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Oh, Diversity

As I sit here, I’ll admit part of me wants to go on a tear about several things currently taking place in and around the con circuit. I’m not going to. Partly because I’m still so angry about one item that I’m not sure I could be anything but profane in my comments. It is also partly because I have neither the time nor the desire to deal with those who would skim until outraged and then pitch fits here or elsewhere. Instead, I’ll deal with another issue that is currently trending when it comes to publishing (and most anything else). Diversity.

Right now, it doesn’t matter what the industry. If you look hard enough, you will find someone saying that industry has a diversity problem. Frankly, it’s true in a lot of industries. The question of whether or not publishing has such a problem isn’t new. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen posts claiming publishing has a diversity problem because most so many of its employees are female. Within 24 hours, I saw another story claiming just the opposite. There are stories that there are too many male writers or white writers. There has been a movement (well, that might be giving it too much credence) to encourage people to only buy or read stories written by female POCs. There are others telling us we shouldn’t read books written by anyone but “marginalized” authors. There are those who say we shouldn’t read anything but traditionally published books or books written by men or whatever. As I said, if you look hard enough, you will find someone saying one group or another is being discriminated against in the industry and that group needs to have an extra hand up to make up for it.

Now there is this story from NPR that the romance genre has a diversity problem. It seems less than 0.5% of the nominees for the RITA have been black and no black author has won the RITA. RWA has admitted there is a “problem” and the first step to solving it is to educate “everyone about these statistics.”

Okay, I’ll have a problem with this I’ll address in a bit. In the meantime, let’s look at the RITA. The RITA is awarded for the best books in certain romance genres and sub-genres. Here is what the RWA has to say about the award.

So, up to 2,000 books are initially considered. Then they are judged by romance authors before being narrowed to 100 finalists. That is a fairly large sample across a number of genres and sub-genres to be considered.

Two things stood out to me as I read the NPR article. First, and this is one of my pet peeves, the article only calls out RWA and the RITAs for not having diversity when it comes to “black” authors. Why is this? Is it because others who are considered “persons of color” have won the award and this would skew the narrative? Or is there some other reason? By limiting the diversity claims to only one segment of the population, they dilute their own arguments.

The other thing that stood out was that the one author they quote in the article isn’t African-American. She is, in fact, a “south Asian author”. While I applaud NPR for asking about her experiences, she isn’t the author their article is about. Her concerns are valid and, quite possibly, apply to African-American authors. But they also apply to new authors going to their first RWA convention. I remember when Sarah and I went. If I was at a session on my own or went to get a cup of coffee, etc., without her, I was alone. Most of those who reached out were either non-authors or newbies like myself. The other authors, the “pros” were off at their own track sessions or meeting with agents and editors, going to parties we weren’t invited to, etc. It was easy to forget their track might not run at the same times as the track I was following and, therefore, assume they didn’t want to associate with the newbie when I went to sit at a table and they got up to leave.

As for the argument that there need to be more books published by authors of color, as The Passive Guy says, the blame “must be laid at the door of the traditional publishers in the romance industry. They have decided and continue to decide which authors are published and which are not. Which material will be included in those books and which will not.” Even though RWA was one of the first, if not the first, organization to recognize indie authors and welcome them into the fold, I would lay odds that most of the authors “judging” the nominees are traditionally published. Whether they want to admit it or not, there are still a number of authors who feel a book is better simply because it came from a traditional publisher. They still believe the myth about the gatekeepers.

But there is something else. Most readers simply don’t know what a writer looks like. They guess at the sex of the writer based on the name on the book. But even then, it’s a guess because of pen names. Unless there is a picture of the author on the back cover, or the author is local and possibly known to the reader, they have clue zero about whether the author is young or old, short of tall, skinny or fat or what their race might be. Readers, by and whole, pick up a book and read it based on the blurb or how quickly it grabs them if they check out the sample.

If RWA is worried about a lack of diversity, it needs to not necessarily look at winners of a contest but at what is being published by traditional publishers. It needs to work with them to expand the numbers of authors from all backgrounds. But, as they do, they have to keep in mind one very big truth — if the books being published aren’t entertaining, romance readers will move on and find another author. Unlike 15 years ago, they can actually do that. There is a thriving indie romance industry out there.

There is no easy answer to the issue. However, NPR doesn’t help. If you are going to write an article complaining about the low percentage of a certain type of author being nominated or winning an award, you also need to supply the percentage of titles being published, traditionally or otherwise, by that type of author. Otherwise, you give incomplete data. For all we know from this article, the percentage of nominees is in line with the number of titles being published by African-American authors. That skewing — or omission — of data shows, at best, a lack of solid research by the article’s author and, at worse, bias. Not that the latter would surprise me at all.

So here’s my question for you. What is it you look for when finding something new to read (and it doesn’t have to be romance)? Where on that list is the author’s sex, race, color, creed, etc?

118 Comments Post a comment
  1. I hate these diversity pieces from MFMSM. Never even considered it when picking up a book. First requirement was always if it was a good story. That’s it, and that’s all I care about.

    April 17, 2018
    • Paladin, I’m the same. I want to be entertained if I’m reading fiction. Everything else comes far down the line, after story, blurb, cover, price, digital or print, etc.

