Surely there is no greater year in review of 2020 publishing than The Bookseller Children’s Conference. The conference talks focused on many themes; however one recurring and highly relevant topic was diversification in the publishing industry. 2020 has thrown many issues to the forefront of society yet the entrenched, worldwide oppression of people of colour has perhaps been the most striking. Thanks to many initiatives detailed in the Children’s Conference, The Bookseller ensured that the topic of representation was never absent from the table.
While Cynthia Davis told us 1% of main characters in children’s books come from a BAME background, Jelani Memory told us of his personal journey towards representation in publishing. His talk came from a very personal approach, describing his experience trying to find books that spoke to his own children. Memory highlighting the need for children’s books to be more urgent, more honest and more approachable was inspiring to hear, as well as his proactive steps to reach these goals. His series A Kid’s Book About aim to breach the gap between children and challenging conversations. Identifying the gap in the market for books that respect children’s experience was key to the series’ success.
His talk illustrated the need for children and young adults to see themselves represented in the art they consume. Another enlightening talk from Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold detailed the numbers behind such movements towards greater representation in publishing. Her research quantifies authors of colour in the Young Adult market in the last three years. Her findings were heartening; as a percentage, published authors of colour in both Britain and the wider world have more than doubled in the last three years. Authors of colour writing stories about people of colour is a necessity in the current climate for children, young adult and older readers alike. The importance for both white and non-white readers to hear different kinds of stories told from different, unique perspectives cannot be understated. While Jelani Memory emphasized the need for children to see themselves represented in the books they read, Dr Bold reminded us that this is equally needed for young adults. She stressed the potential of the market in terms of educating and informing.
While Memory and Bold approached the topic of diversification from the author and reader’s point of view, Cynthia Davis centred her discussion around diversifying the publishing workplace. It was especially interesting that while the former talks lauded diversity for its cultural and social significance, Davis brought to light the practical and economic incentives to diversifying the workplace. Her talk showed that diverse teams outperform those that are not; creativity and profit are maximised when candidates from minority backgrounds bring their own unique perspectives and knowledge.
The impact of this year was certainly felt in The Bookseller Conference, but the future looks bright. To see the traditionally white, middle-class dominated industry of publishing make real steps towards broadening diversity is promising. Indeed, seeing so many non-white speakers leading the discussions around the future of publishing points to better things to come for the industry. As Cynthia Davis explained, it’s not about changing the world overnight, but making meaningful, authentic steps towards a more diverse future.