Why review books by Black authors?

I recently received a challenge on the Facebook post where I offered to review books from Black authors. That post is where I receive most of the requests I’ve gotten to write all of my book reviews.

Why would skin color make it more difficult to self publish?

Let’s be generous and assume this is not trolling. It’s true, this did start in a Facebook community where authors help each other self-publish books. In a perfect world, self-publishing is entirely a matter of merit-based self-determination: you write your book, you publish it, you market it. However, let’s take a look at the big picture.

First off, it’s harder for people of color to publish in traditional channels. This has been true for a long time – the people working at publishing companies were mostly white, choosing books from mostly-white authors for mostly-white audiences. It was difficult for authors with different backgrounds to publish books. The publishing industry is being increasingly called to task over this, and awareness is growing, but it will take a long time for the industry to diversify itself and its idea of the market it’s producing for. This means, it’s still harder for diverse authors to find publishers. As a result, self-publishing is the only option for a lot of people of color. So. Even if self-publishing has completely merit-based results, the pool of people in self-publishing has already gone through some biased filtering. I’m already doing some good by lending a helping hand to underrepresented authors in self-publishing. It can’t make up for the attention their book may have deserved and not received from publishers. But it’s what I can do.

Second, everyone should read books by people who are different from them, featuring characters that are different from them. It feels different to read a book where the characters are prominently, unapologetically, a different race/ethnicity, religion, language, nationality, economic background, etc. We all need to understand people who are not like us, and books are one of the best ways to expose ourselves to other people’s experiences. I’m doing myself good by reading books from people who are not like me. In the collection of books I’ve reviewed so far, there has been a much higher amount of religion than compared to my prior reading, which I consider a good thing. I’m not a very religious person, but I respect religion, and find it mostly used in these books to promote thoughtful introspection and to help people stick to their own values. In these books there have also been life stories from people with different socioeconomic backgrounds than my own. I really appreciate getting these looks at other slices of life. It’s easy to belittle people’s choices when you don’t understand them; harder when you can see all the forces that act on people’s lives.

Third, despite it being a good idea, audiences aren’t good at diversifying their reading choices yet. It’s so easy to get pulled in by an author or character you identify with. White people are used to being “the default” in books, because of the publishing industry’s long-time bias. Even if the publishers change, it will take a while for readers to change. I can help authors cross those borders by sharing these books with the people inside my scope of influence. Why? Because many of the people I influence are like me. It’s harder for a black author to get a white reader to look at their book. I can help bridge that gap by sharing the book with my network.

Fourth, success in self-publishing still involves a huge amount of privilege. How did I myself get started self-publishing? I happened to have a cousin who could teach me what to do. How did I fund the creation of my book? In my case it was a Kickstarter funded by my network of highly-paid tech friends that paid for my ghostwriter. Even if I wrote the book myself, my own solid tech job means I wouldn’t take any risk on the time I invested or be desperately hoping to make money from book sales. That also funds the tools – the computer and software and internet connection I use everyday. How do I advertise my book? With money from my tech job. How do I build my platform? From all the connections I’ve made in my life, from school and work, many of whom have money, connections and even power to help me do more. I’ve been so lucky to have an insane amount of privilege, and I try never to forget it. People who don’t have this privilege have a harder road to travel: in getting their book written, published, advertised, and read. It’s not just a nice thing for me to lend a hand up – it’s pretty much a moral imperative.

And finally, I’ll do whatever I want to do, it’s my choice. So please take your faux-logical complaints elsewhere.

Leave a Reply