I have been writing children's books for over 10 years now. I have worked as an editor in children's publishing houses for 15. For the last 18 months, I have been mentoring writers and illustrators of colour, and doing my best to try and explain how publishing works. How to navigate this industry whilst sharing my experiences of being an author and editor who is black. Thing is, this navigator is on new terrain now!
Publishing as I have always known it is changing. The honest conversations I am having with industry professionals around race and the marginalization of certain voices is unprecedented. Often, these conservations feel raw and personal and even exhausting - but they are all necessary.
The letter from the Black British Writers’ Guild, which I was proud to sign, and the recent Rethinking Diversity in Publishing report are forcing a long-overdue examination around the lack of equality when it comes to the careers of black creatives and publishing professionals.
It is an exhilarating time to be a black creative or publisher right now because we are pushing for parity and it feels like the industry aren’t just listening - they are actually taking action.
It is an uncomfortable time to be a black creative or publisher right now because we are in the spotlight and the focus is intense.
The door to opportunity seems to be wide open. Offers of work and amazing prospects may well be pouring in for you as the industry looks inwards and realizes that they have got to reflect the whole of society. That’s their job.
Do you hover at the threshold of that door? You remember when it was most definitely shut and you were left knocking. You wonder how long it will really remain open. Does it bother you that opportunities that seemed impossible weeks ago are now in your inbox? That they are born of the epiphanies of a mostly white industry? That some opportunities perhaps come from a place of fear and anxiety? That it has taken this long?
I dwell in this place between exhilaration and uncomfortableness. I am eager to champion and showcase the talent from marginalized communities that I work with, but I still fear this industry might let them down.
I am excited for my future as a creator in a way I have never allowed myself to feel before. Yet, I remember what it felt like to encounter that shut door. To find success in other countries but not my own.
Fear must not hold us back. You have done the work. I have done the work. So for all of you getting signed by agents, being offered book deals by publishers and being optioned by production companies: be proud. For all of you in publishing houses being offered bigger jobs and roles with real power: you earned it through your hard graft.
The door is open. Let’s go through it. Let’s work together to build a publishing industry that affords equal creative freedom to everybody. An industry that gives us all the opportunity to have a seat at the table - and I’m talking the boardroom table. If there is a scramble for your talents, take time to really think about what you want. What you want your legacy to be. Let’s be ready to demand better and continue to demand better.
Send in your stories. Go for those roles. This industry needs you.
Jasmine Richards is an author and editor and the founder of Storymix: a book incubator that creates pathways into publishing for underrepresented voices in children's books.
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