Book Community’s Untapped Resource: #OwnVoices Reviewers

The bookish community has undergone several changes in the past few years and one of the most important steps in the right direction is the push to publish more diverse books. Readers have been clamouring for more stories that represent the world as it is today with all its diverse glory. However, there is still a lot of work to be done here, which is what articles like the one on The Guardian that states only 1% of UK’s children’s books have BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) main characters show. With social media, it has become easier for publishers to gauge what their audience wants and yet we continue to see little to no improvement in the state of things. While there are multiple reasons why the status quo isn’t changing at the rate it’s supposed to, today I want to bring up one of the issues that is rarely addressed when it comes to diverse books and publishing.

2018 Year in Review + 2 Year Blogoversary Giveaway! | Nandini @ Unputdownable Books (post graphic image)

Who are OV reviewers?

Reviewers are the primary influencers in the book industry and there has certainly been a rise in the number of people who discuss books online thanks to book blogs, Bookstagram and Booktube. Publishers often work with reviewers to hype up their titles wither through paid reviews, creative campaigns, blog tours or even offering early copies in exchange for reviews close to publication date. OwnVoices reviewers are those who share one or more identities with one or more characters in a story and it is usually used when the identity in question is marginalised. For example, my previous review was for Aru Shah and the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi, which is based on Hindu mythology and as a Hindu myself, I would be considered as an OwnVoices reviewer for that book.

Why are OV reviewers important?

One thing to note is that not all diverse books are OwnVoices, which means to say an author doesn’t have to belong to a certain identity to write a story about a character with that marginalisation. Not all representation that isn’t OwnVoices is good and not all OwnVoices stories are guaranteed to have good representation either. This is where an OwnVoices reviewer is usually invaluable as they can tell good representation from bad in most cases. They are also usually the ones who champion diverse books the most. Unfortunately, as they hail from marginalised communities or are international readers, their sphere of influence is generally significantly lesser than those who fall into the majority. This is why OwnVoices reviewers often fail to receive ARCs for the books that represent them, no matter how hard they try. It’s even more disheartening to see the same books sent to large bookish influencers hailing from privileged backgrounds who aren’t interested in them or don’t have the time to read them.

What can we do about this?

There are two parts to the solution to this problem. One is to increase an OwnVoices reviewer’s influence and boosting their voices. Bigger influencers need to recognise their privilege and pass on review copies of books they are not going to read to someone who will be represented by it. The other way involves a conscious effort from the publishers. They need to seek out OwnVoices reviewers to send their ARCs too rather than focusing on just numbers all the time. However, this is easier said than done because sometimes reviewers are not comfortable revealing their identity openly online. Another problem is that even good representation is sometimes dubbed harmful just because an OwnVoices reviewer didn’t think it represented them accurately instead of taking into account that marginalised people are not a monolith and it’s impossible to capture the wide range of experiences of any group of people within one story.

There is still hope though. Thanks to community members like Shealea @ Shut Up, Shealea and Etinosa @ Uwadis, who run the Asian Book Blogger and African Book Reviewers directories respectively, it will become easier for publishers to get ARCs into the hands of OwnVoices reviewers. Jenna @ Falling Letters is a lovely book blogger who sent me an ARC of Aru Shah #2 from a conference she attended because she knew I’d enjoy it and there was no other way I could obtain it. Authors like Joan He and Swati Teerdhala are also doing their bit by offering ARCs to marginalised reviewers via their contact form. I hope that the continued efforts of the book community together will change things for the better someday.

Here are some other excellent resources that talk about related topics:

Let's discuss (blog graphic)

What are your opinions about this? Have you felt that you don’t get a shot at the ARCs for the books that represent you? Do you have any suggestions on how this can be improved? Let’s discuss in the comments section below.

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17 thoughts on “Book Community’s Untapped Resource: #OwnVoices Reviewers

  1. Awww this is such a wonderful post. Thanks for mentioning the African book reviewers directory. I’m hoping that soon a lot of publishers realise the importance of own voices reviewers. It’s slowly happening and hopefully one day it will become a standard for such books to go to ownvoices reviewers first.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a timely post… I really hope ownvoices reviewers get both the opportunity and recognition that they deserve… but it’ll probably take a long time… I think all we can do is boost each other’s voices….
    And it definitely irks me when I get approved for all kind of ARCs except the ownvoices ones… 😬😬😬

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can relate to that feeling! I just saw an ARC of a book by an Indian author (not even Indian-American or living abroad) show up on a white blogger’s feed and that’s what sparked this post. I’m not saying I’d have liked the ARC, but at least some of the big influencers in India could have got it. Many Indian influencers have the same numbers, if not more, so why are people not providing opportunities to OwnVoices reviewers? I’ll never know but I hope that things change soon. β™₯️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow that sounds even more awful… Atleast a diaspora author I can even try to understand… but every time I see someone white review an ARC of Sandhya or Swati or any other desi author, I cringe… they can definitely appreciate the book but no way can they catch the nuance.. or understand the inside desi references … I’m just trying to be immune to feeling bad…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope so too, Aradhna! β™₯️ It’s heartbreaking to see copies of diverse books in the hands of people who haven’t read the first book in over a year and they still get the sequel because of their huge platform. Meanwhile, the smaller bloggers keep starving for ARCs with the rep of their dreams and unless someone decides to be kind or a good ally, they usually get nothing. I really wish publishing does better!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bee

    I really hope that change occurs in the near future. I feel so sad when I see all these big bloggers get so many ARCs that they will probably never read. I hate with a passion how it’s all about stats and numbers these days πŸ˜”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me too! That too they are sent not only one book but all the sequels too even though they are never going to read it, which I find so wasteful. Publishers don’t bother to keep tabs on whether they actually read the books they sent them and they don’t bother passing it along either even if they’re not interested. I hope things change soon too! β™₯️

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this very important post and thank you for including my blog post about international bloggers, Nandini, this means SO much ❀ ❀ I really hope that books can read more readers that are actually represented in said-books, this is so, so important and it makes me so sad and mad to see bloggers being denied review copies online for instance, while they're #ownvoices for the titles. Some effort definitely needs to be made in that area, it's so, so important. ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Marie! 😊 Your post is really wonderful and as a fellow international blogger, it means so much to me. β™₯️ Thank you for all the efforts you continue to put into making this community a better and more welcoming place! I’m so glad you agree. πŸ’–

      Liked by 1 person

  5. With NetGalley and Edelweiss the way they are, it’s hard to get any ARC. I’ve been refused for four own voices books I’ve requested on Edelweiss. I can’t even request them on NetGalley. I hope publishers become more conscious of where they send their ARCs in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ugh yes, I’ve almost stopped requesting from NetGalley altogether. πŸ™„ I just started with Edelweiss but it’s so confusing that I feel discouraged. It’s such a deeply rooted systemic problem but I’m holding out hope. β™₯️


  6. Pingback: April Wrap Up and short summary of me screaming and melting – Ambivert words


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