There appears to be some confusion among uninformed opponents1 of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. It’s the same confusion expressed each and every time anyone (usually an author, agent, or editor) points out a fact about diversity in the publishing industry (woefully low) and expresses a desire for more variety.
See this Confused People Example:
As part of the Common Sense portion of our program, I must make the following announcement:
The commentators in the above example think (incorrectly) that the campaign is about forcing writers to create and feature more diverse characters. Let’s be clear, these particular commentators are concerned with making white/cis/straight/able-bodied writers write about The Other.
So many things wrong here. Where to start?
“These people should write their own books”
Who are they talking about? The 20,000+ participants of the campaign who reached 43 MILLION people with over 150 MILLION impressions worldwide? They should all write books because their opinions don’t matter unless they do? Maybe it’s the children who only want to see heroes who look like them. They should shut their pieholes until they’re in a position to publish? Heaven forbid someone has an opinion–a want–related to a field they aren’t affiliated with professionally. Sports fan, cut out your tongues now! Voters, stop wasting time at the polls and just run for President. Because that’s logical.
The campaign was STARTED BY PROFESSIONAL WRITERS AND PUBLISHERS. The supporters represent an under served segment of the book buying public. There are many people–in both of those groups–who have and can write their own books. That’s not the point! This is about systemic neglect that has allowed statistical stagnation for years, and for reasons that don’t make total sense when we look at the make up of our country–or the world. The campaign is a rally reminding publishing’s gatekeepers that WE do, indeed, matter.
Of course everyone who supports the campaign isn’t going to write their own books. But, such expressions by detractors are telling. They reveal, at best, common internet contrarians who must be the voice of dissension. At worst, prejudicial dimwits who can’t FATHOM writers of different races/sexual orientation/levels of physical abilities/etc. actually existing, thus triggering protests for beloved mainstream writers not to succumb to Political Correctness.
I wish these guys many sleepless nights fretting over the issue. Moving on…
This is a good one:
Okay, first…Dude, look up “Racist.” You know what, I’ll do it for you:
Racist (n): A person who believes a particular race is superior to another. (Courtesy of the New American Oxford Dictionary)
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s examine this statement: “No one should be forced to read.”
Yes. You’re absolutely right. Strange you should bring it up when ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT THIS CAMPAIGN involves forcing anyone to read anything. Let’s dissect this, though. This person obviously interpreted the hashtag to mean “You, and others like you, should read and support more books about people who aren’t like you.” Now, as a general rule, that’s probably not a bad idea. If this person read more outside the comfort zone, s/he might have a better idea of what racism means, OR understand hashtags aren’t beamed directly into the brain, thus forcing involuntary expansions of horizons. Just sayin’.
Again, we’ve got someone skating the thin line between ignorance and outright prejudice. Their reasoning: a campaign for more diverse books is about forcing readers to indulge in material that doesn’t interest them. There CAN’T be a population out there that actually desires more diverse authors and characters. That’s just crazy talk.
Also, his fixation on Americans isn’t lost on me. This map of the campaign’s worldwide reach must’ve been faked, then. Like the Moon Landing, Global Warming, and Integration. Keep sippin’ the homemade shine, buddy.
Actually, I can’t put this one on the campaign. This is just me. See below:
This bit of commentary came directly to me. As you can tell, the sender clearly didn’t click my name for they would’ve seen one of the diverse books (FAKE ID) I did write. Look at me all “being the change.”
Yet another situation where a person just…can’t…grasp that there are indeed authors with the ability to write the kinds of books we’re lobbying for. It’s not “We Need (YOU To Write) Diverse Books.”
I calmly addressed the sender’s criticism, and never got another message from the person. That “be the change” statement wasn’t about the sender becoming informed (something s/he could’ve done on their own), though. It was a challenge, one I wasn’t supposed to be able to meet. It’s “there aren’t diverse books because none of you [insert expletive/slur here] can write them.” Which is BS.
[Spoiler alert] Had the conversation with this party continued, this is likely how it would’ve gone: sender makes some statement implying diverse books would be everywhere if they sold better. Publishers have to worry about the bottom line. There’s SOME truth to this. Publishing IS a business after all. That argument ignores a couple of big things…distribution and discoverability.
Example: This past Saturday was the #DiversifyYourShelves portion of the campaign. I went to a bookstore with 3 books by diverse authors on my list. The store had none of them on the shelves despite the books being recent releases.
I did see MULTIPLE copies and stand up displays for a bunch of other books that AREN’T diverse. If I was a shopper looking for a quick, impulse buy…well, my options weren’t just limited, they were manipulated in a “pick me up, look how well stocked I am” kind of way. THIS IS THE PROBLEM we’re trying to work on.
There’s so much talk of “the market” –what it will support, what it wants–that we’ve come to think of it as this Tazmanian Devil that spins unpredictably from vampires to dystopias to teens on a road trip. Unexpected things do happen, I’m sure. Hits out of nowhere. Besides those rare blockbusters, what makes it into the brick and mortars probably has more to do with store buyer’s preference and past trends. Don’t you see, if the trend has been to ignore huge segments of the populace for decades, how can there be a reasonable expectation for a breakthrough diverse hit to drive the market our way when the damned books aren’t anywhere to be found?
Can a bookstore shelve every book that’s published? No. Do books on the shelves have a better chance of selling than books that must be requested, and shipped within 3-5 business days? What do you think?
If decades of neglect tells us anything, it’s that people in favor of diverse authors and characters can’t sit back and wait for publishing’s gatekeepers to see solutions on their own. They haven’t. And they won’t.
#WeNeedDiverseBooks was a partial antidote. An outcry for variety that can’t be ignored. At least not this week.
More activism is required. More campaigns and initiatives, silly Twitter combatant. So be careful who you challenge next time, as I’ll be less inclined to wield my 140 characters in such a polite manner.
Here’s the hard reality…every week isn’t going to be #WeNeedDiverseBooks popping on 40 Million screens. Myself and the other organizers know this, and we’re taking great care to not let this become one of those “Remember that time when we…” kind of deals. I’m not at liberty to discuss what’s next for our merry band of marauders, but we’re not going on hiatus just yet. Protectors of the status quo, put on your Ignorance Armor and prepare yourselves.
We are the change.
And we’re coming.