Okay, let me think about this.
Six years ago, I was in my office when my tech guy showed up with his little sister in tow to look at my computer. I noticed that she was spending a lot of time writing nonstop into her cell phone. I was so curious to know what she could be writing. It was taking way too long to be a simple text message, so I asked her, “What are you writing that’s taking you so long and has your head buried in that phone?” She answered, “I’m writing my book.” She was all of 13 years of age, and I was so astonished that I also asked, “How are you writing a book on a cell phone?” To which she said, “I’m writing it on an app.”
I recently came across an article that talked about future trends in publishing from 2019 that still applies today. According to Steven Splat, president and founder of Bookbaby an online self-publishing source, Book Expo America in New York City had a panel called “Opportunity Cost: Why Diversity is Financially Critical To the Book Industry” that discussed three trends of the publishing industry today. And interestingly enough, the three trends involved the new competition for authors, diversity (which I’ll explain in detail below), and that same app that the 13-year-old youngster I met was writing on six years prior.
Who is the new, unexpected competition for authors today?
Well, let’s think about our own lives and how we maneuver daily. We wake up, look at our cell phone, we get dressed, we look at our phone, we get in the car, we hook up our phone, we get to work, we look at our phone, and this goes on and on all day every day. Stevens panel review article notes that authors used to have to only compete with other authors, but today, they are not only competing with other authors but all the modern conveniences available in mobile entertainment such as tv, games, social media, movies and more.
So it should be no surprise that this is making it even harder for an author to get attention. All this noise in our mobile phones is what an author has to get around to grow their audience. Are you an author wondering why no one visits your website or why your followers don’t open your eblasts that you send out? We’ll, you’ll need to get more creative with your marketing. And for goodness sake, ask an expert, join freelancers in business groups; you’ll need more heads on deck for this one. Here’s part of the problem.
“Consumers have a larger number of entertainment options at their disposal than ever before. And the data is increasingly suggesting that across demographics, people are not spending their time reading books” as stated in The Writing Cooperative. Steven goes on to note that “there’s still plenty of money and attention available for authors — publishing industry revenue last year topped $112 billion, while the movie industry took in just $38 billion — but reader habits are changing. Authors need to be prepared to fight for their attention.”
How will alternative media outlets like apps determine our next best selling authors?
Have you ever heard of an app called Wattpad? Well, I have. Six years ago when a 13-year-old told me she was writing her book on it. Take note and write it down. According to Steven Splat’s article regarding the publishing industries panel discussion, it’s the incubator for what will be tomorrows authors. He goes on to note that “Beth Reekles wrote The Kissing Booth when she was a 15-year-old girl in Newport, CT, and published it on Wattpad. Now, she’s landed a major publishing deal, and the book was made into a film by Netflix” in 2018. It got lots of views from subscribers making it a commercial success.
15 year old lands major book publishing deal and netflix film.
Is Wattpad just for kids? Nope! Even though it’s said that 90% of Wattpad users are under 30, it is proving to be an excellent alternative writing platform for exposure to any author at any age who dares to move forward with the times. With the majority of Wattpad users being under 30, Romance writers will have to be sure to accurately rate their stories as Mature when necessary so that it’s only seen by audiences that are 17 years of age and older.
Wattpad brings on another benefit for authors; the opportunity to get an audience of young followers who will likely follow you until their married with kids and beyond. The app also has what is known as the Watty Awards for talented authors who have experimented with form and broke the rules while still producing a creative and successful story to read. Bottom line, if the film and publishing industry are watching and snatching authors up from Wattpad, then as an author, you might want to be there. You can’t win the lotto if you don’t play.
Diversity! (NOTE TO SELF: Must have eyes and ears checked.)
According to The Writing Cooperative, the panel at Book Con discussed, “just how influential the promotion of multicultural voices is going to be in the publishing world over the coming years.” Why did I suddenly picture Sally Fields standing on a table holding the sign, Union? If diversity is getting noted as a “trend,” then it sounds like Massa has found the money that said, “Screw them, I’ll just self-publish!” Or, perhaps they’ve just seen recent racial demographic statistics.
As reported by Brookings.edu, the 2017 annual U.S. Census Bureau released statistics on national population numbers that suggested the decline of the white majority; “they show an absolute decline in the nation’s white non-Hispanic population—accelerating a phenomenon that was not projected to occur until the next decade.” And although they consider these findings to be extremely modest, the data projections suggest a future decline in the nation’s white non-Hispanic population after 2023.
