Discussion

{DISCUSSION} Publishing Industry Meets its Quota

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. Notย becauseย 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…

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

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.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

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.

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

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…

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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.

NYXIA by Scott Roentgen

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!

Bluescreen by Dan Wells

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:
Reboot!

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26 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} Publishing Industry Meets its Quota”

  1. I TOTALLY FEEL YA. Yes YES this is something I’ve definitely noticed as well!! It’s not like people of color can’t write but it’s almost as if the publishing industry is too weak and afraid and obsessed with political correctness to give them some damn honest feedback like they do for white authors. And I definitely feel as if they’re working to fill a quota or something as minority authors are “trending” ๐Ÿ™„ I personally don’t give a shit who wrote it, just make it good. I mean, I definitely support equal representation but for me the bottom line is WAS IT GOOD THO? Idk…I’m not the most sensitive of people lol But yes, I totally get where you’re coming from. Great discussion post (as usual lol)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Angela! ๐Ÿ˜€ So glad you could join this discussion! (as usual hee hee!)

      And I’m glad you see what I see. There is definitely a difference in the books being put out by POC and by white people and it has NOTHING to do with ability to write. People of all races can write. When given the time to dedicate to making their story the best it can be, but any story will fall flat when it’s being pushed out the gate before its ready. And that’s EXACTLY what it feels like.

      I am definitely with you. I am all for supporting authors of color and main characters of color and people of all, but I will not rate a book higher just because it offers representation to people who need it. I will not allow political opinions to sway my reviews. That’s the whole point of leaving honest reviews. If we don’t call the industry out on their BS, nothing will change. And it needs to.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I always have this awkward moment when considering what to rate a book when it’s one of those being pushed for featuring or being written by poc or non-model body types or mental health, etc. I feel like if I don’t give it 5 stars I’ll be slaughtered by the internet gremlins but sometimes (not always obviously) it just didn’t make me swoon, ya know? Ah well, glad to know that I’m not alone though.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Psha! Screw the internet gremlins. They’re so last century! ๐Ÿ˜›

          To be honest, I don’t really care who wrote the book when I give a review. I don’t think a book should be rated better because a POC wrote it or because the MC was a POC. I do support more representation, but I can’t claim to be an honest reviewer if my rating is skewed based on the background or culture of the writer or character. And the publishing industry will never improve their representation if we don’t show them that the bare minimum is not acceptable.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t read Flame in the Mist, but I read Renee Adieh’s other series, the Scheherazade one, and it also felt like it needed some extra TLC. However, while I’m DEFINITELY no expert, I feel like I notice this more in YA books that are heavy on the romance, rather than from a specific author-type. Caraval, for example, had the same issue, and that author is not a woc, however that book is romance-driven. Perhaps it has something to do with the industry regarding “those novels” as fluff? Or that they need to turn those out so quickly to satisfy their voracious audience?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While there is romance in Flame in the Mist, I don’t recall there being a heavy dose of romance (or any really) in The Bone Witch. So I can’t honestly say if it’s a genre aspect, but I will admit that YA stories with heavy romance aspects do end up falling flat in a lot of other categories. It’s like they think the romance will carry everything (and then the romance isn’t even that good.)

      The industry does not understand readers, honestly. However they regard novels is garbage because it’s wrong. Readers have said what they want, but the industry publishes the same things again and again. The industry is afraid to publish more diverse books because that would mean taking a chance and possibly not making sales and they won’t risk that.

      My issue with Flame in the Mist was how poorly the character, who has a rich culture, is given literally no personality whatsoever. Her culture did not come through at all because she does nothing in the book. And, if I remember correctly, Flame in the Mist was advertised as a Mulan-esque story, but the culture is NOT Chinese-based. It’s Japanese-based. They are COMPLETELY different and it’s extremely ignorant to say they are the same thing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, Adieh’s other book fell flat for me in terms of bringing the culture to life as well. The Wrath and the Dawn, I think was the title? It read more like Aladdin than an ACTUAL representation of middle-eastern culture. Not that I know a lot about the historical middle-east…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I can’t say much about other cultures, as well, especially when it takes place before present-day. But the culture should be apparent in the way people talk, dress, and act. If nothing stands out as being non-Western, then it’s not being done right. Though, I can’t comment on W&D as I have not yet read it myself.

