Friday, May 2, 2014

A Novel Rejected for Too Much Diversity…


I’m writing this post and sharing my personal experience in support of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. The campaign started with the desire to encourage more diversity in children’s literature. But the issue also is much too present in adult literature.

I can share an example, unfortunately related to my first novel “Paris, Rue des Martyrs” when it initially was submitted to U.S. publishing houses a few years ago.

For those of you who haven’t read “Paris, Rue des Martyrs,” it is about four main characters whose lives entwine in a Parisian neighborhood. These protagonists aren’t American and come from diverse backgrounds. The publishers’ concern was that the reader wouldn’t be able to sympathize and identify with the characters because they weren’t American. They preferred an “American in Paris” sort of perspective.

I preferred the cultural diversity and still do.

This doesn’t mean that there is a complete absence of diversity on the bookshelves. Of course, you can find books featuring protagonists of different races and cultures – some even bestsellers. But if we as authors are still experiencing scenarios as the one I described above, the publishing industry has a long way to go when it comes to supporting diversity.

I understand that publishers are in business and have to put their money behind books that will bring them revenue. But even from this investment perspective, diversity seems to be the right answer: Our neighborhood, our world is filled with people of different races, cultures, sexual orientations etc. 

Don’t these readers deserve to see their lives reflected in literature?

My favorite books are often an illustration of diversity: Try “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan or one of my more recent reads “Call Me by Your Name” by Andre Aciman.

And in case you are wondering about what happened with “Paris, Rue des Martyrs” (now published through my agent’s e-book imprint “Agency Editions”)… Many of my reviewers have been American women, and according to their reviews, they have enjoyed and have been able to identify with my “foreign” characters. 

10 comments:

  1. Quite so. Surely a diverse society is the norm now, except in the most isolated of places? Our small town in France, on the surface quite provincial, was home to people from many nations and backgrounds and the same is true of the rural English area where we now live. Its the mono-culture which is no longer usual I think. Publishers will catch up one day.

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  2. Yes, let's hope so! It is unfortunate that many publishers seem to have certain set ideas about things. Would be wonderful to see a change in their views on diversity as well as their feelings about working with new authors!

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  3. I think that this is a great reminder to us to read more diversely, and to read more authors of multiple nationalities, both sexes, different socioeconomic statuses, etc, because those authors usually are the ones who bring us the diversity in their books.

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    1. Yes, I agree. The power is in the hands of readers and writers if we say "no" to what the big pub houses dictate. Sure, there are wonderful books published through the big houses -- but there are also some great indie books out there too. As a writer, I appreciate bloggers like you and many others who appreciate all of the above. I, unfortunately, still run into certain outlets that won't give me the time of day just because I'm not backed by a big pub house. But maybe there will be change in time... Let's hope! :)

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  4. Ohhh... fantastic discussion here. As far as the big publishing houses go, I think that it's a problem in leadership. Even at 32 I've seen the shift in public opinion on things like gay marriage and an opening in the hearts and minds in most Americans on the issue of diversity - but I think that many of those in leadership roles (in all business, military, etc.) are still of the old guard with set ideas about what will and won't sell, about what 'the people' want. On my darker days I think that the only answer is to wait for the old guard to die out, which is terrible. :)

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    1. I've had the same thoughts, April, and it is pretty sad that change is so slow. I have the feeling that these ideas about what the reader wants are completely off. It seems as if what the pub houses didn't like about my novel are actually the elements that readers so far have liked the most! I wish the pub houses would either do a lot more research or be more flexible regarding what does and doesn't work. In any case, I will continue to include diversity in my writing as it is part of daily life...

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  5. God, this story kind of makes me loose faith in everything! Given the title I would expect to find at least one French character, but beyond that my expectations would be nil. I love reading about people from different backgrounds and this issue makes me want to read your book more. Thanks for letting me know about the diversity in your novel.

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    1. Thanks for your words of support and your interest in my novel! I love creating characters from different cultures and backgrounds, and I'm delighted to find that my audience is wider than the big pub houses expected. Thank goodness writers no longer have to rely uniquely on the major publishers... Writers and readers today have more control over what they write/read and that is a wonderful thing!

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  6. It's surprising how we talk about diversity as if it were actually happening. It's like racial profiling -- we deny that we do it, but the stereotypes and stigmas are so deep-seated and unconscious in most! I've been unconsciously reading more diversely mainly because I find I can relate better to Asian writers, but then widening my field has been quite the revelation (so far I've been able to read and review obscure books from everywhere around the world!) ! Good luck with your novel. I'll be looking it up in the library!

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    1. I agree! That is exactly the case. And that is true when it comes to reading and many other things I'm sure. It's great that you have been able to widen your reading selections and that you have enjoyed it. Thanks for your interest in my novel. "Paris, Rue des Martyrs" is only available as an e-book so through Amazon etc.

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