The Thursday Book Beat: Moving That Diversity Needle, Inch by Inch

Hello again dear readers! Summer is wrapping up, bringing us closer to a fall full of bookish films and some of the busiest publishing weeks of the year. And while 2016 has been a bit of a banner year for discussions on diversity–well, that wheel keeps turning.

The New Yorker kicks us off with a an analysis of the “white status anxiety” trend in fiction. Jia Tolentino cuts open the seams of Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest and Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel in her essay, and the results are still reflective of the racial tensions that continue to drive American society. Tolentino points out how these characters’ experiences, frustrations, and expectations still function as part of the white supremacy embedded in the system:

The subtext, both with Trump supporters and in these two novels, is whiteness—and the sense of entitlement, the powerful claim to earning power, that whiteness in America often brings. Both The Nest and Ease and Plenty serve as good reminders that even stories with few characters of color are, in their own way, very much “about race.” The worlds of these books are sketched in differently—bright shades and fine lines for Sweeney, watercolors for Ausubel—but in both books the non-white characters figure as pieces of emotional curriculum, casualties that help teach the white protagonists about their own luck.

Tolentino asks readers to consider what this shift means, not just for the white main characters, but for everyone around them and the world that’s being created. It’s a question that seeps into the publishing industry as well.

NPR continues the diversity in publishing conversation this week with a look at the state of book marketing, and the people that wave the banner towards book sales. While there has certainly been movement toward seeking out diverse writers across intersections, the industry itself remains mainly white, cishet, and abled, confirmed by Lee & Low’s 2015 staff survey.

From the executive offices to the sales teams, from editorial to marketing, the publishing industry continues to lack representation proportional to the audiences it serves. 77% of the survey respondents in Marketing and Publicity identified as white.

We wonder why the vast majority of “buzz” books feature white authors and/or characters. We wonder why author tours are mostly populated by white authors. While a publisher may be working on diverse literature, it’s just as vital that there are people in the marketing department who can champion that book in ways that will serve the book best. After all, how helpful is it to publish a book by a diverse author or about a diverse cast of characters when no one knows about it? How can your target audience find it, and how can new readers realize there’s a wealth of experiences outside their own?

A similar question was posed by Fireside Fiction recently, and the answers were a sobering look at the state of anti-black racism in science fiction and fantasy. Fireside staff Ethan Robinson, Cecily Kane, and Weston Allen compiled a report on black writers’ submissions of their work and success/rejection rates, with publisher Brian White providing editorial support.

In 2015, only 38 of 2,039 stories published by speculative fiction outlets were done by black writers. 38. Out of just over 2,000. If those numbers don’t bring you pause, look again. If you’re an avid SFF reader, consider: when was the last time you read a story written by a black author? The odds aren’t in your favour unfortunately, as Fireside also found that more than half of the speculative fiction outlets did not publish a single story by a black writer. Read the article again, take a look at the gorgeous graphic that delivers that astonishing statistic, take that spreadsheet to heart.

Then do something about it.

Look up black spec fic writers besides Butler, Hopkinson, Mosley, and Saunders. If you haven’t read the writers I just named, start there. Then look for more. Ask your librarian for recommendations. Talk up the stories you find in those spec fic outlets. We’re just as responsible for the status quo, if we don’t move to change it for the better. So let’s change it.

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Angel Cruz

Angel Cruz

Angel Cruz is a writer and boy band scholar. You can also find her at Book Riot for endless discussion and flailing over all things literature. Ice cream, Broadway musicals, and Arashi are her lifeblood.