It’s the current hot topic in publishing and one I wholeheartedly agree with – there is not enough diversity within the publishing industry. Seen as an industry predominantly made up of white faces educated in English Literature who come from middle-class homes, here is genuine concern at the lack of diversity both in-house and in the authors they choose to publish.
Now here comes the part that may upset people and may even do me out of a future job or two but hey ho . The ‘solution’ seems to be to now actively chase after ways to diversify rather than to organically and quietly open our doors to a more diverse range of recruits.
With actions such as one publisher’s recent decision to exclude having a degree as key criteria for prospective applicants, with regular ‘calls-to-arms’ for more BAME authors to be published by the oh-so-evil publishers, with endless questioning of why there are so few women in leading roles, and regularly added literary awards which cover all manner of diversities, we are at risk of making such a statement as “look at us, we’re diverse. Please don’t hate us” when really it should all be so organic as to not even warrant comment or showcase.
People have highlighted an issue that we have all known to be true for a long time (of course, not only in this industry) and because it has caused some headlines the fight is on. No one wants to be the last publisher standing with all fingers pointing at them for not being diverse enough. Well done guys, it’s a shame this couldn’t have been faced years ago, before all of the headlines, so that those ‘diverse’ yet utterly (I have no doubt) brilliant new recruits don’t have to even consider feeling like the token BAME/non-graduate/female in a managerial position/person with a mental or physical impairment/etc addition to your team.
Now as a Caucasian, English, heterosexual, middle-class woman perhaps I am seeing this wrong. I have never really had any serious cause to feel excluded based on my race or religion, sexual orientation or socio-economic status. I was, however, raised to see every human being as just that – a human being – equal no matter who they are, where they come from, what they look like, or which god, gods or lack thereof they choose to believe or not believe in. So my opinion comes from empathy rather than personal experience and from experiences of those I am close to who have faced these issues.
It seems that we may now be at risk of chasing ‘diversity’ for diversities sake and I love this industry, I really don’t want it to be shoved under the bus anymore so I’m just going to say this. If you truly want diversity in publishing (and I think in 2016 that you all really do, or should, by now, want it rather than just need it) the process needs to be made more organically than seems to be the case. I mean really, if we were so keen for true diversity across the board we would have to face some great extremes – re-evaluate every role in every position within the industry against all future candidates, actively keep a count of our white, English, middle-class ratios to all others, read every single manuscript that makes it through your doors or else put a call out solely for manuscripts from more diverse authors and then only publish those until numbers start to match those written by white, middle-aged males – the list could go on. I think there is always the risk of going so far that you go way past equality or diversity and just end up targeting another group, albeit unintentionally.
Rather than this, I have much simpler ideas in which to ensure diversity within our industry. Treat every single applicant, submission and contact blindly. Accept purely on merit, not on their ability to attend more unpaid internships than others, or on what their ‘diversity’ might bring you. Look to the universities offering BA & MA Publishing courses because they in turn have been out there promoting the industry to those at schools with students who come from all walks of life. Stop taking yourselves so seriously and go into those schools directly, up and down the UK and talk to anyone who will listen about the ever-changing industry that is publishing. Be the sort of publisher that treats not only George R R Martin like a god but also Sarah, the single mum from East London who has been writing her manuscript in-between raising her children and working full-time or Amira, the Syrian refugee who loves to write, like a goddess. Offer fewer but higher-quality paid internships and in so doing don’t miss out on all of those who truly want the opportunity to work in this great industry but may not be able to afford a month of unpaid labour. Open yourselves up to all those people who are out there who would love, even for a minute, the chance to be a part of the world that you are every day.