There has been a growing movement calling for the reading of diverse books. One question is whether these books will get much attention if there is not a greater diversity of reviewers. This has long been a preserve of white males in the major review publications (a quick survey of the recent reviews in the NY Times Book Review had about two-thirds of the reviews written by men and a small number by those with recognizably non-Western names).
This was an issue discussed by a panel this week at Book Expo America and covered in a Publisher’s Weekly article. On one hand, major publications are cutting back on book sections. On the other hand, there is the wide open world of blogging and Amazon reviews. But the major publications still serve as gatekeepers. One option is to assign some reviews to outside reviewers who are women or ethnic minorities. Such reviewers may see a work with different eyes.
As a white male reviewer, I get this and would heartily agree with this sentiment. In the area I most review, Christian non-fiction with an academic bent, I am struck by how many of the reviews (and blurbs for books) are by white men. How interesting it would be if more of the books by white authors were reviewed by persons of color, and persons outside the writer’s theological perspective.
I wonder about this in other areas as well. What if male-oriented action fiction was reviewed by women or majority world reviewers? What if heterosexually oriented romantic fiction was reviewed by men or by LGBTQ reviewers? Suppose some military history were to be reviewed by scholars of pacifism?
Of course it is always helpful to have those conversant with the literature they are reviewing writing reviews. But it does occur to me that mixing up review assignments might help give a more diverse perspective on a book, and perhaps expose a book to new audiences of readers.
It also strikes me that it does publishing a service when review publishers diversify their reviewers. The panel obseved: “the masters of the universe are not book reviewers, but publishers.” Yet I would contend that non-white, non-male reviewers are also aware of different authors than the white males. Those who review in the self-published world might especially have an important role in calling attention to writers who might be overlooked by the mainstream publishers. Review publications as well as publishers might also note book bloggers with significant followings from ethnic minority backgrounds, and those who have received recognition like WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed.”
It does seem that a crucial issue is how intentional publishers will be in seeking to broaden the diversity of their published authors. This never just happens but is the result of intentional action. Publishers have to believe that publishing a greater diversity of authors makes good business sense. The book blogging world can be a source of identifying new authors with growing followings. One thing publishers are beginning to figure out through vehicles like Netgalley and their own blogger programs is that bloggers and their social networks have a great value in book promotion. If these efforts can be used to recruit a greater diversity of reviewers, then it also stands to reason that this could be a powerful resource for diversifying a publisher’s author portfolio.
I say we need diversity in reviewers.