By: Grace Pelley
When looking at what books agents want to publish, writers will see a desire for diversity. Industry leaders collect data about what kinds of authors are publishing and what minorities are represented in fiction. Many in continue to call for diversity, especially among the most successful authors. We have accomplished much, but publishing will continue to drive this broader change.
Though it is not new, the memoir has been more popular in recent years. Memoirs are more accessible to authors than novels. People who lack name recognition can gain audiences with brief accounts of interesting parts of their lives. A common situation in memoirs is writing as who is a member of a minority group and has accomplished much, like Malala Yousafzai’s I am Malala. In this case, people already recognized her achievements and wanted to learn more. Successful memoirs can also representative of a group. Betsy Lerner’s The Bridge Ladiesillustrates caring for elderly parents. Since my family is encountering many of the issues Lerner describes, I found her relatable. Neither of these stories would have made as much of an impact were they not true. Both feature minority groups. Yousafzai is a young Pakistani women; Lerner is a Jewish woman who focuses on elderly Jewish women. As a reader, my differences from them are what I find attractive about their stories.
This surge of diversity is not unique to publishing, but I think that publishing can make a bigger impact than other media. Reading requires more mental energy than watching a film or listening to music. We tend to think more about what we read than what we watch. This gives authors opportunities to break down are assumptions. They also have more room to develop characters. I watch some sit-coms. One of them, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, has an extremely diverse cast. But, the characters are so shallow that that cannot accurately represent minorities. Conversely, novels cannot survive without robust characters. Authors also have the rare opportunity of introducing characters without telling us to what categories they belong. Toni Morrison’s short story “Recitatif” describes two girls’ parallel journeys to adulthood. Either Roberta or Twyla is black, and the other is white. Nothing in the story definitively says which girl is which race, forcing readers to face their assumptions. This beautiful story could not be told with a different medium.
But, writers who belong solely to majority groups still remain. Where do they belong in this landscape? Good authors can create characters different from themselves. Sensitivity readers from minorities should consult with authors to ensure that they are correctly portrayed. White-dominated stories are still acceptable, but they need another hook. The story or style itself must be unique.
The changes in publishing and the rest of media are opening doors for more stories than ever. Editors and agents want fresh stories. As we look to the future, I anticipate the new voices which will emerge.