2015 diverse reading audit (and a giveaway!)

by Kayla Whaley

A couple Decembers ago, I noticed something fairly alarming while looking through my Goodreads: I’d read exactly one book by an author of color that year. One. Out of 50. I really shouldn’t have been quite so shocked. I wasn’t making intentional reading choices, after all. But to be frank, I still believed at the time that a) I chose books based on nothing more than what I felt like reading, and that b) that was a good way to make decisions.

In reality, of course, our reading choices are never only a matter of personal preference. We pick books based on recommendations, bookstore presence, marketing, cover copy, cover image, author recognition, buzz, reviews, and more. And every one of these factors are in turn affected by systemic racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, etc. It’s no secret that books written by and featuring white, straight, abled, cis men get the majority of publisher backing, bookstore exposure, critical acclaim, and reader attention. It’s also no secret that that’s because we as a society place a higher value on those stories and those authors—on those lives. We do it instinctively, but it’s a learned instinct, and what is learned can be unlearned—to a certain extent, anyway—with conscious, continuous effort.

When we don’t make that effort, we aren’t merely complacent; we’re actively supporting a system that benefits some and harms others. The year that I read one author of color (Malinda Lo’s ADAPTATION, by the way, which was wonderful), that’s what I did. I propped up a publishing industry and a society founded on white supremacy. (If this seems like a melodramatic intro for a blog post about What I Read This Year, well, I’d suggest researching the many ways popular culture can impact and reinforce oppression.)

Since then, I’ve tried to make more intentional and more diverse reading choices, but I’ve still got a long way to go (not that there’s any end destination—you don’t read a certain number of diverse books and pack up shop). So in the interest of keeping myself accountable, here’s an overview of what and who I read this year, broken down into three categories: authors, main characters, and ownvoices.

(I realize this may not actually be interesting for anyone but me, so feel free to skip down past the charts to the “Now What?” section where I try to translate all this into action and host a giveaway! Ooooh!)



With this section, I’m looking at the number of books written by authors with marginalized identities rather than the number of authors with marginalized identities. Yes, this means some people were counted twice if I read more than one of their books (Seanan McGuire and Hannah Moskowitz, for example), thus increasing some category counts a bit. But I decided it was worth it, because a) with the exception of McGuire, all authors counted more than once were writing in multiple series/worlds, and b) I’m interested in not just whose voices I’m reading, but also where my money’s going, so looking at number of books versus number of authors seemed like a decent approach.

None of this is an exact science, of course, not least because people don’t always disclose every aspect of their identities (which is completely legitimate; readers have no right to any personal information except what the author chooses to share). And even when an aspect of their identity is public, I may still miss it. Having said that, it’s fairly easy to find most of this information for most authors.

authors of x id

The numbers work out to 82% women, 28% POC, 23% queer authors, 3% trans authors, 9% disabled authors.

I’m doing pretty okay with women (although I would’ve bet good money I’d be at 90% at least), but I could/should be doing better with pretty much every other category. Especially trans and disabled authors. Part of the reason those category counts are so awful is that there just aren’t as many trans and disabled authors being published as cis and abled authors (see: ableism and transphobia), but mostly I just wasn’t intentionally seeking those authors out. They exist, they’re writing, they’re being published, and I need to be better about supporting them.

And even when I was making intentional choices—like with POC and queer people—I’m still only averaging 1 in 4. It’s tempting to say, well, that’s much better than 1 in 50, but that’s not how this works. I don’t get to pat myself on the back for doing better than Absolutely Abysmal.


Main Characters

I’m mostly interested in the authors I’m reading and supporting, but I was also curious how those numbers lined up (or didn’t) with characters’ identities. Determining which categories each character belongs to tends to be pretty clear cut, but I did have to settle on a definition of “main character.” For my purposes, a main character is any perspective character, meaning we follow them specifically and get inside their heads (even in third person). Note that I excluded some books from the total count: essay collections, short story anthologies, basically any book without proper main characters.

diverse mcs

The percentages here work out to 73% women, 38% POC, 22% queer characters, 3% trans characters, 22% disabled characters.

What I find interesting here is: a) quite a few white people writing characters of color and abled people writing disabled characters, and b) more women than I would’ve expected writing men. I don’t have anything conclusive to say about these observations. There are all sorts of nuanced discussions surrounding who is “allowed” to write whom, but it all boils down to complexities of power, ownership, marginalization, self-determination, etc., none of which I have room to tackle here. Still, I think it’s important to pay attention to not only which authors you’re supporting, but also whose stories they’re telling.



Speaking of which, Corinne Duyvis coined the super handy term “ownvoices” earlier this year. It refers to books where the author shares some marginalized identit(ies) with their character(s). For instance, Corinne is autistic and she wrote about an autistic girl in her upcoming ON THE EDGE OF GONE, making that an ownvoices book. These books are important for many reasons, but a big one is that people with marginalized identities telling their own stories will forever and always be more important than outsiders (usually privileged outsiders) telling those stories for and instead of them. Which doesn’t mean marginalized folks should only ever write about people just like them, because super nope. This is about what you as a reader should be seeking out, not about policing what authors should be writing.

(Here again I excluded books without proper characters.)


Percentages: 25% POC, 12% queer folks, 3% trans folks, 3% disabled folks.

Once again, this shows some pretty big gaps. While I read a fair number of ownvoices characters of color (not that I shouldn’t be reading more, just that compared to the other categories and considering the total number of authors of color I read, this is the most “successful”), I’m super lacking in the other areas, especially trans and disabled ownvoices. But really, I need to do better across the board.


Now What?

Tracking your reading habits is an excellent first step, but a meaningless one unless you use the data to make better choices in the future. I’m all about measurable goals, so in 2016 I want to read at least:

  • 85% women
  • 50% authors of color
  • 35% queer authors
  • 20% trans authors
  • 20% disabled authors

(I’m particularly interested in reading more authors with intersecting identities, so that’s a sort of sub-goal.)

Hopefully I’ll soar way past those figures, but I like to start with something that seems pretty easily attainable based on past performance. If I give myself a goal (any kind of goal, not just in terms of reading) that feels immediately daunting, it’s likely that I’ll go hide from it until it goes away and forgets about me.

I considered giving myself an ownvoices goal as well—for instance: 50% of books I read should be ownvoices—but I figure if I’m already hitting all my other goals, I’ll probably be getting a lot of ownvoices books in the mix automatically. I’ll keep an eye on it, though, and if I notice my ownvoices numbers aren’t where I want them, I’ll reassess.

And now, the fun part of the post! Book giveaway time! I’m hoping others will also be in a reflective mood given the upcoming new year, and I’m hoping even more that you’ll join me in committing to your own diverse reading goals in 2016. So! If you want to win four wonderful books by women of color, follow the instructions in this tweet by December 31 (US only, sorry!!):

Even if you can’t or don’t want to enter the giveaway portion, please still join the discussion on Twitter using #DiverseReadingGoals and/or in the comments. I can’t wait to see not only what everyone else is aiming for, but also how everyone’s fared come next December.

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