Two years ago, having completed my Wheel of Time collection and staring down the need to read 14 books, I made a pledge: no more buying books until I’m done the series.
(Let us pause to give you the same ten minutes of solid laughter I allotted myself after thinking this).
Upon regaining my ability to breathe, I acknowledged this would be impossible for me and my book-buying habits, so I revised the pledge. No more buying books from white male authors until I’m done the series. The pledge evolved, bit by bit, as I considered who I read and bought, until it looked a little more like this:
- No books by cishet white men, unless it is to complete a series I already have. No other excuses.
- Cishet white women are on thin friggin’ ice
- Actively seek out fantasy authors of colour both in store and online
- For every book bought by a LGBTQ+ white author, try and buy one by a LGBTQ+ author of colour
- Loan out and/or gift books by diverse authors to friends more then I loan out/gift books by straight and/or white people.
I thought it would be hard, considering how straight and white I assumed adult fantasy was. As I’ve already demonstrated, though, this isn’t true. And in the end, it was not hard. Nor was it hard to keep it up even after finishing the series. I’m proud of what I’ve bought and read in the past two years.
For transparency, I have bought a few books by cishet white men outside my guidelines (3, to my knowledge, and unfortunately they were really really good). But I have bought infinitely more by BIPOC authors, LGBTQ+ authors, disabled authors, and some people who fit all three of those broad categories. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything, and I have no regrets. If anything, my writing and life are better for it.
Seeing the shift in the white writing community at large through June to celebrate Black authors (and, by extension, other POC) gave me hope, but I see the support slipping as the “hype” dies down. Supporting Black authors is not something that should be done only in times of their public suffering. Supporting Indigenous writers & other authors of colour shouldn’t be tied exclusively to a history month or anniversary of their oppression. Supporting LGBTQ+ authors is not something that only matters during Pride (not to mention how this further commodifies Pride itself). These people and their lives and work are not a trend. Until you confront that, you will not get very far supporting marginalized authors.
But, if you are willing to learn, I am willing to teach. Since I’ve been doing this for two years, I figured I would write up a blog post on how to find new authors to show other white people how easy it is for us to make years-long commitments to uplifting BIPOC voices, as well as extending to my own intersections of being queer and disabled.
Let’s begin. Get those wallets out.
Tip 1: When You’re in a Bookstore, Humans (and Google) are your Friends
If you’re an in-person browser (in the future post-COVID/when it’s safe to go in bookstores again) there is sometimes no way to tell by looking at a book if its author is LGBTQ+, a person of colour, or disabled. Don’t rely solely on names, and don’t be disappointed if there’s no author photo (it happens!). If you can’t know for sure on your own, there is a way to find out… and it involves talking.
Bookstore staff are, overall, very nice people. And they know so much about books! You can ask for recommendations, after debuting authors or new books, and what books they have by BIPOC generally (or more specifically by ethnicity, depending on what you’re looking for). Diverse authors are in every genre, so go wild! Practice speaking up! People like my friend Alice are here to help!
This goes double for any small-time/indie bookstore, where the staff are smaller in number and often incredibly well-versed in their stock. If you’re in Toronto, Bakka Phoenix Books and Glad Day Bookshop are GREAT places to start.
You can also use Google to find pictures, interviews, and details about the author not in their bio, if no one is around or if staff are unhelpful. Be careful it doesn’t seem like you’re price comparing, especially in an indie shop. There’s nothing wrong with not talking to people, but they may know things that a quick Google can’t offer, so use it as a backup!
Tip 2: Online, the World is your Oyster
If you primarily buy online, it is literally the easiest thing ever to find and buy books by diverse authors. There are hundreds of blogs dedicated to promoting diverse authors of every kind. You can find self-published indie authors selling e-books here. Instagram and YouTube are full of reviewers highlighting works across genres. THERE IS NO EXCUSE. I will even drop a few links here for you to make it even easier.
We Need Diverse Books
“Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children.”
“A site dedicated to promoting curated LGBTQIAP+ literature for all ages.”
POC in Publishing
“A grassroots organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members throughout the industry.”
WOC in Romance
“A place to promote Women of Color in romance fiction.”
Disability Visibility Project
“An online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture.”
Books Beyond Binaries
“Created to amplify non-binary, trans, and/or queer voices within the world of books and publishing.”
From there, it’s easy to find authors’ websites and social media… and then you can find EVEN MORE diverse authors to promote and pay! Check out who they’re following and sharing, who they are on panels with, who else their agent represents… you have many options. Then, browse those new authors, and repeat. You will find many gems this way. All it takes is a few hours a week to poke around. Heck, go do that for an hour, then come back and keep reading. Okay?
Tip 3: Word Of Mouth Goes A Long Way
Welcome back! You better have done that looking you were supposed to. I was serious. Go buy a book.
Do you have book friends? Book mutuals? Relatives who you like to buy new novels for? Get these people in on the hype! My endless talking about We Hunt The Flame encouraged 2 friends and numerous Twitter mutuals to get on board. A friend gifting me a copy of Let’s Talk About Love led me to recommend it to another friend, who shared it with her friends, and so on! I send my gay friends constant updates on the queer indie novels that hit my feed (ESPECIALLY anything with vampires. If you’re writing gay vampires, hmu, I have friends who want to read it).
Don’t underestimate the power of just…being excited, loudly and in public. Authors see it and appreciate it, and every sale, every check out of a library book, helps. Remember that most of the “hype” is dedicated to white authors’ works, and it’s up to us to fill in the gaps that we can until publishers step up to the plate.
Tip 4: Give Authors the Benefit of the Doubt
Short and simple tip: don’t identity police. If you aren’t sure how an author identifies, don’t assume, and definitely don’t be offended if you’re wrong (yes, people have been offended when they’re wrong. I know. It’s a mess). Trust that the author knows what words to use for themself more than you, a total stranger on the Internet. Use your head and keep your mouth shut and listen more than you speak, to the point of not speaking at all if you are not part of the community in which the discussion is happening.
Which brings us to…
Tip 5: How to F*ck Up With Grace
We are all bound to make mistakes somewhere in the process. We are white. Whether it be getting someone’s ID wrong publicly, supporting an author who’s an abuser, or any of the racism taught to us via society emerging in our thoughts, choices, and judgements.
If your mistake is public, acknowledge it, apologize, and outline your plans to repair the damage or what you will do in compensation. Keep your head down and listen. Do not paint yourself as a victim, and actively remind people not to pat you on the back in the comments or try and white knight for you. Keep buying books and supporting authors as you learn. Most importantly: don’t repeat the mistake. The greatest proof you’ve learned is not f*cking up the same way twice.
Be prepared to be uncomfortable in private, too. You will read books, perhaps for the first time, that are not written solely for your demographic, or even for a white demographic at all. You may hate the book, but you must examine those feelings closely. What is making you think this? Would you think the same things if the characters or author were white? Or straight? Or able-bodied? What resources are there to help you address this, without burdening the groups involved? What have other marginalized readers had to say? After all that and a bit more self-reflection, if you do still hate the book, remember to donate it instead of throwing it away. Give someone else a chance to read it.
I think that about covers it! You can always browse my blog for some of the books I’ve read in this timespan for ideas and authors, and feel free to comment below with a new read or author you’ve found that you love. Keep the momentum going, everyone. Make a pledge. I’ll see you all in two years, when we all have even more books and much less shelf space.