Sunday, July 10, 2016

We Need #DiverseBookBloggers


DIVERSITY AMONG REVIEWERS

Most readers including myself, read book reviews before making a purchasing decision. Simply put, book reviews drive sales.

But does it matter who reviews the book? Definitely.
I regularly buy books solely based on the recommendation of trusted bloggers and reviewers. And I'm more likely to add books to my to-read list or go out and purchase a book based on the review of book blogger than trade reviewers like Kirkus Reviews.

However, libraries and bookstores are likely to choose which books to stock up by looking at trade reviews since they are long established and are high on the credibility scale when it comes to the book publishing industry. Similarly, readers who aren't active on Goodreads, social media and the blogosphere/booktube community are more likely to go to trade review sites for recommendations.

Either way, there's no doubt that reviewers (both trade or independent) have a direct influence on what readers buy. End of story.

So what happens when these reviewers aka influencers are largely white cishet, able-bodied women?


WHY DIVERSITY AMONG REVIEWERS IS CRUCIAL

In recent studies conducted by Lee and Low, diversity among trade reviewers was found to be dismal with 89% of reviewers being white, 87% being cis-women, 91% being heterosexual, and 88% being able bodied/without a disability.

For me, this is seriously problematic. Why? Because cishet white readers are privileged readers. This privilege comes from seeing themselves reflected in literature more often than marginalised readers who often have to fight for representation. These readers engage with 'diverse lit' from a position of privilege. They are likely to pick up books that reflect their own experiences with the characters who look like them. They are likely to find my traditions and lingo peculiar rather than inclusive.They are likely to uplift problematic literature while consciously/unconsciously turning a blind eye to harmful stereotypes and tokenism. They are likely to label an inclusive book as forced and 'too diverse'. They are likely to erase LGBTQIA+ characters by deeming sexual orientation a spoiler.

Okay now, take a deep breath, put your pitchforks down and listen up.

As Malindo Lo suggests there's a serious lack of transparency in trade reviews when speaking of diversity in books. This is not just a problem relegated just to trade reviews but is also prevalent in blogger, booktuber and Goodreads reviews.

I've come across countless reviews that deliberately obscure the fact that characters are queer because they believe that sexual orientation is a spoiler. Ex: Glossing over the fact that Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is an excellent LGBTQIA+ read and even going so far as to say that Ari and Dante are friends. This is erasure, plain and simple.

I've come across reviews that label books with disabled, queer black women too diverse or unrelatable. Take your racist, heteronormative views elsewhere, darling.

I've come across reviews that deem the inclusion of a few phrases from local dialects too distracting.
‘Motherfuckers will read a book that’s one third in Elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and they think we’re taking over’.
- Junot Diaz
Reviews like this are disservice to a book’s diverse content, and make a mockery of the hard work that goes into crafting a book.

A reviewer from a marginalized group will...

...not see a book as too diverse instead they would appreciate the inclusive narratives.
...not deliberately erase/hide sexual orientation as a spoiler but rather see it simply as a fact.
...brand a few Spanish words as alienating dialogue instead they'd make the effort to eradicate their ignorance of other cultures.
...not find an inclusive cast contrived but instead will applaud the real world reflection in fiction.
...not label diverse reads 'exotic' but instead will appreciate the cultural elements that are simply a part of the everyday lives of POCs.
...recognize and critique stereotypes, caricatures, or culturally inaccurate or insensitive portrayal.
...highlight and lift up the narratives that need to be heard, discussed and read.

Book reviewers need to be more representative of the readers of books. End of story.

During Ramadan, I picked up Ayesha Malik's Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and I can't begin to tell you how amazing it was to see myself as hijabi portrayed so accurately in fiction. To see myself as a Muslim represented in literature without the usual stereotypes was truly a gift. For a cishet white readers seeing themselves in fiction is a norm but for me, holding the book in my hand was like finding home. A book about a hijabi will resonate with hijabi reviewer in a way that it will not resonate with others because we bring a lifetime of necessary experience in being the 'other' that will help us understand and appreciate the subtle nuances. A marginalised reviewer will understand and highlight this.

The stats are here, the discussions have begun and the right hashtags are trending. Yet, there's a lot to be done. Diversity in book publishing needs to be norm at all levels, from editors to agents to yes, reviewers.

As Jason Low points out the importance of “diverse reviewers… who can serve as a cultural sounding board when issues like nuance, perspective, and authenticity issues are in question.”.We need diverse reviewers. Reviewers have the power to do more. Both trade reviewers and independent reviewers can tremendously affect the the larger conversation about books. We can shape the way books are reviewed, decide which books get noticed, lift up excellent yet underrated #ownvoices books and even decide which titles hit the shelves. Reviewers are an important part of the book publishing pyramid and our sheer numbers alone can change the tide.

Publishers, you need to more effort to track down the diverse voices in book blogging/booktubing who are quite possibly, your most accessible and most effective marketing avenues. Bloggers/Booktubers lift up the diverse voices in your own communities. Readers and reviewers make an extra effort to empathize, recognize and interpret a broad variety of cultural nuances.  Stop demanding for diverse books to be simplified and made palatable for your Western palates and instead make an effort to understand them. Change the way you see diversity.