      April 17, 2018
  2. I could give a rat’s ass less about the checkboxes. All I want is a story to entertain me or transport me. I look at the cover, I read the blurb – if those interest me, I’ll pick up the book. If the story is interesting enough and doesn’t irritate me, I’ll read it all the way through. I see all kinds of books in my FB feed through a ton of marketing venues and the ones I’m most likely to scroll past are romances with ‘thug’ or ‘gangsta’ in the title. To me, there’s nothing romantic about either of those words. Then you read the blurb and there’s nothing about any of the characters that would make me want to follow them through a whole book. Maybe that’s why those types of books don’t get nominated for RITAs.

    April 17, 2018
    • Thank you for mentioning “checkboxes”. When I start seeing folks push for more of them to be checked, my first question is how does that move the plot forward? If it does, fine. If not, if it is just there to show how “woke” the author or publisher is, forget it. I also agree with you about the “thug” and “gangsta” bit — of course, I’m getting that way as well whenever I see “alpha male”. Not because I don’t want a real man in the story but because the “alpha male” has turned into a caricature in too many of these books.

      April 17, 2018
      • Anyone who has to tell people he is an “alpha,” isn’t, but is really another two syllable starting with ‘a’. Real life, fictional character, same rule applies.

        April 17, 2018
        • Ox speaks wisely.

          April 17, 2018
        • Heh. The comments on a recent PJM post, a “test” for whether you’re an alpha or beta male, were entertaining. Basically, if you passed the test, you were an alpha male – cardboard cutout, one each. Which Hawkins got hammered for.

          One question was whether you’ve fought in the UFC. Well, no I haven’t, but Ronda Rousey has…

          April 18, 2018
  3. Clint #

    Haven’t you heard? Color-blindness is a particularly virulent form of white supremacy.

    April 17, 2018
    • I know. And I’m a white, Mormon male with a great rack. VBG

      April 17, 2018
      • There’s two of you? Utah sounds more attractive all the time – even the men have great racks!

        April 18, 2018
      • aacid14 #

        You forgot the evil part.

        April 18, 2018
    • Christopher M. Chupik #

      The recent anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr made me wonder what he would think of those who claim to be following in his footsteps. I suspect they might not like some of what he’d have to say.

      April 17, 2018
      • I have no doubt you’re right.

        April 17, 2018
  4. Where on that list is the author’s sex, race, color, creed, etc?

    No where. Cover, blurb, and opening chapter.

    My partner has a tendency to look for women authors, but not exclusively so.

    April 17, 2018
    • Ashley, yep. I can’t think of a single time when, looking for fiction to read, I’ve been concerned about an author’s sex or race or sexual preference or any of the rest of it. All I care about is if they can write and tell an entertaining tale.

      April 17, 2018
    • I don’t look for women authors exclusively, though I do have a larger percentage of my favorites being female, so I might consider a female name more than a male one.

      April 17, 2018
      • I tend to read more female writers in some genres and more men in others. Don’t know if that means anything more than I happen to like their writing styles.

        April 17, 2018
        • It’s definitely a writing style thing. I mean, I didn’t know that C.S. Friedman was female for well over a decade, but still put her on my “preferred author” list, so it’s obviously not a reaction to the name.

          April 18, 2018
    • Mary #

      It’s in invisible ink!

      Remember the black woman who talked about how she would RAGEQUIT when the story was by a white man? And said everyone else should avoid them, too.

      I actually ran across someone who defended the proposal on the grounds that it was a good idea to get out of your comfort zone. Though did have the sense to drop it after I pointed out that she wanted to stay in her comfort zone, and get everyone else to, too.

      April 17, 2018
  5. morrigan508 #

    most of the time, unless it’s an author I know (and in the last 20 years that’s become more frequent, due to social media) I neither know, nor care the authors sex, color, race, creed, or political affiliation. In point of fact, if you rub my nose in your “otherness” you lost me as a reader. I read for two reasons: professional knowledge, either of my full time profession, a hobby (woodworking, hunting etc) or my part time profession as author, or for enjoyment.

    If I’m reading for knowledge, I want the data, whether it be how you suggest I lead and manage my people, and new ways of reaching them and through them our students, how to make this really cool wood joint, or how another author dealt with a particular plot point.

    If I’m reading for enjoyment, I want to escape into a new world that entertains and intrigues me.

    Note that neither of these cases involve being preached too about how messed up I am, and how I need to get “woke”. If all you have to say is how hard you got it, and how everyone needs to hand you the world on a plate, I have no time for you. If all you got is shock value, go away. I’ve been shocked enough in real life over the years. flooding at test depth on a 637 class submarine beats any shock you’re going to give me. Entertain me, or give me information, or lose me.

    April 17, 2018
    • Your reasons for reading are much the same as mine. If I’m reading fiction for enjoyment, all I care about is being entertained. If I’m reading it as a writer, I’m looking at how an author I respect manages things like pacing and characterization. Non-fiction, the author had better be able to present data or theories they haven’t plucked out of their ass in a concise and clear form with support that is verifiable. If theories, they have to have some basis in fact. I don’t want handwavium and I don’t want historical cleansing.

      April 17, 2018
      • Draven #

        and all this box- checking crud is why i stopped buying SF books in stores in the early 90s

        April 17, 2018
  6. Aimee Morgan #

    I don’t give a rat’s posterior about any of those checkboxes. There are very few authors whose books I WILL NOT READ, and the reasons have nothing to do with any of the checkbox items – it’s either because the authors are virulent bits of scum that I would wipe off the soles of my shoes if I stepped on them, or virulent bits of scum that would cause me to throw the shoes out and walk home in my socks.

