Discussion: The Pressure on Diverse Books and How the Book Community Handles It

Let’s chat. 

I don’t know how many of you have caught up, but Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli just recently came out. And this book has been so hyped up, ever since it was announced. And for good reason. People adored Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda (myself included) and we were getting a f/f romance with the same beloved characters. That’s huge. F/f romance doesn’t get nearly as much exposure and recognition as does m/m (and we’re not even gonna mention the comparison to straight romances). So the book comes out, and everyone loves it. Everyone’s talking about it, it’s a huge deal.

howeverHowever, my Twitter feed has been flooded with people talking about a thing that wasn’t mentioned in all the reviews so far. A harmful, bad thing that was handled poorly.

I still haven’t read the book and it’s entirely not my place to comment on the representation. That’s not even the point of this post. I will leave you with a link to a review from Boricuan Bookworms, which is an own voices review, so you can get an idea of what we’re talking about.

So basically, something that’s (in my understanding) really hurtful for bisexual readers (Leah is bisexual and her love interest is as well) is present in the book. And yet, all of the people I am following on Twitter have said they did not see a single review mention this. How come?

succeedThe issue I think is that there’s so much pressure on diverse books in general to be perfect, but especially when it comes to f/f romance. It gets very little recognition and space in publishing, so when a book finally has that, there’s so much pressure on it. Everything is poured into that book. And I think reviewers are aware of that.

How can you call out a problematic behavior when you know it will inevitably lower the chances of having another successful f/f romance book that will be backed financially? It’s a tricky terrain, and it’s so hard to navigate. Because on one hand, you want to call out problematic stuff, and you should, but reviews influence sales, and putting down a f/f book in your review could potentially lead to less f/f romance, which is the last thing people want. And that sucks.

onthemMoreover, it’s really sad that this is on reviewers, especially the own voices reviewers. Because I would have read this, and wouldn’t noticed it. So basically, it’s on the people who need this kind of representation to call out the representation and be faced with potentially losing more of that representation. And it’s so unfair. And it sucks, and that’s on the industry.

diversitypublishAlso, I am not claiming that calling out a problematic thing in the book means people are saying that you should burn said book. Because they aren’t. However, like I said, reviews affect sales. And sales will dictate what is published and what isn’t. And I think this is something that is tied into the YA genre.

It boils down to the fact that diverse rep is treated as a token, as something that should be affected by sales, when in reality it shouldn’t be. It’s about getting equal opportunities to be seen and heard in the media. It should not be about marketabilty. But it is. And that sucks.

anthingtoadd2So I would love to hear from you. Any thoughts on the topic? Anything you’d like to add? Did you read Leah on the Offbeat? Did you like it? Let me know!


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23 thoughts on “Discussion: The Pressure on Diverse Books and How the Book Community Handles It

  1. I think you’re definitely right about some reviewers worrying that negative comments about diverse books will affect sales and thus publication chances for future diverse books. I also think for some there’s an element of worrying that a negative review on a diverse book might look like they’re criticising the diversity itself (i.e. “If I dislike a book with a black main character, people might think I’m racist.” or “If I say something bad about this queer character, people might think I’m homophobic.”, which makes them scared to call out problems.

    But if anything, poor rep can in many ways be more harmful than no rep, so I think it’s always worth speaking up. It’s okay to enjoy something and still think it’s flawed.

    Great post! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly! And it’s always tricky to criticize a diverse book, you’re right, especially if it’s really popular. Yes, I think that’s the biggest thing people have problems coming to terms with – that you can love problematic things, as long as you acknowledge said problems! Thank you so much!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been thinking about this situation for two days now and I think you wrote a great post! It’s such a nuanced topic, and I feel like *nuance* is something the twitter bookish community definitely fails at, at least in the initial stages of any given “call out”. What happens is that after an (often ownvoices) reviewer rightfully shares their reaction, a lot of people who previously didn’t give it a second thought jump out and call for the whole community to “cancel” the book in question, when that’s not even what the reviewer asked for in the first place. Only after one or two days people start talking about in a more nuanced way, but by then I fear a lot of readers have automatically dismissed the book and sometimes even the author. That’s just….not how it should work. Every book is problematic. It might be an ableist comment, a slur that’s not called out within the book, or anything that didn’t sit well with any group of readers. It’s absolutely important for reviewers to be able to share their hurt when these things happen, but it also puts a lot of pressure on the single person and idk, it’s just A Lot. And slightly offtopic, but I’ve seen callout posts to reviewers for a) not pointing out an issue; b) pointing out something they’re not OV for, telling them to “stay in their lane”, so as a reviewer there’s always a lot of pressure on doing the right thing when it’s not even clear what the right thing even is.
    I……………feel like I went on a huge tangent here, I’m sorry! But I’m really glad I’m seeing this discussion on blogs now, where there’s more space to tackle more aspects of any given topic.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You didn’t, thank you so so much for sharing your thoughts! And I could not agree more! Nuance is so difficult when nowadays everything spreads like wildfire and things blow up before we can discuss them responsibly and with nuance. And of course everything is problematic, you are so right! AND there’s too much pressure on a single person – that was my point exactly. Thank you so much again for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I recently saw a reviewer complaining about how bisexuality is represented in this book (apparently Leah is quite unsympathetic, and she leads on a guy she has no interest in), so I’ve already heard some negative things about this. However, I agree that while reviewers should be honest about their critiques, it IS conflicting when you know that it’s undercutting the rep in that genre. It mostly definitely shouldn’t be tied to sales, but even myself as a reviewer feel really shitty about saying anything bad about a book with diversity in it because I know how important it is to those that it represents. I guess there’s got to be some falls in the uphill battle, but still, it’s a really tricky line. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I agree, it’s such a hard field to navigate. It’s a question of should you be honest or should you be aware that diverse books are treated differently, and the worst part is that there’s no right answer.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think yes some reviewers might not call out a problematic thing in a diverse book for fear of reducing sales of such books, but that shouldn’t be how the industry works! I think if people are calling out problematic things in diverse books, it should be an indication for the NEXT such diverse book to not be problematic.
    It’s also so important for own voices reviewers to tell us the truth about each book. I’m going to read Leah soon, but I would have never understood any such problem in the book. In such cases, I would need an own voices reviewer to make things clear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s my point exactly – it’s not fair that the industry works like that and it should not. That’s exactly what publishing should take away from such reviews, but I don’t think that’s how it works sadly. And you’re so right, but also I feel like shifting the responsibility to own voices reviewers should not be the case either. It’s a field that’s hard to navigate


