How to Sell Diverse Books

With the Oscar nominations and in our mystery genre, the Edgar announcement to come in a few days, observers are fixated on awards. But the older I get in the publishing industry, the more I’ve become fixated on sales.

There have been campaigns notably in the children’s literature to publish diverse books. Admittedly, if there are no diverse books to be had, those stories cannot reach readers. But releasing them is half the battle. How do you sell them?

As I cut my professional teeth at a Japanese American newspaper which catered to a niche audience, I’ve learned that you cannot merely use tactics employed by the mainstream and think that they will work for every book or movie, especially a diverse one. Of course, you need mainstream buy-in for a creative work to be a commercial success. But for a book with American non-white characters to truly have legs, I believe that you need to create different “interest tornados,” starting with the very community you write about.

For my debut Mas Arai mystery, I advocated that my publisher, Random House, place an ad in the newspaper that I worked at, The Rafu Shimpo. They did so, securing a quarter-page space that probably would have gotten a few inches in the Los Angeles Times for the same price. I gave the same paper a first-chapter sneak-peek in its holiday issue and held my launch party at the Japanese American National Museum instead of a bookstore.

A friend who used to work at Heyday Books in Berkeley told me her company strove to meet people where they are–at churches, community centers, etc.–instead of forcing them to crossover into places that they were not used to going. There are a number of African American book clubs; in the past, I’ve heard of them being women-centric, but I just learned of a men’s book club here in Los Angeles. It takes a bit of digging, but if you are an author who are writing ANW (American non-white) stories, I think that it’s imperative that you not only look high but also low, on the ground level.