    There are authors whose books I pre-order, and will in some cases even pay hard-cover prices for e-books. I know for a fact that some of these authors have political and social views that are radically different from mine. One of them blocked me on Facebook when I disagreed with her (vociferously and with inconvenient facts). I still pre-order her books because she writes good stories.

    Honestly, unless I’m looking for something new from an author I already read (and/or making sure I don’t give money to those referred to in my first paragraph) I don’t even look at the authors name when looking at books.

    April 17, 2018
    • There are a few authors I won’t read any longer for similar reasons. I can usually separate the work from the author if I don’t agree with them politically, etc. However, just as they have the right to speak their minds, I have the right not to buy their books because of how they act. So, if I know an author is, as you said, a “virulent bit of scum”, I’m not going to support them. If they have attacked without cause and without fact to support their position, others I respect and like, I won’t buy their books. Otherwise, I really don’t care as long as I’m entertained or, for non-fiction, get the facts and data I was looking for.

      April 17, 2018
      • Once I realise someone IS a virulent bit of scum, then I start recognizing that influence in their books. And sometimes it’s happened the other way around. Either way, it takes the enjoyment out of their work. So it’s kinda all one thing.

        April 17, 2018
    • There are very few authors whose books I WILL NOT READ, and the reasons have nothing to do with any of the checkbox items – it’s either because the authors are virulent bits of scum that I would wipe off the soles of my shoes if I stepped on them, or virulent bits of scum that would cause me to throw the shoes out and walk home in my socks.

      Yes. And I also will not buy the books of authors who have actively said that they do not want people of opposing political persuasion or dissenting opinions to buy their stuff.

      April 17, 2018
      • Yep. I’d forgotten about them — mainly because I have the same rule. If they don’t want my money, I don’t have to give it to them.

        April 17, 2018
      • Draven #

        same here Shadowdancer. if they openly say they don’t want my money, then they don’t get it

        April 17, 2018
        • Well, yeah. I mean, really in the end it’s up to me if I want to buy those books anyway. But in most cases of this, I would have no issues acquiescing to the request, and spend the money elsewhere that doesn’t have issues with political or opinion opponents enjoying their works.

          April 17, 2018
      • Harry Russell #

        I actually wish I _could_ claim I’d dropped at least one author for their politics, but everyone I can think of I’d either never started (because the blurbs of their books sold me off them), or I’d already stopped reading them for reasons related to their writing becoming less interesting to me.

        Of course, that does then lead to the question (to which I don’t actually have any answers), “Was their politics influencing their writing to not be what I want to read”?

        April 18, 2018
        • SheSellsSeashells #

          It’s more a scale for me: do I get more enjoyment from the book than I do from the author?

          I walled one book HARD when the leftist religion (because when you’re that walleyed earnest about something, you’ve left politics far behind) overwhelmed all the other elements of what *should* have been pure literary crack for me. (Wild West female werewolf in disguise? GIMME!) It took George R.R. Martin a short time and Sheri S. Tepper a long one to cross that threshold, so it’s generally not so much a “drop” as a protracted “meh”.

          April 18, 2018
  7. Where on that list is the author’s sex, race, color, creed, etc?

    Nowhere. If I am buying fiction, I want a story that entertains, that might have me connect with the characters emotionally, and get absorbed in their story. The author’s name is of note only so I will know if or when I want to buy more of their work; as a marker of whether or not I will pick up an anthology and perhaps be introduced to more authors whose works I’ll want to read.

    The only time credentials would matter is if I’m reading a book related to a subject matter where it would be important; such as history, science, religious subjects, etc.

    April 17, 2018
  8. Luke #

    I’ve entirely stopped caring.
    Diversity is, at best, superficial.
    And that best case has not been evident for many, many years.

    The reality is simply that “diversity ” is not a universal strength.
    And it certainly should never be a primary goal.
    To enforce diversity fosters tribalism, which destroys diversity and social cohesion.

    Meritocracy is great, allowing people of all colors and genitalia to compete.
    Yes, Romance novels will be dominated by white women. It’s largely white women who care about the genre, and you must be a reader of a genre before you can be a writer of that genre.
    If some black dude manages take the romance world by storm, more power to him.
    But trying to force that fit is a very bad idea.

    April 17, 2018
    • elainethomp #

      Frank Yerby, 50ish years ago was a very popular writer of historical novels often with a strong romance element, some of them might even have been proto-bodice-rippers. (They made movies out of his books, that quantity of popular). I read quite of few of his books way back when & had no clue what his background was. Much more recently I’ve seen claims he was black. Aside from the passing thought along the lines of ‘maybe that’s part of why he wrote that African novel,’ I don’t care. I remember what I read of his stuff fondly – they were good stories, with vivid characters.

      April 17, 2018
      • I used to love the Yerby books. Haven’t read one in years. Now I think I’ll go drag them off the bookshelf and do a reread. Thanks for reminding me about them.

        April 17, 2018
  9. Given the stupidity of choosing -authors- based on race, I’m strongly considering a female ethnic pen name. Just to screw with their heads.

    April 17, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      Kaitouko Youmaryuujima. Yeah, that sounds a lot like you.

      April 17, 2018
    • Heck, I know a guy who writes cozy mysteries under a number of female pen names. The name on the cover is for marketing.

      April 17, 2018
    • Apparently, this was a thing someone did in the comics industry; posing as a Japanese doing English language manga, and now he’s being pilloried for it. So tread carefully.

