I am about to write a blog post which I feel needs to be written. I will try not to get angry or rant too much, but I can’t make any promises.
At a panel event last month, I heard the director of a successful independent publisher say that he thinks that BAME/minority authors were underrepresented because they’re either not writing as much as white authors, or not submitting. Now, I don’t work for a fiction publisher, nor do I pretend to know submission trends, etc. What I DO know, however, is just how many minority authors are writing. They are writing books that have characters who reflect their society and community. And they are definitely submitting.
If we pair this with a tweet I saw a couple of days before the event, which stated that there are only four YA fantasy/dystopian novels being published this year that were written by BAME authors, while there are at least four per week published that were written by white authors, it can be concluded that there IS a barrier. Based on the responses, retweets and likes, at least 20 more BAME authors had submitted their YA fantasy novel in the past few months, and many more were planning on it. This figure IS deterring them. It suggests a glass ceiling which certain publishers may involuntarily put in place which minority authors struggle to break through. Wouldn’t that deter you?
As well as this, while women are perfectly able to get published a lot easier than BAME/LGBT+ authors, there is still an obvious barrier in them being successful, especially in certain genres. For example, C.J. Tudor’s incredibly successful The Chalk Man has been written by a very talented woman who uses her initials in place of her name, which may reveal her gender. Author of The Trouble Boys, E.R. Fallon is another female author who uses her initials. She also doesn’t have a personal Twitter account, so the only way you can tell she’s female is by her profile picture on GoodReads. If you dig hard enough, you can find out who these authors are.
When we consider these two things, it should open our eyes to a world in which people are still restricted by their name, gender, age and race. Authors are practically always told that they must appeal to as wide an audience as possible. In this society, that means they must appeal to as white an audience as possible. An example of this is when a woman with a foreign-sounding last name asked a Facebook group whether she should use her usual last name or her mother’s maiden name (which sounds considerably more British) when submitting manuscripts.
So, what do we do? Female, BAME and LGBT+ authors ARE writing and ARE submitting every single day under their true names and getting nowhere. Well, my suggestions are simple and easy to implement:
- Remove names from submissions and authors submit using a generic email address
- Publishers shouldn’t ask for any personal information from the submitting author until they have read the manuscript
- Increase minority representation in the industry, including women at a senior level
- Publishers should consider why they didn’t like characters represented in novels by minority authors; is it because they didn’t feel as close a connection? Should they get a second opinion from someone who might better relate?
These suggestions are so simple to do, and publishers and authors would equally benefit from them. Unfortunately, it probably won’t happen any time soon. I never again want someone to tell me that the reason there’s a lack of minority representation in an industry is because they’re not getting involved; it’s laughable!