Women in publishing: what we love, and what we'd change

On May 28th, the winner of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize was announced at an event at Stationers' Hall. Aimée Felone, co-founder of inclusive children's publisher Knights Of, was awarded the £1,000 prize, sponsored by the Society of Young Publishers with the support of the Walwyn family, and hailed for her "astonishing contribution" to the UK publishing scene. Ahead of the announcement, the shortlist were asked to share their thoughts on the publishing industry, and their hopes for the future of the industry. Here’s what they said.

What are you passionate about in publishing?
"Great kids stories that reflect the real world that we live in—one that is home to different, diverse stories and voices. I’m privileged to help publish and celebrate books that push the children’s genre to be even better than it already is."
Aimée Felone, Knights Of (Winner)

"I’m passionate about new voices, about acquiring content and publishing in a way that will build new audiences and readerships and about working toward business models being more author centric and less exploitative."
Crystal Mahey-Morgan, Own It!

"I’m passionate about publishing being fair and being fun. Fair because there are so many levels of bias, inequality, bigotry, snobbery, secrecy and more in publishing. At 404 Ink we try to publish diverse voices, to represent a wider slice of the reader community, to make our finances public to remove ambiguity from the tough business of independent publishing, to make it accessible and open. Fun because my god, publishing can be stuffy. It’s still an industry made up of gatekeeper after gatekeeper and we often lose a sense of humour amongst it all. Sure, it’s hard in these days of Brexit for us to be light hearted, but you know, if we don’t laugh we cry. I often feel like that in publishing. It’s a hard industry and at the very least we can try to make it fun. LET’S HAVE A LAUGH, YEAH?"
Laura Jones, 404 Ink

"Writers. And writing. All the rest is logistics. Which is where we design and curate and make and programme and make offers and services and Other Things (all valuable), but at its heart, it's always about writers writing and finding ways to tell stories. All stories are valid. All stories are valuable. And all are essential to the survival of literature. Regardless of 'outcome' or 'pathway', artists must always be encouraged and supported to be creative, to test, to play, to fail, to do all they need to find their voices. Process not product. Process not product. Process not product."
Aki Schilz, The Literary Consultancy

What one thing would you change in publishing?
"It’s 'secret society' attitudes that mean only a certain section of society even knows publishing is an option. Things are definitely changing, but I would love to see the strict barriers to entry opened."
Aimée Felone, Knights Of

"The elitist nature that exists within its DNA."
Crystal Mahey-Morgan, Own It!

"On a moral level, the issues around paying people properly. And transparency—there’s a lot of secretive notions around ideas of money, etc, and that sort of information could make a difference to those getting into the industry, or even readers. When we do events and people ask us numbers, we give them actual numbers—we also published a blog to demystify the business of publishing for everyone. The main takeaway was the Amazon split, which caused a lot of readers to finally say: I’m done with Amazon for books (excluding self-publishing, etc), because it’s the first time they’d seen why people say Amazon hurts publishing, and it was posted without judgement or expectation. We also saw young professionals and students say it helped them understand how a publisher works as a whole, and not by individual ‘departments’. Being a bit more open on the publishing industry as a business and why people are doing things and not hiding behind the love of books is something I think that will further demystify it and that can only be good for the book world."
Heather McDaid, 404 Ink

"At TLC we work alongside rather than within publishing 'proper', so it's an odd vantage point, but a useful one. I love publishing, deeply, but I want it to do and be better. There are innovators, movers and shakers who as individuals driving initiatives or programmes excite me and give me hope for the future, but we need structural and cultural change to make real innovation possible, and I think that at its heart, publishing is an industry that works along deeply ingrained, traditional power lines that are difficult to challenge at a fundamental level. I just want stories to hold out, without a sense that we're clinging onto something for dear life that we can't really explain to anyone looking in. We need to fling open the doors, not build shiny new guestlists that pretend openness but only concede access to those who 'fit' the agenda du jour."
Aki Schilz, The Literary Consultancy

The Kim Scott Walwyn Prize 2019 shortlist
Aimée Felone, co-founder, Knights Of (Winner)
Aki Schilz, Director, The Literary Consultancy
Crystal Mahey-Morgan, co-owner, OWN IT!
Heather McDaid and Laura Jones, co-founders, 404 Ink
Ola Gotkowska, Contracts Manager, Nosy Crow