There’s a lot I’ve wanted to say over the last few days. But every time I’ve written out a Tweet, I delete it and spend my time retweeting other voices instead. I’ve argued against racists on Twitter, I’ve tried to step in where I could. But there is a huge problem in the book community right now, and whereas on Twitter I feel there are people putting things into better words than I could, this blog is my own space, and there’s something I do want to say that specifically relates to books.
This is an argument that comes up a lot. Usually when people are talking about why we need better representation in books. Why we need more diverse representation, as well as diverse authors. Why we need ownvoices stories, and stories written by marginalised authors that aren’t only ownvoices. I’ve seen it used a lot. During Women in Horror month, during Pride Month, during any discussion about how this industry is dominated by cis straight white people.
.And usually, these words are written out when someone is doubling down, or sometimes even just when another person – usually not white, or not straight, or not a man – says, “Hey, we should promote more books like these.” Every time I see it, I cringe. Because the person typing them is missing the point.
“I just want a good book. I don’t see colour/sexuality/gender/etc when I’m reading. I don’t care if it’s a man or woman or white or black or gay or straight.”
And therein lies the problem. You should care.
You should care if the book you’re reading which tackles issues faced by immigrants on a daily basis is by an own voices writer or not. You should care if your shelves are stacked exclusively with books by straight white cis men. You should care if you’re in a bookshop and can only see books by James Patterson and Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
“I just pick up random books in the bookshop!”
Riiight…and you never actually buy online, where you need to look for a specific author? Okay, fine, let’s say you just shop exclusively in physical shops. These shops determine what people buy, not the other way around. Unfortunate, yet, but true. They decide what goes on their front tables or gets stocked on their shelves, and sometimes you really have to hunt for a book that isn’t just one of the top sellers.
And likely, the books being promoted are not going to be books by marginalised people. (I’m thinking specifically of big chain bookstores, not indie, by the way)
Think about it. If you walk into a charity shop, stand in front of the books they’re selling, and close your eyes, to ensure you know absolutely nothing about the author you’re going to select, what book do you think you’ll pick up? Because from personal experience, the kind of books in second-hand bookshops of any form all tend to be the same authors.
Publishing pushes hard on the books THEY think will sell. Right now, they push hard on books that are not, to put it bluntly, diverse, unless it also matches a narrative they like, and that narrative is not decided by diverse creators, but by an industry dominated by straight cis white people.
What I’m trying to say – and this has become longer than it should be, really – is this:
‘I don’t care’ isn’t good enough. You have to seek out diverse voices. You have to actually search for books by diverse people, and be aware of authors. You cannot just go by someone’s name, or the plot of a book, and assume you’re supporting someone in particular.
Seek out underrepresented voices. Look for recommendations (Google is your friend) in whatever genre you enjoy writing in. Look out on Twitter for people discussing books, follow people who read a range of different books. Read a variety of blogs, and help boost voices from different people. I absolutely promise you, your reading experience will be so much better for it.