What kinds of published books would you like to see more of?
Thus spake the Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain prompt this May. My scheduled day is the 15th (Thursday), but I’ve got something else to say first. I’ve read and commented on all the posts in the chain up until today, and I’ve seen a big similarity: diversity. Diversity in race, worldview, and gender; diversity in worlds, magic, and society; diversity in conflicts, plot elements, and protagonists. It’s all true. But as you can see from just half this month’s responses, we as individuals aren’t the only people to have realized we need diversity. Many people advocate it.
What does that mean? Are we apathetic, trying to force others to write what we think should be written? Is society restrictive, shooting down every diverse idea we have? You might not agree, but it’s neither. There are plenty of diverse books out there. An astonishing number of writers are writing from all different backgrounds, writing about everything under the sun. Diverse? Yes. Well-known? Some, yes– others, no. If that’s the case, why are we still crying for diversity?
I like to boil problems down to two possibilities, so I’ll do that here. One possibility is this: those writing diverse books are focusing more on writing diversely than on writing well. It’s obvious why they won’t go anywhere. Books hit the big time because they’re written well– not because they portray a minority. You could write about politically-minded livestock all you want, but if you don’t write well, you’re not going to get anywhere. I’m sorry, but you have to put in the work.
Think about it. Was Animal Farm (there are the politically-minded livestock) diverse? Yes. George Orwell was rejected once because a publisher wasn’t confident about selling a “fairy story” in the USA. These days we have mountains of animal fiction, but then? It was unheard of. But even though fairy stories couldn’t sell, how did Animal Farm even get published? Because it was written well.
Another example, more recent. Is The Book Thief diverse? Yes. There are plenty of WWII novels out there, talking about the Allies, from the perspective of a white male fighting for his country. But The Book Thief? The story of Liesel, a girl in Nazi Germany, narrated by Death. I can’t imagine trying to pitch that manuscript– it just sounds weird. But was it written well? It was beautiful.
So many people expect to be published, or expect a book to sell well, just because it’s diverse. Sometimes it happens. Often, however, diversity isn’t enough. You have to write well.
In the beginning of the post, I claimed that we had plenty of diverse books. Sure, we have diverse, unpublished manuscripts– but published books? Yes, we have those too, many popular. The second possibility deals with that: genre.
A couple days ago, I read an excellent post on the subject of variety and genre. In it, the author postulated the restriction of genre preferences; go into a bookstore as a YA reader, come out of said bookstore with a stereotypical YA book. The same is true for any genre, whether paranormal romance, animal fiction, or fantasy. If you go in with that prejudice, you’ll come out with that prejudice fulfilled.
Thus, we have hundreds of excellent novels shoved into the cracks. The Book Thief is marketed as YA, yet I believe in two hundred years it’ll be reprinted as a classic. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a beautifully-written (yet slightly plot-light) fantasy that’s filed under paranormal romance, contains more war than Divergent, which (in my bookstore) is considered “YA Action and Adventure”. I’m struggling to think of third example to round it out, but I’m sure you can provide one.
The point is, we have diverse novels. However, as they’re classified and as we classify ourselves by genre, we lose the ability to spill over into different styles. I get weird looks when I look around the children’s section, occasionally from my own sisters. I read fewer and fewer books outside of fantasy every year, despite the children’s section. We’ve all been pigeonholed into these genres, when what truly gives us a good view of the entire literary world is a broad selection.
Are there dragons in fantasy anymore? Yes, but they seem less original as more diverse fantasies pop up. Are there male or female narrators in fiction? There’s going to be some imbalance, naturally (female-narrated fantasies still seem rare despite many series, but I’ve had trouble finding a male-narrated high school romance), but yes, we have both. Different worldviews? All over the place. But as we fall into these genres, we don’t get the sense of diversity anymore.
Branch out. Pick a diverse element you want to see and ask people reading other genres if they’ve seen it around. In some cases, entire genres exist solely for that diverse element to be showcased. (Such as paranormal romance, which only exists because Twilight was too diverse for YA fantasy.) Want a diverse book? They exist. Go and find one.
(Disclaimer: since the prompt deals in things you’d like to see more of, it’s impossible to say anyone is wrong in their answers. That isn’t my intention, and I hope that’s not how it sounded. Also, a lot of us have shown preferences for change within our preferred genres. If you’re looking for fantasy murder mysteries, a historical thriller is not the same thing. However, it is possible to find such books shoved into cracks between genres.)