‘The industry could and should do a lot more’: Interventions and their Necessity in Diversifying Publishing

By Leah Golder

Image Credits: iStock

Due to the lack of diversity in the UK publishing sector and its ensuing ignorance, Black people and people of colour have begun to establish their own interventions. They aim to make space for people of colour in an industry saturated with white voices. An industry which has overlooked the Black voice for decades.

In the wake of a renewed Black Lives Matter movement, 2020 became a critical year for diversity in publishing. It became a time for publishers and agents to reflect on the lack of representation and diversity among their authors. Despite a period where we did see more Black and writers of colour being published and circulated, Raven Leilani’s Luster; Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism and Jerald Walker’s How to Make a Slave and Other Essays being a few examples, there is still more that publishing companies need to do to diversify their offices.

Sharmaine Lovegrove, publisher of Dialogue Books at Hachette, formed the Black Writer’s Guild with journalist Aufa Hirsch and author Nels Abbey. With over two hundred members, their purpose is to ‘create a sustainable, profitable, fair and equal eco-system for Black literary talent in British publishing’. They pressured leading publishing companies in the UK, including Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster, and demanded substantial change. A change that will incite better representation and diversity within all sectors of publishing, from writing and editing through to marketing and sales.

On 15 June 2020, the Guild, along with over a hundred Black writers, wrote these leading companies an open letter which set out their demands for a more diverse environment. They set out eight points for publishers to ‘tackle’. These include a demand for an audit of books published by Black authors, a ring-fenced fund for marketing and specialist publicity, and more Black commissioners at every level of the company.

The Guild was successful in gaining online popularity, and even some responses from the leading (white) male CEOs. David Shelley, Hachette CEO, agreed that ‘the industry could and should do a lot more – and that we could and should do a lot more at Hachette.’ His company is now working on policies including better representation across the business and public reporting of author remuneration, evident in their Changing the Story campaign. A campaign, started in 2016,  which was ‘created to have impactful, meaningful and sustainable change in all areas of diversity and inclusion’. Yet, their main aim is still ‘to become the publisher and employer of choice for everyone.’ Despite this italicised ‘everyone’, which seems a patronising attempt at inclusivity, it is still a mere tick box on the checklist for monopolising the market. 

Progress is slow, unnecessarily slow. But we have to keep demanding change from these big corporations. Interventions like the Black Writers Guild shouldn’t have to exist, but whilst publishing still ignores 15.6 per cent of the population, I am grateful that they do.