Dear next generation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) publishers, collecting together the thoughts and opinions of British BAME publishers, past and present, came about from a very simple place. Last year I gave birth to my first child. Having a kid is like pressing a huge reset button on your life. As the dawning realisation hits you that you’re now responsible for a whole other human being—the waves of utter terror, crashing together with the most incredible joy—one overriding thought crystallises in diamond-hard clarity: what kind of future do I want to see for my child?
Next year HarperCollins celebrates 200 years of publishing. It’s a phenomenal achievement. Two centuries’ worth of brilliant books, across all categories and for all ages and tastes. Millions of people around the world inspired, moved, stimulated and entertained by the simple, unadulterated act of reading words on a page. We have seen wave upon wave of change in our business in that time—yet one thing remains unchanged. People love to read, and they always will. Books are an intrinsic part of human culture. Therefore how—and critically, by whom—those books are published and propelled towards these millions of readers is quite important.
I’m a passionate advocate for the need for more—many more—acquiring editors from a BAME background in our industry. Quite frankly, it’s the fastest, most effective way we’ll tackle the overwhelming lack of diversity and the fact that the content we produce doesn’t always reflect the society in which we live today. It’s not rocket science. If the decision-makers are not diverse, nor will our books be. And with the make-up of our country changing dramatically, this action is urgent. When I came into publishing in the mid-1990s, England and Wales’ population was roughly 4% BAME. Today, it’s nearly 15%. It has been predicted that by 2050, the US will be the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.
I came into publishing with nothing more than a bucket-load of energy, ideas and an English Literature degree from the University of Sussex. My love of books and reading came from my mum, who each week took me to the library—for herself, as well as for me. I grew up never thinking that books weren’t for me. So it has never crossed my mind, not once, that publishing wasn’t for me either.
My career in publishing is almost two decades old now. Sure, it’s been a juggling act of careful budgeting and the odd dodgy flatshare, but if you love what you do each day and believe in it, the juggle is worth it.
All the common misconceptions about publishing that might put you off: forget about them! It’s becoming much easier to get that first job now, entry-level schemes are popping up everywhere. HarperCollins even launched a traineeship scheme this year, specifically aimed at BAME graduates. Unpaid work experience and rich parents to rely upon, which when I started out seemed to be prevalent, are at last dying out.
And when you get that job? Hold on to your ideas—and speak up. It’s so important that your voice is heard. The most successful books I have published have been the books other people either didn’t get, or didn’t see coming. Swimming against the tide makes for quite a powerful swimmer!
And though we may be small in number, don’t forget that there’s a long and rich line of brilliant BAME publishers who have preceded you, and are still around you: people who have achieved some incredible things.
You can be one of them.
Natalie Jerome is non-fiction publisher at HarperCollins.