Diversity & Self-Publishing (ep. 5)

On this most auspicious of post-St. Patrick’s-Days, we will answer the last two questions in a series of questions (and blog posts) on the role (past, present, and future) of diversity in publishing, and particularly in self-publishing.  If you missed any of the blogs in this series, you can find them here, here, here, and here.

The first of our remaining two questions may seem deceptively simple:

  • Should we make diversity happen?

But I should like to protest against any intimations of straightforwardness.  There are very few people in this world, I think, who would openly declare “No!” in answer to such a question, but there are a great many–perhaps even the majority of our regular authors and readers–who do unconsciously, or subconsciously, respond in the negative.  How is this so?  It is so because recognizing a need, then stepping out and actively contributing to positive change and forward momentum, is incredibly difficult.  What is that quote we attribute to Edmund Burke?  “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Anything–any inaction–that allows an unjust or under-representative system to continue is a silent, but extremely resounding, “no.”  Whenever we come up against the status quo, creating change is going to take more than a little goodwill, or even a great deal of goodwill.  It takes vision, energy, resources, and endurance.  Perhaps the question we need to ask isn’t “Should we make diversity happen?” but rather, “Why aren’t we doing this already, and how can we make good on what we already know to be the right thing to do?”

Having determined that encouraging diversity in the world of books is a good thing, our next question necessarily follows:

  • How can we better foster a self-publishing community that welcomes diverse authors and readers?

I think we need to take a long and honest look at the systems we trust to install agents, editors, book buyers, illustrators, executives, and even CEOs.  This holds true for other industries apart from the world of books, of course, but when talking about the life of the mind and the imagination, we need to be especially aware of the insidious influences of a stagnating infrastructure.  In essence, we need to reevaluate what we’re already doing, and jettison the injustices actually built into publishing DNA.  We need to be honest with ourselves and with others about who holds power over who gets published, and who gets the resources to self-publish.  There are subtler, even more sinister workings behind-the-scenes that we need to reevaluate, too, such as the tendency to grandfather in unspoken assumptions and expectations when it comes to what the industry sees as risky, or the “right fit.”  If we use patterns of the past to justify the future, we had better make sure those patterns include a rich texture of voices and stories and authors.

The playing field is slightly more level in the world of self-publishing because diverse authors should not, in theory, be facing the same editorial and agent-related hurdles that a traditionally published author is.  But we need to be honest, here, too, since self-publishing companies are made up of people and packages that may, by dint of being human, possess biases or flaws in reasoning.  Many of these companies are small in terms of staff, so they may or may not have the option of setting up an ethics and diversity committee, but it is worth every company’s while to make sure they are actively promoting diversity in both the workplace and in the products and services they offer.  If you are an author seeking self-publication, it never hurts to ask if such a committee exists, or whether the company you’re working with has any strategies in place.

So, if self-publishing were a kind of building, I’ve taken a quick survey of its architecture from the top down–from its executives to its staff to its authors.  But there’s another key component I haven’t mentioned yet: the market.  That means you, dear reader.  If you read books, you’re driving the market.  Every book bought and sold shifts the flow of money toward or away from various authors and industries.  If you want to see diversity in the world of books as much as I do, then there’s no better way to effectively contribute to that change than by putting your money to good work.  Buy self-published books by diverse authors, and you’ll see more diverse authors publishing.  It’s as simple as that.  Or rather, it may not be the only avenue through which you can create change, but it’s a simple and practical one that will see important and long-term effects.  That’s the kind of action I can get behind!

And that’s all the space I have for the week.  I know that these ruminations of mine barely barely scratch the surface of these questions, much less the conversation as a whole.   Over the next week, as I attempt to pull together a coherent summary of my responses to the questions I posed four weeks ago (and what all of this has to do with self-promotion), please drop me a line in the comments section below with your own thoughts or suggestions!  And of course, check back next week as we delve into still more of the self-publishing world!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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