      April 18, 2018
      • On that note though, people, if they looked at my surname, would complain that I’m ‘whitewashing’ myself (Modena is Italian; but anyone who knows anything about Philippine history would find out why we have mostly Spanish / Latin surnames…)

        Or that guy who was adopted by German parents, has a very German name, but looks very, very Japanese…

        April 18, 2018
        • Write in Tagalog. Problem solved! (Except 99% of the planet would not be able to read it.) Translators are cheap, so I’m told.

          April 18, 2018
          • LOL – don’t you start! One of the reasons why our education system is in shambles is because the people in Manila insisted on ‘Filipino’ – actually, Tagalog – become ‘the language of learning in schools.’ Except that the Philippines has at LEAST 6 different regional languages, and God knows how many major dialects and the bridging language of English prevented the whole ‘Why not THIS language, it’s Filipino too!’ Yep, you folks have coastal central issues thinking, we have “the Manileneos think all the Philippines will be fine with whatever crap they think up.”

            It became an issue in the provinces outside of the general Manila area; since you don’t have to leave an island to get a different language – my mom comes from Northern Luzon; she speaks Ilocano, Ibanag (a local dialect that to the untrained ear, sounds lots like Ilocano, but apparently isn’t in the least bit similar), spoke Bisyaya and Romblonmanon (my father’s island dialect; though he knew Bisyaya too), and some Cebuano.

            Worse yet, most of these are tonal languages, which is the main reason why I had issues trying to speak in just pidgin Taglish. My then very German sounding accent and intonation made me sound hostile and angry ALL THE TIME.

            April 18, 2018
            • I ain’t bad with Romance languages; I can read most of them. But all tonal languages have defeated me, I can’t even accurately HEAR the different tones, much less reproduce them.

              April 18, 2018
              • Yep, and that’s part of my problem (yes, it’s ongoing). The easiest example of this is the elevator scenario.

                (Person outside the elevator) “Bababa ba?” (last ba’ is with upward tonality, but the previous three are toned the same.) trans: “Is it (the elevator) going down?” (literally: Going down? – the last ‘ba’ is a question indicator.)
                Person inside the elevator: “Bababa.” (last ba has slightly more emphasis, and descending tone.) trans: “Going down.”

                and the word ‘going’ is implied, it’s not actually there. Yay!

                April 18, 2018
                • The interrogative inflection is one of the very few left in English. We can easily tell the difference between “The cat is dead,” (a statement of fact) and “The cat is dead?,” (a question). This gives me no no clue in deciding to deciding whether “Ma” means mother or horse, or any other of the eight tones used in Mandarin.

                  April 18, 2018
                  • Yeah. The elevator example though is the only one that comes to mind; I’m sure there are worse ones, but for me in general the inflections are apparently all in the wrong places (which leads to mispronunciation.)

                    I’ve listened to my mother speak Ibananag and Ilocano interchangeably – to different people, but at the same place; we were in her home village at the time – and for the LIFE of me, I could not tell them apart. My Taglish pidgin is apparently peppered with a few phrases in either Ilocano, Ibanag, and Romblonmanon and Bisaya, but I didn’t find out until I went back because I’d picked those up from my parents. ~_~;

                    April 18, 2018
                    • My condolences. You must have grown up perpetually perplexed.

                      April 18, 2018
                    • There’s a reason why my younger brother and I prefer to communicate in English. A memorable complaint from the lad, after returning to the Philippines after spending his formative years in France: “Filipino is stupid. Why couldn’t they be more precis?” (he was snarling over Filipino translated history and biology books for high school, and the most extensive dictionaries were giving him the wrong words (rendering sentences and paragraphs incomprehensible.)

                      You see, while Filipino is a growing, living, diverse language, its growth is mostly on social lines – TV shows, day to day interactions, social commentary. It lacks the vocabulary for the technical, legal, medical, musical, scientific and mathematical terminology necessary for education and business and engineering. The students that went through the last two decades who weren’t lucky enough to have parents who spoke English fluently (and had access to books) were crippled in many, many ways – they did not have the confidence of their education, which was mangled because of the Department of Education’s insistence on Filipino, and did not have the confidence in their English to speak it well in say, business settings where you have to deal with foreigners. The whole insanity was brought about by uber-nationalists (who, oddly, were very Marxist at the same time) who felt that the Filipino language could be elevated to modern standards by simply changing the language used in schools – citing that well, the Japanese, French and Germans all carry out their education in their own native languages, why not us?? We should have pride! in our language! This whole thing was swallowed by students and teachers who bought into the pure emotiveness of the endeavor; the sensible ones noted that without preparing the groundwork of proper vocabulary, grammar and dictionaries for the necessary fields, it would fail, and the students (especially the poor, who weren’t going to exclusive private schools that had enough economic clout to give the one-finger salute to the Dept of Education) would be the ones paying the price – and ultimately the nation would fall behind on all things.

                      But no, PRIDE IN THE FILIPINO LANGUAGE!!! GREAT LEAP FORWARD~!!

                      (And yes, I was very right.)

                      April 18, 2018
            • BobtheRegisterredFool #

              I thought everyone here was always angry at all times? Maybe that’s me, and I need help? XD

              April 18, 2018
              • My body language is also very Westernized (because, well, living in Europe and the US will do that) so it’s considered very forward and aggressive; to me I was just standing straight and with confidence. I didn’t know a lot of the nonverbal social cues, and so on. A lot of the stuff that would be forgiven with a foreigner granted me no leeway.

                April 18, 2018
      • I think they were desperately looking for something to attack C.B. Cebulski on anything they could find, and someone went looking and this was the best they could get, but yeah, that’s how petty this is getting.