  5. I agree with you. Sometimes I feel like people can’t point out flaws in a diverse book because there isn’t a lot. But we all need to work together and get better at being critical. We can totally love a diverse book but we also got to be aware that there will be some flaws and if those flaws hurt someone or somebody, they need to be pointed out and not get witch hunted. I hope that didn’t sound super horrible.

    I found that article a few days ago and I was shocked that nobody had mentioned it at all. It seemed like a very big deal and I would have been shocked to see that. Maybe, as more people read the book over, they will find that and be cautious and warn others that it is there.

    btw: keep up with these discussion posts! I love them! You have so many great thoughts about everything and I enjoy reading them! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I completely agree! And pointing out a flaw should be in order to improve representation, never to tear down an author or anything like that. I agree, I think that the book generated so much buzz and was so popular and hyped that people missed that bit or just didn’t want the book to suffed for it. AH THANK YOU SO MUCH, I am so glad you like them! 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful post! I think a huge problem in online communities recently (esp. on Tumblr and Twitter) is this call-out culture we’ve created, where things have to be ideologically pure for us to consume them, and if they aren’t, we have to blacklist them forever. 99% of media falls somewhere in between – most things aren’t perfect, but they aren’t necessarily irredeemable trash, either. I think something like Leah is a good example (though I also haven’t read it) – it seems like it has some good representation and some bad representation, and it IS possible for a single book to have both. We can celebrate the good and critique the bad. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I hope the extremity of this absurd call-out culture will eventually crumble and give way to a future where the discourse is allowed to be more nuanced, where saying something like ‘you can support this book but keep in mind its representation isn’t perfect, but it’s mostly a step in the right direction and still worth checking out’ isn’t such a wild concept.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m not sure what else I can add to this post since you’ve discussed well in detail. I’m glad your addressed this issue though. It really needs to be said since a lot in our community are quick to dismiss problematic non-diverse books, but should I diverse book slip up once it’s suddenly seen as the devil! There’s a difference between critiquing a book and demonizing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have to agree with you. I’m bisexual myself and I was super excited that Becky published a book with a bisexual main character. However, with the reviews pouring in, it made me hesitant since many claim that it’s poor representation (a lot of people who are not bisexual are also saying this) I think there is a lot of pressure to make things “perfect” but that’s simply not going to happen. Even with hetero romances, even those aren’t perfect/healthy.

    However, I think it is beneficial to “call out” things in a book because it can potentially be harmful to the person that’s reading the book. I’ll give a raving review of a book but if I see something flawed, I will point it out but I won’t say “no don’t read this book” because of that flawed.

    Right now, I’m reading a book that features a bisexual PI. She says one slur (a mental health slur) that really bugged me and the book does have a little bit of cliche bitropes but I can’t help but still enjoy the book despite it’s flaws. I feel represented in the book. I don’t want to feel guilty because of that.

    Sorry for the ramble but I think this was a really good post and discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for commenting! And of course, I think hetero romances are portrayed especially unhealthy, but that’s a whole other debate. And I love what you said about that book you’re reading. Feeling represented while still acknowledging and seeing flaws in a book is what we should aim for – to continue to have diverse books while still giving “feedback” on how to improve representation in the media. And thank you so much for the ramble, it’s greatly appreciated. Thanks!


  9. I think it’s a little sad that own voices reviewers are “blamed” for not pointing out something problematic in a book. Not everyone in a particular own voices community is going to agree. Some bisexual people may have genuinely been happy with this book and that’s their right. That doesn’t mean that someone shouldn’t speak up if it’s hurtful to them. But I don’t know why anyone would get mad at reviewers who supposedly “missed” a problematic issue in a book—basically, that’s telling those reviewers that their experiences and feelings are wrong, something I’m uncomfortable with.

    Liked by 1 person

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