m excited to look at those and add some titles to my to-read shelf. I noticed, though, that most of the titles were for fiction. Are there some non-fiction authors of color you’d recommend? I don’t read as much non-fiction as fiction, but I’d love to have some names.

    • Léonicka
      December 10, 2013 at 7:42 pm

      I mostly read fiction, but I did a google search and found these two great lists at The Root and The Rumpus. I hope that’s a good starting point for you. Please continue to do your own research and let us know your findings :)

  2. November 1, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Wonderful tips – I will add: Buy books featuring diverse characters for presents! Parents might even consider committing to buying diverse books for birthday parties for an entire year: http://birthdaypartypledge.com/

  3. October 22, 2013 at 7:46 am

    As a YA librarian, I just want to say WHOO! to number 3 – I’ll happily order just about anything that patrons request and be glad for the help. Even though I put a particular focus on ordering books by people of color, I always wish I had more recommendations directly from our patrons both as a collection manager and as a reader. Adding a book to a library collection has much more value beyond the money that was spent on it – it also means exposure for people who might not otherwise know a book exists.

    Also, that TED talk on The Danger of the Single Story (mentioned above) really is fantastic for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

  4. October 21, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Great suggestions! I’d like to add, when your bookstore brings an author of color to your local store-GO! A book seller remembers a packed room. She tells all her fellow booksellers about the packed room. The publisher hears that their author can pack a room and they start thinking about how to best showcase this brilliant person!

    • Léonicka
      October 21, 2013 at 9:13 pm

      Ooo! Good one! I need to make sure I do this too!

  5. Jennifer
    October 21, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    This is great! I especially love the part about libraries, since too often I’ve read posts about diversity saying “the only way to support diverse writing is to BUY BOOKS and if you’re not buying books then you’re not doing your part” which is not fair to people who want to do their part but can’t afford books.

  6. June 25, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    Thanks for this timely reminder! I’m working on this – slowly – but it should pick up steam more towards the end of the year, and then I expect my ratio to at least be 50:50. Have you seen the TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie about The Danger of the Single Story?

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