An “old mono-culture still prevails” in publishing, despite efforts to make the industry more diverse, a new study has claimed.
Research for ‘Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Market Place’ found that more 84% of publishers and 97% of agents think that publishing is only “a little diverse” or “not diverse at all”.
The study, commissioned by writer development agency Spread the Word, surveyed and conducted interviews with writers from a variety of backgrounds, as well as literary agents, and mainstream and independent publishers, with the aim of finding out whether progress is being made on cultural diversity.
The report’s editor Danuta Kean said black and Asian authors reported “that they felt pressured into delivering a ‘certain kind of book’, which conformed to a white trade’s perception of what was ‘authentically’ black or Asian”.
Publishing needs to “become less homogenised, with editors, publicists and marketeers at all levels who have an innate understanding of the diverse communities that make up this small island” unless it wanted to risk becoming “a 20th century throwback increasingly out of touch with a 21st century world,” wrote Kean in her introduction to the report.
Sue Lawther, director of Spread the Word, said: “We commissioned Writing the Future to take the temperature of an industry we suspected could be in better health. After reading the findings, it is disappointing to realise that things are as bad, or possibly even worse, than we imagined.
“Despite all the hard work, good intentions and a ‘signing up’ to the principles of diversity, it seems that an old mono-culture still prevails.”
White novelists are more likely to have an agent for their debut than those from a Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background, the research found. Of the BAME authors questioned, 47% said their debut was agented, compared to 64% of white novelists.
Of the authors from a BAME background, 42% wrote literary fiction, while just 4% were crime writers.
Novelist Bernadine Evaristo said: “For the past few years, we have seen a return to the literary invisibility of the past, concealed by a deceptive tokenism. Where are we in British fiction? I am one of the lucky few who are still published, but where are all the new BAME writers?”
Of the literary agents who answered the survey, 32% said the most significant challenge they faced in improving cultural diversity in their client list was finding BAME authors; 22% put it down of a lack of diverse workforce, while 5% said there was a lack of market demand.
Writing the Future will be officially launched at London Book Fair on Thursday 16th April with a panel discussion featuring Kean; report consultant Mel Larson; HarperCollins’ director of people John Athanasiou; Jacaranda Books’ founder and publisher Valerie Brandes; Antonia Byatt, director, literature and south east at Arts Council England; novelist and short story writer Leone Ross; and Rukhsana Yasmin, who was named a Rising Star by The Bookseller in 2014.
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