Tuesday, March 1, 2016

#OwnVoices - Is it my story to tell?

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign initiated in 2014 has brought about a significant shift in publishing trends. This is wonderful.

Except, the stats suggest that things may not be wonderful as they appear to be.


The demand for better representation in literature is perhaps at its peak with more and more readers, bloggers and authors speaking out in favor of diversity in books. Unfortunately, this has also triggered an onslaught of writers who treat diversity as box to check off in their road to getting published. Goodreads is rife with books that claim to be a  “diverse book” yet are filled to the brim with stereotypes, whitewashing, outright erasure, dehumanization, tokenism and even reinforcement of already present harmful character tropes.

Most of this roots from writers choosing to write out of their own experiences. Writers who reduce centuries of culture, struggles and tradition to harmful stereotypes and ridiculous caricatures.

I'm not personally privy to the mechanisms behind the publishing industry. However, even from position as a blogger and reader I can clearly see that there is unspoken quota for stories about people of color. Say for example, publisher X “chooses” to publish Y number of stories about South Asians per year? What happens when X number of non-South Asian writers write stories about experiences that are not their own?

When you as writer belonging to the majority group (i.e. white, abled, straight, cisgender, male, etc.) write of experiences that are essentially not your own, is it possible that you are (unintentionally) silencing those  who need to tell their own stories? One thing's for sure. Over the years, marginalized people have continued to have their stories stolen from them, misinterpreted heavily and published by majority group authors. So not only do marginalized people have to fight to have their voices heard but they also have to clamber to get their foot through the publishing door. No representation and no platform to tell their stories either - Pitiful, isn't it?

When you tell a story that is not your own, you are essentially drawing your material from what you perceive as a part of the marginalized experience. More often, than not these perceptions veer dangerously towards cultural appropriation, perpetuate ridiculous stereotypes and can be very damaging. I think Justina Ireland explains this best when she earnestly proclaims that turkey bacon is not bacon at all. ;)

I am not here to police what anybody writes because honestly, it defeats the very purpose of literature. If you choose to write outside your experience first, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Capitalizing on a marginalized group's struggles is not the golden ticket to your publishing dream. Second, do your research and stay the fuck away from stereotypes and cultural appropriation. When writing outside of your experience you are bound to make mistakes so it's important that you listen to you readers even if it makes you uncomfortable. Why? The feedback for your (unintentional) microagressions may discomfort you but in the long run it could have a much larger negative effect if left uncorrected. It's only natural that, when you choose to write about a marginalized community, you inevitably open yourself feedback and criticism.

There are quite a few majority group authors who have done admirably well with writing outside their experience. But there's no arguing that no matter how well-researched and well-written, these novels often miss that spark that comes with writing from an actual experience.


What can we as readers and writers do to encourage diverse books by diverse authors? This where #OwnVoices comes in.

The #OwnVoices hashtag initiated by author Corinne Duyvis highlights books that feature marginalized characters written by authors from the same group. The hashtag movement looks not just at diverse characters but also the authors behind these stories. This list of #OwnVoices reads contains a mixture of Middle Grade, Young Adult and New Adult books.



Should diversity in books come at the cost of possible inaccurate portrayal? Hit me with #OwnVoices recommendations in the comments below! :)


  1. I don't think that diversity should come at the cost of inaccurate portrayals, it's definitely important to make sure that the diversity has a positive effect!! Awesome Post
    Tori @InToriLex

  2. This is a fabulous post! I don't think diversity should come at the cost of inaccurate portrayals because stereotyping is never helpful. As a white girl, I can only speak to the experience of having my own ethnicity, Irish be portrayed as a caricature over and over which is frustrating but I also have to recognize that I have more of a chance of correcting that stereotype through opportunity that may (more than likely unfortunately) be denied someone of colour. I think it's most important at the moment to keep demanding diverse books and portrayals. As a cohesive voice we have more of a chance of being heard and the fact that self-publishing is a heaving, powerful machine now means that the old school publishing industry needs to take note, it may not take action for a while but it can't close its ears forever! We hope...Gah I hope I made even a slightly coherent and respectful point!

  3. I go so angry with Victoria Aveyard when she wrote how the characters in Red Queen were actually diverse, when she didn't really give any descriptions for them in the first book. She said that it was due to previous experience and making sure that appearances were as ambiguous as possible, but then a fan said that she shouldn't be reblogging and supporting edits where the main character is casted as white, and she was all like, no, I can't do that, I'm going to get any support I can get and blah blah.

    And it got me so pissed. Like, how convenient that you can just suddenly say that with the next book, my characters aren't actually white. And I hate how she's not even taking the proper representation of her characters seriously. It showed to me that she didn't really care about diversity at all and it had me really fuming and refusing to support her as an author.

    1. That's infuriating!

      I'm personally not a fan of authors leaving a character's ethnicity or physical features vague, especially if the author is white, because then everyone assumes the character is white. That is not fair and diverse representation!

  4. Thank you for letting me know about #OwnVoices.
    In my blog I read and promote books by and about people of color the majority of time, so I will definitely be making use of the hashtag when I tweet about my reviews.

  5. I really don't think that authors should write books about experiences that aren't their own UNLESS they've done extensive research and really made pains to accurately portray the group that they're trying to. Katie Stout's Hello I Love You is a great example of a book that completely messed up Korean culture. It was unfair and untrue. But I beta read for the book Vicarious by Paula Stokes, and she did an amazing job of researching and having people beta. I respect what she's done to make her story accurate, and I would recommend it :)

    - Eli @ The Silver Words

  6. What a fantastic post! Thank you for being so direct and reminding authors to expect and be open to criticism for their portrayals of other ethnicities. As a mixed-race (black and white) person, I wasn't quite sure where I stood on this issue -- I want to read more characters from mixed backgrounds but simultaneously fear how multi-ethnic people might be portrayed by white authors -- and you've given me plenty of food-for-thought, as both a reader and a writer. Thanks! And I'll definitely be using and checking out the #OwnVoices hashtag.

    I know this post is a year old but still wanted to acknowledge it. :)


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