Is Diversity a Trend for Everyone or Just Non-Diverse People
The White population is still listed as the majority in recent statistics; meaning that the majority of what the publishing industry cares to publish is white “relatable” stories by what statistics prove to be white authors. So it appears that the USA national demographic projections have the publishing industry gearing up to make sure they continue to have an audience.
Is the publishing industry genuinely hungry for diversity, or are they merely primed to give a white voice to characters of color?
For many years, the publishing industry has given the message that the only story people care about is stories with White people written by White people. Alright, I know, I know, we already knew that. However, that being said, our nation has a history of White people, as that’s been the majority in those decision making positions, making decisions and giving their voice to what they think people of color need. Which explains why a lot of Black authors don’t want white authors to writer their stories. One need only see the Twitter feeds during the onset of the #ownvoices hashtag. Authors of color want the publishing industry to make sure that the diversity trend opens up room for diverse authors as well.
How Did Barnes & Noble Get the Diversity Trend Wrong?
Just ask Barnes & Noble and Penguin Random House who caught backlash when their Black history month campaign centered on featuring the classic books like Wizard of Oz, Romeo and Juliet, Alice in Wonderland, Moby Dick, and other books with black characters on the covers–the campaign was canceled. “Alexandre Dumas, who wrote ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ and ‘The Three Musketeers,’ is the only Black author on the list. The new covers were called “literary blackface” by African American writer Rod Faulkner in an essay on Medium, and others have said the energy spent making the ‘Diverse Editions’ would have been better spent promoting books written by people of color” (CNN). “What this amounts to is (another) audacious way to exploit Blackness for gross corporate profit, while only paying the most insincere lip service to very real efforts to make the publishing industry more inclusive (Rod Faulkner).
Attempts to embrace diversity like this, and with our societies inability to create equal opportunities on all levels leading to unfair financial security and a harder way of life, I’m looking at the trend in diversity with a fine eye. When they say that the publishing industry is ready to embrace multicultural voices and that it is an economic must that they do, I can’t help but think that that multicultural voice might be written from a White author perspective.
Now I’m not saying that White authors shouldn’t ever write it (Side Note: as long as it’s written well), I’m saying that the publishing industry needs to give more than the token Black the chance to write it as well. I know with the current demographics in publishing, it’s surely to be edited from a non-multicultural perspective; the industry hasn’t quite embraced that adjustment for substantially more diversity and inclusion behind the scenes yet.
You Want Diversity? What’s the Catch?
You see America has let people of color down so much that when you say, “we want you… no really, we do,” I’m optimistic yet cautious. People do what they know and change is not easy. With the low demographic numbers for specifically Black people of color, the African-American author that spends their time in developing solely Black characters need not get too excited about the trend. Because unless you’re planning to devote some massive character development work into calling the hero in your book “Papi,” research on the U.S. demographics suggest that this swing into diversity in the publishing industry has some time before it swings your way. But here’s the good news, who gives a damn because Black people writing Black love is not a trend to Black people. Keep writing; your stories matter.
Race and Ethnicity in the United States
According to the 2016 Wikipedia report on race and ethnicity in the United States, the White, non-Hispanic or Latino population made up 61.3% of the nation’s total, with the total White population (including White Hispanics and Latinos) being 76.9%. “By 2055, the breakdown is estimated to be 48% White, 24% Hispanic, 14% Asian, and 13% Black.” (World Population Review)
All authors of color should be encouraged to keep focusing on their self-publishing goals and stay ready. The trend may exemplify a moral pitch rather than economic and if the industry doesn’t see you bring in the dollars, you’ll be scratched faster than when you were brought in. Also, keep in mind, If the publishing industries interest in diversity has anything to do with the U.S. demographics, the Black dollar doesn’t show an emphasis on being valued. And although the possibility of mixed race minorities is due to increase, Black authors should still be aware that they are pulling up in the rear demographically in the nation (Deep Breath and a sigh).
But you know, here’s why none of this may matter, let’s not assume that the only people who want to read stories with characters of color are people of color. A vast amount of people are embracing diversity these days, hence “the trend,” and the story itself is what will ultimately be what’s important to readers. So, what should authors do? An author in general, should work on their craft and would do best to be prepared for any future opportunities with the mindset that all readers no matter what race or culture will be looking for a great story.
(* This article was originally archived from)
You can read more about my view about diversity in regards to White authors writing characters of color and the publishing industry here: https://thewritedna.com/publishing/diversity/white-authors-part-1/