 

WHY DO WE NEED TO RETHINK ‘DIVERSITY’? The publishing industry, perhaps more than any other creative or cultural industry, recognises it has a problem with diversit. Why does this mater? It maters in terms of whether people from racial and ethnic minorities are getting the same opportunities as their white peers in publishing, in terms of their access into the industry, and their abilit to rise up through the ranks. But it also maters in terms of the diversit of books being published: nearly all of the 100-plus publishing staffers who we interviewed admitted that, at the very least, the publishing industry could do beter in terms of publishing more writers of colour. One reason we need to rethink diversit is because of the assumption that increasing the number of ethnic and racial minorities among the publishing workforce will automatically lead to “beter” representation of racial and ethnic minorities in the books being published. But is it as simple as that? The influential Writing the Future report (2015, Spread the Word) found that black and Asian authors felt that they were steered into reproducing ethnic and racial stereotpes, whether in their stories or in the way the way their books were packaged and promoted. The publishing industry’s institutionalised middle-class whiteness was explained as one factor for this. But to what extent does the publishing process itself hinder (or not) authors of colour?

The purpose of this research was to unpack these anxieties and identify the particular challenges that publishers face (or believe they will face) when working with authors from “BAME”* backgrounds. It also considers the opportunities that such authors are encountering: with diversit so high on the agenda, it certainly seems like there is heightened demand for new talent from racial and ethnic minorit backgrounds. In other words, the aim of the research was to delve deeply into the publishing process and see how it affects writers of colour.

THE RESEARCH This report is based on one of the first academic studies of “diversit” in publishing. Rather than looking at workforce diversit, its focus is the publishing of writers of colour. Our focus was trade fiction, specifically three genres: literary fiction, crime/thriller and young adult (YA). The research was based on in-depth interviews, each lasting an hour on average, with people who work at each stage of publishing. This included agents, publishers, editors, people who work in marketing, design, publicit and sales, and booksellers. We also interviewed authors and festival organisers.

       

Our research subjects included a mix of white and BAME respondents, and different levels of seniorit. Our initial aim was to interview 80 people working across these genres, though the research went beter than we anticipated and we ended up interviewing 113 people who work in publishing, 66 of whom were white, and 47 BAME. The aim of each interview was to get an insight into how each respondent approaches their role, particularly in relation to their experience of working with writers of colour (if at all). While job roles are stated when using quotes from white respondents, because there are so few BAME people working in publishing, we omited their job roles in order to protect their identities.

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