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View Full Version : Do you think an author's ethnicity or race impacts their presence in the literary world?



Missus Akasha
06-16-2014, 07:06 PM
We talk about the importance of diversity in young adult genre but do you think an author's race or ethnicity hinders or affects their career in the publishing industry? This is a topic I try not to think about but lately I have. You never hear about up and coming authors of diverse backgrounds with heavy publicity campaigns of their new books, country-wide or international book tours, huge book deals, and other privileges.

I know that there is a small percentage of diverse authors, but to me it doesn't make sense that very few have been offered the same opportunities as others.

Let's forget about the actual lack of presence of diverse in young adult fiction for a moment. If two writers wrote the exact same book and they both got published, do you think an author's ethnicity/race/sexuality would or could be a determining factor in their book's success?

It seems foolish to even consider it but it irks me. There are so many good diverse authors who write breathtaking stories with content million times better than some of the bestsellers on the market, but many people would never know because there aren't "hurrah hurrah" publicity stints.

But do you think that an author's background could play a negative impact on the reader?

asyouwish
06-16-2014, 08:45 PM
I sure hope not, but it is definitely something I've thought about.

MynaOphelia
06-17-2014, 12:54 AM
As much as I hate to say it, probably. I think publishers are not only less likely to publish people of color, but they won't always give them the same marketing and press that they'll give a white person. Or they'll only shelve the book in African-American fiction--even if the book just has a black MC but isn't about race--which means very few readers will actually read it, since most people don't shop in that section. Plus, for people who choose to write about diverse characters, some publishers will say it's not as "marketable" and will be less likely to take the book on. Since people of color are more likely to write about diverse characters, they get screwed.

This has also been an issue with women writers. But I'd say this is less of an issue with sexual orientation because people don't usually know your sexual orientation upfront. Whereas with race, it's easy to tell from a picture or a name.

To be clear, I'm talking about publishers being discriminatory. Readers can also be discriminatory, but that manifests differently.

Luckily though, this is starting to change! Especially with the push towards diversity, authors of color are getting more recognition than ever before, which is really awesome.

J.S.F.
06-17-2014, 01:21 AM
We talk about the importance of diversity in young adult genre but do you think an author's race or ethnicity hinders or affects their career in the publishing industry? This is a topic I try not to think about but lately I have. You never hear about up and coming authors of diverse backgrounds with heavy publicity campaigns of their new books, country-wide or international book tours, huge book deals, and other privileges.

---ME. Much as I hate to say it, I think race/ethnicity/gender does play a role. How much, though, depends on the genre. For example, N.K. Jemison is a black woman and has won a number of S/F awards. She also happens to be one of my favorite writers around. Is she as well known as other writers in the S/F genre who are white and male? Probably not, but that's how it goes. It ain't fair, but who says life is?

I know that there is a small percentage of diverse authors, but to me it doesn't make sense that very few have been offered the same opportunities as others.

---ME. You might want to think about talent. Granted, the number of PoC authors IS very small, but it may have--MAY--to do with being able to write a good story and not just because of their color/gender/ethnicity although, as I said above, I'm not discounting the probability IMO that race/gender/ethnicity does play a role.

Let's forget about the actual lack of presence of diverse in young adult fiction for a moment. If two writers wrote the exact same book and they both got published, do you think an author's ethnicity/race/sexuality would or could be a determining factor in their book's success?
---ME. It might. That's all I'll say.

It seems foolish to even consider it but it irks me. There are so many good diverse authors who write breathtaking stories with content million times better than some of the bestsellers on the market, but many people would never know because there aren't "hurrah hurrah" publicity stints.

But do you think that an author's background could play a negative impact on the reader?

---

See above, please. I'm gonna be a little split-minded on this. It's a very complex issue, but one which I hope will be resolved in the future. Maybe not soon enough, but soon.

The one thing is to not make this a self-fulfilling prophecy. I won't deny that the deck is stacked against PoC/women (in certain genres) and race, but at the same time, you have to consider the work itself. Is it good enough to get published? There are a lot of white writers out there still struggling, me included. I never blamed my race for not getting published in the beginning. I blamed my lack of skill. Would it be worse if I were black or Asian or a woman or all of them? According to the stats, yes, but at the same time it wouldn't stop me from trying.

