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Diversity in Publishing: Should Multicultural Authors Skip Traditional Publishing, Pursue Self-Publishing to Share Their Stories?

First Posted: Aug 08, 2015 05:00 PM EDT
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Junot Díaz, Julia Alvarez, Isabel Allende, Sandra Cisneros and quite a few others are exceptions to the unwritten, well-practiced rule that Latinos can't penetrate the mainstream publishing industry. Nonetheless, some Latino authors are tired of fighting the good fight, and they've opted instead to pursue self-publishing.

The publishing industry, like the greater mainstream media, isn't representative of the U.S., but select slices of suburbia. Young Latinos will recognize the names and experiences of the individuals in their books, but they're not likely to see themselves. This continues to be true even as brands have learned to bow to Latinos, and Latino tastes influence countless industries and markets.

Unquestionably, Latinos are underrepresented in every branch of the publishing industry. A lack of diverse editors, agents, publicists and publishers has resulted in a lack of diversity on the bookshelves in stores, outlets and libraries across the nation. Because there's a lack of Latino presence in publishing and the educational system, Latinos will grow up believing that Latino-centric books don't exist, or they won't know where to find them. The absence of Latino characters and authors eventually becomes unmistakable to young people, and they realize that they don't have sufficient representation.

For decades, there has been stilted conversation about the presence of Latinos in mainstream publishing, with exchanges that center on a theme of whether there are enough good Latino authors and assertions that the publishing industry has long pigeonholed Latinos without making an effort to inject them into the mainstream. Likewise, there has been little effort to promote Latin voices. Much of this because of the hushed, prejudiced belief that Latinos don't read, even though the opposite is true.

The varied stories that Latinos tell are diverse, and there's no question that there are numerous, nay countless talented Latino authors. Children's Book Press, Piñata Books, Cinco Puntos Press, Rayo, Luna Rising, Third Woman Press, Lee & Low, Atria books (Division of Simon and Schuster), Scholastic, Arte Publico Press, Floricanto Press and Groundwood Books have produced a large number of multicultural books. Nonetheless, some Latino authors have become determined to challenge big publishers and main circuit community bookstores by self-publishing and self-distributing their writing, using services such as Lulu, CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing.

"Kindle Direct Publishing is a free self-publishing platform, allowing anyone to publish a book, independently of the genre or length. Latino writers are gravitating toward self-publishing because not only is it easy to use, but they're able to leverage Amazon's digital ecosystem to reach millions of readers," Pedro Huerta, director of Kindle Content at Amazon for Latin America, told Latin Post. "The traditional publishing in Spanish offers limited opportunities, so KDP helps their chances of being discovered and allows them to connect with their readers in a different way." 

KDP and similar self-publishing networks are responsible for launching the successful careers of authors David Chilton, H.M. Ward, Lisa Genova, Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey and E.L. James, and it could very well work to broadcast a choir of diverse voices. Authors Sheila Sheeran and Paul Andreas Wunderlich are examples of Latinos who've found success in self-publishing.

"The diversity we've experienced on KDP has helped readers discover new authors they might otherwise never have known about. It is giving independent authors a chance to share their creative fantasies and worlds with millions around the world," said Huerta. "KDP is the perfect vehicle to transport manuscripts into the hands of readers and gives writers control over the whole creative process. These authors' contributions are among other literature from literary best-selling authors like Paulo Coelho and Gabriel Garcia Márquez - that's the beauty of this platform."

While some diverse authors think of self-publishing as settling or skirting the big house publishers as a lone attempt to share writing, others understand self-publishing to be an empowering tool that allows writers to connect with audiences without being forced to "prove" why their experiences or their stories are valid.

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