It’s no secret that publishing has always been something of an exclusive club. Despite all the talk about publishing diverse books, the industry often looks a little homogenous. The key to diversity in the publishing industry isn’t just publishing diverse work, but in making sure the system is diverse all the way to the top. The system as it stands is full of gates, and those gates keep out whole groups of people: people of color, disabled people, neurodivergent people, and anyone who doesn’t come from an affluent background.
One major facet of gatekeeping in the publishing industry is the fact that most industry jobs require their employees to work on-site. So many of the major publishing hubs are in big cities (London, New York), and entry-level positions very often pay salaries that do not meet the living requirements for the location—but still require employees to live there. This means that the only people who can work there comfortably are those who are either independently wealthy, can depend on wealthy parents, or have a financially stable spouse.
You’ll notice I said “comfortably.” When you scroll through lower-level industry professionals’ Twitters, you’ll often see multiple jobs listed in their bios. Low salaries and the rising cost of living make it more likely that a person will have to work multiple jobs, which means they have less energy to devote to their full-time work.
It’s a common attitude in the industry that people work with books because they love them, but passion won’t pay the electricity bill. It means nothing to welcome people into the industry if the environment forces them out again.
COVID-19 has proved definitively that it’s not necessary for people to work on-site. Remote work is not only possible, it’s a positive and simple solution for gatekeeping issues. It means that people can live in more affordable places, cut down on transportation costs, and remove the need for a second (or third) job. This would create a healthier atmosphere for everyone that will foster long-term careers instead of stress, poverty, and burnout.
Remote work in the publishing industry was possible before COVID. I worked at Utah State University Press (an imprint of the University Press of Colorado) as the editorial assistant and then the assistant editor from 2016-2019. Though a lot of the staff worked on-site in either Colorado or Utah, multiple people worked remotely. We had bi-weekly video calls, had constant communication through Slack, and met four times a year at the quarterly board meetings.
This is to say that the idea of remote work is not impossible, unrealistic, or even difficult. Studies show that people who work from home can be more productive than those who work from an office. The most difficult thing is getting over our own preconceived notions of what a publishing house should look like.
This is by no means the only issue that excludes large groups of people from the industry, but it’s one of the most prevalent. It results in unintentional—and sometimes intentional—gatekeeping. The industry has been aware of these problems, and those who don’t work to dismantle them are, at this point, actively complicit.
Most people simply cannot afford to live in cities on low entry-level salaries, and in cutting them out, we are cutting out vital voices. If we become more flexible when it comes to remote work, we are opening the gate to more people and fostering a healthier environment that is not only inclusive in what is published, but in who is publishing.
[Photo of a ‘Keep out’ sign behind a chain link fence. Photo credit: Sandy Millar via Unsplash.]