We could and should do more: publishers reply to the Black Writers' Guild

We could and should do more: publishers reply to the Black Writers' Guild

Publishers have responded to the Black Writers’ Guild’s open letter, welcoming their suggestions and agreeing they have work to do.

The Black Writers' Guild issued an open letter on Monday (15th June), making specific requests of publishers to tackle inequalities and lack of representation in their businesses, such as through audits, more data on black staffing at all levels, and ring-fenced funding for marketing and publicity supporting new and emerging black talent. Letting publishers know it is "deeply concerned" they are "raising awareness of racial inequality without significantly addressing their own", it was signed by more than 100 writers, including Dorothy Koomson, Malorie Blackman, Candice Carty-Williams, David Olusoga and Bernardine Evaristo.

In reply, Tom Weldon, c.e.o. of Penguin Random House UK levelled change is “not happening fast enough” and he said the company has to address this “with urgency and intent”. He thanked the guild and said it would provide a detailed response to its specific points “shortly”.

“I would like to thank the Black Writers’ Guild for their thoughtful letter,” said Weldon. “We are committed to addressing racial inequality in the publishing industry, and welcome their offer of partnership and dialogue. We will provide a detailed response addressing the specific points, which we will share with the guild shortly. 

“As we reflect on the horrific murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests in the UK and across the world, we are looking inward to decide how we want to respond, as a company and as individuals. Most immediately, we are facilitating a conversation with everyone across our company so together we can accelerate our strategy to be an inclusive company and publisher and we will share our plan in due course.

“Addressing and better understanding the issue is an important first step but it is not enough. Doing something about it is the true test.  We have been working on our inclusivity strategy for a number of years and we have made some important achievements along the way.  But the truth is that change is not happening fast enough and we need to address that with urgency and intent. I want Penguin Random House UK to be better so we can make genuine meaningful and long-lasting change that tackles the systemic inequality currently existing in our industry.”

One of the letter’s organisers, alongside writers Nels Abbey (pictured) and Afua Hirsch, is publisher Shamaine Lovegrove, who founded the imprint Dialogue Books at Hachette UK and is the driving force at the company for a new working group of senior leaders focused on tackling the Black Writers’ Guilds suggestions.

Commenting on the open letter, David Shelley, c.e.o. Hachette UK, said it was known the industry “could and should do a lot more” and that this applied to Hachette.

“The Black Writers’ Guild are rightly asking us to channel outrage at the murder of George Floyd towards addressing the racial inequalities closer to home, so we can make it easier for the next generation of black writing and publishing talent to rise. We know that the industry could and should do a lot more — and that we could and should do a lot more at Hachette,” said Shelley.

“We’re lucky enough to have Dialogue Books as part of the Hachette family and Sharmaine Lovegrove is the creative force behind a new working group of senior leaders from around the business who will be focusing on the action we can take to address the questions from the Black Writers’ Guild. We will be reporting back to the Black Writers’ Guild in detail on all the points in their letter and proposing practical solutions.

“We agree with the Black Writers’ Guild that data is key: we already voluntarily report publicly on our Ethnicity Pay Gap and will be widening that to report publicly on author remuneration and representation within our publishing from next year. We will also be taking positive action to improve representation in all areas of our publishing output and in our wider business.

“Changing the Story has been a cornerstone of Hachette for the past four years, but it is clear that we still have a long way to go before we become the fully representative and inclusive publisher we aspire to be. We intend to roll up our sleeves and work constructively and hard to make this a reality.”

Perminder Mann, c.e.o. Bonnier Books UK., has pledged to deliver an annual diversity and inclusion report covering “all aspects” of the business, in agreement with the Black Writers’ Guild that “progress requires accountability and measurement”. 

“Bonnier Books UK supports calls for sustained change and the evolution of publishing business practices to create a fairer and more inclusive industry,” said Mann.