The Pollyanna in me says that one day publishers won't be bound up by color or gender or orientation or what have you, but the cynic in me says BS. Still, you have to write and keep at it. JMO...

Polenth
06-18-2014, 04:19 AM
Publishing isn't separate from the rest of society. All the while we have racism, there will be an impact based on the race of the author. Don't let it stop you trying though. Change has to start somewhere.

Sunflowerrei
06-18-2014, 08:40 AM
Well, there's an author, Jamie Ford, who is half Chinese and half white. I know you specifically mentioned YA, but Jamie writes historical fiction and he's been on book tours everywhere, radio interviews, both of his books have been on the bestsellers' lists. Also, he's so far written novels that center around Asian-American characters. I think him being of Asian descent is helping his presence in the literary world, actually.

Wilde_at_heart
06-18-2014, 05:18 PM
It's tricky to say either way. First off, if it's a mystery or horror or what have you that simply features a PoC protagonist, even when it's explicitly stated as such, plenty of people seem to 'default' to straight and white. People might not even notice enough for it to make a difference at all.

In addition, without a photo of the author, how can anyone tell? Plenty of names - even Dutch or Polish ones - get 'Anglicised' and plenty of WASPs like me have what could be pegged more as 'PoC names' depending on how you define the term. I read a horror short in a fairly recent anthology, where all the characters were black and it wasn't until I looked up the author's website - the story, I thought, was very good - and only later discovered that the author himself wasn't.

All you can really do is keep writing the stories you'd like to see out there, and more importantly, keep submitting. Getting published is a challenge for everyone and at the end of it all, nobody will read what you don't try to put out there.


Whereas with race, it's easy to tell from a picture or a name.

ETA: No, it isn't. If you went by my actual name, you'd think I was Jewish and Brazilian instead of English-Scottish. Even from appearances it's not always easy to tell - I know someone who's fully Jordanian with fair skin and light eyes. It's even harder to tell with people from mixed backgrounds. I also have plenty of novels sitting on my bookshelf where I've no idea what the author looks like. And the name or background of the protag didn't matter to me, only the story or premise and the writing itself.

MynaOphelia
06-18-2014, 07:22 PM
ETA: No, it isn't. If you went by my actual name, you'd think I was Jewish and Brazilian instead of English-Scottish. Even from appearances it's not always easy to tell - I know someone who's fully Jordanian with fair skin and light eyes. It's even harder to tell with people from mixed backgrounds. I also have plenty of novels sitting on my bookshelf where I've no idea what the author looks like. And the name or background of the protag didn't matter to me, only the story or premise and the writing itself.

Good point, I should have clarified. And I guess I'm in the same boat, my last name is Afrikaans but my background is Israeli and Jewish mostly.

It's not always "easy" to tell persay, and that's not a bad thing, but think about with resumes. People with names like Tamika and Andre get passed over in the workforce a lot more than people with names like Tiffany and Adam. Publishing is no different--there's still racism in the industry. It's getting better, but it's still there. The first way to fix it and fight it is to acknowledge it.

J.S.F.
06-20-2014, 01:28 AM
Good point, I should have clarified. And I guess I'm in the same boat, my last name is Afrikaans but my background is Israeli and Jewish mostly.

It's not always "easy" to tell persay, and that's not a bad thing, but think about with resumes. People with names like Tamika and Andre get passed over in the workforce a lot more than people with names like Tiffany and Adam. Publishing is no different--there's still racism in the industry. It's getting better, but it's still there. The first way to fix it and fight it is to acknowledge it.
---

Good points made, and I'll just add that it has varied over the years in terms of ethnicity, religion, and race. In the early years of the 20th century (and of course, before) there were very few writers with Jewish names published. They often had to change them so that the majority Christian readership would accept them. Even then, many publishers chose to keep it quiet.

Same deal in Hollywood. Name changing was quite common (Issur Danielovitch Demsky became Kirk Douglas), and also with Christian actors who had long, difficult to pronounce names (Arlington Spangler Brough became Robert Taylor, for example).

