I’ve struggled with how much I should say about politics on my author platform. But sometimes, some things are too important to worry about how they will be received. I’ve felt called again lately to say something. Do something. Anything. It will be imperfect, I will probably stumble through it, but I will try. I’m going to broaden the topic to include diversity on the whole (sexual, ability, etc.) because this has been a hot topic in the publishing industry the past few years and what I will say here applies to that general conversation.
To be honest, I have always felt a little trapped with regards to writing racial diversity into my books. I WANT my books to be diverse. I want people of all colors and backgrounds to feel welcome and at home in my fictional worlds. I don’t want anyone to feel marginalized or forgotten. Ever. But, I personally would not be comfortable writing a lead character of color. The hero in my first book is described as caramel skinned and tells the heroine he’s “Greek mixed with something a little darker” but that was not a conscious decision; that’s just what Julian looked like when I pictured him in my head. And other than that description, there was no mention of his race or background.
I absolutely think we need more characters of color to be leads, but I have always felt that I am not the right person to tell that story. I worry that I would not only get it wrong, but that in a way that would be cultural appropriation. I can imagine a lot of white authors struggle with this dilemma.
So that got me thinking: what else can I do as a reader and a writer to change the landscape of our whitewashed literature world?
As Readers, We Can:
- Seek out stories featuring diverse characters. I just finished Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, and I have to say, the diversity of her cast was refreshing! Here’s a great resource for seeking out diverse books.
- Champion stories written by people of color. Write reviews. Recommend.
- Do a Diversity Challenge. You don’t have to go all in, but maybe challenge yourself to make sure one out of every 3-4 is a diverse cast or a diverse author. I’m challenging myself to read at least 5 books this year by authors of color. PM me on FB or IG if you have a recommendation!
- Pay full price for diverse reads. This is something that might not occur to typical readers, but sales do matter to a book’s success and an author’s ability to keep writing. Publishing is very competitive–many authors have to give away tons of free books for every one they sell, and writers of color are already at a distinct disadvantage. If you want to truly support diversity, put your money on it!
- Talk about the issue of diversity in literature with fellow readers. Especially with more privileged friends. Many of them may not even be aware this is a problem.
As Authors, We Can:
- Champion diverse voices. The main problem here is really that the publishing industry is 80% white (I’m betting in the fantasy genre it is even worse). That is some serious odds stacked against writers of color. The number one thing we can do is boost their signal in any way possible.
- Use all the colors in your pallet! When you’re creating your world and cast, mix it up. Add in people of color or a gay couple or someone with a physical disability. You don’t have to write about their diversity or challenge to benefit from the realism that diversity will create in your world (and the better connection it will provide to readers of different backgrounds). Elizabeth Hunter does a really admirable job of this.
- Find subtle ways to tie in messaging about diversity and acceptance. When I first started thinking about how I was doing on the diversity spectrum with my books, I felt pretty guilty. But then I realized I do address the issues of racial divisions and bigotry; it’s just more subtle. Because I write fantasy, I have other species that are seen as second class and exploited by those in power, and the theme of how they are treated (and their uprising) is definitely an overarching part of the story. Of course, JK Rowling is another perfect example of how to do this without hitting the reader over the head with it.
- Join the discussion. Use your platform to draw attention to this issue. I just did–it was easy!
I will be making a conscious effort to implement all of these subtle changes from here on out, and I know my reading experience, and that of my readers, will benefit greatly from it!
Further reading: 7 Must-Read Articles on Diversity in Publishing