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05


INTRODUCING THE MAIN FINDINGS The research found that writers of colour are disadvantaged during each key stage of the publishing process. It produced three key findings that we introduce here. Our first main finding is that publishers have a very narrow sense of their audience. The idea of the core reader as a white, middle-class older woman (sardonically referred to as “Susan” by several of our respondents) remains dominant. There also remain suspicions over whether racial and ethnic minorities read, or at least to the same extent. As such, we find that the core publishing industry is set up essentially to cater for this one white reader. While this does not rule out opportunities for writers from minorit backgrounds, until the publishing industry diversifies its audience, writers of colour will always be “othered”. This is a recurring theme throughout the report. The second main finding is the ambiguit of “diversit” as


both a moral and economic imperative. In our interviews respondents articulated strong moral/ethical and commercial cases for why the industry needs to publish more “diversely”. In terms of the moral case, as one white woman agent put it, “it is important to me to make sure my list is reflective of the world in which I live and the world that I see around me”. On the other hand, we encountered agents and editors who are desperate for more diverse voices—especially in crime/ thriller, where the field is so white that having a black or Asian author/protagonist would help the book immediately stand out in a crowded market. As a BAME respondent said to us, “even if you have zero morals around diversit in publishing, it makes economic sense”. However, as we shall show, we are not convinced that publishers really believe in the economic value of diversit. Or, more precisely, they are not convinced that their core audience are fully interested in books by writers of colour.


Related to this point, our third main finding is that while publishers would like to publish more writers of colour, they believe it is too commercial risky to do so. Publishing, like all forms of cultural production, is an inherently unpredictable business. Because of the intense competition of publishing— according to Nielsen there were 202,078 print books published in the UK in 2019—we find it mostly produces risk-averse behaviours, rather than risk-taking ones. Against this backdrop, writers of colour become seen as a particularly dangerous investment, which as we shall show, affects not only their acquisition, but how they are promoted and sold.


CONCLUSION


The fundamental challenge that publishers face when tackling diversit is the supposed dichotomy between the commercial and the cultural. All the publishers we spoke to recognise the strong cultural value of their work. Respondents gave us a very genuine sense that they care about the books that they publish, in terms of how they can enrich people’s lives and what they can contribute to societ. In this way, respondents spoke of publishing as almost providing a public service. But they recognise also that they are fundamentally a business and need to sell books. Indeed, sometimes they spoke of how commercial pressures prevent them from doing some of the work with writers of colour that they would love to do. But is this a given? As suggested, the main problem for publishers is that they are geared up to cater for one (admitedly lucrative) segment of a much bigger audience. We argue that it is only when publishers rethink “diversit” and go beyond the question of workforce composition, to instead focus on catering for the full diversit of the nation, that we will see more writers of colour published, and published well.


Our hope is that the findings will encourage publishers to challenge their assumptions, reflect on their practice and help make the industry a space where writers from all backgrounds can flourish.


CODA We worked through the final draſts of this report while in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. With publishers having to contend with monumentally complex financial situations, it may be tempting to put issues like diversit on the backburner. However, as publishing houses consider significant restructuring we believe that this provides a unique opportunity to rebuild the industry with diversity and inclusion at its core. It is hard, if not impossible, to make any predictions about what the publishing and bookselling industry will look like aſter the pandemic. Hard times will inevitably follow for all. But this is also a chance to rethink what we do and how we do it. Quite possibly, recalibrations will be made. To reiterate, an opportunity has arisen to make tackling inequalit a core part of how publishers are doing business. Both Covid-19 and the Black Lives Mater protests have exposed the depth to which racism is entrenched in societ. Publishers now have an opportunit to make tackling inequalit a core part of how they do business.


*The term “BAME” is highly contested, not least for the way it collapses racial and ethnic difference together and does not do justice to the specificities of particular racial and ethnic experience. It is also a “top-down” category, rather than one that minorities conceived, let alone use, them- selves. To reiterate, “BAME” is used as shorthand only.


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