What do you want to be when you grow up? When I was a child, as far as I was aware, if I was going to be successful and make it in the world, I had three choices: doctor, lawyer or accountant.
After graduating from De Montfort University I found myself in a recruitment office in west London, where the adviser recommended I put my theatrical skills to use... in sales. So I went from stage-managing “Arsenic and Old Lace” at university, to interviewing for entry-level sales jobs, and I quickly realised that routine, nine-to-five roles weren’t for me. Eventually I interviewed for a role with Macmillan in its special sales department. I was offered the job, and haven’t looked back since.
Although I loved books, until then I hadn’t known what a career in publishing involved. And it was in this industry that I could see a future for myself. It was creative, and it excited me. In the early years I was conscious I was in a minority—I could count on one hand the number of BAME staffers I knew—but I can honestly say I never felt that I encountered obstacles because I was from a BAME background. My personal experience has been wholly positive, and I have always been rewarded on results.
Today I’m c.e.o. of Kings Road Publishing, part of Bonnier Publishing, which has five c.e.o.s, two of whom are women from BAME backgrounds. I believe it’s crucial for BAME staff coming into our business to see that there are no obstacles between them and the top: all you need to thrive is to be entrepreneurial, to think differently and to work hard. But the truth is we’re faced with a staggering shortage of BAME candidates. At Bonnier Publishing, we’re proud to be a dominant force in mass-market publishing and in the trade. Our mantra is “publishing for everyone”, so we are eager for our business to become more representative of the diverse audiences we’re selling to.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I believe there are two key areas we should be working on, as an industry, to promote ethnic diversity. Firstly, what we publish has to be brought up to date. We must attract more authors and illustrators from BAME backgrounds so that stories are told from first-hand experience. BAME communities have evolved over the past few years and many of the stereotypes held no longer exist. These changes need to be shared through stories, as through books we inform society, and the more informed we are, the more empathetic we become. There are some authentic voices, but there simply aren’t enough of them, especially in genre fiction. Ayisha Malik’s Sofia Khan is Not Obliged (twenty7), a novel about the weird and wonderful world of Muslim dating, is a great recent example, as is A A Dhand’s Street of Darkness (Bantam Press), following Sikh investigator Harry Virdee.
Secondly, we need to look outside of the publishing world and actively reach out to BAME communities. Our major challenge at Bonnier Publishing is attracting applications from BAME candidates in the first place, so our aim is to create awareness of publishing in these communities—and we believe this should begin at primary school. I’ve had the privilege of working with passionate and talented people throughout my publishing career, and by sharing my story with these communities, I’m hoping I can persuade more talented people of colour to come and join us.
Perminder Mann is c.e.o. of Kings Road Publishing.