Publishing should be as “demographically representative as possible” in a bid to tackle diversity, delegates to The Bookseller's Author Day conference have heard.
Speaking as part of Author Day on a panel entitled 'What Authors Can Do: Allied Interests', panelists also highlighted the battle for recognition being faced by illustrators and translators.
Nikesh Shukla (pictured), author and editor of Rife magazine, said people in the industry needed to be “less defensive” about calls for more diversity.
“We all have a collective responsibility to change things,” he said. “It’s not your fault, it’s the industry’s fault, but we’re all responsible for that industry while we want to be a part of it.”
Cathy Rentzenbrink, contributing editor at The Bookseller, pointed out the exclusion of women and people of colour from awards lists, including the recent Samuel Johnson Prize longlist and the Goldsmiths Prize shortlist. She said: “I don’t know why we’re surprised, we live in a sexist [and] racist society.”
She added: “[Women] are constantly being drip-fed that their achievements mean nothing compared to the care and well-being of men with whom they share their lives.” Publishers should also “put some women and girls into stories,” Rentzenbrink added.
Conversely, author Jonathan Emmett highlighted the lack of men involved in children’s picture books. He said that last year (2014), the Carnegie Greenaway award was judged last year (2014) by an all-woman panel for the second year running. On the 2015 panel, there were just two men among the 13 judges and there have occasionally been a few men in past panels, Emmett said. He also suggested that according to Bowker research (Understanding the Children's Book Consumer in the Digital Age 2013 report) “84% of children’s books are bought by female buyers”. This, he said, showed that typical female tastes were demonstrated in children’s books which may be one reason boys don’t read as much as girls.
“We do tend to be very tribal about the gender debate,” Emmett said. “Pro-boy doesn’t mean anti-girl. We need to be pro-boy and pro-girl, but particularly in children’s picture books, we need to be pro-boy. Things that boys tend to favour aren’t on the menu. Children’s picture books aren’t as diverse as they ought to be. As authors we’d like everyone to read… we need to be as demographically representative as possible.”
The panel also discussed how illustrators and translators were “peculiarly invisible” in the industry.
Louise Rogers Lalaurie, a literary translator, argued that translators played a “tremendous” part in ensuring diverse texts reach new audiences.
Sarah McIntyre, illustrator and author, said that for illustrators who generally “don’t have enough money to live[…] recognising we exist and remembering our names” goes a long way. She said: "An illustrator's name is their brand, so if their name isn't known, they can't make money."
“It’s ironic because right now pictures are at the centre of what’s happening in the digital era,” McIntyre said.
She blamed the lack of recognition for illustrators partly on “bad metadata” on the part of the publishers who often don’t name illustrators on websites. “You can make more money if people can find that information,” McIntyre said. “Illustrators are valuable resources. Don’t pretend they don’t exist.”
A statement, based on discussion points raised at Author Day, will be presented at the FutureBook Conference 2015 (4th December), during the session "Writing the future: author-centric publishing" at 12.10pm. For more information or tickets visit thebookseller.com/futurebook/2015.