        The comics industry has been a kind of sudden compressed microcosm of all this, I’d like to call it nonsense, but it’s turning into actual danger.

        April 18, 2018
  10. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    Where on that list is the author’s sex, race, color, creed, etc?

    Ah, but us evil White Christian Straight Men “magically” know the author’s sex, race, color creed, etc so we don’t need a list when choosing books to read. [Very Big Sarcastic Grin]

    April 17, 2018
    • Which method of author race ID do you use, Paul? The dowsing rod, or divination by chicken bones?

      April 17, 2018
      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

        My magical senses are highly developed so I don’t need those crutches. 👿

        April 17, 2018
        • sam57l0 #

          I use possum innards.

          April 17, 2018
    • Sandman29 #

      I can tell by a disturbance in the farce….

      April 17, 2018
  11. How do I pick books? 1) Cover. 2) Have I read this person’s work before? 3) Blurb. 4) Recommendation by people I trust. 5) Alsobot. 6) Blog presence [Lawdog and Peter Grant and OldNFO, Sarah Hoyt, Cedar Sanderson]. But if there’s no entertaining story? I’m outta that book.

    Non-fiction is a little different but I will admit to looking at the author bio and saying “Nope.” Especially if I look in their notes section and don’t see what ought to be there.

    April 17, 2018
    • Non-fiction, I do pay more attention to the author, but not for anything other than their qualifications to be writing on the subject.

      April 17, 2018
    • Those categories (and order) are very similar. Often times, if I have someone that I trust recommend it, I’ll override the blurb and go on their recommendation. There have been a handful of times where that’s not worked out very well. I’ve still not forgiven my brother for that. Hmmm… I wonder, what’s the price of a direct flight from RIC to DFW? I think my brother deserves a long overdue visit from his nephew.

      There have been several folks that I’ve started reading their work specifically since I followed their blogs. Now, I’ve read everything they’ve got out. Peter Grant and Old_NFO are the two that spring to mind immediately. They’re also the two that have inspired me to get off my duff and get crackin’ on my own writing.

      April 17, 2018
  12. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    Creed? If their religion causes them to value the story mainly as a vehicle for their religious or psychological agenda, I probably do care and would not read it. Their objective in my reading the book is breaking my will to resist their politics? Pass. They insert themselves solipsistically into the work as a way to discuss their psychiatric history? Pass.

    I do not seek out demographic information about authors, find out in some cases anyway, and I mostly don’t care unless the story dwells on such things and excludes the stuff I find interesting, exciting, and fun.

    April 17, 2018
  13. There is one author whose books I will not read, because as a zine editor he banned one of my favorite authors. The ban was *not* for political reasons. Indeed, close to four decades ago political correctness had mostly not been heard of. Said author had an extended series of short stories involving the same two characters, usually not in the same story together, and the editor did not like one of the characters.

    I do have several authors I will not read again, because once was bad enough, as in ‘seriously worse than Pel Torro’s Galaxy 666’ (which was actually not particularly bad.)

    April 17, 2018
  14. People who read a great deal of SF/F often talk about wanting novelty and variety. Reading stories by authors with very different backgrounds can be a good way to get that. That’s probably the most legitimate reason to supply that information to people.

    Rocket Stack Rank recently compiled a list of “Outstanding SF/F by People of Color 2015-2016.” (This is only for short fiction–under 50,000 words.) We already have an algorithm for deciding what constitutes an “outstanding” story, and we offer lots of ways to slice and dice them (e.g. hard SF, high fantasy) but this is the first time we ever offered anything based on the identity of the author rather than the content of the story. We finally did it because we kept getting requests for it from our readers.

    And the result was a pretty impressive list that scores very high for novelty, variety, and creativity. I never give message fiction more than two stars (even if I agree with the message), but there’s actually very little of that here. Nor is there any evidence that many of these stories made the list because of “affirmative action by reviewers.” Tastes vary, of course, but I was quite pleased to see that the majority of stories in this list truly are outstanding on their own merits–at least as much as in any other slice of the data.

    April 17, 2018
    • I’ll admit, when I see comments like yours where you talk about having done a ranking of fiction — it doesn’t matter what genre or sub-genre — written by persons of color, my skepticism grows. How do you know what their racial background might be? Do you ask? Are you assuming based on what they write or social media? What is your definition of POC?

      Then I get to the real point of it all: what does it matter? Is an author’s race or religion or sexual identity really more important than the story? No, it’s not. Just my two cents’ worth.

      April 17, 2018
      • It’s not hard to figure out. You go to the author’s web site, and there’s usually something that makes it very clear. E.g. “John Smith is an African-American man who lives in Seattle and writes fantasy stories.” Failing that, look at the blurb that certain magazines write when they publish their stories. (A few magazines will always mention race and ethnicity of the author.) Beyond that, look at a photograph. Yeah, you’ll miss a few, but surprisingly few.

        It’s much harder if you want to identify which race certain people belong to, but we gave up on that almost immediately.

        I will confess I wasn’t enthusiastic about this project to start with, for pretty much the reasons you cite. However, even though we don’t even try to make money off our site, we do like to treat our readers as customers, and we did get lots of requests for something like this.

        I had feared that the result would show that I was the only reviewer trying to be “color-blind” and that it would end up giving ammunition to a toxic coterie of (mostly white) short-fiction authors who keep calling me a racist because they’re mad that I sometimes give their stories negative reviews. I was quite surprised to find that I actually recommended more of the POC authors in the list than any other reviewer. Not sure how that happened; I’m scrupulous about not using author identity as a factor in doing reviews. (There’s even a Rabid Puppy pick that’s in that list because I recommended it.)

