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Straight Talk About Diverse Books by Rachel Werner

Posted Thu, 2/13/2020 - 9:45am by  |  Category: ,
Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

Have #OwnVoices finally become mainstream?

Do you have a preconceived notion it will be easier to query your manuscript because diverse books are now trending? The latest research, compiled by Lee & Low Books and released earlier this week, seems to indicate inclusivity is still severely lacking across all genres due to a lack representation among employees at most of the major publishers. 

The 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey results reveal that:

“76 percent of publishing staff, review journal staff, and literary agents are White. The rest are comprised of people who self-report as Asian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (7 percent); Hispanic/Latino/Mexican (6 percent); Black/African American (5 percent); and biracial/multiracial (3 percent). Native Americans and Middle Easterners each comprise less than 1 percent of publishing staff.”

Which ultimately means that, since 2015 (when the first survey was conducted):

“There is no discernible change to any of the other racial categories. In other words, the field is just as White today as it was four years ago.”

Author and speaker Christine Michel Carter personally encountered this in regard to her book publishing journey. 

“For authors with diverse narratives, it will always be tough to speak your truth and connect to a broader audience. The publishing industry is notorious for being antiquated and traditional, therefore large publishers and bookstores will always want to pigeon hold writers into VERY general categories,” she shared. 

“For example, with my book MOM AF, publishers wanted to pigeonhole me into the black author category. That’s all well and good, but there’s more to my story than wanting to fight ‘the man’ or feeling ‘broken down and fed up,’” Carter explained. “Yes; I would have been advertised to a broader audience, but who’s to say they would have actually bought the book I would have been forced to alter? I decided to go with an independent publisher that I knew would allow me to speak my truth.”

The small press she eventually found synergy with is black-owned. Thus from a creative writing and promotional perspective, part of the skill set you need to be strengthening while revising your current work-in-progress is connecting with other marginalized writers, editors, agents, and publishers. You also need to start strategically cultivating an audience, which will help demonstrate there is a market (a.k.a. waiting buyers) for your book. 

Examples of solid online communities of this nature which are good to be tapped into are:

And if you’ve been searching for mentors and fellow writers to help you fine-tune your diverse storytelling in text, audio, or video content, there are additional online hubs which would welcome your creative spirit into their digital tribe. Keep in mind that fostering such connections is a “two-way street,” so be prepared to receive—and give—authentic feedback. 

Also make sure you are in the know of recent #ownvoices books which have been released in the genre you are most interested in. Take the initiative to follow these authors and illustrators online, plus leave reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores websites. You can also help give other diverse writers a boost by requesting specific books be stocked via your local library system. 

Feeling inspired to expand the inclusivity of your critique partners and brainstorm ways to start generating buzz about your own work? Then join me to delve into these objectives and more in the 4-week online course #OwnVoices: Digital Storytelling, beginning February 27.


Rachel Werner is the Content Marketing Specialist for Taliesin Preservation—a National Historic Landmark and the home, studio, school and 800-acre estate of Frank Lloyd Wright. She is also guest faculty at The Highlights Foundation; a 2018 We Need Diverse Books mentorship finalist; and a 2017 World Food Championship judge. Formerly the digital editor at BRAVA (a Wisconsin-based publication created by women for women), she enjoyed overseeing culinary, arts, style and live event coverage while working in the media in addition to contributing print, photography and video content to BLK+GRN, Madison Magazine, Entrepreneurial Chef, Hobby Farms Magazine and Urban Farm. She is equally grateful to have presented this year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writer’s Institute and Write to Publish at Portland State University on digital marketing and social media strategy for writers.