Readers Deserve Better Than BookCon

Rebecca Joines Schinsky

Chief of Staff

Rebecca Joines Schinsky is the executive director of product and ecommerce at Riot New Media Group. She co-hosts All the Books! and the Book Riot Podcast. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccaschinsky.

Book Expo America is doing something new this year. At least, that’s what they’re saying.

In an effort to reach more readers (that’s code for increase revenue by selling tickets to non-industry people) and provide publishers with more direct-to-consumer marketing opportunities, BEA has rebranded Power Readers Day, which was originally introduced in 2012. Scheduled for Saturday, May 31, the name is different–now it is called The BookCon–but the ideas remain the same. Readers pay for entrance to the Book Expo show floor, where they can attend author talks, panels, and book signings and, supposedly, get access to cool insider stuff. It’s an event idea with a lot of potential to be awesome.

The reality, though, is just about as far from awesome as it could be.

First came the report that one of BookCon’s main features, a panel of the rock stars of kid lit, was comprised entirely of white male writers. When the publishing community along with panel participant Rick Riordan expressed criticism on Twitter and across the blogosphere, ReedPop (the organization that plans and runs Book Expo) responded with an apology and a promise to diversify. It was largely received as too little too late, and as a plan that would put women and POC authors in the tough spot of having to weigh an opportunity for exposure against the cost of being a token guest. But it was something.

Then this morning, after Entertainment Weekly announced that John Green will also speak at BookCon, the people of Twitter went looking for the entire BookCon line-up. Lo and behold, it also has a remarkable diversity problem. As in: there is none.

This isn’t a mistake. It isn’t an oversight. It is an overt statement of Book Expo America’s values, and apparently, giving writers of color attention and a platform and access to readers is not one.

This utter lack of diversity is gross. It is inexcusable. And it is really, really embarrassing. Book Expo America is the industry’s flagship event, and the statement it is making on the industry’s behalf is that we believe that what readers–the kind of devoted, passionate readers who fork over thirty dollars to spend a summer Saturday in a convention center–want out of a book event is an all-white, heavily celebrity line-up. (See Kelly’s piece for a bunch of terrific links to pieces that address the problem of diversity in publishing with greater depth.)

Readers deserve better than this. It is not hard to do better than this. The wonderful, diverse list of books being given out by volunteers all over the country today for World Book Night is proof.

So what happens now? Book Expo will likely respond with another apology and promise to do better. But it’s too late. The damage is done. “We’re sorry” is no longer acceptable. It is clear that diversity is not a priority for ReedPop and BEA. Either they are not thinking about it at all, or they are actively choosing against diversity because they believe they can make more money with an all-white line-up. These are not our values at Book Riot, and so we will not be supporting, promoting, participating in, covering, or encouraging our community to attend BookCon. We can’t control ReedPop and BEA’s choices, but we can control this. No diversity = no support.

Maya Angelou famously said, “When you know better, you do better.” Book Expo America and ReedPop should know better. It’s time for them to do better, and to do better from the start.