If you spend any time in the parts of the internet that readers and writers inhabit, you’ve likely seen #WeNeedDiverseBooks, the hashtag for a grassroots non-profit dedicated to raising both awareness and money to promote diversity in children’s literature. (Jump HERE to take a look at their mission statement or HERE to check out their Tumblr.) This fall, We Need Diverse Books undertook an Indiegogo campaign with a goal of raising $100,000.
They raised $181, 676.
Their appeal clearly resonated, and their goals are long-term and multifaceted, designed to change the white, heterosexual culture that dominates bookstores. WeNeedDiverseBooks is focusing on children’s literature, which makes sense because if you teach children that diversity is the norm, chances are it’ll carry over to the rest of their lives. A quick look at the New York Times bestseller list of hardcover fiction for this week shows you a young Jewish girl growing up in early 20th century Boston, and a scientist with Aspergers. Most of the rest are spies and cops and special forces-types.
Based on the blurbs, there’s enough conformity to suggest WeNeedDiverseBooks has their work cut out for them.
When I went to the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up last September, diversity was one of the themes many of their speakers addressed. And not just diversity from a how do we get the general public to read queer fiction? perspective, but also is there a place in queer fiction for trans, lesbian, bisexual, non-binary, and other voices? All the publishers who participated in a panel discussion said they were eager to contract well-told stories from every possible perspective. They encouraged the authors who were present to write and submit stories featuring every facet of the lgbtq rainbow.
But here’s the rub. If nonprofits encourage diverse stories, and writers write them, and publishers publish them, will readers read them?
According to this Tea Time post on the Prism Book Alliance blog, the answer might be a little disheartening.
Maybe by the time today’s kids are able to make their own buying decisions, groups like We Need Diverse Books will have taught them to expect variety in their reading. In the meantime, there’s a lot of white out there, and most of it is heterosexual.
Which, hey, you know, some of the nicest people I know are white heterosexuals. Like me, for instance. For the last year or so, I’ve been both reading and writing romantic stories about gay men (and we can save the issues around middle-aged women writing m/m romance for a different blog post, okay?). My stories tend to start with a spark, then come together in big chunks. At the risk of sounding all cheesy, they come from the heart.
The reason I bother to write them down, though, is so people can read them, and I worry that if I fall too far from the status quo, they won’t get read.
Even a subgenre of romance like m/m has trends. Rock stars are big, as are cowboys and college students. Chefs are popular, the serious foodie type. Historicals and shapeshifters make the list, too. I don’t want to write a book that’s just like a dozen others, but will anybody read my cute little m/m romance set in 1955 Seattle, starring a handsome trumpet player and the coach of a women’s synchronized swimming team?
That book is almost ready to send to my agent, so I’ll soon know if it’ll find an audience. I’m almost ready to decide what to work on next. I expect it’ll be another m/m romance, and I expect I’ll try to capture the diversity I see in real life. Conventional wisdom says not to write to trends, but geez, there’s safety in numbers, you know?
So where do your stories come from? To restate the title of this post, how do you decide what to write?