Book Expo America ("BEA") is the leading North American publishing event, bringing publishers, authors, and readers together in one location, the force of which sets standards for the whole publishing industry.
In an attempt to bring more readers to BEA, producers of the event created BookCon (formerly Power Readers Day), where readers can interact with their favorite authors at panels, Q&As, and book-signings.
That is, if their favorite authors are straight, white men.
28 out of the 29 guest authors on BookCon's original line-up were white. The other was Grumpy Cat.
When the Internet erupted over the lack of diversity, BookCon released a statement that said
"It is not about reacting and responding to controversy, it is about listening to what our ticket buyers want."
The statement makes the grand assumption that ticket buyers (readers) don't want to hear from diverse voices, and that those of us who are protesting are not readers of books. The statement also forgets that they – BEA and the industry it represents – set the standard for what is published and popular, meaning they are the ones who tell ticket buyers/readers what to read, not the other way around.
This is most especially true when it comes to young adult and kids literature, as traditionally these demographics don't have access to independently published books. Which makes it even more frustrating that BEA's "rock stars of kids lit" panel consisted solely of straight, white men, meaning they're telling kids at an impressionable age that those are the only voices that matter.
While BookCon has made a statement that they will attempt to include diverse authors on its panels from now on since the outcry, the fact remains that it took weeks of pushing for them to even see that this was more than just a controversy, this was a major problem with the conference and the industry as a whole.
Diversity matters, and standing up for diversity also matters. Here's why bloggers should care about lack of diversity at BookCon and in the publishing industry as a whole, along with some tips on what you can do to help fix the problem.
Why should you care as a blogger outside of the publishing industry?
1. What happens in the publishing industry trickles down to other media outlets, including bloggers. Women in the United States buy twice as many books as men, yet fiction written for women is still seen as a niche market. In the same vein, women make up a majority of blogs on the Internet, with most of those blogs relating to motherhood, yet "mommy blogger" is still seen as a pejorative term.
2. As bloggers, many of us hope to eventually use our blogs to get book deals or to promote our independently published books. When industry powerhouses like BEA make statements that readers want to hear from only certain kinds of authors (in the case of the kids literature panels, only straight, white men), it sets a standard for the industry to believe those falsities as facts. If we don't fit into those narrow views of what sells, we can kiss publishing deals good-bye.
3. Books are often used as a foundation for making someone an expert on a topic, so minorities who are denied book deals or whose independently published books cannot gain traction are also denied a voice as experts in their fields. A quick look at the VIDA count for 2013 shows the appalling difference in male versus female voices in media. Add people of color and varying sexual orientations or gender identities to the mix, and those numbers get even more disparaging.
When we go to sell advertising on our sites, to speak at an event or to get media recognition, we are competing against these stereotypes and falsities that BEA is perpetuating as to what audience members want to hear, read or buy.
4. As readers, we need authentic stories to better our experiences, and as writers we need our voices to be authenticated. The few mainstream stories that feature minority characters are often still written by the majority speaking for those groups, not the groups themselves. For example, stories about women of color written by white authors (see Secret Life of Bees and The Help) soar to the top of best-seller lists, while stories about people of color written by people of color still have problems getting traditionally published.
As a blogger, writer and independent publisher, I strive for authenticity in my voice and the voices I publish/promote, but it's hard to convince advertisers, editors and other media outlets that authenticity and diversity is important when they're being told by industry leads that it is not.
How bloggers can get involved?
1. Buy novels written by diverse authors. Show the publishing industry that there actually is a market for novels written by women, people of color, queers and other minorities. Most especially, pay attention to authenticity in your literature (as explained in this BookRiot post). For example, read about the experience of queer women from queer women themselves, not straight men. Looking to write about people of color and not a person of color yourself? Read this post by Malinda Lo first.
4. Add diversity to your blog rolls, social media streams and RSS feeds. The best way to support diverse voices is to listen to those voices. Take a moment to assess whether or not the blogs you're reading are diverse. Do the same for all your news and story sources.
5. Help promote diverse voices. Use your voice to amplify the minority voices that are often silenced or shushed. Blog posts, social media shares and even handing a book to a friend are all great ways to share pieces that spoke to you.
6. Speak up as a diverse voice. Keep telling your story and putting your perspective out there. We all need to hear more diverse stories.
What are some of the other ways we as bloggers can help promote diverse voices through all media?
Lauren Marie Fleming is a writer, speaker, motivator and sexpert. She freelances for multiple news outlets, runs the critically-acclaimed blog QueerieBradshaw.com, and is founder of Frisky Feminist Press (FriskyFeminist.com), an independent publisher dedicated to promoting judgement-free, accessible sex education through eguides and online classes.
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