I believe that there is no constructive rejection of writers of colour by the UK publishing industry.
Before I am heckled out, let me first explain that I am not immune to rejections. I too wonder if having won awards and being published internationally has any meaning in the UK. “You are good out there but not in the UK!” seems to be the message.
There is no denying that, as reported by 'the Writing the Future Report' by Spread the Word, the literary establishment is white. Nevertheless, my perspective remains a different one.
Here is why. Tap into my true experience to warm you up. I am in my publisher’s den, facing the publisher’s entire team. It is a cold and lonely place on my side. I am being offered money for the book, but not my name on my book as the “name Patel will not sell”. The group ask if the publisher could print his name as author. I said: “No, of course not.”
Most people would have cried 'foul' at the very least, and maybe even branded it as racism. But the publisher had allowed me a foot through his door in the first place, so I refuse to believe any ugly motive. I argued my case instead. The book was published, went out of print in no time, and we remained friends until the publisher passed away.
It taught me that what looks on the surface like prejudice may have many other layers to explore and resolve. Prejudice can be victim’s perspective.
I started the Word MasaIa Foundation to help create positive conditions and opportunities for BAME writers. I am aiming for a culture of positive actions and results, rather than a narrative based on whingeing, which has a potential to backfire.
I believe that there is no deliberate exclusion of BAME talent in the publishing sector. Instead, I believe it is apathy which gives rise to habitual exclusion, an apathy towards Indian diaspora writers on the part of British publishers which pushes Indian writers into the arms of Indian publishers. This shifts responsibility and results in Britain being seen as a white market.
So many writers face rejection here that they run to India, where they can be published by branches of the same publishing houses that don’t publish them in the UK. That is not constructive exclusion. It is more to do with misconceptions, being downright unhelpful, apathy, patronising, daftness, and a lack of conscious inclusion on the part of publishers that ends up creating exclusion.
Conscious inclusion requires rising above the idea that ‘the name Patel will not sell’. Stereotyping, by agents and publishers, of the expected subject matter from BAME authors is an attitude that also requires conscious effort to change it.
To counter the apathy, at Word Masala, I have brought together writers, organisations and publishers who have responded positively. Many publishers remain uninterested, so there is more work to do.
Writer and poet Yogesh Patel runs Skylark Publications UK and non-profit Word Masala Foundation, which produces bi-monthly e-zines to promote Indian diaspora poets and writers. It also awards poets, publishers, editors and others to recognise their excellence and positive actions in publishing BAME writers. The next ceremony is at the House of Lords on 22nd June.
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