Spread the Word calls for trade to invest in under-represented writers

Spread the Word calls for trade to invest in under-represented writers

Spread the Word has urged for greater investment in under-represented authors from the trade as it reopens its London Writers Awards.

As the prize enters its second year, the writers’ development agency is calling for mentoring or sponsorship from publishers themselves. Ruth Harrison, director of Spread the Word, discussed the need for more direct involvement from the publishing industry. “Change is starting to happen but if the publishing industry wants to make a sustained change, it has to invest in writers and there is no other programme in the industry that supports under-represented writers on the scale of the London Writers Awards,” she said.

“Following a successful first year, Spread the Word is now actively seeking partners who share our vision and commitment to developing writers. As an industry, we need to create change together and we urge publishers, agents and writers who would like to support the programme – whether through mentoring or sponsorship – to get in touch.”

One of the 2019 judges, author Abir Mukherjee, suggested that the "talk" on diversity needs to translate into action. “There’s a lot of talk in publishing circles these days about inclusivity and the need for a diversity of published voices. However, these calls often ignore the structural factors which hold back writers from minorities and other under-represented communities: factors ranging from a lack of financial support to an unfamiliarity with how the industry operates," he said.

"In such an environment, the London Writers Awards aim to make a concrete difference, nurturing raw talent and helping writers through mentoring, masterclasses and financial support where necessary."

Fellow judge, author Saeida Rouass agreed., adding: “The potential of the London Writers Awards is not only to identify and support underrepresented writers through the arduous process to publication, but also to effect positive structural change in the industry itself.”

The London Writer Awards are the annual development programme for talented London writers and opens for applications on Wednesday (1st May), now in its second year. It is aimed at London-based writers of colour and working class, LGBTQ+ and disabled writers each year, in order to support and nurture writers from communities currently under-represented in UK publishing. Some of the industry judges include Orion editor Katie Brown and Emma Finn, literary agent at C&W.

The programme offers 30 successful awardees an intensive programme of development over nine months between September 2019 and May 2020. Bursaries are available for writers most in need and there is an Access Fund for writers to access support to enable them to participate in the programme.

The prize programme launched last year and is supported by Arts Council England and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation with sponsorship from ALCS. Founding partners include the Independent Publishers Guild, the Society of Authors, Knights Of, Diamond, Kahn and Woods Literary Agency, Burning Eye Books and Bookouture.

There is continued discussion in the industry around diversity and inclusion. Harrison's comments follow Hachette UK becaming the first major publisher to release an Ethnicity Pay Gap report earlier this month, showing the difference in the average pay of black, Asian and other minority ethnic (BAME) employees compared with the salaries of white staff. The BookTrust also recently released research showing that less than 2% of children’s authors and illustrators published in 2017 were British people of colour.

In regards to social class, almost 80% of people in the publishing industry who see themselves as working class felt that their background has adversely affected their career, according to a Bookseller survey revealed in February. Additionally, the Royal Society of Literature is canvassing authors on what resources they need to sustain a career in writing in 'A Room of My Own: A Survey of What UK Writers Need to Work'.

The call from Harrison comes at a time when schemes and prizes attempting to find sustainable funding models. The Reading Agency’s Quick Reads programme almost folded last year when there was a sponsorship shortfall before author JoJo Moyes stumped up the cash. Meanwhile the Women’s Prize adopted a collective funding model in 2018, transforming into a charity last February,

Spread the Word is currently working in partnership with The Bookseller on a new research project titled 'Rethinking Diversity in Publishing' led by Dr Anamik Saha, Goldsmiths, University of London.

The awards’ submissions deadline is 31st May. For more information, visit the Spread the Word website.