          I thought it was supposed to be the tale of Arabian Nights, not Aladdin. did I mistake that?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. No no, it’s a retelling of Scheherazade, who is the narrator of The Thousand and One Nights. But you don’t actually get any of the Thousand and One Nights stories. I meant that the culture comes across similar to Agrabah in Disney’s Aladdin, that is to say, not particularly accurate, just exotic.

            Liked by 1 person

              1. Exotic meaning … hmmm … I guess I mean nondescript middle eastern. You’ll have to forgive my use of the word exotic, it’s just the adjective that comes to mind from westerners trying to evoke an “otherness” that was different and attractive and whatever, especially in the 1800s. Left over from music history, I guess. Exotic music (like the dances in The Nutcracker) is very evocative of the location but not particularly accurate or attentive to the culture its derived from. And that’s the feel I got from Aladdin the Disney movie, and unfortunately also The Wrath and the Dawn.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. I understand what you meant, but as I am trying to be more aware of people who we consider to be ‘exotic,’ I have to take into account how they would understand that word. It’s only exotic to us. And it’s only exotic because our society isn’t inclusive and truly open to other cultures. :/

                  That being said, yeah, I understand what you mean by W&D. It did have a middle eastern vibe to it based on the architecture they used in the cover of the books.

                  Like

  3. I know that you’re looking forward to my opinion so here it goes:

    First, you started off very strong and let me preface with the fact that I agree with you. I was with you BUT….. while I get your complaint for The Bone Witch….. with the other two it sounds like you just didn’t like the book and it just happened to be written by a person of color. I’m not sure those two really support your claim or maybe you just didn’t go into as much detail as you did with the first one. On the other hand, you could absolutely be right about publishers rushing especially with Renee Ahdieh since The Wrath & the Dawn was so popular. (BTW, I recommend you read that one and see if you feel the same way. While I did have some minor issues with it, I did enjoy it).

    Also, while I appreciate your effort to bring this topic to light because it is an issue that needs to be addressed. I also want to point out that when you start talking about diversity and inclusivity in general but then only really dive into race, it’s an issue. A lot of people forget that diversity is not just skin color and what you see on the outside and while that is a big part of it, that’s still not all of it. By only focusing on race (even though other identities were briefly mentioned) so many other marginalized groups are being placed on the back burner which is trend that we need to break out of. i think it would have benefited you (or could in the future) if you had focused on say The Bone Witch and Ember in the Ashes as you did but then also two books with LGBTQIAP+ representation where one was well done and one wasn’t. The same with mental illness, disability and so on.

    Like I said, I agree with you. But if you want to address diversity as a whole, it really is important to look at the big picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay!! I have been destroyed! cries tears of joy Truly, you have no idea how happy it makes me to be called out on something I missed because it reminds me I am still learning, still improving, and can do more to support people around me. You, Rae, are a huge asset and benefit in my personal growth and I thank you! With that being said, now to address your comments. ๐Ÿ˜€

      Ah. You’re right. I didn’t do the best job supporting my issues with Flame in the Mist and Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (that was about when my teleopsia kicked in last night so I got distracted and wanted the post finished. sigh) That being said, I can explain now! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Flame in the Mist is Japanese-based, but it was promoted as a Mulan story. Mulan is Chinese. The two cultures are EXTREMELY different and it really bothers me that the publishing industry thought it was acceptable to make that kind of a connection. I get they were trying to make the connection because both MCs are strong warriors and what not, but the MC in Flame in the Mist was NOT a strong warrior. She had NOTHING in common with Mulan, making the connection null and void. Additionally, because the MC had so little personality and was passive throughout the entire book, I have to wonder why the book got published. I hate to say it, but because of the marketing choices, I have to assume the reason it got published was so the industry could meet its quota. That is how I see things, though.

