Diversifying Your Bookshelf

How readers can change publishing

Harry Potter? White. Percy Jackson? White. Katniss Everdeen? Also white. I could go on. Seriously, it doesn’t stop there. Most of the books I read between the ages of 9 and 15 had a white main character. That wasn’t by choice. Young adult books at the time with a person of color as a leading character were little to non-existent.

I didn’t realize how important diverse representation is until I read Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali. I finally found a book where I identified with the main character.

Mariam Jabri
Mariam Jabri

The book industry is making it harder to share that experience. According to the New York Times, 95% of books from 1950-2018 released by the five major publishers were written by white people. Since authors tend to write characters that resemble them, this can lead to fewer characters of color in books.

To top that off, Barnes & Noble is reportedly cutting back on the number of hardcover books stocked on their shelves. This limits chances for voices of color to have their stories read.  Black authors Keah Brown and Britney S. Lewis have already seen the effects of the new policy. Both of their latest books will not end up on shelves, which impacts their sales. The new policy further highlights the odds stacked against authors of color.

This is where readers come in.

We, as readers, don’t realize the power we have in the book industry. According to Publishers Weekly, “BooktTok” (a community of readers on TikTok who recommend, promote, and review books) is partly responsible for the 4.6% rise in adult fiction sales in 2022. The New York Times even labeled BookTok as a “Best-Seller Machine” in their recent article about TikTok’s influence in the publishing industry.

As an avid reader on BookTok, I’ve seen how one 5-second video of a book can change the trajectory of its popularity. Following BIPOC content creators on social media and interacting with posts promoting BIPOC authors will have that same impact.

Another thing readers can do is go out there and buy books by writers of color. Visit your nearest Barnes & Noble and search out diverse reads. Can’t find the book you’re looking for? Ask for it. Growing up without proper representation made me realize how important it is now. We have the power to see the books we want stocked on their shelves.

ThreeSixty Fall News Team students wrote op-ed stories, inspired by the #360YouthVoiceChallenge, which is inspired by youth.