The Society of Authors has said that a “publishing industry which does not reflect society fails writers, readers and itself”.
Nicola Solomon, the organisation’s chief executive, and HarperCollins’ director of people John Athanasiou have backed a new report calling for improved diversity across the trade.
Released last week, ‘Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Market Place’, commissioned by writer development agency Spread the Word, found that an “old mono-culture still prevails” in publishing.
The report’s author Danuta Kean said that publishing needs to “become less homogenised, with editors, publicists and marketeers at all levels who have an innate understanding of the diverse communities that make up this small island”.
Solomon said the report’s finding’s “should not come as a surprise to anyone in the industry, but they are still concerning”.
“Readers of all backgrounds deserve a choice of reading materials by a diverse range of writers,” she said. “Literature should reflect the diversity of society and also go further – imagination is a powerful tool for opening new possibilities, and books can be a force for change. A failure to engage in culture, and poor literacy and imagination skills, leads to a failure in empathy. Publishers have a duty - to help authors reach readers and for readers to reach authors. They also have a need - to be relevant and attract readers to ensure their own survival. A publishing industry which does not reflect society fails writers, readers and itself.”
Athanasiou said publishers “like most industry sectors, are waking up to the business and ethical purpose and benefits of diversity”.
“In publishing, the model has very much been about English language publishing, but with the shifts and growth in global acquisition and foreign language publishing, and digital, this will be a factor that will help support the change required in the industry,” he continued. “At HarperCollins, we have started the journey of changing the culture to one of inclusion for our employees, authors and consumers alike. This will help support more diversity in our acquisition of authors and content. It's a big job, but we are not afraid to ask for help or to work in partnership with others.”
Chris Gribble, chief executive of Writers’ Centre Norwich, and director of Norwich UNESCO City of Literature, said: “Writing the Future is an important contribution to a vital debate for everyone who loves reading. At the heart of the case for diversity is a relatively simple proposition: the more diverse our publishers, writing courses, literary festivals, literary agencies and bookselling industries are, the more exciting, challenging and enjoyable will be the books and writing that emerge. Writing the Future takes a long and steady look at the wider literary world and has started a debate that must now continue.”
The report was officially launched at London Book Fair last Thursday (16th April).
Writing the Future “strongly recommends that unpaid internships be ended and that pay at lower levels of publishing be raised to attract graduates from less affluent backgrounds”. And Kean said that publishers needed to carry out a “cultural bias audit” to “understand why, after 10 years of diversity initiatives, they are still falling at the first hurdle”.
Spread the Word also said that literary festivals needed to do better, saying that of the three big festivals - Edinburgh, Cheltenham and Hay - only 4% of the 2,000 plus authors who featured in 2014 were UK black and Asian writers of all genres, with 1% of those being UK-based writers of adult fiction.