Bless their pretty brown heads

Diversity in publishing – another low.

We invited a guest blog recently on the woeful absence of diversity in publishing. Our sister site, Agent Hunter, published data on ethnic diversity among literary agents that suggests perhaps only 2-3% of the industry is non-white. And that, my friend, is the ratio for an industry which is based in LONDON, one of the world’s most happily and abundantly multicultural cities.

But the problems aren’t local and they are serious.

The Romance Writers of America recently blogged about this exact subject in relation to Pocket Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint.

What happened was this. At an RWA conference, an attendee asked Pocket’s Executive Editor whether the imprint was looking to diversify its list away from its currently white-dominated line up. The Editor, Lauren McKenna, responded: (edited slightly for length)

Right now, we [Pocket] don’t have an African-American line. Our sister imprint . . . Atria has an entire two lines dedicated to African-American titles, and they really do corner that market.

So we leave that, whenever we get something strong like that in, in a multicultural topic or author, we can defer to our sister imprint who really does focus on publicizing those titles, marketing those titles, getting placement in stores …

“So no. I hear you. We also have a Latino line as well, with Atria.

So there we have it. If you’re black or brown or yellow or, sweetheart, anything other than WHITE, please don’t come and mess up our nice WHITE imprint. We’ve got lovely brown ones for your sort to go and play with.

That is the thinking, if not quite the language, of 1960s Alabama. It has no place at all in publishing, which should be seeking out the diverse, the new, the off-centre, the challenging.

I suspect that most London publishers would be more sophisticated in their communications (and, to be fair, Pocket has now ‘clarified’ that their Executive Editor ‘misspoke’), but the issue remains the same. In my long, long experience of UK publishing I’ve only ever worked with one Asian (who worked on the IT side) and no black faces at all.

It’s not good enough. And there are no signs of change.

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  • Kamal Sharma

    Oh Gosh… This does not bode well.

  • Harry

    No – it’s terrible, isn’t it? But although the UK industry is very white, it does genuinely want submissions from non-white authors. What’s worrying is that they often want non-white authors to write non-white books. Like, the only thing you could want to write about is the experience of not being white – an unbelievably patronising attitude. But stick at it, because we all need you – – – and we’ll keep on bashing away at this issue until we secure change!

  • Kamal Sharma

    That’s a very narrow minded way for the publishing industry to look at things, especially now that there are more people like myself (Second Generation Immigrant) whose view of the world is not any different than that of a white person. Weird.

    I’ve started a book that has been rethought and restarted scene the incredibly insightful book doctor session that I hope to get finished by FOW16. It’s a herculean task, but I might be able to do it. It’s very much off putting, or at least worrying to know that publishers may put more gravitas on the colour of my skin or my name rather than the quality of my work which could’ve, very easily, been written by a white person. Weird, worrying and weird.

    Oh well, I suppose it just means that I’ll have to write an even more fantastic MS 🙂

    Thanks for this Harry

  • Barbara DeSpain

    Do you accept manuscripts from US authors?

  • Harry

    Yes, we do indeed. We’d love to help!