Indie publisher launches imprint for BME voices

Indie publisher launches imprint for BME voices

Indie publisher Hashtag Press is launching a new imprint to showcase exclusively BME voices.

Hashtag Press is a collaborative model, based in London and Kent, founded in 2017 by YA and middle grade author Abiola Bello and books publicist Helen Lewis, while Hashtag BLAK will be based on a traditional publishing model, open to both agented and non-agented authors. The imprint will be "100% focused on bringing diversity and inclusion", its founders said.

Launching on 1st July 2019,the imprint's first two books will be written by British black writers. Hashtag Press said the imprint “will showcase the best under-represented voices in the UK with the aim of making publishing fair, inclusive, representative and equal”. 

Bello, who also runs The Author School with Lewis (both pictured), told The Bookseller that they had been considering an imprint based on the traditional (non-hybrid) model for some time. “We founded Hashtag Press in 2017, it grew really, really quickly which took us by surprise,” she said. “We were then thinking we wanted to try a traditional publishing house but with a different aspect, perhaps only female authors or something like that. When the statistics came out showing only 1.96% of authors and illustrators between 2007 and 2017 were British people of colour, that made our decision for us. We’re going to be open to submissions from agents and from authors directly because we want to keep the barriers down.

“We were partly inspired by the amazing work of Jacaranda Books and their 20:20 list which was a risk – and we thought if they can take a risk like that, so can we. Rather than just having conversations about those statistics, we wanted to take action. We’re hoping things like this will trigger bigger publishing houses into doing things like this because they have the money to do it.

“It would be really good to give new authors a chance to get their voices heard. We will focus on black British authors first of all and then branch out to other BME authors. A lot of black authors self-publish because of various barriers. We have decided to focus on fiction and publish in paperback and e-book.

“We contacted Spread the Word [a writers’ development agency in London] and they’ve been really helpful and have put us in contact with the Arts Council who seem very supportive.”

Bello said Hashtag Press titles are stocked in stores such as Waterstones, Foyles, Amazon W H Smith and indie stores and is expanding across the world with a deal being negotiated in Brazil. It is distributed by Star Book Sale.

The press, which is based remotely across London and Kent, is also due to expand its staff. Bello works full-time while Lewis also works for Literally PR, a books publicity agency. Bello said: “We also have two young female members of staff joining us soon, one who is South American and one who is Bulgarian. They have a lot of energy and ideas and we’re really excited about how things are going.”