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INTRODUCTION For writers who aspire to be published, the acquisition stage is generally seen as the most important. Agents and editors have a lot of power generally, but when it comes to writers of colour, their role as cultural gatekeepers becomes particularly apparent. When we asked our respondents in general about why there were proportionately fewer writers of colour being published, the common understanding was that they are either not being found; that racial and ethnic minorities are not atracted to writing careers; or, more contentiously, that the qualit was not there. Moreover, we found that for those writers who do make it through, it is oſten because they have been moulded (or have moulded themselves)to fit in a way that conforms with the worldview of the predominantly white middle-class editorship (though there are exceptions).


FINDING AUTHORS Nearly all of the editors we interviewed stated that they rely on agents. We argue that as long as agents rely on the traditional ways of discovering new authors, then writers of colour will remain marginalised in trade fiction. When we asked agents specifically about writers of colour, they all agreed that they would like more “diverse” writers, but most admited that they struggle to find them. The publishers and agents we spoke to gave a variet of explanations for why they struggle to discover writers of colour. The most common reason was that they do not receive submissions from BAME writers. Sometimes this


RETHINK MERITOCRACY AND THE QUESTION OF ‘QUALITY’


While all respondents agreed the publishing industry could do more in publishing writers of colour (particularly in commercial fiction), there was also a fear of tokenism. Tokenism refers to when writers of colour are published in order to tick a “diversity” box. When we heard this narrative from our white respondents it was generally expressed in solidarity with writers of colour, who, it was felt, would not want to be published on the basis of the colour of their skin. However, while we did find that the fear of box-ticking was shared by white and BAME respondents alike, we found this narrative spoke also to wider anxieties publishers have when publishing writers of colour. We want to challenge what publishers mean by “quality”.


“If it’s good, we will publish it” is a comment we would hear throughout the research. But to what extent is this notion of “good” really that universal? While some publishers may contest this, what we add instead, is that the real challenge to diversity is less about the fear of diminished quality and more about publishing’s sense of its own audience. Publishers we spoke to admitted to publishing books that they do not always love. But the reason for publishing such books was because they knew that there was an audience for them. Underpinning the narrative on quality is a broader issue relating to meritocracy. We argue that in order for publishers to publish more diversely, they need to challenge their own assumptions about whether publishing truly is a meritocracy.


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