Quick question…

I don’t have much to say (actually I have loads though i’m attempting to be good and upset as few people as I can this year as last year was such a disaster for anyone under 50).

It surely can’t only be me who is baffled by the idea that “diversity” seems only to be tackled by the middle-aged, middle-class (or worse, Tory) white (typically males) out there. This seems to particularly be the case in the publishing industry (though I have seen it elsewhere and welcome your observations where you have too).

I am often baffled – in fact so much so that I consider it worthy of a Phd – by the idea of diversity in publishing. Now that it has been acknowledged as a public problem every Tom, Dick and Harry of a publishing company has started an award, started an internship or started blogging about the many changes their company is making to enhance diversity in publishing but why is it that the majority of the people inititating these ideas seem to be white, middle-aged, middle-class, males?

I genuinely beleive that in order to show true “diversity”, or inclusivity as I prefer to see it, it shouldn’t be led by this majority with some ploys to make a few people happy. Sure, they are usually the folk in power who have the final say, but surely it requires going to the under-represented crowds themselves (be it due to race, class, religion or creed) and asking them “what changes do we need to implement to make our industry a more inclusive one?”, “what would it take for you to feel accepted and heard?”.

I come from a rather priveleged background – white, middle-class, educated – but my parents come from working-class backgrounds with no contacts in the industry, people out there still ask me to slow down “because your accent is too hard to follow” (an East-Midlands accent after ten years in London – not a challange for most) and stared at with shock when I say my BA is in the arts rather than Engljsh Literature. 

If I, a priveleged person, still feel under-represented within the industry I so want to be a part of, then I find it hard to beleive that others out there, less priveleged than I in some ways, don’t certainly feel under or unrepresented. How do we fix this lack of representation? Not from the industry as it is, telling us how to fix it i’m sure, but by embracing fully those who represent these under-represented voices. By asking them “What changes do we need to make?”. By asking them to create the change they want to see and supporting it fully as fellow publishers – that’s how I see true inclusivity within the industry finally being achieved.
By realising that inclusivity goes further than just making the right size hole for someone to fit through in that moment, by exploring avenues to make inclusivity the normaliry rather than a novelty, by publishing voices that truly represent our greater society – that, I think, is far more importamt than another award, another open call for manuscripts, targeting a particular community at a particular time.

I call out for those who feel under-represented within their industry to do the research, fight and scream and shout for more than you are given. You are the people I would hire if I were to start a publishing company. You are the voices we need to hear in 2017 and beyond – yours, mine and thousands of others out there currently left screaming into the void.

‘Ethical’ Book-buying

I’ve been away for quite a while. I won’t bore you with the details but basically there’s been a whole lot going on, both personally and in the world, and not enough time or headspace for everything. But today I felt a little inspired and so decided to ignore the washing up and write instead.

This sunny Sunday morning I had the strongest urge to go be immersed in a lovely (fairly local) independent bookshop I know – The Chiswick Bookshop. I rarely get enough time to go out of my way and visit nowadays but when it opened last year I was so excited. Another indie publisher was taking the leap and opening a physical bookshop and this has been an obsession of mine…well forever.

bookshop

If you love books half as much as I do, you can imagine it was heart-breaking to arrive and see some of my most dreaded posters in the window; “We’re closing. Everything half price”. Needless to say, I went inside, pottered around, looked at every book and item on the shelves and felt genuine grief whilst listening to the staff explaining to the mass of customers that they had to close due to the high rent – the terrible epidemic across our high streets. I bought books and shared my apologies with the staff as the only gestures of solidarity I felt I could make. After all, book people are my tribe, and as book people we stick together anyway we can.

As I walked up the high road I got to thinking – about books, bookshops, publishers, about all the empty shops I passed and all the big chain restaurants, stores and bad coffee shops that surrounded me and I settled on something. I realised  my own personal sense of ‘ethical’ shopping, particularly shopping for books. This isn’t going to change anything really, it won’t force landlords to bring down rents so that we can continue to have the pleasure of independent shops, it won’t necessarily stop any businesses from going under, it won’t change the world that is for sure. But when I do shop, these small principles drive how I do it and I hadn’t realised before that they were even in my head.

  1. If I see a book I want (and can afford at the time) in a physical bookshop, I buy it.
    I’m in the bookshop browsing, using their resources and time, benefitting from their curation and expertise. The least I can do is buy the book I see and want in that environment from the people who allowed me to.

    rrp

  2. I try very hard not to take my phone out in a bookshop (but if I do, I will buy a book from the shop).
    Remember Bernerd Black’s rule – “No phones”? I got it then and I get it now. Perhaps it’s because I have worked in retail and have seen ‘show-housing’ from the business side but to me if you get your phone out in a shop it tends to look like your looking the product up online (perhaps an unfair generalisation but I have known people to do it…ALOT…with no reservation or embarrassment) or actually BUYING the book online where you stand! This is without a doubt the worst thing a customer can do in my mind other than spitting in your face (and I’ve had a few customers sneeze and cough in my face over the years) so just do me a favour and stop visiting shops if this is you!

    There is rarely a time you need to look at your phone in a shop, particularly a bookshop, books aren’t the sort of thing you can buy whilst staring at a screen. But fair enough you might get a call or text that you “absolutely must take” – you don’t have to take it in the shop though. So my rule is, don’t look at your phone, focus on what you’re buying and if you do ‘trip up’ then buy a book. You’ll soon spend less time looking at your phone in shops (it can get expensive)!

    mobilefirst_5

  3. For every book bought on Amazon or as an ebook, buy a book in a physical bookshop too.
    I’m not going to lie – I buy on Amazon occasionally and I have a Kindle (funnily enough I had avoided this like the plague until being surrounded by publishers who owned them, who asked if I had one “as it will make some of the work easier”). Actually, it’s rare I buy a physical book from Amazon (I don’t live so very far from several indie bookshops) – if I fancy an instantaneous read (usually late at night) then I buy an ebook. It happens. I have learned to limit my guilt by making sure for every book I buy in this way, I buy a book in a physical bookshop for balance soon after. It makes me feel better, it means I don’t get too lazy, I get to enjoy pretty books in their natural habitat and later implant them into my natural habitat – I feel it’s a win win situation.

    bookshoppaint

  4. I never argue about the price of a book (even an ebook).
    I never argue, I may decide not to buy, but I don’t go searching it out cheaper elsewhere. Books have a value – it should never come down to who is selling it cheaper (at least not for me). If I won’t pay what is being charged for it then do I really want it? Do I really need it? Probably not. If I want a book enough then I have no qualms paying full price for it or taking advantage if it so happens to be discounted when I do see it. Personally there are some books which, once read, I will say are worth far more than their cover price because of the enjoyment I got out of them or vice versa. The one thing I can say for sure is that a book must surely be worth more than the price of that coffee in town!

There you go – four points – as I said they won’t change the world but I feel better for acknowledging that they live in my brain, guiding my book shopping habits and I feel quite ok with telling you about them.

If you happen to be in Chiswick over the next three days, pop into The Chiswick Bookshop – show them some solidarity, either through a sale or your words. As I said earlier, we  book people need to stick together.