The diversity movement in books is nothing new. Readers and writers have long talked about making space for marginalized voices in literature, thus ensuring that every reader sees themselves represented in books. But, according to recent stats about diversity in books, there is still so much work to be done.
There has been a growth in diverse representation in almost every area of the publishing industry, especially since the We Need Diverse Books campaign was launched in 2014, and publishers, authors, readers, and reviewers all seem to be more outspoken than ever about the need for inclusivity across genres. That being said, the industry is still falling short in a number of ways. Below, I’ve compiled various recent studies that break down just how widespread the problem is. It’s not just about what kind of books are being published; it’s also about who’s reviewing the books and who’s being awarded for the books.
The first step to creating an industry that truly embraces and fights for diversity at every level is taking stock of where publishing is now and where growth is most necessary. Here’s hoping these numbers offer more motivation to make it happen — because a more diverse book world is better for everyone:
1. Women, especially women of color, don’t win the Pulitzer Prize or Nobel Prize as often as white men.
The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Nobel Prize in Literature are two of the most prestigious awards a writer can receive, but women, especially women of color, have been shut out for the most part. Only 30 women have won a Pulitzer since the prize’s 1917 inception, including only three women of color: Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Jhumpa Lahiri. No woman has won the prize since 2014. Even more concerning, only 14 women have won the Nobel out of the 114 prizes that have been awarded since 1901.
2. In 2018, more children’s books that featured an animal main character were published than children’s books featuring a Black, Latinx, Native, or Asian child.
A 2018 study out of Cooperative Children’s Book Center of Education (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that the percentage of books depicting characters from diverse backgrounds is abysmally low. The study found that 10% of books featured African/African American characters; 7% featured Asian Pacific Islander/Asian Pacific American characters; 5% featured Latinx characters; and just 1% featured American Indian/First Nations characters. However, 50% of books featured white characters, while 27% featured animal characters or “other.”
3. LGBTQ+ books for kids and teens account for a very small portion of the overall industry.
The 2017 CCBC study of literature for children and teens, found that, out of 3700 books surveyed, just 3.68%, or 136 books, contained significant LGBTQ+ content. Of those, only 41% (56 books) were written by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
4. At most leading romance novel publishers, white authors account for the vast majority of published books.
The 2018 State of Diversity in Romance Publishing report, released annually since 2016 by Bea and Leah Koch, owners of romance bookstore The Ripped Bodice, found that for every 100 books published by the leading romance publishers in 2018, only 7.7% were written by people of color. That compares to 6.2% in 2017 and 7.8% in 2016.
5. The people working at book publishers are still mostly white, too.
The most recent 2015 study by Lee & Low, the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the country, determined that 79% of the overall publishing industry (including executives, sales, marketing and publicity, and reviewers) was white. While cis, white women have a higher level of representation here than in other aspects of the industry (they make up 78% of people working in publishing), the overall industry is 89% straight/heterosexual, 96% non-disabled, and 99% cisgender.
6. Major literary publications still don’t feature as many women and non-binary reviewers as male reviewers.
VIDA, a non-profit feminist organization committed to amplifying historically-marginalized voices in the literary landscape, released a 2017 study about gender disparity in literary reviewers at major publications like The New York Times Book Review, and Harper’s. At eight of the 15 publications surveyed, fewer than 40% of reviews were written by women. And when it comes to nonbinary writers, the numbers are even worse: out of the 15 publications, only 22 pieces penned by nonbinary people were published in 2017, amounting to 1% or less of each publication’s overall output.
7. White people read more books than other demographics. It’s up to publishing to change that.
According to Pew Research Center numbers from October 2015, the average American reads 12 books a year, and the study found that the typical (median) American has read four books in the past 12 months. Since 2012, a total of 74 percent of Americans have read at least one book in the past 12 months. But the numbers for Hispanic and Black, non-Hispanic people are slightly lower: eight books a year, verses 13 for white, non-Hispanic people.
But it is also undeniable that non-white communities have not traditionally had books marketed to them, written for them, or written by them in the traditional publishing structure. With audiobooks on the rise in all demographics (up 18% from 14% in 2016, with Latinx readers embracing the format more than any other group) it’s clear that people are reading, and clamoring for, more books. Now it’s up the publishing industry to provide them.
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