      As to Forest of a Thousand Lanterns… reading it felt like reading a book in its earlier drafts, before it’s ready to be published. It had nothing to do with the writing quality. It was more like the appropriate plot edits and arc edits and pacing edits hadn’t been made. As a writer who has been called out on these things before, I can tell you that those edits don’t get fixed when someone is too eager and is rushing the book. But why would the publisher rush the book if it wasn’t ready? It had flaws that were fundamental to the framework of the story.

      But I am a writer. Maybe someone who is simply a reader would not see it as the same, as I know there are people who enjoyed this story. This is a bit of preference, but I am looking at these stories from an overall editing and readiness for publication perspective. These stories had SOOOOO much potential. It wasn’t about bad concepts or bad writing, it was just under-cooked. And under-cooked usually means someone was rushing. :/

      ((I have been meaning to read more by these authors to see take a more critical look at their writing, because every author has a bad book.))

      And I thank you for bringing up the other people requiring representation because I DO want to talk about them. Some of my best friends are members of the LGBTQ+ and mental health communities. They need representation. But they have seen first-hand how horribly agents and the publishing industry receive those books. They reject them. ESPECIALLY if those people show up in non-contemporary genres because for SOME reason, we just CAN NOT have a fantasy book starring a character suffering from PTSD. We can’t have a science fiction novel where the MC’s gay or lesbian. And I still have yet to see much representation AT ALL of bisexual people.

      The publishing community has made significant strides in representing POC, which is why I was able to find books for my discussion. However, I don’t read contemporary. So I don’t see any representation of the other groups still requiring representation and even POC aren’t receiving appropriate representation. What it comes down to is we are not there yet. Not even freakin’ close, especially when it seems like the industry is just trying to APPEAR inclusive without ACTUALLY making valid attempts at it.

      is tempted to make a timeline of inclusive publications over the last couple years

      /rant

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Melanie, what I love about our friendship is that we can have weird conversations in nothing but memes and gifs and then we can talk about things that are real and sometimes hard to discuss. Your openness and willingness to learn and be a better ally is a very rare trait and so appreciate you for it.

        I totally understand that if you’re not feeling great you rush so the explanation you just gave is perfect. It really gets down to what the issue so thank you.

        I understand that you don’t really read contemporary but I have to ask why that is, Quite frankly, that where the representation for the groups we’re looking for is going to start. It’s unfortunate but it’s the truth. POC are just breaking into sci-fi/fantasy but like you said it will be a while before the same happens with other marginalized groups.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Awwww! I appreciate your willingness to teach me, Rae. ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t know where I would be without you.

          Quite frankly, I find myself often bored by contemporary. They are either a bit cheesy or over-done. There is often little to no world-building and the tension just doesn’t feel there for me. That being said, there are a few contemporary novels I have read and quite enjoyed, but for a reader/writer who is so world-building oriented, it can be difficult to read about a world I constantly wish I could escape from. You know?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. That’s understandable. I’ve sort of stopped reading contemporary as well and have been focusing on mystery and fantasy but that’s where all of the representation is. At least for now. Every once in a while I’ll step out to read something that’s recommended. Like Simon vs the Homo Sapien agenda. Definitely worth the read. That’s part of the reason why I am constantly asking for recs. When other people are searching for their own representation and find it, they are always willing to share that with others. So when I don’t know where to look or can’t find it myself, someone else can say, I saw myself in these books so try there.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I can completely understand your reading genres being swayed by trying to find representation. And i fully support that. I just think it’s an absolute shame that all people can’t read whatever genre they want and find representation. I think it’s garbage that they are basically being forced into not even a handful of genres. If that’s inclusion, then I apparently don’t understand the English language.

