The publishing industry has a long way to go to become more inclusive. But independent publishers are uniquely positioned to flexibly understand their readers, meet their needs, and build ongoing relationships with them. This is what inclusive marketing is all about.
The 2019 Lee and Low Diversity Baseline Survey showed just how homogenous the publishing industry workforce is: primarily white, cis-woman, straight, and nondisabled. And because of this homogenous industry, publishers haven’t had the internal insights from their staffs to tip them off to diverse needs. They’ve had myopia when it comes to marketing inclusively.
But the world of book consumers is also changing. Younger readers (Generation Z and millennials) are more ethnically diverse, identify more as LGBTQ+, and are more open about mental and/or physical disabilities than older generations like Generation X and baby boomers. As these younger generations grow up, they will become the majority, and they have spending power. Now is the time to learn how your publishing business can best meet their needs.
Tips for Inclusive Marketing
Audiences that are underrepresented and underserved are also very loyal when they see authentic products (like books) that resonate with them. By honing in on your audience and being inclusive in your marketing to that audience, you’ll be able to attract a loyal customer base that finds belonging in your books and the sense of community those books foster.
As you evaluate your own marketing to be more inclusive, Sonia Thompson’s five Cs of inclusive marketing are a helpful guide.
Company culture. Whether you are the only person in your publishing company or you have 20 employees, your company culture is essential. It’s how you show up in the world. Remember, you have a company culture whether or not you choose to actively shape it. It’s better to make the culture what you desire it to be rather than have it form into something you don’t like. As an independent publisher, you have the flexibility to make changes to your company culture more quickly than big publishers. What is your company culture, and how could it be more inclusive?
Customer intimacy. This is your secret weapon. The greater degree of intimacy you have with your audience and the communities you want to serve, the easier it will be to write and publish books they want to read, and that makes them feel like they belong. If you don’t know the communities you are serving well enough, not only do mistakes and missteps happen, but you’ll struggle to get them to even consider reading your books.
Circle of influence. The more diversified you are in what influences the way you think and see the world, the easier it becomes to empathize and be inclusive of others who are different from you. Expanding your perspective opens you up to authentically communicate with communities you may not have been able to with a more homogenized circle of influence. Learn about marginalized groups, especially when you are not part of those communities. Get started by following influencers and authors on social media who are part of communities different from yours. The more you listen, engage, and build relationships, the more you’ll learn about the needs and interests of audiences within those communities.
Customer experience design. Intentionality is the key to delivering the experiences you desire in every touch point your customer has with your brand, including your books, your website, your social media, author events, and other forms of publicity. By defining what experience you want to deliver, along with how you want your customers to feel when engaging with your work, it makes it easier for the experience you desire, and the one you actually deliver, to be aligned. Start with your vision, and then brainstorm ways to pull that vision through to every touch point.
Customer experience delivery. Delivering the customer experience includes things like publishing books, developing products, creating content on social media, and even planning events. This is what we traditionally think of as marketing. Authenticity is key here because readers can see when a company is being performative. When you’ve incorporated inclusion throughout all other areas of the framework, being inclusive here is a natural outcome.
Black and Latinx Millennials Read Avidly: Data from Immersive Media Study
The Immersive Media & Reading 2020 survey showed that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are avid book readers and buyers. This finding was further supported by the Codex Group’s study of US book buyers of color (2020). Here are some key data-informed insights about these readers to consider as you build your inclusive marketing plan.
BIPOC readers engage through author events. This is connected to the loyalty that readers feel to authors. With Michelle Obama’s Becoming book tour, she sold out venues across the US, Canada, and Europe, including stadiums seating 20,000 people with large percentages of people of color. They wanted the opportunity to share “an intimate evening” with the former First Lady.
BIPOC readers discover books through recommendations on social media (another Immersive Media finding validated by the Codex Group). Keep social media platform demographics in mind when reaching out to your audience via social media. In her study of BIPOC science fiction and fantasy readers on Twitter, Denise Morales-Soto found: “On Twitter alone, there is a moderate to high level of ethnically and racially diverse reader interaction, and a large portion of it revolves around diverse science fiction and fantasy content.”
BIPOC readers care about front covers when making their book purchase decisions. In her study of YA book covers, Jenny Kimura found that that while there were more BIPOC characters on covers between 2014 and 2018, they were less visible on those covers—figures in shadow or generically non-white rather than specific and authentic. “A book cover is a key place for promoting visual diversity and is the first encounter a reader will have with a book to know whether it’s diverse,” she says. The readers you serve need to see themselves reflected in the visual imagery your brand puts forth. Your book cover is a prime opportunity to communicate visually, “this book is for you.”
BIPOC readers have high discovery via cross-media. The Codex Group also found data supporting that BIPOC readers are open to more types of media formats than the general population. Are you taking advantage of other media promotions to reach your audience?
Upcoming PubU Panel: Reaching Black and Latinx Readers
Join us in our virtual PubU session on April 20 to learn more data-informed insights about inclusively reaching Black and Latinx readers. In the session, you will learn:
- How to better understand Black and Latinx readers through granular data from Immersive Media & Reading 2020.
- How to implement Sonia’s five Cs of inclusive marketing in your own business.
- How other independent publishers and authors have successfully marketed their books inclusively.
- How you, as an independent publisher, can lead the way in inclusive book marketing.
You can register at publishinguniversity.org/register.
Kathi Inman Berens, Ph.D., is an associate professor of English at Portland State University and has published peer-reviewed research about digital humanities, book publishing, and digital literature.
Rachel Noorda, Ph.D., is the director of publishing and an assistant professor of English at Portland State University. She has published peer-reviewed research on various book publishing projects including book subscription boxes, independent publisher mission statements, the Portland Book Festival, and online book blurbs.
Sonia Thompson is an inclusive marketing strategist, consultant, and speaker who helps businesses win more customers by delivering experiences that make them feel like they belong.