Here’s something I’ve noticed a lot – people want to help. People have good intentions. People want to show support. But they don’t really know how. They don’t know why something matters, or how to get mileage out of it.
Here’s what else I’ve noticed a lot – people really love to rage. And that’s important; there are issues that require it. And raging does change things.
There is a really big difference between being a person who only rages and a person who both rages and makes a real move for change. And maybe people don’t realize that. Maybe they don’t get how. But I’m tired of seeing raging with no support counterbalance, and I’m tired of people thinking raging is enough without backing it up in a meaningful way. I’m tired of people not realizing how limiting the effects are when all you do is talk about who and what is doing things wrong and not who and what is doing things right.
(That’s how this post came about, by the way. And yeah, I’m very proud of it.)
If you (rightfully) rage about a lack of racial diversity in the industry, talk about racially diverse books that are great. It’s how you get people reading racially diverse books. That’s how you get people buying racially diverse books. It’s how you actually effect change.
If you (rightfully) rage about the amount or quality of QUILTBAG books in the industry, talk about QUILTBAG books that are great. It’s how you get people reading QUILTBAG books. That’s how you get people buying QUILTBAG books. It’s how you actually effect change.
If you (rightfully) rage about poor depictions of mental health in books in the industry, talk about mental health books that are great. It’s how you get people finding the ones they need, and making sure the ones that do it right rise to the top.
(And, regarding the above, if, like me, you are lucky enough to be in a position to recommend such books loudly and widely on a major blog, don’t guess what you think is good – read the damn books and/or listen to what people in those marginalized groups are saying about those books. I never recommend a depiction of a marginalized person without a positive review from someone who shares that marginalization. It’s part of why blogging takes me a crap-ton of time, but as with anything else, if you’re not doing your research, you have no business doing this.)
If you (rightfully) rage about whitewashed covers, talk about non-whitewashed covers you think are great. And BUY NON-WHITEWASHED COVERS. If you don’t have the means to buy them, request them from your library or at least talk about how much you love them publicly. MAKE THOSE COVERS PROMINENT. Yelling without backup is yelling into a void. Does that suck? Yes. Should it really need to be explained why racially accurate and diverse representation on covers is necessary? No. But are you really going to make a difference if you cannot effectively prove that they sell? No. Your rage alone isn’t going to do that.
Another thing you can do, by the way, is support initiatives to increase the amount of diverse stock photography. As someone with a Korean-American lesbian MC in one book and a Filipina-American MC in another, both with covers that used stock photo because neither I nor my publisher was in a position to do a photo shoot, I cannot possibly express how freaking difficult it is to find the kinds of photos that do diverse characters justice. (Seriously, read the story of the creation of my cover of Under the Lights here. It was maddening.) Here’s one I supported on Kickstarter, and if you can’t kick in the money, just sharing it on social media helps. JUST MAKING PEOPLE AWARE THAT A HUGE PART OF THE ISSUE IS STOCK PHOTO SITES BECAUSE MOST COVERS DON’T GET A PHOTO SHOOT HELPS. Because that is something smaller that can change.
If you are (rightfully) upset that you feel like people devalue self-publishing when there are great self-published books out there, TAKE THE TIME TO RECOMMEND THOSE GREAT BOOKS. (And buy them, obviously.)
If you are (rightfully) upset that you feel like people devalue small presses when there are great small press books out there, TAKE THE TIME TO RECOMMEND THOSE GREAT BOOKS. (And buy them, obviously.)
It is important to talk about what the publishing industry does wrong, but it’s also important to talk about what it does right, not because people doing it well deserve a cookie but because examples of what to aim for are key. Visuals of what’s right to people who may not get it are key. Proving that these things can and do sell, and making a difference with numbers, is key. And yeah, you know what? Supporting the people doing it right is important too. It’s a tough-as-hell industry, and “Hey, you did this thing is really well” is a life-changing thing for an author. There is one fan letter and one review I cling to constantly when I’m having doubts about whether I should be doing this at all.
