PROMOTING & PUBLICISING AUTHORS OF COLOUR Respondents described how authors of colour effectively become squeezed into one of two marketing routes, both of which fulfils a particular white, liberal expectation of who and what authors of colour are allowed to be: either you are Oxbridge-educated, or you came from the streets. This limits the opportunities for authors of colour who want to talk beyond their experience, and not talk about their racial or ethnic identit. One commentator said that “the industry says it wants to diversify, but it’s on its own terms”.
STRUGGLES TO FIND DIVERSE AUDIENCES When we spoke to BAME respondents in particular, there was a strong sense that publishers do not do enough to engage more diverse audiences. When we pressed one BAME respondent about why publishers do not engage minorit audiences, they proffered, “maybe they think they don’t read”. This was a contentious topic with the majorit of the publishers we spoke to, denying that they felt this. It was also felt that publishers undervalue “non-mainstream” media. Specifically, we are referring to new online platforms created by minorities directly for audiences that have been traditionally neglected. Indeed, in our interviews with white people who work in press and publicit, we got a sense that they do not know what media channels to target for writers of colour; in some cases it was pushed onto a BAME person to resolve. “I feel like being asked to fix diversit as the one diverse person infuriating, but then when I do try and fix it and you
don’t listen to me, then that’s just tokenism.” The responses above demonstrate that the complex feelings that BAME respondents have about being expected to do the work regarding minorit audiences. We also want to draw atention to one comment from a BAME respondent who describes how, despite their aspiration to do so, they are unable to reach underrepresented audiences through a lack of resources: “Let’s just say there is an ambition to be able to do that, and then there is the realit of resources that they have within a publishing house. And I would say that is my biggest challenge.”
CONCLUSION To reiterate, one of our key findings is that the publishing industry is set up to cater for just one white, middle-class audience. Writers of colour are essentially promoted to appeal to this core audience, which can lead to their exoticisation and marginalisation. We believe that if publishers are serious about diversit, they need to focus on how to reach audiences that they do not usually target. This requires significant resources but we believe there are some immediate steps that publishers can take. Publishers would benefit from investing in promotional talent who know these communities and relevant media inside-out. But BAME employees should not be expected to do, or be restricted to, this labour. Fundamentally, publishers need to challenge their assumptions about minority audiences; that they are not interested in books. Such audiences have been profoundly neglected.
RETHINK DESIGNING THE COVERS OF WRITERS OF COLOUR
Publishers have a very specific idea of their audience. While this does not necessarily shut off opportunities for writers of colour, it can constrain their craft. We find this particularly the case in the design of their book jackets. In our interviews with people involved in book cover design, we found that there remains a fear that featuring a racial or ethnic minority on the cover could lead to diminished sales. However, in literary fiction there is still a little bit of signifying that goes on in terms of, “Oh, this is a writer of colour, so therefore let’s make it look like this.”
Our finding is that publishers’ focus on a very particular
white, middle-class audience leads to the presentation of the author of colour in very particular ways, which either downplay or reject strong racial signifiers through fear of making the book too niche, or represent their difference in a softly, exoticised way (such as the use of ethnic fabrics) that would appeal to a liberal, white middle-class sensibility. It is only once publish- ers start broadening their sense of the audience that we will see more diverse visual representations of race in publishing.
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