Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Books about diverse characters are important. Equally just as important are books “by” diverse authors. Their voices need to be heard and the publishing world determines how those voices reach the people they matter to.
As illustrated by the data compiled by the CCBC, of the 3,653 books received for 2018, only 22% were written by BIPOC and 28% about BIPOC.
This implies that a lot of the texts on people of color are created by white people. As such, they may not be able to depict the experiences of people of color properly. This leads to many inaccuracies in representation. And it manifests itself in other issues. For, as Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop once noted:
“When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”
Having diverse authors and publishing more books with diverse characters helps to address this problem. It’s not enough to say that we want more diverse literature. The authors of these texts need to be just as diverse as well.
Accessibility also becomes an issue, as this author realized when she tried to read only minority authors for a year. In her attempt to read books authored by BIPOC, Sunili Govinnage found that white authors dominated the bestsellers lists, the literary awards, book recommendations, and book reviews.
One can, therefore, understand the disparity in reading figures between the races where on average, whites read more than BIPOC.
This may be as a result that BIPOC communities are generally underrepresented in terms of books written by, for, and marketed to them.
And this brings us to the problem of publishing.
Making the case for small Black publishing companies
Traditional publishing is often expensive. It is difficult to get past the gatekeepers to have a manuscript reviewed. Those publishing houses are also heavily underrepresented when it comes to diversity.
According to the Lee & Low survey for 2019, diversity in publishing did not improve between 2015-2019. Based on their 2019 survey results, 76% of the persons who work in the industry self-reported as white (compared to 79% in 2015).
How then can diverse voices be fully represented in publishing if even the seats at the table are not diverse?
This situation makes self-publishing and the growth of small Black publishing companies even more important. We can’t get more protagonists of color, especially Black characters, in various genres if Blacks continue to face difficulties in being published.
This situation has led to a lot of Black authors turning to self-publishing.
Diversity matters in publishing
Books are powerful tools that can shape culture. Therefore, the people behind the books have a lot to say about which stories are amplified and which ones never see the light of day.
But the times are slowly changing, and we no longer need to rely solely on traditional publishing methods. Authorpreneurs have adapted to self-publishing and smaller publishing houses that cater to BIPOC have helped to reduce that gap on whose narratives are shaping our culture.
All children need to understand the diversity of the world. And it starts with the books they read.
So, support for Black authors and the small Black publishing companies that are pushing their work is essential in shaping the narratives of the future.