We’ve all heard the adage that “representation matters,” but as the representation of marginalized groups continues to increase in contemporary media, it is important to examine the kind of representation that is being portrayed. There are several ways that well-meaning authors, producers, and marketers insert diversity into their work without fully realizing the implications of what their representation is saying to their audience. For example, a piece of work may have a wonderful Black character in it, but are they the only Black character? Are they the only character of color? It is glaringly obvious to marginalized audiences when they are being pandered to, even if it is inadvertently. This happens all the time, especially as more and more authors try to be better about diversity and include more characters of color, LGBTQ+ characters, Black characters, disabled characters, and female characters into their stories. As marketers, what can we do to properly advertise these books in a way that is authentic, true to the book, and still includes the communities which are so often left out of the conversation?
Casual representation can be difficult to achieve, but it is important that we strive for it. While it is not our job as marketers to change what we are marketing, it is our job to be conscious of how we market it. Diversity is a hot topic right now, and people are looking for products, brands, and books that are more diverse. This has led some companies to diversify their marketing to target this audience, but they aren’t changing anything substantive about their approach or the makeup of the company. It is not enough to simply signpost diversity without actually supporting it. Diversity as a gimmick is easily seen and easily revealed.
One thing we can do as book marketers is inform the audience exactly what we are trying to give them. Using explicit terms like Black, transgender, and queer will tell our audience that we hear their voices and are here to uplift them. Marketers need to show that these voices are being represented in the book. We need to stop shying away from content that makes majority demographics more comfortable, and we need to make them feel more at ease reading these books as well.
Marketing is an intersectional endeavor. As publishing professionals, we need to talk to our editors and acquisition teams about the kind of content we are publishing, we need to talk to the artists who are creating covers for our books, and we need to combine all of these elements together when we create our copy and really ask ourselves if what we are doing is an accurate representation of the work we are putting out. Marketers have a tough but important job: ensuring that audiences are not only hearing their own voices in the books that are marketed to them but also ensuring that those voices are representative of the product. We cannot control everything we need to market, but we can make sure our audience has a voice and has all the information they need to decide if this book is something they’d like to read.