At a panel discussion in 2015, editors gathered to discuss the lack of diversity in the publishing industry. Editors noted that “writers of color [WOC] face insurmountable challenges,” acknowledged that “the game has always been rigged,” and concluded that “publishing is a privilege.”
Five years later, the publishing industry is still overwhelmingly white (79 to 86%), with only 8% of books published each year written by nonwhite authors. There are many factors that contribute to disparities in publishing. I’ve been researching this for my thesis and have discovered that three of the most significant factors are costs, networks, and education.
Writing is expensive. At least, it is if you want to make a profession of it. Really think about that. You may think it’s free to sit down and write a story—but writing takes time, and time costs money. Many WOC cannot afford time off work or away from other responsibilities. In addition to that, if a writer wants to grow in her profession, it’s often necessary to participate in professional development. She needs to attend writing conferences, take online courses, and subscribe to professional resources like Publishers Marketplace, for example.
Going to conferences also enables writers to meet other professionals in the industry (networking). In today’s industry, it is critical for most writers to put themselves in situations where they can build these connections. Let’s face it, many of us WOC cannot afford to be in these spaces. The best, and often most expensive, conferences provide writers with important industry knowledge and improve their chances of getting published.
Writers of color are disproportionately challenged by a lack of resources, networking opportunities, and access to professional development.Writers of color are disproportionately challenged by a lack of resources, networking opportunities, and access to professional development. Click To Tweet
So, let’s face it. If you want to read diverse texts from diverse voices, you need to support diverse writers, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. And by you, I mean you. There are many ways you can support diverse authors, but I’ve thought of 5 to get us started.
This one is easy and free. Where do they write? Do they have a blog? Do they write a newsletter? Subscribe to their blog and newsletter and follow them on social media.
Once you connect with writers you wish to support, share. If they create something you like, post a link to it on your own feed. If you really want to be helpful, add a mini-review to that post. Let your audience (yes, you have one) know exactly what you like about what you’re sharing, and give them a reason to click. You may just connect a fan with a writer they’ll love.
This one probably goes without saying, but buy their books—and again, leave a review if it isn’t too much trouble.
One of the best ways for a writer to improve his or her chances of success is to engage in professional development. There are many valuable resources available for free, but some resources that cost money will give that writer an invaluable leg up. If it is within your means, you could sponsor a writer you know to attend a conference or help them to enroll in an online course. If you want to donate to a writer’s cause but can’t give much, you might check to see if you can sponsor them another way. Some writers have Patreons, where they produce monthly content and patrons subscribe for a dollar or two a month. (For example, check out established author N.K. Jemisin’s patreon).
I know that sponsoring an artist is a big step, but of the three factors I listed in the introduction to this post, I believe that cost is the most significant obstacle that disproportionately affects writers of color.
When I went to a writing conference in New York, I had about $30 left in my pocket after purchasing a flight to Albany, booking a greyhound to NYC, paying for an airbnb, and getting a metro pass. I was fortunate to be able to do these things, but many WOC would not get so far and might be uncomfortable with the risks I took. I stayed in NYC for four days. It was cold and rainy, but instead of spending money on a coat and an umbrella, which I desperately needed, I spent it on coffee and dollar pizza (which was really good—I’m not complaining). When other writers at the conference went to lunches and happy hours to network with industry professionals, I hid away to avoid the embarrassment of not being able to buy myself a sandwich.
If you can give, please do. I mean, still be smart about it, but please do.
Lastly, just ask. Writers know what they need. Serious writers are doing the research, making plans, improving their craft, and figuring out what they need to do next in order to succeed. If you’re feeling generous with your time and/or resources, just ask them how you can invest in their art.
If you want to support this black writer, I just ask you to like, comment on, and share my work, if you find it worthy. I’m blessed to have 1.9 degrees and a full-time job, so I don’t need much—other than connection. Just let me know that you see me, and others like me, and that you want to promote diversity within the industry. If you’re able, find another WOC who you can support financially.
Imagine a world where every reader can easily pick up a book written by someone like them for someone like them in every genre. You have the power to make that happen.