        But once the reviews are written and the awards are all given (around late July the year after a story is published), it’s possible to weigh all those factors together (i.e. number of good reviews, selection in best-of anthologies, award nominations, etc.) and identify a set of “outstanding” stories from the previous year. At that point, making subsets of the master list is harmless, and, as I said, some folks really do want it because it offers variety. Others simply want to support minority authors (which is their right), and this gives them an easy way to find such authors whose stories they genuinely like.

        April 17, 2018
        • Synova #

          I often wonder how much damage is done by those who don’t even talk about the merits of the story when they talk about the “diversity” of the author.

          I also wonder how much damage is done when those gushing about the “diversity” make the story itself sound like a sour pill.

          I was meaning to post something about how, if I happen to notice, that I do react positively to an author bio that seems significantly different. For example, the romance author bio that goes… “Suzie learned to fly a plane at age 10 while sitting on her father’s lap and was in military intelligence and was once detained in East Germany,” gets my interest. The same would be true for any other bio that seemed unique, though I’ve got nothing against the author who’s children are grown, lives with her wonderfully husband and two cats. I’d still perk up if the bio was something about how the author’s parents fled Somalia when she was 10.

          But that inclination to perk up and think, “Hey, cool beans,” is countered by the usual, stupid, virtue signaling of the way diverse authors are promoted. You’d think that the people pushing diversity WANT to drive people off because they can be more special or something.

          (And that’s not even starting on the way that knives come out if those “diverse” authors don’t conform.)

          April 17, 2018
        • Synova #

          What I meant to say was that I really appreciate that you focused so much on how great and diverse and fun the STORIES were.

          April 17, 2018
          • Thanks. Start with good stories, and you really can’t go wrong. Or so I’d like to believe. 🙂

            April 17, 2018
            • Greg, you’re like the poster child for “things going wrong” because you were busy doing the right thing. ~:D

              April 17, 2018
              • @phantom. It’s always the same people, and always for the same reason: They just can’t stand it when they get negative reviews, and they’re determined to punish any reviewer who gives them (or their friends) such a review. (They’ll even complain about positive reviews that contained any critical words and they even complain about reviews that are positive “in the wrong way.”)

                I’ve never claimed my reviews were the best ones out there; that’s why we provide links to other reviewers. But they’re honest, they’re impartial, and they never attack the author (they’re never personal). When we do make mistakes (and we don’t deny making mistakes), we apologize and we fix them. I’m not sure what else we can do.

                But it’s always the same people, and it’s always for the same reasons.

                April 17, 2018
        • You certainly have more time than I do and, to be honest, I can see a number of flaws in the system. Until recently, there was no photo associated with my site. Nothing about it shows anything except I live in Texas. Even now, if you haven’t followed my blog posts either at Nocturnal Lives, here or According to Hoyt, you wouldn’t know anything other than I identify as a “ginger”. You wouldn’t know my great-grandmother was Cherokee. You wouldn’t know I had ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War. You wouldn’t, in short, know what my racial or ethnic background is. That applies to the majority of author sites. My guess is that some of those sites you visited and drew conclusions from present misleading, if not erroneous, information. Can any of us forget Rachel Dolezal or others who self-identify as a different race than they were born into? Where do they fall into your equation or are they ignored?

          It all comes down to when did we start worrying more about who the author is than how good the story might be? I don’t want to be known as a woman writer. I want to be known as a writer. That’s how most writers view it. Most readers too.

          Shrug.

          April 17, 2018
          • You’re welcome to do your own analysis, of course, but we did the exercise of looking at hundreds of authors’ sites, and we respectfully disagree with you.

            April 17, 2018
  15. Browsing for something new to read? (1) Authors I’ve interacted with online, whom I’ve never read before (2) Authors I’ve read and enjoyed (3) Eye catching cover in the bookstore (4) Intriguing title in the alsobots.

    Then, having picked it up, or Looked Inside, the blurb and first page will either cement the sale or kill it. The author’s race, ethnicity, or sex? If it’s clear in the author’s name, I’ll probably know. I don’t recall ever deliberately looking for it.

    April 17, 2018
    • Yep. Add in recommendations from friends whose taste in books I trust.

      April 17, 2018
    • …and don’t forget if it looks remotely interesting and is in KU, why not check it out.

      April 17, 2018
  16. Uncle Lar #

    Obviously the only fair solution is for every author to post their DNA report on the back cover of every book.
    But wait. The current narrative is that we must respect and acknowledge not only DNA, but what each individual self identifies as to be truly diverse.
    Personally I identify as a large hairy lesbian of color and only adopt the persona of a surly male curmudgeon for purposes of posting on such fora as these blogs.
    Guess I really should take up romance writing, I’d be a natural.

    April 17, 2018
    • Christopher M. Chupik #

      “Obviously the only fair solution is for every author to post their DNA report on the back cover of every book.”

      If nothing else, it would be fun to see their reaction to seeing Sarah or Larry’s results.

      April 17, 2018
    • You are a baaaaad man, Uncle Lar. 😉

      April 17, 2018
      • Uncle Lar #

        I does my level best sweetheart.

