An open letter to UK publishing from the Black Writers' Guild

An open letter to UK publishing from the Black Writers' Guild

We are the Black Writers’ Guild, representing the Black publishing community in the UK. Our membership group includes over 200 published Black writers, including some of Britain's bestselling authors and leading literary figures. 
The protest movement sweeping the world since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has forced an international soul searching to understand the pervasive racial inequalities that haunt most sectors of our society – including our own major institutions and industries. 
Publishers have taken advantage of this moment to amplify the marketing of titles by their Black authors and release statements of support for the Black communities who have been campaigning for equality for decades.  
Although we welcome your support at this time, we are deeply concerned that British publishers are raising awareness of racial inequality without significantly addressing their own.
We are calling on you to help us tackle the deep-rooted racial inequalities in the major corporate publishing companies and support grassroots Black literary communities such as booksellers, book clubs and the Black Writers’ Guild.
We request the following:

    1    We would like there to be an audit of the books published by Black authors. This should include genres, the submission-to-acquisition ratio of Black authors in the past five years and the median and mode of the advances of Black authors.

We’d also like data on the roles of Black staff across the business. Rather than relying on anecdotal information, the data is crucial for us to better understand the current situation and how each area can be resolved for equality.  

    2    We are concerned that an absence of Black commissioners who understand our communities and nuanced life experiences is limiting the ability to find the stories that best capture and reflect the sensibilities within them, to market them and also identify new talent across a broad range of areas. We are calling on publishers to hire Black commissioners at every level of their companies.

    3    We are aware that there is a worrying absence of Black publishing staff in key positions in sales, marketing and publicity departments. These roles are vital in the acquisitions process and, in addition, these specific roles are focused on books reaching readers from a range of backgrounds, so diversity is essential. This also extends to designers and illustrators who are an important part of the messaging and engagement of a book – there is a woeful lack of Black talent in this area.

    4    One of the biggest complaints about publishers amongst Black writers who do not start out with a notable profile is that our books are misunderstood by both editors and the marketing departments. Our books can often require additional support to reach the audiences who should be sought beyond the usual retailer pathways. We would like publishers to create a ring-fenced fund for marketing and specialist publicity focus to support the books of new and emerging Black talent.

    5    We are deeply concerned by the absence of any Black members on core leadership boards. In 2020 this is unacceptable as well as unsustainable in the modern world. We are asking publishers to address and rectify this immediately.

    6    We would like publishers to help us lobby to expand the pool of literary agents and build a network of Black literary agents and talent scouts for emerging Black talent that reaches beyond London into Black communities in the nations and regions. This should also extend to buyers and booksellers to ensure the whole supply chain is knowledgeable and committed to working with our narratives.

    7    We ask that publishers make an additional financial commitment to new awards recognising and amplifying Black talent as well as other initiatives such as a festival, and a literary magazine that can help build and foster readers from the Black community.

    8    We believe there is a disconnect between Black stakeholders in publishing and senior decision-makers in the industry. We believe each company should have a mechanism for stakeholders and senior executives to have a direct relationship to discuss concerns and trends in the output of publishers. We would like to work with publishers to create this.

We maintain that all of these requests will not only help to guard against pervasive racial inequality but will unearth more talent and help nurture a thriving literary culture in this country. We ask for your partnership in achieving this and look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,
The Black Writers’ Guild

Abidemi Sanusi
Adeola Solanke
Adjoa Wiredu
Afua Hirsch
Ale McKenzie
Alexandra Sheppard
Aniefiok 'Neef'  Ekpoudom
Anni Domingo
Avril E. Russell
Azariah France-Williams
Benjamin Zephaniah
Bernardine Evaristo
Bryan Judith
Candice Carty-Williams
Carol Russell
Catherine Johnson
Charlene Allcott
Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff
Cherish Shirley
Cheryl Ndione
Chine McDonald
Clementine Burnley
Cleo Lake
Courttia Newland
Daniel Taylor
Daniella Dash
David Olusoga
Degna Stone
Denise Saul
Derek Bardowell
Derek Owusu
Desiree Reynolds
Diana Evans
Dianna Hunt
Dipo Baruwa-Etti
Dorothy Koomson
Dr Althea-Maria Rivas
Elijah Lawal
Elontra Hall
Emma Dabiri
Esua Jane Goldsmith
Evan Larbi
Frances Williams
Gabriella Beckles-Raymond
Georgina Lawton
Inua Ellams
Irenosen Okojie
Jade Benn
Jasmine Richards
Jeffrey Boakye
Jemilea Wisdom-Baako
Jendella Benson
Jennifer Nansubuga
Jessica Lauren Elizabeth
Jessica Morgan
Johny Pitts
Kayo Chingonyi
Kehinde Andrews
Keith Jarrett
Kit de Waal
Kuba Shand-Baptiste
Kwadjo Dajan
Kwame Kwei-Armah
Lisa Bent
Liv Little
Lola Okolosie
Louise Hare
Louise Ogunnaike
Luan Goldie
Lynda Rosenior-Patt.
Lynsey Martenstyn
Maame Blue
Magdalene Abraha
Malika Booker
Malorie Blackman
Marcus Ryder
Marviene Cole 
Melissa Cummings-Quary
Munroe Bergdorf
Musa Okwonga
Nadifa Mohamed
Nadine Matheson
Natalie Carter
Natasha Bowen
Nels Abbey
Nesrine Malik
Nick Makoha
Nicola Rollock
Nicolas Tyrell Scott
Njambi McGrath
Okechukwu Nzelu
Oladipo Agboluaje
Olumide Popoola
Oluwaseun Matiluko
Omega Douglas
Patrice Lawrence
Paul Gilroy
Paul Mendez
Rachael Corson
Raymond Antrobus
Sara Collins
Sareeta Domingo
Selina Nwulu
Sharmaine Lovegrove
Sharna Jackson
Shaun Clarke
Simon Osunsade
Sir Lenny Henry
Sofia Akel
Stella Akinade-Ahmadou
Stephen Thompson
Symeon Brown
Tolu Agbelusi
Uju Asika
Valerie Brandes
Yomi Sode
Yvonne Battle-Felton
Yvvette Edwards