Diversity has been much on the collective book trade’s mind these past few years, and rightly so. Yet, a component of that which is rarely discussed in this context is class.
Let’s be honest, the books business has traditionally been as middle-class as Agas, cream teas and shopping at Waitrose (at the very least - a couple of publishing bosses are bona fide Debrett’s-listed aristocrats). This is not necessarily a bad thing and one’s upbringing does not make it impossible to reach out to all strata of society. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt - probably the poshest ever US president - once said about his favourable-to-the-working-class policies: “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, but where you stand.”
Which brings us to The Bookseller Rising Stars 2017 - backed by the Frankfurt Book Fair and sponsored by Redwood Publishing Recruitment. This is our seventh annual list of the up-and-comers, future leaders of the trade and those long-serving professionals who have changed tack to help revitalise the industry. Our selection process is more or less blind - we look at the submissions and canvas colleagues and competitors to find the people truly going above and beyond.
When we notify the Stars, we interview each of them and invariably start with asking how they entered the trade. An astonishing thing happened this year - at a conservative estimate, half had a somewhat similar origin story: that because of background and/or geography, they initially never even dreamed of a career in the books field - or it just seemed unattainable. Examples include C+W/Curtis Brown’s Richard Pike, who hails from Kentish farming stock; Hay’s Chris Bone, who didn’t think “a lad from Whitby” could ever work for the book festival; and Yorkshire-born Keshini Naidoo, who notes that “you don’t often hear an accent like mine in a publishing boardroom”.
What to make of this? The industry has been saying for quite a few years that it was changing hiring practices to cast a wider net, and some of our Rising Stars may be part of those policies. If so, that bodes well for the book trade as a whole. And it is interesting that the conversations around inclusivity may be affecting the ways in which the Rising Stars approach their jobs. All, no matter their role, mentioned in some way that increasing readership was an essential part of what they do.
But whatever their backgrounds, the Class of 2017 are a remarkable group, selected from more than 300 nominations - by far the highest number of Rising Stars submissions to date. They are ferociously talented and passionate about bringing books to the widest possible audiences. The book trade’s future is in good hands.