is presented as a class issue; that is, only the middle-classes are atracted to the writing professions.
When the issue of race was specifically brought up, the very common response we encountered was that black and Asian minorit groups specifically are not atracted to a career in writing, because of the lack of rewards for labour and status. However, some of our respondents were quite hostile towards such reasoning. For instance, one BAME interviewee reacted quite angrily at the suggestion that racial and ethnic minorities choose not to do creative work: “this idea that we’re not interested, and that it’s always about money, is just so offensive”. The publishing industry over the past few years has seen a number of writing competitions and writing schemes that target writers of colour, and having spoken to the people behind them, it was clear that there was no shortage of submissions. It suggests there is a pool of writers from minorit backgrounds that might be relatively small, but is nonetheless untapped. One of the findings from the Writing the Future (2015) report was that writers from minorit backgrounds feel steered into reproducing racial and ethnic stereotpes. While publishers did not admit to this, what became clear from our interviews is the strategy of replicating past successes. Publishing is an inherently risky business, and as such, publishers look to reproduce formats or formulas that they know worked in the past. As one BAME writer put it to us, publishers “don’t want the next big thing. They want the next big thing to be just like the last big thing, only slightly tweaked”. For a writer of colour to be published, their stories need to conform to the worldview of the white, middle-class editors who have particular expectations over what kind of stories are supposedly authentic to these writers. One major theme that came out of our interviews was the implicit suggestion that writers of colour represented a riskier investment for publishers. While there was a strong narrative that this has been changing in recent times—so much so that being a writer of colour in certain genres is seen as an advantage— there was nonetheless a fear that the core (white) audience will not be able to relate to stories by writers from racial and ethnic minorities. In this way, we find that writers of colour struggle with the perception that their books are seen as too niche, or “issuey”. Thus we find that writers of colour are stuck between a rock and a hard place: there is an expectation of what stories such authors are able to write (usually relating to the author’s racial
RETHINK THE ART OF COMPING
Comping—the process of finding comparative titles in order to predict sales—is at the core of commercial publishing. While, as we shall show, some of our respondents were critical of comping practices, many accepted this as a key process in publishing. One issue that was raised was whether to compare
writers of colour to other writers of colour, or to white writers. On the other side of the coin, a BAME respondent spoke out against how writers of colour are comped with other writers of colour even though they may have nothing in common other than the same racial background. This raises another issue, regarding the lack of data
that exists for authors of colour, which affects how they are comped.
Essentially writers of colour are being comped in relation
to data that comes from a single readership: the white, middle-class audience. We argue that a lack of data around untapped audiences—especially BAME ones—is holding back writers of colour. But to reiterate, we do not believe that there is a right or wrong way to comp a writer of colour. Rather, we want to draw attention to how the question of whether to compare a writer of colour to a white or non-white author is even a question in the first place. As one BAME respondent said to us, when it comes to “non-diverse” books (that is, books by white authors), “there just seems to be more freedom in what you can do”. Comping is a creative practice, but a constraining one when it comes to writers of colour.
or ethnic identit in some way), but a fear that such stories might appear too niche.
CONCLUSION From our interviews, we find that there are multiple obstacles that writers of colour face in the scouting/agenting/acquisition stage of publishing. In order to affect change, agents and publishing staff need to be aware that a combination of mindset, assumptions and standardised publishing processes oſten pose obstacles to writers of colour. More racial and ethnic diversit in agenting and editing will no doubt have an impact. Agents serious about diversit need to take more proactive measures in finding writers of colour, including looking beyond the traditional routes; the agents who look more creatively are likely to be the most rewarded. Since such work is very labour- intensive, publishers should develop strategic partnerships with organisations that specialise in working with creative writers in underrepresented communities, like writer development agencies and communit writing groups. Overall, publishers involved in scouting/agenting/acquisition
need to reflect more critically on the assumptions that frame their approach, and challenge them where necessary. But ultimately, if publishers want to discover more writers of colour, they need to widen their perception of who their audiences are. This is the theme of the following sections.
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