Many of the novels I’ve read lately represent diversity or own voices, which I have loved. So let’s take a deeper look into how writing is evolving in today’s market, and how much of the market share they actually represent… or are they just the latest fad? Is this reflected in my personal library?
Firstly, let me state unequivocally that I do not lump diversity or own voices into a marketing trend. Granted, they are being used as just that at the moment, but trends are an unavoidable phenomenon in driving book and e-book sales. We saw a surge in YA after the success of Harry Potter and ‘Twilight,’ then erotica in the wake of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ followed by a push in non-fiction, primarily memoirs and autobiographies… and of late it’s been LGBTQIA+ and diverse characters (including own voices.) This observation has come from what genre of novels publishing houses are accepting for submission, and where I’ve seen the marketing dollars spent on for campaigns both online and in-store.
But I don’t want to get into a discussion on marketing trends and the publishing landscape, I’m more concerned with what we’re seeing in literature, and congruently, how is it reflected in my own personal library and shopping habits? I know the things I like to read, but am I a snob when it comes to novels that support diversity? People of colour, LGBTQIA+ characters, characters with a disability or mental illness, empowered female characters… I think it’s about time I survey my shelves and tally up just where I sit on the spectrum.
In addition to that, I grew up in a privileged household, am healthy, able-bodied, and only lived through some aspects of discrimination and illness. So it limits what literature is relatable to me personally. While I like to educate myself and take a walk in other characters shoes to experience walks of life differing to my own, it still needs to be something I can connect with on some level. So the results of this discussion are skewed because of my life experience. I can strive for political correctness and inclusivity, but by nature, I will never truly know what it is like for some minorities. But literature plays a huge part in breaking down those barriers. As a former high school teacher I can see the value in this.
Firstly, let’s take a look at my own shelves to get a sample size. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. Though take into account that I’m only looking at novels that I have purchased and read myself over the last thirty odd years. So it’s encompassing a lot of marketing trends.
Here’s the results from a sample size of 400 novels:
Own voices 12% (including LGBTQIA+ and people of colour)
I feel it’s important to recognise an authentic point of view that’s come from a place of genuine experience. It shows not only diversity in representation, but also in that of authors. While I believe a writer can create any character they wish, I feel it’s important to acknowledge books that fall into the own voices category, because they did not have access to the publishing industry in the numbers they do today previously. It’s illustrating how reading and writing is evolving, and indeed humanity as a species. Maybe we’ll get somewhere closer to a Star Trek future than we think.
(Representation in the main characters of a novel)
(A physical disability of some description in one of the main characters)
Mental Illness 20%
(One of the main characters suffers some form of mental illness and is one of the major themes of the novel)
Person of Colour 14%
(Representation in the main characters of a novel)
Gender Inequality 11%
(The major theme of the novel deals with female discrimination/inequality)
Body Shape 9%
(Main Character has body size issues as a main theme of a novel)
A further breakdown of GLBTQIA+ – looking at representation in the spectrum of sexuality and gender identity of the main cast.
The main observation of these statistics, is that if I did not take into account the last ten years of reading, all of these categories would have a sum total of less than 5%. So there has been a massive explosion of diversity in recent years.
We’ve seen the trend of more intricate storytelling evolve throughout the entertainment industry. Film and television are exploring more developed characters and storylines, including diverse characters. Flashing back to some of the shows and books I’ve read in my teens, they feel stereotypical and tropey nowadays. At the time I felt they were amazing, but if reviewing today, I’d tear them to pieces.
Two things surprised me, and made me a little proud, upon looking at the statistics of my library, is that I have around 15-20% representation of most of the categories above. That means one in five books I pick up are representing diversity of some description. Which is statistically comparable to the real world population. I mean, I’ll be working on getting those numbers much higher, but for all the talk that the publishing industry was dominated by white middle-aged men in the 80’s, to being overtaken by women today, it says a lot about my attitudes towards inclusivity and humanity in general. It seems I sought out diversity even in my teens, despite it not really having become a movement for another twenty years, or much of a selection to purchase from.
One thing I want to touch on a bit further is that of own voices versus diversity. It’s kind of like saying only gay actors can play gay characters in film. Writing is using words as tools, just as acting is using expression as tools. It has nothing to do with the creator. I say you can do either. But. Where a person who has been discriminated against in the past has managed to break out and add to the wonderful world of entertainment, it’s important to acknowledge their struggles and change from that experience. Why should it have been a struggle in the first place? What can we do the make it more accessible in the future? It doesn’t need to get uber-political, it just needs to stay rooted in common decency and mutual respect.
Looking at my TBR, there will be a huge difference in the statistics in years to come. I’m seeing a lot of queer books, novels dealing with mental illness, disability, and people of colour. I might have to make conscience effort to include more dealing with gender equality and body image to round out my library. But it looks exciting!
What other genres or categories am I missing that you feel are important to note? I’ve thought about class and social standing, but that seems to be a very dominate storytelling tool. Maybe I can call out representation of fellow redheads in literature?
My Challenge to You:
Take a look at your library, how many novels have you read that fall into the above categories? What trends have you noticed in the publishing landscape? Do you even enjoy diverse reads?
Comment and let me know the results.
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