              I would read more YA fantasy to support more representation, but I am really sick of reading those books when they all have the same plotline. Different world. Different characters. But same flow, same plot style. It all feels like recycled garbage after a while and I just couldn’t handle it any more so I had to look elsewhere for stories. I needed something new so I didn’t start rating every book 2 stars because it was exactly the same as the last 3 books I’d just read. That’s yet ANOTHER thing the industry needs to take care of, but… will they do anything about it? :/

              One book I did enjoy that seemed to offer representation (I say ‘seemed to’ because I am still white and can’t claim whether it’s accurate representation or not) was in the SCIFI genre (thank god, finally!) and it was NYXIA. The sequel is coming out this year, but I absolutely LOVED this book and there were characters from all different backgrounds in it with the main character being a black teenager. Just an idea. Not sure if it’ll be your thing, but I recommend it even as a scifi book if not for representation. ๐Ÿ™‚

              Liked by 1 person

  4. To be honest, I feel like the publishing industry is more interested in making money off the tag POC & LGBT+ author instead of looking at the stories they’re publishing. Most of the stories with a divers cast are published as YA, no matter the genre or maturity of themes because that is the audience that is interested in a diverse cast, rather than reading about male, white heroes all the time. As long as this new development is still a rarety, publishing houses will only seek to make profit off sensationalizing such aspects of novels. As you might have noticed, I’m really angry about this, specially as it furthers the biases people have against the YA genre in general. The identity of the author and characters is more important than writing style and plot, which ultimately leads to YA books having a bad reputation because people think YA books are simply ‘lesser quality’ books. I totally agree with you Melanie but I don’t see that this will change anytime soon because equality for everybody is still a concept that is foreign to most readers across the world.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oohoohoo! Call it out, Klara! ๐Ÿ˜€

      I completely agree with you. I can’t even count the number of people who look down on YA and YA authors because they think it’s somehow easier to write that. Well, it is, frankly. Because the industry keeps publishing the same tropes, the same plot lines, and nothing changes. Nothing improves. I have a hard time even touching YA books any more because I honestly feel like the quality of writing is just not there and that’s garbage! It doesn’t matter WHO the book is intended for, it should still have the same quality of writing across the board. And now that the industry is supposedly pushing WOC, we may face a problem where people use that as fire to fuel their already existent prejudices.

      I have no doubt that you are correct about the publishing industry seeing an opportunity for more money. They do it all the time! It’s the reason why nothing has changed, nothing has improved, and why stories are decades behind in being inclusive compared to other forms of entertainment. The publishing industry has an opportunity to be ahead of the game and offer representation to people from all walks of life, but so long as they run it like a Big Wig capitalistic BS company, that won’t happen.

      Also, I think we need more POC in the publishing industry behind the scenes. From what I see, most agents, publicists, editors, etc are still white. If they can’t get represented behind the scenes, how will they ever get represented in front of them?

      Like

      1. I totally agree with you. You know, it’s not only a problem of perspective, but also of privilege. I know some ppl will hate me for saying this, but women and ethnic minorities are marginalized groups who are underrepresented in almost allhigher paid jobs. It’s not only the publishing industry. And as long those with privileged and power feel threatened by powerless, disenfranchised minorities because they know they have simply had more opportunites instead of more skill or intellect, nothing will change. White people have to stand up for poc and other minorities. We’re only as free as we are working together. Only if we do that, we can have real stories of real people with fascinating and gripping plots that will not only make money be re-iterating the same commercial sh*t over and over again.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Absolutely! I have built a platform for myself and I have a voice because of that platform. I am white. I am privileged. I know this, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use my voice for others, which is why I wanted to have this discussion and why I will be filming it and posting it to my Youtube account. People with privilege need to stop being complacent. Just because you CAN look the other direction doesn’t mean you should because some people CAN’T look away. It will be a long road, but I think we can make a change. If we open even one person’s eyes, we are doing something, and I thank you, Klara, for joining this discussion and being supportive of representation of all people.

          Like

          1. No Melanie, I have to thank you really for opening up the discussion. It’s such a rare thing for bloggers to question the industry that gives them free stuff. I really appreciate your effortsโค

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Hahahahaha! Well, the industry really doesn’t give me free stuff. I’m not interested in half the books being published and the ones I do request, I never receive. Besides, even if they did give me free items, using that as a reason to silence my opinions would be blackmail. I can like their books, accept ARCs, and still call them out on their BS. Welcome to the real world. ๐Ÿ˜›

              Liked by 1 person

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