Is the publishing industry REALLY trying to be inclusive?
I was having a discussion with my friend the other day when looking at young adult novels that have been published over the last few years. Particularly in regards to inclusion of all people. We cannot deny that there has been some progress made. There are iconic stories out now that feature POC, LGBTQ+ characters, a few with mental health, but let’s be honest.
The publishing industry is still slacking.
I say as I get blacklisted from ever getting published ever.
First off, I want to state that I support all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, mental health, religion, etc. If my point of view comes off as offensive in any way, it is not my intention and I will apologize up front. That being said, let’s get to the discussion.
EDIT: I will only be discussing/giving examples of books offering racial diversity as I have yet to read books representing LGBTQ+ people, people with mental health, and other groups of people. While LGBTQ+ people and people with mental health struggles are being offered some representation in contemporary (a genre I don’t read much of), they are still seeing next to nothing in fantasy, science fiction, and other genres.
As I was saying, the publishing industry has definitely made some strides. Agents are actively looking for books by authors of color, actively looking for books with main characters of color, with characters of different sexual orientations. And that’s great! We need more of that representation, but… let’s be honest. Based on the publishing trends and the books chosen to publish, it feels more like the publishing industry is trying to meet a quota than actually trying to offer representation.
But since I make a claim like that, I obviously need to explain.
Other the past few years I have picked up books by a variety of authors from a variety of backgrounds and, I have to say, I’m unimpressed (on both sides of the table.) But what I’m thoroughly unimpressed by are some of the books published that are written by authors of color. Not because they are written by authors of color. But because I don’t think the story was given enough time to develop before being published. The stories I’ve read thus far have needed (in my opinion) some HONEST editing. They could have been really good stories, but they were lacking in some serious aspects that would not have gotten away if the story had been written by a white author.
I’m not saying these stories are awful. I’m not saying authors of color can’t write because they can! The writing is amazing! But certain aspects in each book could have benefited from some extra time in revisions (as many books written by white people could). Unfortunately, I notice it more in books written by authors of color because they’re books are being highlighted right now. They’re being put on display. They’re being promoted as being supportive and inclusive and representative, but I have to ask people:
Is an under-developed story really going to be the best option for representation?
We ran into this not many years ago when writers were adding in characters of color to their all white stories. But they just colored a character. They didn’t add that character’s backstory, their heritage, what different struggles they would have gone through because of their race. Painting a character a color other than white is not representing the real people of that race. And neither is offering up books that are unfinished (again, in my opinion.)
But let me offer some examples to back up my claim…
This book had an AMAZING world in it. You want to know why I loved this world so much?? Because it’s a relatively authentic representation of ancient Japanese culture regarding geishas. It was gorgeous! I loved how rich the culture was, but that’s the problem. The entire book was just explaining the culture and the world and the scenery. There was no plot! The main character had no personality! What good is a story without a plot and main character? I can read a non-fiction book on ancient Japanese culture and get the same information.
This story had a very interesting plot, but the pacing and the background characters could have benefited SOOOOO much had the author and editor taken more time to really work on it.
There was a lot wrong with this book, including the writing. Phrases invented three centuries after the story takes place appeared in the story in addition to the main character being the most dull, most bland thing on the planet, and the story was riddled with cliche after cliche.
But there are books that WERE complete. There are books that felt like they were published for more than meeting a quota and having a rich text, such as…
Oh. My. God. This book is GOLD! This story is so rich and so full in every aspect: world, plot, characters. It was amazing and the unique culture of the story really fleshed out this gorgeous story! It had no weak points.
This book is also amazing! With a diverse cast from a variety of different backgrounds, each with their own motivations and desires, it was rich and fantastic! Not only were the characters well developed and unique, but so was the plot, the world, and the twists! This is a story was given lots of thought, time, and effort! That is what should be found in EVERY book!
I didn’t give this story a glowing five stars, but this story still does an AMAZING job of offering representation to people from all walks of life. Additionally, it has a great story line that weaves in the characters’ backgrounds to bring to life a unique, fun, exciting story. (I just didn’t quite understand what that story was when I started. Oops!)
Clearly, there are books on both sides of the fence: some are doing an amazing job of representing diverse authors and/or diverse characters, while others still need some work. Sadly, as you can see, two of the books I picked as offering good representation are still written by white men. That’s not very inclusive. And why do the books written by white men seem to be more rounded out stories? What is going on behind the scenes?
I will again state that these are all my opinions. I know plenty of people who loved and hated all of these books, but from a critical standpoint, I have to wonder why so many of the inclusive books I’ve read over the past two years have felt under-done? It feels like there is some inclusive book being published at least twice a year, but not much more than that. There’s no giant swell or influx. Just a couple here and there as if the publishing industry is trying to say, “Hey, look! We support everyone!” when the books they publish the rest of the year (fantasy or contemporary stories written by white people with white characters) do not follow that trend at all.
Everyone keeps saying there are writers of color and of varying sexual orientations out there. So then why are we still seeing so much of the same crap that’s been published for over two decades? Why does it seem we’re putting less effort into editing and promoting representative books?
But what do you think?
Is the publishing industry doing a good job?
Leave your thoughts below!
And check out my discussion from last week: