Does Diversity Sell?



In case anyone had not noticed the lack of diversity in YA, in May 2012 Kate Hart published a survey of over 900 YA covers, revealing that she found 90% of the cover models were white.  We’ve all seen the arguments since–publishers don’t offer diverse books because they don’t expect anyone to buy them.  And many have noticed that when publishers do offer diverse books, they tend to hide the fact when they market those books.  Shannon Hale’s Dangerous, for example, though it features a half-Paraguayan protagonist, was released with a symbol on the cover instead of a model.  Hale even wrote a blog post revealing that when her retelling of “Maid Maleen,” Book of a Thousand Days, set in Mongolia,  was republished with a Mongolian-American cover model, sales went down, though in the past her paperback sales had always exceeded her hardback sales.  Perhaps that’s why, when Dangerous was released as a paperback, the cover model chosen appears like she might be white?

This problem extends beyond YA to middle grade.  N. D. Wilson’s Ashtown Burials series and Suzanne Collins’s Underland Chronicles, for example, both feature protagonists of color, but the covers suggest these characters are white or choose not to depict them at all.  Other books such as Kate Milford’s Greenglass House, featuring an adopted Chinese boy, follow this trend.  Indeed, a reader searching for diverse books might have difficulty choosing one if he or she simply walked into a bookstore and looked at the covers.  Sometimes even the summaries do not mention the diversity.  Natalie Lloyd’s  A Snicker of Magic has a character in a wheelchair, for example; Lisa Graff’s A Tangle of Knots features a protagonist of color; and Lisa Graff’s Absolutely Almost has a protagonist who is half-Swedish and half-Chinese.  Nothing on the covers indicates as much.

Though we want to promote diverse books, Hale’s post suggests that publishers might be struggling with a real problem–how to diversify their books to audiences who aren’t sure they want diversity.  Presumably once a reader becomes engaged in a story featuring a character of color or a character with a disability, etc., they will realize that diversity is a positive thing and that they really can relate to or sympathize with a character not exactly like them (after all, isn’t that part of the experience–how many of us don’t share Harry Potter’s life as a wizard, yet still follow his adventures eagerly?).  But to do that, publishers must first entice readers in.

Here is Cyrus Smith, described in the text as having dark skin.

Here is Cyrus Smith, described in the text as having dark skin.

But is Hale’s experience the norm?  Some readers, after all, do want diverse books.  Some readers want more characters who look like them or like people they know.  Some people just want books that go beyond what we already have and represent the world in all its amazing variety.

Since diversity is a big topic in the blogosphere, I thought it would be interesting to look at how popular some of our diverse reviews have been.  I did not go through every diverse book we have ever reviewed, but I did take a sampling, noting when they were published, how popular they were on that day, and how popular they have been since.  Since YA books tend to get more view than MG, adults, or (most) classics on our blog, I divided the reviews into those three categories to make for an easier comparison.


Classics Table

Middle Grade/Children’s

Middle Grade Table

Young Adult

YA Diverse Table


Boys of Blur

I’d like to know how many of this book have sold in comparison to Wilson’s other titles.

Honestly, it’s difficult to tell a lot from the data because so many factors are involved.  For instance, we began blogging in 2011, so reviews published in that year barely received any views when they were first published and, as a result, we can’t really compare the popularity of some reviews to others.  Books in series tend to receive fewer views, presumably because someone who is not reading a series does not care what happens in book three.  Some books such as N. D. Wilson’s The Boys of Blur and Empire of Bones received more hits because they were reblogged by someone with a lot of follows, like the author.  Some middle grade books simply get a lot of search engine hits from people obviously trying to write book reports for school–Suzanne Collins’s Gregor the Overlander (not included in the table) is always getting hits for this reason.

And, of course, for the data to be meaningful, we need to know how many views the average review receives in a day.  Wordpress only gives the daily statistics for about the past month, so I can’t tell you how many views a book with a white cover model would have received in 2014.  Now, however, our views range from about 5 to 15 a day for a book review (a discussion post might receive 30 or 40 views).  As the week goes on, a book review might get two or so views for the next few days.

The popularity of an author, the genre, and the age range also affect results, however, so even knowing the average views of a review does not give us all the information we need.  Classic African American literature tends to receive basically no views on this blog, for example, perhaps because many of our readers prefer to read YA.  And MG reviews are usually less popular than YA ones (though that seems to be changing).

However, even the diverse YA books have limited views.  Shannon Hale is a popular author, but only five people read our review of Dangerous the day it was posted.  But is this because Hale is too popular and bloggers were tired of reading reviews for her new book?  Or did we post it too soon, before bloggers had a chance to read the book themselves?  Maybe they feared being spoiled or couldn’t respond without having read it first.

The cover lets you know ducks are in this book, but not that there is a Hispanic character.

The cover lets you know ducks are in this book, but not that there is a Hispanic character.

And what about Ms. Marvel?  Her comics sell well, but she received few views on our blog.  Maybe our followers don’t read comics?  The Princeless series has also proved unpopular, perhaps because it’s a graphic novel.  But even Written in Stars by Aisha Saeed, which received a lot of hype before publication,  only managed seven page views the day we posted our review.

In interpreting the data, however, we also have the problem that the diversity of a book is not always clear.  When a reader sees a title like Up from Slavery, they can expect a diverse character, but what about books like Patrick Carman’s Floors, which only received one view the day it was published–and yet which gives no indication that the protagonist befriends a Hispanic boy?  We can’t say whether the diversity of a book influences its page views when we don’t know how many readers are aware that the book is diverse in the first place.


I can’t really say if diversity sells, at least on this blog, since readers often seem more concerned about the genre or the author than about the diversity.  And to know how difficult publishers are really finding it to market diverse books, we would have to see the  sales numbers of various books.  But I am curious.  Do you review diverse books?  And, when you do, do you find the response enthusiastic?  Or do you think your views go down?

Krysta 64

18 thoughts on “Does Diversity Sell?

  1. hermionefowl says:

    I don’t think I notice if a book is diverse a lot of the time. If a review looks interesting, I read it. But I think the kinds of people reading reviews on blogs are different to the people browsing at a bookshop, and for those people they probably are more drawn to the people like them (who are white). I appreciate how much work you put into this post, so it’s frustrating you can’t get a clear idea of the diversity on your blog out of it!🙂


    • Krysta says:

      Sometimes the diversity can be very subtle. I think Suzanne Collins’s Gregor the Overlander, for example, mentions once that Gregor has darker skin than most Overlanders. It’s a reference easy to miss and I forgot about it until someone else pointed it out to me. I don’t usually visualize characters when I read so, for all I know, the protagonist in a book is purple with blue hair and has six arms, and I probably wouldn’t think too much about it unless it became relevant to the plot. But now I’ve started becoming more aware of diversity and I try to take a mental note when I see it in a book.

      But I think you’re right that the average person in a bookstore might not be looking for the same things in a book that a blogger is looking for.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ksenia says:

    Great discussion, Krysta! Researched and thoughtful. I review diverse books, but I’ve never compared statistics on them with other reviews. I think on my blog this reviews would get as much attention as others, because my followers are pro-diversity bloggers. I totally agree with you about marketing and covers for diversity books. Thanks for the link to Shannon Hale’s post. I find her thoughts on this matter as an author very interesting.


    • Krysta says:

      The really interesting thing about this post is that so far it’s not performing very well! Last I checked it had 13 views. A discussion post usually gets between 30 and 40 on the day it’s published. There’s still time left for the views to go up, but I doubt they’ll be that high by the end of the day.

      I think it’s great, though, that you review a lot of diverse books! And that you find they get a lot of traffic.


  3. wadadlipen says:

    As an author of books (including books appropriate for the teen/young adult market like The Boy from Willow Bend and Musical Youth, I have a running (friendly) debate with one of my local bookstores about placement that I think is applicable to this discussion. Readers buy books for different reasons (favourite genre being one of them) and sometimes to be drawn to a book a new reader needs to be guided by seeing/imagining it in that space – not just filed alongside other Caribbean books (I’m in the Caribbean) or black books (I’m black) but alongside teen books or teen books dealing with the performing arts, or teen books about high school and friendship and young love, or teen books dealing with social issues – Musical Youth checks all of those boxes – but if it’s presented without context or is only over there filed under Caribbean books or black books while the teen books are the white American books by default then how’s a new reader to find them? To apply my theory to the world of blogging, an approach like if you liked J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter you’ll also like Imam Baksh’s Children of the Spider, or if you liked Huck Finn you might also like Gone to Drift by Diana McCaulay – both of the latter books are by Caribbean writers and like my book Musical Youth they are award winning books written for the teen/Caribbean market. A non-Caribbean reader might hear Caribbean and think, there’s nothing here for me, but if the book is positioned as a great companion to lovers of fantasy or adventure etc. then they might ‘cross over’. I say cross over advisedly because having grown up as a reader and now a writer writing off the map of mainstream publishing, I know books can travel and ignite a reader’s imagination though the cultures may be far apart – I read my share of Sweet Valley Highs and Sweet Dreams as a teen, and those experiences couldn’t have been further from my own but that didn’t make the reading less enjoyable. The Last of Eden by Stephanie S. Tolan is still one of my favourite books and I’ve never been away to boarding school – but I was a reserved teen who loved books and liked to write and was going through the transitional friendships of the transitional teen years; so I could relate. So I think it has to be a multi-pronged approach – a diversity push alongside a look what these things have in common approach and likely other things I’m not thinking of. Whatever works, right? Because diversity does matter and it can sell. As far as reading the reviews go, I’ll admit if I’m scrolling through an article that draws on themes in the book or makes those kinds of comparisons is more likely to get me to stop and read than a straight up review (this is a generalization as something about the review might catch my eye but time limitations being what they are, it happens; for instance, this headline and discussion caught my eye now I’m going to check out those books you mentioned).


    • Krysta says:

      You make such a great point! It makes a lot of sense to introduce readers to diversity by letting them know that diverse books have a lot of the same elements they already love in books that may not be as diverse. If you love high fantasy, for example, why wouldn’t you also love high fantasy with a protagonist of color? You probably would. And I think you’re right to note that placement and marketing plays a lot into how these books sell. You can’t sell a book no one’s going to see.

      I do think it’s interesting, though, that Shannon Hale is a fairly popular author and even she can’t sell a book with a cover model who’s not white. But her blog post specifically addresses the adults, librarians, teachers, etc. not buying these books because they somehow assume children won’t read a book set in Mongolia. That’s ridiculous. Children tend to very open-minded and often love learning about other places and cultures. But they can’t do this if adults are acting as gatekeepers and preventing them from accessing diverse books.

      So, as you say, we need a multi-pronged approach both in marketing the books and in convincing adults that children will read about characters who aren’t exactly like them.

      After all, all the kids who aren’t white males are already probably reading about characters who aren’t like them. And even a white male isn’t necessarily going to identify exactly with a character like Tom Sawyer but can still appreciate the story and even sympathize with Tom.

      It’s true not everyone reads reviews. Our discussion posts are far more popular than our reviews, perhaps because not everyone is going to read a review of a book they’ve not read/heard of, but they do feel they can access the content of a discussion post. But, comparatively, it does sometimes feel like when we post a review of a diverse book, it receives fewer views than other reviews. But, again, there are too many factors involved for me to say why that might be. Maybe fewer people have heard of the diverse books so they don’t click on the review?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. wadadlipen says:

    p.s. the cover issue was something my publisher (an indie publisher) and I went back and forth on …and that conversation of what would have wide appeal but also be specific to the story did factor in. So, I can relate to that part of the post very much.


    • Krysta says:

      I realize that authors don’t normally get much say in the cover art. I suspect, actually, that Shannon Hale would very much have wanted a different cover model for Dangerous. But the marketing department is going to do what they think will market the book and they’re probably going to go with what they’ve seen work over what an author says they want.


  5. klyse3 says:

    This is such a good topic. Some thoughts:

    1. I think, although I could be wrong, that book reviews of diverse books receive fewer views because of non-diversity factors, some of which you mentioned (popularity, author, genre, etc.).
    2. However, the point about covers with diverse characters not selling well is fascinating to me. That is horrible and I’m not sure where we even begin to change that.
    3. But it follows a pattern of almost tricking people into reading about diverse characters. Like you mentioned with Gregor, the descriptions of diverse characters are often slipped in well into the story. The same thing happened when authors made a rush to start writing gay characters–it would be hinted at or the protagonist’s brother would be gay, etc.
    4. So maybe we should also be having conversations about how we represent diverse characters. Does indicating their diversity in the synopsis call undue attention to it? I’m nervous about the idea of specifically calling attention to your book as diverse. Having books with a variety of characters should be the norm, not something to be used as a marketing scheme. But since it’s not the norm, maybe it has to be part of the marketing so that people who really need to find that character can. I’m not sure.

    I hope you do continue reading and writing reviews of diverse books, even if they aren’t traffic drivers.🙂


    • Krysta says:

      It would definitely be a bit odd to call attention to the diversity in some places. In A Snicker of Magic, for example the friend of the protagonist is in a wheelchair. That has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, which is more focused on the protagonist finding her place in a new town and finding a way to bring peace to her family. It would be bizarre to have a plot synopsis about that and then add “And P.S.! Her friend is in a wheelchair!” It would make him into a bit of an oddity instead of a person.

      On the other hand, if you’re going to depict a diverse character on the cover, the model should look like the character. If the marketing team feels the need to hide diversity, the least they could do is put a symbol or a landscape on the cover instead of making a character with dark skin look white. At least with an alternate cover you could actually be going for that symbolism or aesthetic. When you whitewash the character, there’s no good excuse.

      If you’re actively looking for diversity, you can search online for lists and ask for recommendations from other readers, so it’s not totally impossible to find a diverse book. So when I think of marketing I’m more concerned with the kinds of gatekeepers Shannon Hale mentions, the librarians and teachers, for example, who won’t buy or assign a book with a cover model who isn’t white. How do we celebrate diversity in our books while still encouraging the gatekeepers to buy them? Because I am certain that these adults are wrong in thinking that children won’t read diversely–but the children have no opportunity to do so when they are only assigned books featuring white characters.

      Then again, I wonder if it’s only the gatekeepers who are the problem. Shannon Hale is a popular author. You’d think her fans would read anything she wrote, regardless of the skin color of the characters. But apparently they aren’t?

      Then again, I thought that Book of a Thousand Days was one of her worse books. If a lot of people agreed with me, her paperback sales could have gone down just because the people who read the hardcover, maybe at the library, decided they didn’t need to buy a copy when it came out in paperback. Unless we have a larger sample size, it’s hard to know what’s really going on with diverse books. And this is frustrating because so often we’re just told “Diverse books don’t sell” but there’s no way to know why they’re not selling without data. Maybe they’re not selling because of reasons that have nothing to do with the diversity.


      • klyse3 says:

        Oh, I think you’re absolutely right about covers. There’s no reason for whitewashing. (That’s been a recent conflict on Tumblr, btw. Victoria Aveyard refused to share fanart that whiteashed her character and everyone was in an uproar)
        And I think you’re also right about kids–most kids will read just about anything. They don’t have the same biases that adults do, so adults shouldn’t force those feelings onto them.
        You have an interesting point about some diverse books not selling because they’re not as good–when I looked at online reviews of Dangerous, a lot of people really, really, really did not like it for reasons that had nothing to do with diversity. And that was a different genre for Hale, so a lot of her regular readers probably weren’t interested.


        • Krysta says:

          I hadn’t heard of that particular controversy. Interesting!

          Most of the kids I’ve worked with really love learning about other cultures and places, so I find it very odd that an adult would claim children wouldn’t read a fantasy set in Mongolia. I think what they mean is they don’t want to read a fantasy set in Mongolia.

          I didn’t like Dangerous, either, largely because I thought the romantic relationship portrayed was really unhealthy and I was surprised Hale depicted it as something good. So I wouldn’t recommend it to most people, again for reasons that have nothing to do with diversity.

          This is why I wish we had a the data for a large number of diverse books, so we could go through and determine the reasons diverse books aren’t selling. If your book has a terrible plot or had bad marketing, you can’t blame its poor sales on the character being gay or black or whatever, and then use that as an excuse to stop selling diverse books.


  6. Penni says:

    I don’t pay enough attention as I should to diversity in books. I really should though since I am in an interracial relationship and have a biracial (step) child. I mean I do pay some attention but not enough. Recently though, I have tried to search for and find more books that relate to me and my family (romance wise) but there really aren’t that many.

    I do enjoy Ms. Marvel with Kamela Khan but I am bias towards Carol Danvers. I don not let that stop me from reading the new ones though.


    • Krysta says:

      I don’t necessarily notice diversity in some of the best books I’ve read. One of my favorite picture books is Corduroy, for example, so it’s quite obvious the girl who wants to buy Corduroy is black–I can’t forget to visualize her because she’s drawn. Yet when I think about the book, it just seems so natural for a little black girl to be buying a teddy bear that I don’t necessarily think of it as a diverse book. So I do have to make a bit of an effort to think about what books are inclusive and diverse because I think it’s important that we share them–especially because there are some that we might overlook if they’re not tackling an issue like racism.

      Liked by 1 person

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