Also, it’s a cool and helpful thing to be vocal about diverse aspects that may not be glaringly obvious from a book’s cover, premise, or blurb. When Tess Sharpe’s fabulous Far From You came out, it wasn’t glaringly obvious that in addition to being a terrific depiction of chronic pain, it was also one of the best depictions of bisexuality in the history of YA, and also among the first YAs to actually use the word bisexual in a character’s self-ID. But fans spread that loud and clear to the people who needed to know it. I’m fascinated by how often I find people who still don’t know that I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson has a major gay romance, or Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld a major lesbian one. And did you know that both the MC and LI of Sarah Ockler’s The Book of Broken Hearts are Latin@? Or that the MC of Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry is Vietnamese? Or that Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless by Liz Czukas, Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, My Best Friend, Maybe by Caela Carter, and All the Rage by Courtney Summers all have interracial central relationships?
I didn’t, until I read them. But if you didn’t know, now you do.
If this was a little tl;dr for you, here’s a cheat sheet:
1. Recommend the crap out of books doing things right.
2. Buy/library request/galley request obviously diverse covers. (If it helps, I’ve put in green books I read and loved.) Some examples: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed, This Side of Home by Renee Watson, Pinned by Sharon G. Flake, Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz, Endangered by Lamar Giles, Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, About a Girl by Sarah McCarry, Of Metal and Wishes and Of Dreams and Rust by Sarah Fine, Hollywood Witch Hunter by Valerie Tejeda, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham, The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Most Likely to Succeed by Jennifer Echols, The Violet Hour by Whitney Miller, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, pretty much anything by Coe Booth, and, yeah, my Under the Lights, too.
3. Promote other people’s promotions. Some great things you could share include:
- Reviews, initiatives, fundraising, etc. via We Need Diverse Books, Disability in Kidlit, DiversifYA, Gay YA, and Diversity in YA
- Any post from lit agent Amy Boggs’ “Diverse Words” series for Pub Hub
- Malinda Lo’s series on the way reviews discuss diversity, collected into a single post here
- The Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit series (#FSYALit) in School Library Journal spearheaded by Karen Jensen and Ally Watkins
- Ann Aguirre and Nyrae Dawn’s post for HEA USA Today on diverse NA
- Any of the great blog posts listed in my QUILTBAG Compendium
- Honestly, pretty much any post on the B&N Teens blog, since we take serious care to make sure there’s a diversity of titles included in each post, and not just in those tagged We Need Diverse Books.
- Stacked’s posts of “Fabulously Diverse Book Covers We Should See More Often” and “7 More 2015 YA Books With Diversity on the Cover“
- This guest post by Librarian Faythe Arrondendo for Stacked: “Socioeconomic Class in Contemporary YA Lit: Where are the Poor Teens?“
Also, some random ways to be supportive to authors in general you may not realize:
- Leaving even a one-word review with your Goodreads rating makes a huge difference because it’s clear you’re rating based on having read the book. You might not realize quite how many people don’t.
- Reviewing on your blog and/or Goodreads is great, but it all gets around to the same people in the YA/NA community. Crossposting that review (again, even just a few words!) to Amazon reaches a far huger audience. It also helps when bloggers take into account how many reviews you have on a published book before deciding to feature you. (Something I only recently learned happens!)
- Tell them when you love their books! I promise, it is never annoying to send a tweet or an email that says “I loved your book.” They can’t always answer, but they always appreciate it. You have no idea the power it can have to turn an author’s day around, or make them keep going when they’re having a tough time.
- Request books from the library. Seriously, if you can afford to buy them, this is still a huge help – libraries do buy them. Getting a book into a library system that wasn’t previously carrying it is noooo small thing, I promise.
- Fan art. Oh my God, I cannot tell you anything that makes an author’s day more than fan art. Seriously.
- Promote their events! Even if you can’t go, just RTing when author will be in a city in which you have Twitter followers is a great and helpful thing. But major bonus points if you do show up 😉
Sooo, hey, that post turned long. Clearly I have a lot of Thoughts. Shocking, I know. But if you made it this far, thanks for reading, and thank you in advance for supporting the good stuff.