The book world is changing. And despite being notoriously slow-moving, the last few years have seen the industry take a long, hard look at itself, and question how it can better reflect its readers and society. Various pledges have been made and initiatives set up. Yet, again, and again, industry reports have shown us how white, middle-class and London-centric our industry still is, both in terms of workforce and the range of writers being supported and published. The lessons from these findings are clear: if you don’t have a diverse workforce or product, sooner or later you will disappear.
So, what is to be done? If our industry is, as it claims, committed to tackling inclusivity then we need to start diversifying our workforces and, perhaps more importantly, dispersing across the UK in order to better engage with and embolden a new generation of writers, readers and aspiring publishers.
The provocation, the invitation, then, is this: set up outside of London.
By moving away from traditional publishing centres, together we can reshape and redefine the current literary landscape. Publishing – and the arts more widely – should be in the business of bringing in perspectives from the peripheries; yet it is one of the most centralised and metropolitan of all cultural industries. If we want our industry to survive, or even flourish, we need to challenge this ‘old monoculture’ and embed ourselves more thoroughly in different spaces and communities across the UK. The business case for this is an obvious one: by moving outside of the capital, publishers can also slash overheads, increase profits and salaries. And that is to say nothing of the potential readers out there whose tastes and experiences are currently being ignored.
Which brings us to the moral case for this provocation: how much talent do we lose because, for a lot of people, London is too expensive, too far away, or, frankly, too chaotic to move to? What message do we send and what narrative do we build when entry to this industry relies so heavily on insider networks and the wealth within one’s background?
To bring about real and long-lasting change, we need to encourage greater collaboration and dialogue between publishers of all sizes within the industry, and be bolder in our decision-making, recruitment and acquisitions policy. And what could be bolder, more transformative, than bursting the publishing bubble, and reconfiguring the industry, so the peripheries can inform the whole.
But there's no point just agreeing with this sentiment. Here is our Eight Point Plan, for genuinely changing your publishing house. Who's in?
- Sign up to the Spare Room Project, if you haven't already, and offer accommodation for someone living outside of London while they undertake an internship or mentorship.
- Commit to paying all your interns the relevant Living Wage (in most cases, this will be the London Living Wage, which is currently £10.20/hour).
- Attend the Northern Fiction Alliance roundtable on regional diversity in Autumn 2018.
- Undertake an internal workforce audit (including geographical background) and provide the Northern Fiction Alliance with the data on an annual basis.
- Commit to publishing more regional writers as part of your editorial programme, and develop a strategy to reach audiences outside the capital (and literary festivals).
- Sign up to Comma’s annual cross-company mentorship scheme that will connect Northern publishing professionals with industry experts and peers from both inside and outside of the region.
- Encourage the next generation of publishers by volunteering to speak at industry and public events outside of London, such as And Other Stories' 'Is Publishing For Me?' open days across the North, and Comma's National Creative Writing Graduate Fair.
- Set up a regional office in one of the cultural hubs outside of London.
The Northern Fiction Alliance
Supported by Arts Council England, the Northern Fiction Alliance was founded in 2016 by four of the UK’s leading independents – Manchester’s Comma Press, Leeds’ Peepal Tree Press, Liverpool’s Dead Ink Books, and Sheffield’s And Other Stories – to showcase the creativity, diversity and spirit of risk-taking that sets publishers in the North of England apart. Members include: Bluemoose Books, Tilted Axis Press, Mayfly Press, Saraband, Route, Wrecking Ball Press, and Valley Press.