The movement for more diverse books is nothing new, and if you’re a reader who supports more diverse books and authors, you may be left wondering: What can I do? We often see the same books on bookstore and library shelves that we see reviews of in major publications, and these might be the same books our friends and teachers are buzzing about, too.
Whether you’re excited about the idea of more diverse books and authors, more #OwnVoices stories, or more diversity in genre fiction, you know you want to see more diverse books published and more diverse authors getting the recognition they deserve. Maybe you're a Jacqueline Woodson fan who wants more authors like her, or you're excited about diverse characters in comic books. Publishers can feel like a monolith instead of book-loving individuals coming together, and you might not know how — or where —they're listening. Sure, you liked a post about Pride Month reading lists, but does your favorite author know you actually read their book? And last month, you bought a book with an autistic protagonist, but then realized the representation wasn't all that great and now you're looking for something by an autistic author. What can you do?
If you're not sure how to help, here are some steps you can take to be proactive in supporting diverse books and authors.
1Support diverse books and authors by purchasing those books.
By spending money on diverse books and diverse authors’ books, you’re sending the message to publishers that these books can make money. Unless a publishing house is a nonprofit, most publishers operate as a business — meaning that sales speak volumes. If a diverse author makes a lot of sales on their first book, they’re also more likely to sell a second book and get a higher advance when they do.
2Show up at your local library or literature events.
Buying books may not be an option, and even if it is, you can’t buy every good diverse book by every diverse author (although a never ending library is every reader’s dream come true.) Don’t worry, though, because there are other ways to show your support.
You can show up at your local library and look for the diverse books you want to read. Talk to your librarian and ask them for the books you’re looking for. If you need recommendations, ask.
“Librarians play a key role in promoting diverse books!” Edith Campbell, an education librarian in Indiana, tells Bustle. “Don’t expect [diverse books] to always be on the shelf. You don’t have to research for specific titles, but you will have to request what you want and let the salesperson or librarian search for you.”
Beyond going to the library, check out any bookstore or library events that feature diverse books or authors. These events don’t have to have a diversity-centric theme. If you see a panel on superheroes that features several authors of color, or a reading from a romance novel by an author with a disability, show up. Your attendance sends the message that events like this are necessary and important.
3Use your influence on social media and in real life.
On both book-specific social media, like Goodreads or Amazon reviews, and non-book-specific social media, like Twitter or Instagram, show your support for diverse books and authors. Create a #bookstagram of the best diverse reads you’ve loved in the last year, or the best titles by a specific author.
“Use your voice to speak up for what you believe in,” Marley Dias, literary activist and founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks, tells Bustle. Talk to your local school officials, bookstores, and libraries to ensure that diverse books are getting into the hands of readers and into classrooms. You can also use your voice and the power of social media to show your community that diverse books are important.”
Social media is a great tool for book discovery for lots of readers, and librarians, teachers, and publishers are also on there, listening and learning.
4Create your own resources and support marginalized creators.
There are plenty of people online who blog about diverse books. Gay YA, Disability in KidLit, American Indians in Children’s Lit, The Brown Bookshelf, Latinx in Kid Lit, Trans Lit, Colorin Colorado, Teaching Tolerance, We’re the People Summer Reading List, Mirrors Windows and Doors, and Rich In Color are just a few examples of spaces dedicated to diversity in literature.
It’s particularly important to support blogs or other projects started by marginalized people dedicated to the cause, because it’s only through widespread support that people will find these resources. “Give marginalized bloggers the attention and support they need to become high-profile,” Natasha Razi, a writer and editor at Disability in Kidlit and the Gay YA living in New Jersey, tells Bustle.
If you don’t see a resource that covers what you’re looking for, another option is to start one yourself. “I think the most important thing is developing your own resources if you have a capacity to do so,” Emily Ladau, writer, editor, and disability activist, tells Bustle. “I think that helps fill in the gaps. A medium like blogging can be relatively accessible to anyone.” Razi confirms that the Gay YA and Disability in KidLit were both started for that reason: To fill a gap in the market and show why these books matter.
5Speak up when you read a book that doesn’t get it right.
If you’re reading a book and something feels off about the representation, Google it. You might find that other people are talking about it, too.
“Readers can blog about it. They can post in Goodreads and Amazon,” Shelley Diaz, a reviews editor at School Library Journal, tells Bustle. “Or they can email the publisher directly. The rise of social media has given an opportunity and a forum to voices who have often been marginalized and dismissed.”
6Donate your time or money to organizations that support diverse literature.
Support organizations like We Need Diverse Books with donations or by volunteering your time, so you can directly support initiatives such as the OurStory app, the Walter Award, and the Internship Grant. There are other organizations and events like Children’s Book Council, Multicultural Children’s Book Day, and plenty of book awards that focus on diversity such as the Coretta Scott King Award, Pura Belpre Award, Lambda Literary Award, or the Dolly Gray Award.
7Don’t just read diversely because you think you should.
As important as it is to support diverse books and authors, reading should also—at least sometimes—be completely for fun. If you’re into romance, pick up The Sun Is Also a Star or When Dimple Met Rishi. If you like contemporary YA, check out The Hate U Give or All American Boys. If you’re fantasy all the way, you might like Children of Blood and Bone or Labyrinth Lost. Look for book lists that are specific to the genres you’re into, or bring a list of books you’ve enjoyed to the bookstore or library when you make your request.
“Diversity shouldn’t be seen as spinach or medicine,” Diaz says. “And it shouldn’t be the only thing we emphasize in a book. How about a pulse-pounding plot or a sizzling romance where the characters just happen to be diverse?”
Reading diverse books and diverse authors is the first step to supporting the movement—the second step is telling everyone you know to do the same thing.