Based on that chat and some great comments, here are some practical ideas and encouragement for and from booksellers eager to sell books featuring non-white characters. Thanks to everybody who chimed in, and if you leave other helpful suggestions in the comments, I'll add them to the list.
A younger “global story section” has worked well, calling out titles to people who don’t normally see them.
An around the world display of YA/MG titles, not focused on one particular ethnicity, was popular in our store.
Point: Connecting an in-store display into a nationwide promotion like African American history month helped draw attention to certain books.
Counterpoint: Our display of African American books during that month never sold well. The books compete against each other, and if they were spread out throughout the store might each get more attention.
English-reading kids and adults are stuck all over the world on military bases that are technically U.S. land. Indies can make a point of promoting books and deals to military bases. Make it clear on your store's front page that you will ship to APO/AE, to embassies, etc. — anything that is technically U.S. soil. It costs the same to ship to a U.S. military base in Germany as it does to ship to, say, Kansas. And military kids are as diverse as diverse gets.
Indies can add categories that make it easy to do searches for diversity. Let readers be able to browse "Lead Characters—Hispanic or African-American or etc." and "Culture— Cherokee Nation or New Orleans or etc." and "Religious Lead Characters—Muslim or Amish or Mormon or Shinto." It's about organizing data so they can find it easily. Create standards and have an intern tag every book with categories according to those standards so readers can find it—online or off.
When doing a display of "good summer reads" or "great books about friendship" or whatever the display is, make sure each display has multicultural titles in it.
What about a book club that focuses on books by authors of color? Or books that take place in other countries?
It's very important that the books be on display. And not in their own section. If they are treated differently that's how customers will see them. An "If you like this, try this" display usually works. Customers are more inclined to stop if they see a book they like. And the books should be blurbed if possible.
For sellers to make a deliberate effort to see that their displays are as diverse as possible is important and crucial.
List such titles in your store's databases or online under not just their genre, but under the race/religion/nationality of characters. There are times when a reader wants to explore the whole world, and times when they need characters they can identify with very closely. I don't like the idea of making all *displays* this way, or even shelving books this way, but I think it's really important for readers to be able to sort through books this way on their own or with the help of a store employee.
If they feel the book is a disguised sociology lesson they will flee from it. Don't sell it as "multicultural"—sell it as a darn good book about people facing problems on their journey to adulthood, just like the reader.
Send announcements/lists of available multicultural titles to schools in the area suggesting ways for their use in the classroom. Also send to organizations and clubs associated with the topic.
Offer teacher discounts, maybe with backing from the publishers. Host in-store or after hours discussion groups for teachers from the area to share ideas.
Got a blogger in your area? Get them to post store activities, announcements or reviews of multicultural books.