Nikesh Shukla and Julia Kingsford's new literary agency, The Good Agency, dedicated to championing under-represented voices in publishing, is receiving a grant for over half a million pounds from Arts Council England.
The Writers’ Centre Norwich is also receiving substantial funding for its three-year programme of work, East Out, connecting the Norwich-based centre with regional, national and international partners.
ACE literature director Sarah Crown called the grants, part of the latest round of ACE's Ambition for Excellence Project grants funded by the National Lottery, "two meaningful investments in the UK's literary infrastructure today". The Good Agency is receiving £581,542 - representing what Crown termed "a significant first step in the Arts Council's commitment to promoting and sustaining diversity in the publishing sector" - while the Writers’ Centre Norwich is receiving £465,000.
The investment in the two projects comes in the wake of ACE and Canelo's report highlighting the "crisis" in literary fiction. After it was published last week, of all the issues the report raised, Crown said then she would most like publishers to consider the issue of diversity "because the problem seems to be getting worse".
She told The Bookseller that Shukla and Kingsford, of The Good Agency, are "ideally placed to make a direct and substantive intervention in this area, and we are glad to be able to support them as they go forward".
Kingsford, co-founder of The Good Agency, said the "wonderful news" of the grant's fruition had made her "exceptionally happy". She first began writing the business plan for the agency, that aims to increase diversity in the publishing industry through its representation of BAME, disabled, working-class and LGBTQ writers, the day Donald Trump was elected to the US presidency. The Good Agency will now be able to embark on its three-year "sustainable" business plan, beginning with the hiring of staff.
While Kingsford plans to work part-time at The Good Agency in a managerial capacity and Shukla close to full-time in an author-facing, developmental role, the agency will bolster its team further by recruiting for an agent to sell rights and for an assistant who it is hoped will be able to grow into the role of a junior agent, at which point another assistant will subsequently be taken on to replace them. Job descriptions are expected to be posted in the New Year in either January or February.
In terms of the kind of writing it hopes to champion, the agency will "genuinely cover everything", according to Kingsford, working with regional writer development agencies like New Writing North and fellow grant receipient Writers’ Centre Norwich, to discover exciting and diverse new talents regardless of genre, whether literary or commercial.
Another "unique selling point" of the agency will be that a "significant proportion" of its budget (the equivalent of another full-time member of staff) will go towards investment in a network of freelance editors who can help writers to develop their work - writers who until then may have had fewer opportunities to hone their craft. In doing so, it is hoped they can address what Kingsford called a "systemic problem" in publishing and be a "more flexible and nimble" agency too.
"It is no mean feat doing an Arts Council funding application. It is an intense amount of work and they obviousy do not take giving large amounts of public money lightly!" said Kingsford. "We have worked really hard in putting together as good a business plan as we can, and now we're just really excited to put it into motion.
"It's been really nice, personally, following our progress from a little bit over a year ago, seeing if there was the appetite for it, to having the conversation with the Arts Council and to being a position a year later where we've got the funding and we're ready to go. It's been quite a long and stressful year but also great being able to do also the crowd-funding for The Good Journal and just to find there's been so much possitivity for it. We really feel like the industry is behind us. We want to work amazingly inclusively with everyone to make sure the publishing industry is where it needs to be in terms of representation, being the industry we all want it to be."
Kingsford said she had been "really hopeful" The Good Agency would secure the grant it needed, sensing it was "the right moment" for it, but had no idea what it was up against.
Acknowledging stiff competition for funding too, Writers’ Centre Norwich's c.e.o. Chris Gribble, said of winning its grant bid that the organisation had hedged its bets by developing two entirely separate business plans for the year ahead. Getting the grant means it is now able to forge ahead with its plans to improve the sector’s capacity to commission, create and tour new work and to connect the centre in Norwich to national and international partners through a series of collaborations, exchanges, residencies and events. It will be working with Galley Beggar Press and Salt Publishing in and around Norwich, helping them promote and develop international markets for their work, including at the London Book Fair, Frankfurt Book Fair and Book Expo America, and online. It is also going to be doing partnership work with UNESCO's worldwide network of Cities of Literature.
"There was huge competition for the fund. We didn't know if it was likely or not [we'd get it] but we are really pleased. We planned around it but we hadn't banked on it by any means," said Gribble. "What's really exciting about it is the opportunity to work with some of these organisations, the estsblished partners like the books fairs and the Southbank Centre and New Writing North, but also new partners like The Good Agency and the sorts of people we want to get involved with.
"Part of this work is to launch ourselves as a national centre of writing, to be a place for international exchange, exploration about what literature means in the 21st century, how writers make a living and how they work, how they're related to the commercial publishing world and the artistically led side of things. For us it's about consolidating partnerships, working with some of the best writers in England and the UK and working to promote conversations about how we maintain access to the best literature."
This year, roughly £11m has gone towards ACE's Ambition for Excellence projects, funded by the National Lottery.
Crown, literature director for ACE, commented: "We're delighted to be able to announce two meaningful investments in the UK's literary infrastructure today. Writers' Centre Norwich's funding will allow them to continue their work in growing and enriching the literary ecology in their region, and promoting it on the national and international stage. Our funding of The Good Agency, meanwhile, represents the Arts Council's commitment to do more to promote and sustain diversity in the publishing sector in the wake of the Canelo report on literary fiction. We believe that Nikesh Shukla and Julia Kingsford are ideally placed to make a direct and meaningful intervention in this area, and we are glad to be able to support them as they go forward."
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