        April 17, 2018
  17. John Prigent #

    My rules for buying fiction are quite simple. Is the author one whose books I have enjoyed before? Yes = move to next question,. Has he, she or it changed genres or historical periods? Yes = approach with caution and proceed as for the next question. Is this a new author to me? If yes, read the blurb. Interested = probable buy but look for sample chapters and check reviews by people I trust because I know they they like the same kinds of stories as me. Has this story received acclaim from ‘literary critics’ or won a ‘literary prize’? Yes = avoid like the plague.

    April 17, 2018
    • Sounds pretty good to me. I too tend to avoid literary prize winners unless I am already familiar with, and enjoy, the author’s work.

      April 17, 2018
  18. Brett Baker #

    1. Is it the next book(s) in a series I like, 2.Do I like the author, 3 Is the cover/blurb interesting? I think that’s how everyone buys books.

    April 17, 2018
    • Christopher M. Chupik #

      Well that’s just crazy talk! Lunacy, I say!

      April 17, 2018
    • Mary #

      Has this been recommended to me? Reliably?

      April 17, 2018
  19. As said above, many times, are there trusted recommendations? Does it “look” (more blurb & intro than cover) interesting? For non-fiction, do I trust the author? Have I seen this author referenced in a positive way by those I trust? It might be new to me, so it’s a guess, but it’s not screaming hyperbole at me, for that indicates trouble.

    Sex of author? Race of author? etc.? Unless it’s very specific where that would make sense (“an $X’s perspective on Y” which I am admittedly unlikely to read unless there is some other factor) they don’t matter.

    Now, about them there ticky boxes:

    [X] Story [_] Male [_] Female [_] Trans/Herm/AI/Other
    [X] Story [_] Black [_]Yellow [_] Red [_] White [_] Other
    [X] Story [_] Het. [_] Hom. [_] Bi [_] Asexual
    [X] Story [_] Tinker [_] Tailor [_] Soldier [_] Spy [_] Other [_]
    [X] Story [_] Christian [_] Jew [_] Hindu [_] Muslim [_] Zoroastrian [_] Other
    [X] Story [_] Aardvark [_] Dragon [_] Human [_] Manatee [_] Wallaby [_] Wombat

    and so on.

    April 17, 2018
    • You win the internet! And also the telephone, telegraph, semaphore, and smoke signal. 😀

      April 17, 2018
    • Aimee Morgan #

      Books written by Wombats are actually better as English translations than in the original Wombash. Rumor has it a certain award-winning author is actually a wombat.

      April 17, 2018
      • There’s Wombash/Wabash Cannonball joke in there somewhere.

        April 17, 2018
    • Christopher M. Chupik #

      I see no options for Modern Major Generals. Your list is problematic and invalid.

      April 17, 2018
    • Mary #

      applauds

      April 17, 2018
  20. Second the Yerby attaboys. I too, was unaware until very recently he was black. Could not care less.

    April 17, 2018
    • [looks in Wiki] Apparently half Scots-Irish, 1/4 Seminole, 1/4 black. Moved to Franco’s Spain to “escape racism”, WTF.

      Well, not like I care one way or the other. But now I’ve gotta go find something of his, since I’m sure I must have read some but don’t recall a durn thing about it, meaning it was probably 40+ years ago.

      April 17, 2018
      • I read some of his as a teen, so your timeline is about right. His was my first exposure to “sword and sandal” stories, and ignited an interest in Greco-Roman culture that still lives. Forgot the name of the book, though. Dammit, you’re gonna make me look it up. 🙂

        April 17, 2018
        • “Goat Song” a novel of Sparta and Athens in the Peloponnesian war. Protagonist is Ariston, whose name, oddly enough I DID remember.

          April 17, 2018
          • That sounds up my alley, and in high school all I had to see was “ancient Greek” and into my pile it went. Thanks!

            So while we’re in Olden Times and Backwhen Writers, do you remember a ~1950ish novel about the Crusades (set in the Levant) called The Infidel? It has adamantly refused to come up in every sort of search, tho numerous none-of-the-above do.

            April 17, 2018
  21. Synova #

    There are wildly varied estimates for how many published romance authors are men which makes sense since any who are male use a female pseudonym and are deep under cover.

    I know one, too. Wrote a couple super steamy Island romances. And I say this with admiration and respect.. it cracked me up when I finally figured out why these books by this author kept popping up in my “also read” recommendation list on Amazon and found out who the author was. Bravo!

    April 17, 2018
    • Actually there are male romance authors who are well-known as such, but the husband and wife team writing under a single pseudonym are also common.

      April 17, 2018
      • The series I am writing is a “framing tale,” (Think Canterbury Tales, or kids sitting around a campfire sharing scary stories.) with several separate story arcs drawn together in a way readers will not be able to predict. One of the arcs might be considered, technically, a YA romance tale. (The star-crossed lovers are in their teens. Think Romeo and Juliet.) I considered a female pen name. Cedar tells me I should be OK publishing the story under my real name. It will be an interesting experiment. It worked for The Bard.

        April 17, 2018
    • I know several men who write romance under a female pen name. Just as I know a number of women who write westerns and sf under male names.

      April 17, 2018
  22. My usual search criteria goes like this: Genre (what am I in the mood for) Hit Amazon or Kobo (book stores are very far away). If I’m looking for a familiar book I don’t have I go straight for it. If I’m looking for something ‘new’ I start with ‘known quantity’ authors. This is easier these days in Sci Fi than Fantasy. Most of the Authors I’ll largely trust these days write Sci Fi not Fantasy. (One reason my writing has focused on Fantasy so much. I miss reading it.) Cover/Title about evenly get me to glance at the blurb. If the blurb is interesting I’ll nab the sample, or check it out from KU. Read until I get through or bounce. If I’m on KU and don’t bounce, usually the book goes on my ‘buy this for real’ list.

