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Beautiful Books: A Diversity Project

In recent years, there’s been a strong push throughout the KidLit community to bring diverse books to readers. Perhaps you’ve heard of the grassroots organization We Need Diverse Books. If you’re a writer, you’ve probably noticed that many agents are looking for books by diverse authors, or with diverse characters. They’re also looking for books that aren’t necessarily about diversity, but that embrace it as an accurate representation of the world we live in.

But are publishers buying those books? On Pages Unbound, in this post exploring the question of whether covers reflecting a book’s diversity harm sales, Krysta wonders if “publishers might be struggling with a real problem–how to diversify their books to audiences who aren’t sure they want diversity.” And in this discussion on The Toast, Linda Z. (an editor-turned-agent) talks about the recent trend of sacrificing the midlist for the blockbuster tier, leaving less room for all new authors, including diverse authors. Linda shares this observation:

I trust book buyers to read beyond their immediate experience, beyond their census box. This is what readers have done since literacy became commonplace, so I don’t know why that’s a great leap for our industry today. But I still hear it all the time: “Does this group buy books?” “Is this group enough of an audience?” I hear real fear in that question. Because if you’re looking for coloring book money or 50 Shades or Gone Girl or Rush Revere, a little novel centering a trans woman might only sell 5,000 copies, and it sounds too risky. When everyone is constantly afraid of losing their job, nobody wants to be the one who overpaid on a clunker.

Are publishers truly afraid that the only people who will buy a diverse book are those who see themselves reflected in the characters? But for how long have people of color found some way to identify with all the white characters in our classics? I agree with Linda—readers are in it for the story. We just want to connect, and there as many ways for readers to connect with books as there are readers.

That’s where I come in—as a reader. Over the past few years, I’ve increased my own exposure to diverse authors and characters. Some of those titles are shown above. This year, I’m challenging myself to read even more diversely—at least 50% of the books I read this year will be by diverse authors or about diverse characters. Since I average a book every two weeks, I’ve chosen and purchased thirteen books already, and as I read I’m going to share my thoughts here.

My list isn’t closed at thirteen diverse books—that’s only my minimum. I deliberately left plenty of room for recommendations (got one the other day from my friend Sid) and spontaneous picks.

For every book I read this year, I’ll talk about how I—a middle-class, white, enabled, straight woman—connect with the authors and characters. I’ll talk about what draws me into each book, what keeps me reading, and what I learn. I’ll tell you when I stay up all night to finish, when I forego doing laundry or making dinner in order to read another chapter, when I laugh so hard I cry, when I cry so hard I need to hug my beagle…the only thing I won’t tell you is which books I drop in the tub (though I guarantee that will happen at least once).

Diverse authors do have a wide audience—because a beautiful book is a beautiful book—and I am part of that audience. I hope you are, too.

Up first is Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.

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