Penguin Random House UK is launching an "Inclusion Tracker" to measure the diversity of its authors and staff in the pursuit of a new company-wide goal to "reflect UK society by 2025".
The aim is to bring the composition of its authors and staff into line with that of UK society, in terms of social mobility, ethnicity, gender, disability, and sexuality. PRH has said it wants to see "a positive shift towards this goal every year through to 2025".
To measure its progress in achieving the aim, PRH will now be asking newly-acquired authors and new employees to complete a voluntary "Inclusion Tracker". PRH will then publish this data on its website each year.
The publisher will begin sending out the online questionnaire on 1st July to all authors it is signing new contracts with, and all new employees who join the company. The Inclusion Tracker will ask for information covering gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and social mobility. According to PRH, all data will be treated anonymously and confidentially, and completing the form will be entirely optional.
Tom Weldon, c.e.o., Penguin Random House UK, said: "We are determined to publish a wider range of voices and books to more fully reflect the diverse society we live in.
“Books and reading can make an enormous difference to people’s lives, expanding our imaginations and empathy and helping us make sense of different perspectives.
The news coincides with the launch of the publisher's 2017 WriteNow campaign on 13th June, a scheme launched last year to find and develop new writers from under-represented communities. Earlier this year it selected 12 writers from over 2,000 applications, including authors from LGBTQ, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and socio-economically marginalised communities and writers with a disability, who are now being mentored by PRH editors to help refine their manuscripts and bring their books to market.
In its second year, the publisher will partner with Spread the Word, Literature Works and New Writing North to offer 150 aspiring writers access to free regional events in London, Bristol and Newcastle, where they will get one-on-one time with editors as well as access to literary agents and published authors. These will include Elif Shafak, Kit de Waal, Afua Hirsch and Fox Fisher. The 150 will then be whittled down to 10 "exceptional writers" who PRH ultimately would like to publish.
Weldon added: “As the UK’s number one publisher, our job is to tell the stories which aren’t often told. That’s why with WriteNow we are taking our teams outside of London and into communities to meet and mentor aspiring authors. We want to find and bring to life writing that connects with all readers, bringing the best new under-represented voices to bookshelves.”
Claire Malcolm, chief executive of New Writing North, a development agency supporting creative writing and reading in the North of England, added: "New Writing North is delighted to be working on WriteNow and that this pioneering and important project is coming to the North East. With Penguin Random House we share a mission to ensure that British writing is representative, inclusive and diverse.”
At the end of last year, statistics partly compiled by The Bookseller showed that of the thousands of titles published in 2016 in the UK, fewer than 100 were by British authors from a non-white background. It also found of the top 100 bestselling titles of 2016, just one was by a British writer from an ethnic minority background.
The Publishers Association (PA) will welcome the drive to pin down data on diversity in the industry. The trade organisation announced at the start of this year at the Westminster Media Forum it would also be looking into a series of measurable “commonly agreed targets” for the industry, “so that we’re not having the same discussions [around diversity] in 10 years’ time”. Its president Lis Tribe, m.d. Hodder Education, just last month urged publishers to set benchmarks. “Individual companies are working on this, but we can encourage and support, and I think benchmarks are interesting and can help. We can say, ’This is where we want to get to’," she said at the time.
Other initiatives proposed to help tackle the issue of the under-representation of authors of colour in the industry include the Jhalak Prize for Fiction. Won in March by Jacob Ross for The Bone Readers (Peepal Tree), it launched last year to help open publishing up to British writers of colour across all genres, albeit not without ruffling a few feathers - a “discrimination” complaint was lodged by Philip Davies MP with the Equality & Human Rights Commission, although later dismissed. It received 118 submissions in total but an analysis showed that across the genres, only around 10 books aimed at adults were aimed at the mass market.
Little, Brown Book Group meanwhile recently launched a standalone "inclusive" imprint called Dialogue Books, spearheaded by Sharmaine Lovegrove, to "source, nurture and publish writing talent – and reach audiences – from areas currently under-represented or not covered by the mainstream publishing industry".