WE NEED DIVERSE BOOK BLOGGERS


#DiverseBookBloggers is a global Twitter movement inititaed by Nazahet Hernandez of Read Diverse Books and Demelza Griffiths of Books ft. Politics. Today, Naz joins me on the blog to talk about how this all came to be.

Where did the #DiverseBookBloggers campaign come from? And what does it aim to do? 

#DiverseBookBloggers is an initiative born out of a desire to build a community. Bloggers who review diverse books regularly are few and far between. This initiative aims to bring some of us together and provide a safe space to discuss the issues that matter to us. But the most important goal is simply to uplift the stories traditionally underrepresented in the publishing industry. Another reason was simply that many bloggers who are people of color or are part of other marginalized communities often do not see other bloggers who look like them. Building a community of diverse book bloggers is necessary to encourage others to join the book blogging community and add their voices.

 How can publishing and blogging benefit from more diverse book bloggers?

 Diverse book bloggers give the book blogging community a much needed infusion of a variety of voices and perspectives. As the publishing industry acts on the urgent and continued calls for diversity and equal representation, it will also need diverse book bloggers who can review and discuss these stories from unique lenses.

What are the statistics supporting the need for more diverse book bloggers? 



How can allies get involved in #DiverseBookBloggers?

Allies who also have blogs can get involved by grabbing one of the ally badges in the Diverse Book Bloggers Directory to demonstrate that they value diversity in publishing and in blogging. They can also aim to read more diversely and review books traditionally marginalized in the publishing industry. Another option is to follow the #DiverseBookBloggers hashtag, signal boost by retweeting, start relevant discussion, or ask questions.

Further Reading:

OVER TO YOU:

Do you believe that diversity in publishing needs to extend to the book blogging/reviewer community? What can we do actively work towards a more inclusive community?

What's your take on the #DiverseBookBloggers movement?

9 comments :

  1. Wonderful and thoughtful write-up, Nuzaifa.

    I hope our community of diverse book bloggers keeps growing because I can never have too many people recommending me books that aren't problematic.
    To be honest, I was astonished by how many readers (on social media) rely on blogger's opinions for book recommendations. We do have some influence and power so let's put it to good use!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thoughtful and much needed write up Nuzaifa. Like Naz, I would love to see this community of #DiverseBookBloggers grow and effect change, not only in the publishing industry but even beyond. When people read about others, I want to see them develop empathy and for that to transform into social change. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But I remain hopeful.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Fantastic post - I didn't quite realise how influential bloggers are! I'm personally loving everything that the Diverse Book Bloggers community has created. Hopefully publishers are taking note :-)

    (This is whatthelog btw - I am totally incapable of making this post under my blogger name. Damn technology.)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I recently met a blogger who wanted to write book reviews, but came up with a number of excuses including one that he didn't "read", preferring to listen to audiobooks. He couldn't see that reviewing an audiobook was just as valid as one written on paper - the narrator was crucial and could easily turn people off (or on!) to a book and an author.

    Thinking back about your diversity comment and being able bodied - I was blind for a while and came to appreciate the radio dramas and audiobooks. I therefore think reviewing audiobooks as a delivery mechanism is a decent contribution towards diverse bloggers...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wonderful post, Nuzaifa! Studies as the one you mentions really drive home how the lack of diversity in publishing is hurting marginalized writers. And how we as diverse book bloggers can help support them and are necessary for change. I didn't know that many people get their recs from bloggers.
    And also, as Naz says, through diverse book bloggers we really found each other and I feel more secure in writing about such things on the blog now I know I have an awesome supportive community��

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow, these are such interesting statistics... I didn't realize this, although I'm not surprised. You run into an awful lot of white cishet girl bloggers. I would totally appreciate it if more diverse bloggers got the spotlight. I know how easy it is for me (as one of those white cishet girl bloggers) to skip over those problematic bits, so getting multiple insider POVs, I guess, helps me keep my eyes open. Here's to those diverse book bloggers and getting to hear their voices!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I fully support the need for more diverse books and authors, but I never really realized how much we also need to push for diverse book bloggers. A lot of people overlook book reviewers and bloggers in the publishing community, but diversity needs to thrive in our community too. The statistics you used are interesting and eye-opening. I hope this campaign is the push our community needs to get even more voices heard.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Nuzaifa, yet another thought provoking post! Thank you for enlightening us on the hard facts. Book stores are jam packed with the trendiest most often white cis literature, its so difficult to find books by PoC or about PoC even.
    When I first started blogging, I didnt know where I fit blogging wise and blogger wise. All the literature being talked of was white based, even the blogging community. Not that we mind, but it is nice to know there are more of us. I think we all understand that. With DiverseBookBloggers I found a niche I can relate to whole heartedly. The experience so far has been both enlightening and enjoyable. Everyone's efforts are inspirational. Cannot wait for this hashtag to achieve greater things! DiverseBookBloggers have a great task ahead but together they can bring more recognition and acceptance to diverse literature and unheard voices!
    I read somewhere recently that rooting for the diverse minority is not trying to eradicate the white majority. We only want recognition and to be pulled out from the "Other" catergory we are often slotted into.
    Great Post ! :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great post nuzaifa. You have listed out all the points very well with perfect reasons to validate them

    ReplyDelete

Words are powerful - Please use yours wisely.

I read and appreciate all comments, so do feel free to leave some comment love! :)