“As a family-owned business we are committed to contributing to an inclusive and knowledge-based society where every individual has the opportunity to take part and make their voice heard. We’re proud of the steps we’re making to create a diverse and sustainable workplace and we’re striving to create a company culture where we all have the potential to thrive. We publish for everyone and as one of the largest mass market publishers in UK we serve every kind of reader, no matter their background, age and interests. However, there is more work to be done. 

 “Meaningful change takes time, and the global Black Lives Matter movement has further highlighted that progress requires accountability and measurement. In a similar approach to our voluntary publication of our gender pay gap report, Bonnier Books UK will publish an annual diversity and inclusion report covering all aspects of our business. This audit is a long-term commitment that will guide our progress as a team and company.”

Ian Chapman, c.e.o. and publisher Simon & Schuster UK, said it was ready to make "meaningful, concrete and deliverable commitments" following a "robust analysis" of its situation and working practices currently underway.

"At Simon & Schuster UK, we welcome the letter from the Black Writers’ Guild," said Chapman. "The publishing industry as a whole has not yet done enough especially when it comes to Black authors. We are in the process of conducting robust analysis of our current situation; from staffing to publishing programmes to marketing budgets and across all the areas that the Black Writers’ Guild raise. This is with a view to making meaningful, concrete and deliverable commitments. Black Lives have and will always matter to us at S&S, now is the time for urgent action across our business to redress the imbalance."

Pan Macmillan m.d. Anthony Forbes Watson welcomed the clarity and specificity with which suggestions have been offered by the Black Writers’ Guild to publishers and said he wished to “consult further” with the organisation “to drive change faster and more radically through all stages of the hiring and development, writing and publishing process”.

“Pan Macmillan warmly welcomes the recommendations of the Black Writers' Guild,” said Forbes Watson. “These clear and specific suggestions will help us as we frame our review of what we do next with the urgency that is required. We agree that the diversity of our teams across the company at all levels must be increased and accelerated to implement the change we wish to see. We know we need to improve our commissioning so that it reflects the broadest life experiences and that we need editors who commission from within the communities we wish to reach. We recognise the need to increase diversity in the commercial departments too. 

“We have been working with organisations such as Creative Access and ERIC to improve the diversity of our recruitment. We wish to consult further with the Black Writers' Guild to drive change faster and more radically through all stages of the hiring and development, writing and publishing process. We welcome the PA's response today and we are very glad that this will enable us to work as an industry to address the structural issues we face. We know that these broad changes recommended by BWG and others are required to improve our ability to listen, learn and publish better.”

HarperCollins UK chief executive Charlie Redmayne said the introspection provoked by George Floyd’s death had led it to recognise “we have not challenged ourselves enough, and that change is happening too slowly and inconsistently”. It is working with its inhouse inclusivity groups “on concrete actions” it can take and Redmayne said he was keen to “engage in honest dialogue” with the Black Writers’ Guild.

“I am grateful to The Black Writers’ Guild for their letter and for the clear and considered points that they have raised,” said Redmaye.

“Taking action to increase representation within our workforce and our publishing has been a priority at HarperCollins and across the industry for a number of years, and we have established programmes and initiatives in place that have driven change within our organisations. However, the killing of George Floyd, the justifiable outrage that has followed across the world and the discourse and openness that it has provoked in every part of our society has prompted much needed introspection in publishing and our own business, and indeed in our own hearts and minds. That introspection has led us to recognise that we have not challenged ourselves enough, and that change is happening too slowly and inconsistently.

“We are working with our internal BAME and inclusivity network groups, Elevate and HC All In, on concrete actions to address racial inequality within our business and I would welcome the opportunity to meet with representatives from the Black Writers' Guild to share the actions we have taken, engage in honest dialogue about what we can do to improve and accelerate them and to work on the specific points that they have raised.

“The guild is right in suggesting that action will ‘help nurture a thriving literary culture in this country’ and we support that aim — access to our literary culture is not equal, and that should not be the case. This is something all of us in this industry must work together in partnership to correct.”