I got angry because I read about a bazillion articles on the internets this week about diversity in the publishing industry (diversity doesn't make me mad, but lack of it irks me something awful). These reports come out every year, and for like a week everybody and their brother is all, "Oh, that's awful. Something should be done. We should do something."
And then, literally nothing happens. EVER.
Oprah and I agree on this one.
If you’re a parent of a child of color, finding relatable kids’ books can be something of a challenge. Just ask Lori Tharps, an African-American journalism professor and the mom of three bilingual, bicultural children. “I’m not trying to make my kids read about slaves all the time,” she says. “A black wizard story would be nice. Flat Stanley could be Asian or Latino. But they’re not there… at least it would be one less blond-haired, blue-eyed heroine or hero to worship.” A survey of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013—out of a total of 5,000—found that only 67 were by African-American authors, and only 93 titles centered on black characters. That’s the lowest number of black protagonists since 1994, when the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison began tracking that data.If the percentage of black citizens in the US is about 13% , then that means that to be properly represented in our country, the number of titles centered on black characters should be more like 400 (if we go by the originally surveyed 3200) a year in the children's book market.
Daniel Jose Older writes:
The disproportionally white publishing industry matters because agents and editors stand between writers and readers. Anika Noni Rose put it perfectly in Vanity Fair this month: “There are so many writers of color out there, and often what they get when they bring their books to their editors, they say, ‘We don’t relate to the character.’ Well it’s not for you to relate to! And why can’t you expand yourself so you can relate to the humanity of a character as opposed to the color of what they are?”And again, in Publisher's Weekly:
“We regularly beat ourselves up about this. There’s no one in the industry who’s not aware of this,” said Karre, who was interviewed on the topic by NPR in 2013. That program discussed the growing disconnect between the demographics of children’s book authors and characters, and that of young readers: 50% of all children in the U.S. under age five are identified as non-white. “This is not some parochial concern," he said. "Everyone’s conscious of this – or they should be.”
WHY IN THE HELL ISN'T THIS CHANGING FOR THE BETTER? I mean, what do we need? Do we need to talk about this for longer than a week? Start a petition? Make our displeasure known?
I'm not naive. I understand the power structure at work here. I know that agents and publishers choose manuscripts. And that publishers and their marketing people decide how the book cover/description should look in order to "sell the most copies" or whatever. But the thing that pisses me off is that they do some tiny focus group (maybe?) and just assume they know what readers want.
Like, they haven't asked me. They haven't sent me an email and said, "Hey, we noticed you read YA. What would you like to see more of?" No, they just make the decision for the readers, which is almost as insulting as denying diversity a spot on the playing field.
And it's kind of a big deal that most of what is available to us the readers is white characters with a limited perspective. Because the truth is, all we readers have is the power of the purchase. If none of the publishers put out books featuring Hispanic main characters, how can we support them? How can we vote with our dollars? The obvious answer is that we can't.
We can get on twitter, we can rant from our collective blogs, and we can talk to each other, but OBVIOUSLY SOME BIG PEOPLE AT THE TOP JUST AREN'T LISTENING.
So I'm going to go all rebel now, and I might just throw around some grown-up words, because:
Let's take the middle man out of this equation! Just Self-Publish. Screw the system! Go around them! Let the readers decide what we want to read!!! I'm so freaking sick of someone else deciding what goes in my local giant megamart bookshelf/library/big chain bookstore. I'm so tired of seeing the same old plots over and over and over again.
Self-Publish, and no one will tell you what you can write. You can make your cover as diverse as you like. You can make your characters whoever you want.
The thing is, I fully and completely DENY that most readers give a crap what color or ethnicity their main character is. It's not like we look at a book and think to ourselves, "I don't know if I can relate to this main character because they're Asian." We don't care, as long as it's a good story.
We like good stories. We like learning about how different people (even aliens from outerspace) live their lives. We like exploring new worlds. We like being totally and completely removed from the boring old world that we normally exist in and being given the gift of altered experience.
So, if you want to write about your lesbian MC who loves rollerderby, do what Red Tash did, and SELF-PUBLISH.
If you want to have a gay MC in outerspace, do what Hugh Howey did and SELF-PUBLISH.
If you want to have a kick-ass black woman an urban fantasy world, do what Kenya Wright did and SELF-PUBLISH.
If you want to write about Korean culture in relation to Kdramas, do what Girlfriday and Javabeans did and SELF-PUBLISH.
Are you getting my point? Just. Self. Publish.
Let me give you my money and together we can show the world what readers REALLY want.
One Angry-pants Reader.
Sources HERE HERE and HERE.