After attending the Creating an Inclusive Bookshop seminar at the London Book Fair in March where we heard from Tamara Macfarlene (owner of Tales on Moon Lane bookshop), John Newman (children’s book buyer at Newham bookshop) and Nikesh Shukla (critically acclaimed author and the editor of The Good Immigrant), I reflected on how the publishing industry, as a whole, is lacking in diversity.
The industry’s employment is equally split between men and women. However, only 7% of the publishing industry’s workforce is BAME (black, Asian, minority ethnicity). The overall image of publishing is white and middle class. Part of this issue originates from the trend in publishing of hiring being based on not what you know, but who you know. Publishers have had a trend of hiring employees based on personal recommendations of their staff; this significantly limits the group of potential employees.
There is an apparent connection between the lack of diversity in the employment sector of publishing and the lack of minority writers being published. It is likely that BAME writers may feel their work won’t be selected at the overwhelmingly white publishing houses. It is also possible that staff are sub-consciously selecting white authors’ submissions because it’s what they connect with personally and what they see themselves represented in. In Kean’s article (“Has Publishing Really Become More Diverse”), she cites this as a huge downfall for publishing, not simply because it’s an uneven and lacking representation of society, but it is omitting an entire market of potential readers/customers and losing prospective profit. This is creating a monoculture in popular fiction. By recruiting more BAME employees, it would most likely have the subsequent effect of diversifying publishers’ list thus expanding their market reach.
The industry has recently started initiatives to rectify this gap in their workforce. The charity Creative Access did have a programme with several publishers where they gave paid internships to BAME people interested in a career in publishing. However, the funding for this was cut in December 2016. Pan Macmillian sought to remedy this and donated £50,000 to the charity. Penguin Random House have “The Scheme” which is a fully paid thirteen month marketing internship. For this they did not ask for submissions through the traditional route; all they asked was that you weren’t in full-time education, had the right to work in the UK and gave them your email address. No other personal details were required for submission, not even a C.V. PRH sought to even the playing field and remove any unfair advantage, the only thing applications needed to have was an interest learning new skills and about the publishing industry. The industry’s use of unpaid internships is a major factor for lack of diversity. Only people who can afford to do unpaid work are entering the publishing workforce so the white middle class status quo remains. Alongside paid internships, Andrew Franklin (founder of Profile Books) says there should be mentoring schemes offered in publishing houses for BAME entry level employees as, in his experience, they feel marginalised. This seems especially important in a post-Brexit Britain.
Another factor affecting the diversity in the publishing is that the work that is published in the UK by BAME authors is often of extreme circumstances. Writer Sarfraz Manzoor summaries the situation well, ” With respect to ethnic diversity, publishing possibly fetishes extreme tales…to write beyond those confines and to show that one can be brown without being sad, mad or dangerous.” (Shukla’s “How Do We Stop UK Publishing Being So Posh and White?”) Even when minority authors are published, the content must be based on great hardship, something not required of white authors. Writer Bernardine Evaristo is seeking to rectify this misrepresentation and also increase BAME authors in poetry as she found BAME poets only account for 1% of the market. To resolve the lack of diversity in poetry Evaristo established the mentoring scheme Complete Works in 2007. This is still running and has proved extremely successful. The participants, who have been mentored by published poets, have progressed to either win or be nominated for over forty awards.
The initiatives that have been created to rectify the lack of diversity are encouraging but it is so important to continue this progress and openly discuss this major issue in the industry. It’s essential that momentum isn’t lost and that the industry doesn’t do a little and deem the matter to be addressed.