Leodora Darlington, publishing executive at Bookouture, has launched Owned Voices - a creative writing workshop focused specifically on nurturing writing talent from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds in publishing.
Open to writers who identify as LGBTQ+, BAME or working class, and to writers with disabilities, the first of Owned Voices' writing workshops will take place on 23rd February at The Book Club in London (10am-1pm). According to the Owned Voices website, it will be on the theme of beginnings, comprising creative writing exercises focused on book openings and exploring how best to submit to agents and publishers. There will also be a visit from an industry guest speaker.
Course sessions will typically have capacity for 12 students and, from 2019, these will be run every two months. It will cost £35 per person to attend, although two of the 12 places will be made available for free on a needs-basis. They will be led by Darlington herself, who in addition to her experience as a publishing professional (promoted in July to publishing executive) last year graduated with a Distinction MA in Creative Writing from Brunel University.
"There’s been a lot of discussion about diversity—or lack thereof—in publishing, and it’s fantastic that we’re opening up conversations about it. I think it’s important to ensure that actions go along with those conversations in order to make real change," said Darlington. "There are so many exciting untold stories out there, and it’s important that those brilliant stories are heard. I’m unbelievably excited about the future of Owned Voices and the writers that engage with it."
As well as the writers' workshop, Darlington is separately working with Spread the Word (whose 2015 report incidentally inspired Owned Voices) and with Bookouture on an open call competition seeking manuscripts from underrepresented writers. While Spread the Word has agreed to screen submissions, Bookouture's editorial team will then offer feedback on six of the most promising manuscripts submitted.
To apply for a place on the upcoming Owned Voices workshop, interested applicants should get in touch with 2,000 words of creative writing by 9th February 2019.
To enter the open call competition, the prize for which is detailed feedback from the Bookouture team for six authors, submissions should be made via the Spread the Word website. It requires from underrepresented writers a sample of their manuscript (up to 2,000 words from the beginning); as well as the full manuscript of their book (of no more than 100,000 words); and a two-three line pitch for the novel. The deadline for this is 4th February 2019.
Oliver Rhodes, founder and managing director at Bookouture, commented: "Bookouture is thrilled to be working on this open call with Spread the Word, and we're proud to offer underrepresented writers the opportunity to receive feedback on their work. We're always on the lookout for new and exciting voices, and we hope that initiatives like the open call and the Owned Voices workshops will bring them not only to us, but to the wider publishing world, too."
Bobby Nayyar, programme manager at Spread the Word, added: "Spread the Word is delighted to be working with Bookouture on an open call for submissions from writers from diverse backgrounds. These provide crucial feedback to writers who do not have access to manuscript assessment services. We hope that this call will help discover exciting new voices in commercial fiction."
Other digital publishers working towards achieving greater diversity in commercial fiction include Hera Books, a digital-first press set up over the summer by Keshini Naidoo and Lindsey Mooney to champion "diverse voices in the genres that sell in volume". The goal is to edge the industry closer towards "true inclusivity in fiction".
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