SPCK has been accused of “cashing in” on the success of Reni Eddo-Lodge by launching a book with a similar title and cover to 2017's Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (Bloomsbury).
We Need to Talk About Race by London pastor Ben Lindsay, billed as an examination of “the black experience in white majority churches” and dubbed a "must-read for the UK church" by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, was released by the Christian publisher today (18th July).
But authors and social media users were quick to point out how similar Lindsay's book looks to Eddo-Lodge’s acclaimed bestseller. Among them was Slay In Your Lane co-author Yomi Adegoke, who had her own well-publicised row with BBC Sport over an advertising campaign using the phrase.
SPCK’s c.e.o. Sam Richardson stood by the book’s design when contacted by The Bookseller today as Eddo-Lodge said the title and cover design were “disappointingly derivative” of her book and Bloomsbury designer Greg Heinimann’s work.
Eddo-Lodge said: “Neither the author or publisher of We Need to Talk… reached out to me prior to publication of the work. I have not been consulted about the book or interviewed for it. I have not read the book and have not received a proof copy.
“I recognise that imitation and comparison titles and covers are core to publishing’s business model, as well as vital to signifying genre and content to readers. However, I think this close imitation is a missed opportunity for what has the potential to be a fresh take on an old problem.
“I’m really pleased to hear that the author of We Need to Talk is an admirer of my work. I am always open to sharing the knowledge I’ve gained from my debut author journey to first time authors, particularly those of colour.”
As the row gained traction on social media, author Lindsay said Eddo-Lodge had "paved the way" and said he "greatly admired" her.
Standing by the book, Richardson said: “The subtitle of our book makes very clear that it is aimed at a church market very different to the intended wide readership of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. The main concept of that book’s cover seems to be the device of using white text for ‘White People’ and our cover does not use this concept at all.”
Author Claire Heuchan told The Bookseller she initially thought Eddo-Lodge had released a sequel to her book, which has sold 152,817 copies for £1.23m in the UK, and tweeted it was a “cynical attempt to cash in” on Eddo-Lodge’s success.
Heuchan, who wrote 2018's What is Race? Who are Racists? Why Does Skin Colour Matter? And Other Big Questions (Hachette Children's) with Nikesh Shukla, said: “It’s astonishing. I saw it first on Twitter and I thought ‘has Reni released a sequel to her book?
“It’s meant to be about racism in the church but you only really see that in small letters at the bottom. I think it’s relying on Reni’s book to sell copies. The font, the colour schme, even the title all echoes her book.”
She went on: “It buys into a pattern of black women not being recognised for a particular idea or aesthetic. They say imitation is the ultimate form of flattery but it really feels like something is being co-opted here.”
Adegoke weighed in on the row, tweeting: “Diversity in publishing *doesn't* look like imprints trying to recreate/rip off pre-existing successful titles by black authors, under the guise of 'representation'. Publishing is a bandwagon industry anyway but with minority authors they really think it's a case of copy & paste.
“It's not only completely obvious to the demographic you're trying to dupe but also, does not work. In terms of sales, every attempt at this bombs because it's so obviously inauthentic.
“There's paying homage/being inspired but rarely do those attempting to rip off engage with/openly acknowledge who they have obviously emulated. In an industry where we are so few, the authors and publishers should know the optics of this look v bad & like intentional erasure.”
In a statement, SPCK said it had received a number of complaints about the book. The publisher said: “Ben is very forthcoming in his admiration of Reni’s book, referencing her in the introduction and throughout the rest of his book. We Need To Talk About Race was in part inspired by his reading of Reni’s book but whilst Ben’s book is a nod to all that has come before, his book is bringing something new to this conversation. We Need To Talk About Race is specifically for the UK church and provides a means to help church leaders and congregations work together to create a truly inclusive church community.
I’m sure that Ben Lindsay’s book makes a lot of relevant points about racism in the church, but the cover art and concept are both heavily influenced by Reni Eddo-Lodge. This public conversation about race must deal with why Black women’s work is so often uncredited and copied. pic.twitter.com/PFQ9aq4ZJP— Sister Outrider (@ClaireShrugged) July 18, 2019
“When approaching the cover design for Ben’s book, we were inspired by the posters used in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s which featured black text in capital letters on white backgrounds. Reni’s book, along with numerous other titles focused on race relations, share this same inspiration.
“This book is largely written from Ben’s own position as a black pastor of a majority white church and he speaks predominantly from his personal experience. However, he takes great care to bring a number of other voices to the conversation and includes two substantial chapters which enable Christian black women to share their stories. We are committed to championing underrepresented voices within the Church, and within society more generally, and so were very keen to include these sections.
“We are thrilled to see so many books being published on race relations within the UK and believe each one brings something new to the discussion. There is so much to be celebrated in what these books share with one another but, similarly to the very topic explored within these books, we hope we can all recognise and champion the diversity between them too.”
The Bookseller has contacted Bloomsbury for comment.