Is YA Leading Diversity in Publishing?

From Book Riot:

Conversations about diversity in publishing and literature have dominated publishing news for several years now, internationally and across all genres and age groups. Many articles have explored the sad fact that, even well into the 21st century, publishing is still overwhelmingly white-centric, with authors of color less likely to be picked up or paid equivalent amounts to their white counterparts, and BIPOC publishing professionals being underrepresented in the industry at all levels.

In the New York Times article ‘Just How White is the Book Industry?’, Richard Jean So and Gus Wezerek explore the revelations of the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag, started by YA author L.L. McKinney, where authors of colour and white authors compared the amounts they had been paid for advances. It revealed that BIPOC authors were often paid drastically less for the same kinds of work. So and Wezerek dug deeper into the imbalance in the publishing industry, noting that only 11% of books published in 2018 were written by authors of colour, and speculating that this may be linked to the lack of diversity in publishing itself: ‘The heads of the “big five” publishing houses (soon, perhaps, to become the “big four”) are white. So are 85% of the people who acquire and edit books, according to a 2019 survey.

This trend is not exclusive to the U.S.; UK publishing has come under similar criticism, as discussed by Arifa Akbar in her Guardian article ‘Diversity in publishing – still hideously middle-class and white?’. Akbar explores ‘how intransigently white, middle-class (and further up the ladder, male) [the publishing industry] remained, from literary festivals and prizes to publications and personnel’, before looking into recent attempts to rectify this lack of diversity that, to many POC authors and publishing professionals, seem distressingly reminiscent of earlier attempts that stopped short of bringing about any significant structural change.

. . . .

Looking at YA publications of recent years, it certainly seems that there is greater diversity, both amongst characters and authors – and these books are enjoying success that counters the argument that “diversity doesn’t sell.” Books like LL McKinney’s The Nightmare-Verse Trilogy, Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys, and Tanya Byrne’s Afterlove feature protagonists and characters with multiple marginalisations, being POC and LGBTQ+, without the stories being focused primarily around overcoming racism, homophobia or transphobia. These authors, and many others, share marginalisations with their characters, or experience marginalisation in other ways. While every marginalised person’s experience is different, and it is possible for authors to write about groups that they’re not part of with dedicated research and the hiring of sensitivity readers, the fact that many marginalised authors writing from their own experiences are being published is heartening, and does seem to support the idea of YA as an area where diversity is being achieved more effectively than in adult literature.

Diversity, of course, does not simply apply to characters’ identities. Meaningful diversity must include systemic change that challenges the publishing industry’s centering of white, cis het, and abled experiences and makes the world of publishing accessible to marginalised authors, editors and people working in all other publishing roles. As So and Wezerek, and Akbar’s articles indicated, the publishing industry is still majority white, middle-class, cis het and abled.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

5 thoughts on “Is YA Leading Diversity in Publishing?”

  1. Of course the publishing industry in the US and UK is majority “white, middle-class, cis het and abled.”

    Just as a matter of straight population demographics, most people in the US and UK are white, think their biological sex is their actual sex, are straight, and are not disabled. Furthermore, most people who read are middle-class, sorry to burst some bubbles.

    Now, it is fair to say that even with these realities in mind, racial minorities, at least, are certainly underrepresented in publishing (though I am nearly certain that sexual minorities are overrepresented, as in most creative fields), but given the remuneration offered to the employees of publishing houses, especially as compared to the cost of obtaining the credentials to be so employed, I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing for the racial minorities.

    Furthermore, I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that YA is the most self-consciously “diverse” genre, is also being mostly read by twenty and thirty year-olds, and has an online presence that can best be described as “a toxic dumpster fire.”

    If publishing houses really wanted to fix their diversity problem, they could start by doing things like engaging in transparent accounting practices and paying their authors and employees more than a pittance, because the only people clueless enough to go into the business are gentry liberals. As matters stand, it’s pure virtue-signaling all the way down, as publishers and authors try to cancel each other in order to remove competition.

    • You should look up the demographics of STEM, especially physics. And astrophysics? Hah!
      “Acting white ain’t hip.”

  2. It revealed that BIPOC authors were often paid drastically less for the same kinds of work.

    That’s meaningless unless we also know sales for the same books. What are the total earnings for the authors? How do the advances compare to sales? What are the royalty rates?

    • Quite so. BIPOC or not, LGBTQ+ or not, writers are pretty much treated the same by trad pub. Miserably, that is.

      Another point about many marginalized groups. One main cause, and also effect, of being marginalized is the lack of meaningful education, even basic reading ability. You can “write to the marginalized” just as much as you want, but if they cannot read your words, you are just shouting into the wind.

      For the niche who can and want to consume your work, but are not served by traditional means, there is the standard answer – “Go indie, young writer.” Just realize that writing is not going to get you paid; reading is what will bring in the money (if any).

      • Writing dodsn’t pay.
        Being published, by itself, doesn’t pay.
        Being read, pays. How well varies by genre, topic, skill, and luck.

        What tribe you belong to rarely if ever impacts payouts.

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