Diversity in the publishing industry is and has always been lacking. Examples range from a disproportionate shortage of diverse books to the willful ignorance of book influencers calling out problems within the industry.
In order to learn more about the need for diversity in publishing and what we can do to make a change, I reached out to book influencer and BookTok veteran, Ayman Chaudhary, or as she is better known on TikTok, @aymansbooks. Chaudhary is a 21-year-old Muslim Pakistani-American student who currently resides in Chicago and talks about all things bookish on her page, with a main focus on romance and young adult books. I was lucky enough to be able to chat with Chaudhary and ask her a variety of questions about diversity within the publishing industry.
The first question I asked Chaudhary was about whether she believed there are enough diverse voices in the publishing industry. In response, Chaudhary said, “the overall answer is, no, but it’s getting better… but part of me is like, you know, pick up the speed and let’s get into it. It is better than what it was like five years ago, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
I would have to agree with Chaudhary — while there have been more diverse books published in the past few years, the publishing industry is still predominantly white. Being white gives you an unfair advantage in the industry and as a result, we see more white authors being traditionally published. BIPOC authors have to fight significantly harder to have their voices published and even to be chosen to tell their own stories. It is not enough to just publish some voices of colour and call it a day, we must work to ensure that BIPOC authors and books are proportionately represented within the publishing industry.
BIPOC authors are not the only ones affected by the lack of diversity within the publishing industry. When asked about what can be done to prioritize diverse readers and book influencers, Chaudhary recounted an experience she witnessed where white influencers were prioritized when distributing advance readers copies (ARCs) of a book by a BIPOC author. “Sending a bunch of white creators a book with like, I don’t know, for example, Persian representation doesn’t sit right with my spirits. Do I trust that publishing company anymore? No, they betrayed me.”
This feeling of betrayal is one that is felt by many BIPOC reviewers and influencers. Publishing companies need to work on getting books that represent marginalized groups into the hands of people who are a part of those groups. Chaudhary shares this sentiment, stating that “Publishing companies need to prioritize sending those ARCs, sending those books to that marginalized group that is being represented first and then to everyone else. And I feel like, you know, it benefits the publishers in a way too, because they’re now getting honest reviews and reviews with more nuance. It’s good for the readers and the reviewers because it makes them feel seen and heard when like, you know, probably most of their life they’ve been silenced. So it’s just the bare minimum, and publishing companies need to step up their game. It’s what should be expected and they should deliver.”
So why is all of this important? Why should you care about diversity in the publishing industry? To answer these questions, I asked Chaudhary about the impact a lack of diverse books has had on children and teens. In response, Chaudhary talked about her own experience, saying, “You can’t necessarily miss what hasn’t been there your entire life. So when I first saw books with brown people in them, Muslim representation, it was not only a breath of fresh air but almost daunting because it’s like, wow these books exist. Growing up, I was pretty much only surrounded by white books and they were great and whatever, but then reading books with your representation, it’s almost like it’s a reward, and I love it so much.”
This experience is not an uncommon one. In fact, it is one that I went through as a daughter of Iranian immigrants growing up in a predominantly white area. The first time I read a book with Iranian representation, I cried, because it was something I never had growing up. It feels nice to feel like I could be the hero of a story because honestly, I didn’t feel like I could be the hero of any story growing up. All the protagonists I read about were white and I just wasn’t a part of the plot. It meant so much to read a novel that I could truly see myself in.
If you want to do something about this disparity in the publishing industry, you can start by diversifying your bookshelf. Chaudhary recommends reading Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa, You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao, and This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi. I’ve personally read both Legendborn and This Woven Kingdom and I can honestly say that both novels were amazing. I would also recommend The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang, Darius The Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, and Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé.
Chaudhary also recommends “diversifying your for you page”. She recommends following BIPOC BookTok creators such as; @bookwormbullet, @thebooksiveloved, @moongirlreads_, and @kimmysbooks. Of course, I would recommend that you follow Chaudhary if you do not already.
My hope is that by reading this article you will make an effort to diversify the media you consume and listen to BIPOC voices. BIPOC voices deserve to be heard and recognized within the publishing industry and hopefully one day there will be true equity in an industry that currently caters to white people.
Tags: books BookTok diversity Publishing representation Tik Tok