Diversity in the publishing world isn’t something that a lot of people think about, at least a lot of privileged people who are able to walk into a book store and pick up a novel whose protagonist looks like them.
In 2015, Lee & Low did the first ever Diversity in Publishing Baseline Survey in America. The first ever. Publishing, at least some version of it, has been around since the printing press, yet four years ago was the first time anyone considered doing this sort of big-scale survey with major publishing houses (think Penguin-Random House or Scholastic). This survey was released in 2016, after a year of surveying 34 publishers and 8 review journals.
The results are these. In the publishing world overall, 79 percent of people are white, 78 percent are women (cis-women), 88 percent are straight and 92 percent are non-disabled. In any take, those are overwhelming numbers. Even though women are leading in the workplace, it is often white, cisgender, upper-class women who could get into the publishing houses.
I know that by this point you’re asking, why does this matter? Why should I look at these results and do anything about it? It matters because books are often a medium that you are exposed to at an early, yet when you open its pages and find no characters that look or feel like you, or that these characters are some gross stereotype, what makes you want to keep reading? Better yet, what is the point?
With the way publishing works, if there aren’t queer, disabled or people of color working in the publishing houses, the manuscripts with characters of any, or many, of these identities could get shoved to the bottom of the pile.
Books and stories are a way to see yourself represented on the page, living a life you aren’t living right now. For many, that isn’t possible. How many fantasy novels have you picked up and read about a disabled protagonist? Science-Fiction? Contemporary? What about people of color? Or queer women? There aren’t many in the popular sphere of books (or from big publishing houses), not one that Barnes and Noble is stocking.
I think that we have to ask the question if the way we consume media cannot reflect the majority of people, then what is it doing?
In Young Adult and Children’s literature, there has been an influx of different stories being published. There was a lot of hype for Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and On the Come Up, something that might not have happened twenty years ago. But we can still see other areas in publishing, like Fiction, falling through and continuously publishing a lot of stories about the same sorts of people.
So how do we buy more books with these protagonists? Look for them. Find smaller publishing companies that exclusively publish women of color and have a staff that is the same. Actively search out books from queer or disabled writers, find books that reflect their protagonists. This is a small start, but supporting authors who otherwise do not get the publicity that the select few with connections due, is a way to begin the process.
Source: Lee & Low Books