Novelist Kamila Shamsie has said that traditional publishers’ focus on the “bottom line value of pounds and pennies” has meant a shift away from building authors’ careers in the long-term and created a lack of diversity and new voices.
Shamsie, speaking at the The Bookseller's Author Day, compared the climate of today to that of the late 1990s, when she began her career, and was told by her then-agent Alexandra Pringle that her publisher would be hoping to invest in her in the long-term.
Shamsie, who is published by Bloomsbury, said: “I was told that it was great if my first book worked, but we should be thinking more of a long career and looking down the line to my second, third, fourth or even fifth book. This wouldn’t happen today.”
The Orange Prize-shortlisted author said that publishers today are not interested in this sort of long-term development, “instead they will spend a lot time throwing a lot of money this year at books that look a lot like last year’s bestsellers”.
Shamsie, who was named the Best of Young British Novelist in 2013, acknowledged that publishers needed to think about profitability, but argued that a “steady status quo” meant they remained focused on “only the authors who are the hare and not the tortoise”.
The lack of career building has meant that a less diverse range of writers are coming through, said Shamsie.
She challenged publishers to ask themselves what “value” means in terms of authors, whether it was the merely the bottom line or bringing in fresh voices. “In terms of diversity, we need to think about why [a lack of diversity] happens, and perhaps we need to look at the demographics of publishing houses.”
In June, author Kamila Shamsie suggested the industry should try a 'Year of Publishing Women' to help reset the gender imbalance when it comes to published authors. Shamsie said the basic premise of the initiative, which she proposed would take place in 2018 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote in the UK, was that “all new titles published in that year should be written by women”.