    The author’s race doesn’t come unto the issue. The author themselves does. I won’t read NK Jesmin, not because she’s female. Not because she’s black but because what I’ve read of her is exquisitely crafted drek. Sex does figure into ‘what quirks am I willing to deal with today?’ stage of things. In fantasy, I’ve noticed books written by women tend to irritate me in one direction if they’re going to irritate me, and books by men will irritate me in a different direction if they’re going to irritate me (men tend to have side plots that never seem to connect to the main plot and are full of characters I would rather push off a cliff than read about, but tend to be coherent plots. Women in fantasy tend to wander off into the weeds of either sermonizing or nihilism and forget they’re supposed to be telling a story.) If I’m likely to be very short tempered with one set of foibles or the other that day, I’ll avoid authors with that style name. The good ones are good, but I can’t tell until after I’ve started reading most of the time, so if I know I want concrete STORY today, I’ll tend to male authors. If I want a more leisurely new read I’ll tend towards a female author. I’ve had both surprise me, but in my experience that’s the way to bet when there’s nothing else to go on.

    April 17, 2018
    • “…exquisitely crafted drek…”

      I second that emotion. Can’t stand the stories, not reading them, don’t care what your credentials are.

      On the other hand we have a variety of people who make it extremely clear on their web sites that they don’t want my money because I’m a [fill in blank here] supporter, and they won’t take money from those bastards. Then it doesn’t matter about the story. I won’t pollute someone’s bank account with my filthy lucre if they don’t want it. Scalzi and Stross spring to mind in this regard, Norah has made lots of noises like this too.

      That’s why I’m pretty careful not to look up author web sites if I like their books these days.

      April 17, 2018
    • My reaction to Jemison, not knowing anything more than the author name on the cover when I bought 100,000 Kingdoms, was that it was cheesy fantasy romance being marketed as literary fantasy. Which only served to annoy me, since I’m a literary fantasy reader, not a romance reader. And drive away her real audience, the people who love cheesy fantasy romance, who are a much bigger group. If she’d marketed the books as romance with some beefcake males on the cover, she’d have made way more money.

      April 17, 2018
      • The one I read was the one she had in to the Hugos. It was quite literary (exquisitely worded, you could vividly picture everything going on… and I really wish I hadn’t.) and a pile of nihilistic, depressing, ‘screw you’ when it came to the story.

        April 18, 2018
        • Ah, so a typical Hugo award winner, then.

          April 18, 2018
          • At least for the modern set. It’s interesting to hear that she’s got a different style out there as well. I’d thought that one was representative. Though it probably explains why she was miscued as literary on the one you read.

            April 18, 2018
            • Yes, what I read wasn’t nihilistic at all, and I had no complaints with her style. The worldbuilding wasn’t all that great (I doubt she’s had a lot of real world experience, if you know what I mean), but that’s not necessarily a big deal in cheesy lust romances.

              I read a review of it on Amazon that was exactly my take, that this was not literature by any means, it read more like better-written fanfic. But there’s a market for that, and I have no complaints about the book existing, just that it was a waste of my time, and that it was getting accolades and awards that it it did not deserve.

              April 18, 2018
    • BTW, I’m the same way about male vs. female writers – I’ve always said the very masculine story will often have a great plot but be weak on characters and relationships, the very feminine story is the other way round. I have read examples of each that I like a lot, but others, not so much, and overall, I prefer plot and character relationships together.

      I confess, I’m now wary of female authors in general, until I get to know them – I’m not a big romance fan, and I don’t touch vampire stories in general, and I’ll never read Twilight. I don’t look down on them, just not my cup of tea – heck, I’ve found female romance authors are some of the sharpest, funniest people I’ve ever met, and I’d rather hang out with them than the literary crowd any day.

      April 18, 2018
  23. I don’t pay attention to anything about the author except the name. And usually, I’m just looking for someone I know. But if I’m going in blind, then I look for cool covers and interesting blurbs. The only time I even find out about the author is if I liked the book enough to flip through the very last page and see the bio.

    April 17, 2018
  24. I like Larry Correia’s take on Diversity. You want in, first you have to Show Up. Then you have to Develop Your Skills and Earn Your Way In. Just like everyone else.

    Worst thing you can do for someone is bring them in, and advance them when they aren’t ready. It’s just setting them up to fail.

    April 17, 2018
  25. jon spencer #

    Since I am almost a exclusively a KU reader, when I look at a book where I do not recognize the writer. I look at the “customers also bought items by” list. I know who I like and if I do not see at least one of my likes, I will generally skip the book.
    And that’s about it, I don’t really care what the author is.

    April 18, 2018
  26. Curtis #

    After an unfortunate choice of books for a sail to Cabo on a slow 40 foot wooden sail boat I now check the books for compatibility and for awhile women authors were no longer on the list. It’s not often I just take two books and throw them violently into the ocean leaving me with nothing at all to read but those two books were awful. This changed after finding the books by Moon and Bujold and my sister writes great books but I have never known nor cared about the pigment of the writer or their religion except I don’t read leftist drivel. OTOH, in one month 3 women in my life gave me copies of Ancilleray Justice by Leckie and I haven’t read it yet. I’m a little gun shy about any Hugo winning authors in this decade of the 21st century.

    April 19, 2018

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