Open Disssion: Where are the Diverse Books?

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Have you ever walked into a bookstore and wondered where all the diverse Christian fiction books are? If you’re lucky, your bookstore has a huge collection to offer you. (I’ve seen ones where the genre has been regulated to a shelf.)

You peruse shelf after shelf, but there are no diverse books. Your assumption: ethnic authors don’t write for the Christian fiction genre.

And that’s where you would be wrong. If you’ve been joining us here every Saturday, you know there are ethnic authors who write Christian Fiction. So, why can’t you find them in the bookstore? Or even on places like Amazon?

The answer is quite simple. They’ve been labeled by their race. Here are some examples. After an African-American writer publishes a book, the book gets labeled with the code “Fiction / African American.” Some other minority codes are “Fiction / Hispanic & Latino” and “Fiction / Asian American.”

When the books arrive to the brick-and-mortar stores, they’re already slated to land in their appropriate sections. So that Hispanic author you love to follow is not shelved with the other Christian fiction books, it’s shelved in the Hispanic/Latino section. Sometimes the book is shelved based solely on the author’s ethnicity and not of the characters.

Since I love asking thought provoking questions, I’m going to do so now. Is it right to shelve books by their race and not by their sub-genre (i.e., romance, Christian fiction, mystery)?

What are the pitfalls of doing so? What are the benefits of continuing this trend? And if you don’t mind sharing, if your books feature minority characters (or you are a minority), if you had the power to categorize your book, would you add the ethnicity label?

Let’s get the discussion started!


Discussion started by Toni Shiloh

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17 thoughts on “Open Disssion: Where are the Diverse Books?

  1. I never knew this. It’s crazy to me, because I write all types of characters from all ethnicities.

    To me, Christian fiction is Christian fiction. It does matter if it’s written by someone who happens to be black or Asian, etc.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. For those who are searching for all Christian fiction, unfortunately they won’t find it, unless they know the authors. Hopefully, those who work in book stores could recommend diverse books.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If they are in another language, I think that makes a lot of sense like Hispanic fiction in Spanish. Also it might be where people from that culture are drawn to, so non-Christians might end up picking it up and finding something new. But if soneone is coming to look for Christian fiction, they won’t find it and will probably be disappointed in not finding anyone who looks like them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Putting copies in each section would be great! I don’t go into a book store looking specifically for books written by a person of a certain race. I am interested in the stories. A good story is a good story. 🙂 If I enjoy the story I will research the author to find more stories by that author.

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  4. I wouldn’t say putting a race/ethnic label on books is right or wrong, as it’s often meant to give a genre/subgenre recognition where gaining a place for it in publishing has been difficult in the past.

    For instance, though you probably won’t hear the term “men’s fiction” too much, women’s fiction has become its own genre. Publishing has already been historically dominated by men, and finding a place for books with women’s issues and interests hasn’t been as easy. Women’s interest shouldn’t be relegated to only romance novels, and so now women’s fiction gives women’s interest an identifiable place in publishing.

    The same is true with African American, Hispanic, Asian, etc. fiction. However, the drawback comes when ethnically diverse Christian Fiction is *first* labeled or categorized according to ethnicity, instead of being categorized as Christian Fiction first. I don’t know all the workings behind bookstores and their shelves, but it’d be great if all Christian Fiction could be shelved as such.

    And for places like Amazon, it’d be great if all Christian Fiction could be categorized as such *first.* I’ve been experimenting with the keywords and categories of my latest release, wanting ChristFic readers looking for African American interest to be able to find my book. It’s always good to choose categories and keywords that are as specific as possible, as opposed to just choosing a category like “Fiction > General,” which is way too broad and vague. However, I also know that narrowing my category down to African American means that a lot of ChristFic readers who aren’t specifically looking for African American ChristFic probably won’t find my book if they’re searching for Christian Fiction. The African American label/category comes first (you’d have to click on general Literature and Fiction first, then African American, then Christian.) It’d be nice if they could switch that up.

    I don’t only write books about or for African Americans, but even though I’d like readers interested in AA books to be able to find mine, I’ve purposely left the AA label off of most of my books, even when it would fit, for the reasons I stated above.

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    1. I get the reason why the categories came about, but when do we come to the point where it hurts authors more than it helps? If our target audience is Christians, and distributors place us in the ethnic category, doesn’t that harm our chances to reach our target audience? Indie authors have the power to select where they go, but trad authors can’t choose.
      And if you don’t get put in the ethnic section, will those who read CF assume they can’t identify with ethnic characters?
      Sorry, my brain jumps from thought to thought.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey, I think everybody’s minds are jumping. This is a complex issue! As I said, I think it’d be great (better, really, for both ChristFic readers and authors) if all Christian Fiction would be shelved as such in bookstores and if places like Amazon would first categorize all Christian Fiction as such. (Or maybe I should say second, after it’s first categorized as Literature and Fiction.) I’d personally like to see diverse books be recognized and celebrated without being segregated.