These days, if you have a name like Danisha or LeBron, many publishers will assume it belongs to a black person. It may or may not, but really, they should consider the work first and the name/race(?) second. Sometimes they don't, if the stories are to be believed (and I do). That is a shame, for that person might have just written the next big thing out there. But I do have the hope that the names can be put aside in favor of assessing the work on its own merits. If it's good enough to be published I could care less who wrote it or what their name is.

MynaOphelia
06-20-2014, 01:55 AM
These days, if you have a name like Danisha or LeBron, many publishers will assume it belongs to a black person. It may or may not, but really, they should consider the work first and the name/race(?) second. Sometimes they don't, if the stories are to be believed (and I do). That is a shame, for that person might have just written the next big thing out there. But I do have the hope that the names can be put aside in favor of assessing the work on its own merits. If it's good enough to be published I could care less who wrote it or what their name is.

I definitely agree. And I mean it is getting better, I'm not trying to be a debbie downer over here. Malinda Lo, Ellen Oh, Sharon Draper, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Matt de la Pena--all really big figures in YA right now.

So don't be concerned about someone judging you based on your race when you try to publish. Racism is still there, but less now than ever before. We still need to improve, but y'know, we're getting there.

Kashmirgirl1976
06-20-2014, 02:19 AM
I hope not; but, I know otherwise. Ugh! It's so draining.

Missus Akasha
06-21-2014, 03:20 PM
What was said above are some really good points. However, you are right though that sometimes a name doesn't point to a person's identity. My name is very plain and no one has an idea what my race is until I meet someone face-to-face personally or professionally. Even then, I have a pen name that I will use that sounds like a Victorian librarian name, LOL.

And thank you, Sunflowerrei, for the recommendation. I will be reading him!

Kitty27
06-22-2014, 10:13 AM
Yes,it does.

Being Black and writing means instant assumptions are made about a writer. Even if you get a agent to represent and ready to fight for your book,racism is very real. As is its lesser cousin known as the soft bigotry of stereotypes and low expectations.

1.Black people don't read.

2.A Black face on a character or author will stop readers. Notice they never think about focusing on the HUGE Black reading market. Their first thought is how to market it to White readers,instead of the market that is waiting. But that plays right back into #1. If you don't believe we read,you won't think about marketing to us. Even when they do,it's done wrong and the bare minimum given unless you're a big name.

3.I don't have an issue with placing a book in the AA reading section. Plenty of Black readers don't go into the mainstream reading section because they feel there's nothing there worth reading for them. But a YA book should also be placed in the YA section. Bookstores don't believe this. Nor will they put classic AA lit in the same area as books by White authors. They will put Stripper Paradise right next to The Bluest Eye.

4.There is a refusal to believe we write things other than Minority Pathology Porn and sex. This includes hood fiction,books that focus on Black women and never ending drama,and erotica. Nothing wrong with these categories because people do read them. But it becomes a problem when it is believed we only read and write those genres. Those of us who step outside the box will find it hard going.


It is much harder for a writer of color. There is no way around that. But it can be done. It's just going to take a lot more work. We shouldn't be deterred as we know our respective markets. There is a BIG audience that wants more.

kevinwaynewilliams
06-26-2014, 07:59 AM
"Minority Pathology Porn": I love it. I tried searching for a publisher that would be interested in my book specifically because it was about black and Hispanic children and couldn't find anyone that specialized in black fiction that didn't think it also meant gangs and prostitutes.

AndreF
07-03-2014, 08:55 PM
I think it would. I've seen instances where publishers went so far as to change cover art to appeal to more people. The story is about an MC who is black and they put a white chick on the cover.

So personally I think that if I leave my ethnicity out of the equation things will be better. It kind of pisses me off a little bit though. Other cultures who demanding equal treatment are getting it and yet my people are still on white America's shit list. Hell these other cultures can take a dump on me and I can't say a damn thing about it. So yeah I'll say it matters, people don't want to admit that, just because they choose to ignore that it happens it doesn't that it's not happening.