    As far as whether there comes a point when any ethnic categorization at all hurts authors and readers more than it helps, I wonder the same thing. People have asked the same question about affirmative action, surveys and events about inclusion, or, goodness, even African American History Month in the United States. “How much is this helping, and how much is it inadvertently divisive?” The question crosses my mind when it comes to the Diversity page and “Multicultural” tags on my website, and even when it comes to sites like this. “Will Christian Fiction fans who feel uncomfortable talking about ‘race’ or diversity be turned off by such a place? Will ChristFic authors who don’t write diverse books see it as a sting, or as ‘a Christian Fiction website where my particular Christian Fiction isn’t welcome’?”

    But then, I also see how needful it is to raise people’s awareness. As it’s been mentioned on this site, a lot of ChristFic readers simply aren’t aware that diverse ChristFic exists, or that diversity in Christian Fiction is even an issue, or that diverse Christian Fiction is for everyone. I think it’s important to ask questions and to raise awareness however we can–and I do think Christian Fiction is changing, gradual as the change may be. More people are wondering about diverse ChristFic, wondering how they might be able to find it, as they become aware.

    There are those who believe it will take a long time before Christian publishers become more diverse and inclusive, or before ChristFic readers of all races will be comfortable reading diverse books, but I don’t think that is, or has to be, the case. It could be due to the current social climate in the U.S. and other countries, or the heartbeat of the present generation, or what have you. But Christian Fiction as we know it now, as a genre, hasn’t even been around *that* long. Janette Oke is one of the most recognizable authors in the genre (and one of my all-time favorite authors!), and she started writing her Christian stories at a time when she couldn’t really find stories like them on bookstore shelves. If I recall correctly, when Bethany House first started publishing Oke’s novels, they didn’t even publish novels at the time, or at least didn’t publish many, as they were a nonfiction publisher. Oke is now considered one of the pioneering authors of the genre, and her novels started being published only a few years before my lifetime–and I’m not that old. 😀

    I optimistically believe that if it didn’t really take too long for Christian Fiction to become something known and accepted, then it doesn’t have to take too long for diverse Christian Fiction to become more known an accepted.

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  6. I never thought of labeling by religion. Now that you mention it, it makes sense to add it as a category. However, where would it end. I understand brick and mortar stores can only have so many categories, but Amazon should have endless categories.

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  7. I have been thinking about this topic a lot. I want to share a conversation I had yesterday. I was talking to a non-author friend on the phone, telling her about the multi-cultural book I am writing, and I mentioned this discussion. She was appalled and annoyed that (bookstore) books might be segregated by ethnicity and asked if that was the case with all kinds of books – mysteries, science fiction, children’s books, and nonfiction of every kind. She asked me if there were separate areas of the bookstore for Native American, Asian and Hispanic/Latino books. I mentioned some of the points brought up here, and she wasn’t impressed. She is a middle-aged woman, a retired homeschooling mother who was raised on a ranch, the wife of a police chief in a teensy-tiny town in the mountains of NE Washington.
    I think her opinion is interesting because of her demographic. She’s not of a minority group who might want to find books specifically about her own ethnic heritage. She’s culturally, politically, and spiritually conservative. She likes staying on her mountaintop. She lives in a part of the country that is accused of being racially prejudiced (I’ve lived there. It’s less divided than any other area I know.) She is a steady but not an “avid” reader. She’s married to a police officer in a predominantly white community. She has all those tropes, and she thinks it’s ridiculous to divide books by race.
    As Nadine asked, “How much is this helping, and how much is it inadvertently divisive?” We are still segregating “women’s fiction” without a category for “men’s fiction.” That really bugs me, and it’s a good example of how we perpetuate stereotypes. What is men’s fiction? Action adventure? Think how offended women would be if they saw those books lumped into “Men’s Fiction.” Most of “Women’s Fiction” could be put into a “General Fiction” category.
    Toni, you asked: “…if you don’t get put in the ethnic section, will those who read CF assume they can’t identify with ethnic characters?” We may attract non-believers, and that’s great, but most of our CF readers are sincere Christians, and they shouldn’t be assuming they can’t identify with other Christians of different backgrounds. Shame on them. We need to be bringing more diverse books to their attention.
    Anyhow, I don’t have any real answers… I just wanted to tell you about my conversation. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing, Cathe! I’m glad there are those who wish to see the segregations and divides removed. Unfortunately, there are still those who want a divide. I’ve come across Christians who can’t identify with those outside their race. Is labeling CF ethnic a way to warn them and if it doesn’t and they still read it and can’t relate, who is to blame? (Not that I believe blame is the right world, but what do you do?)

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