Ask someone at least 20 years older than you what their view of publishing is. I’ll bet that they will all say middle class white males editing literary fiction and publishing it. They will think of suits, cigars and whisky. You will be shocked as you think of the young, female-dominated crowds at publishing events, book launches and so forth. But, if you’re in a publishing company, check out your directors. The senior management level; it will still be dominated by middle class white males.
Now, this wouldn’t really be a major issue if it was happening by chance and they were still producing fiction regarding minority characters. However, that is not what is happening. Publishing is still proving to be about who you know, not what, and how you conform to the director’s rules. Take an anecdote that people tweeted about at the London Book Fair:
An editor was discussing the gender pay gap. He suggested that to solve it, more entry level roles should be offered to men *facepalm*. He later said that for a role he had just recruited, he hired a male with less experience than most other candidates due to his “enthusiasm”.
Now, this may be suggested sexism; he hired a male basically because he was male, as I know a LOT of insanely enthusiastic people who applied for that job. And what’s the problem with this? The barrier for entry is glowing ever brighter. We are attracted to it, especially with BAME internships and schemes until it shuts us out at the last minute, always with the same reasons; the other candidate had more experience, or you didn’t do as well in the tests.
So, you look at the face of publishing; men like Tom from Legend Press who claimed that minority authors are not submitting their manuscripts; places like One World who won the diversity in publishing award, yet think that there is no need for the Northern Alliance, or for publishing to even try to step outside London. And what’s wrong with this?
Well, by stating that diverse authors aren’t submitting, publishers are closing themselves to the possibility, so authors won’t submit because they don’t see similar titles or authors on the publishers’ list. And by not entertaining the idea of spreading publishing across the country, publishers are removing the chance of people who cannot afford to move to London applying for publishing jobs and discovering amazing books. Authors who cannot afford transport to London, never mind overnight in a hotel without an advance on their book will not submit because their favourite publishers are not close enough.
Finally, we consider class. The working class NEED to be writing, editing, selling and publicising books. Why?! Because they understand the working class. How could the middle class know what drives a working class man to spend his last £10 on a book over a video game? Or which books the working class prefer to read and why? Do they like escaping into the upper class world of opulence, as I do, or do they prefer novels that hit closer to home? Only the working class know this.
By having low salaries, or not stating them at all, publishers are excluding the wealth of knowledge that people from poorer backgrounds can bring about those markets. The publishing industry needs to recalibrate. Take five Hachette imprints; one non-fiction, one sci-fi, one literary, one horror and one women’s fiction imprint and put them in offices ranging from Nottingham to Liverpool to Newcastle. Develop these imprints – these brands – in other areas of the country and see the difference in what gets delivered back. Notice how many more authors will submit and how many more people will be able to apply for the all-important executive and managerial roles.
One final piece of advice for publishers: connect properly with students (NOT JUST MA STUDENTS!!). Send representatives from different areas to schools, colleges and universities to talk about how to enter the industry. Partner with institutions for careers fairs; give honest speeches on how difficult it is. And please dispel the editorial fantasy. If this happens, there will be a wider range of diverse, prepared applicants from all walks of life applying to work in publishing and more being able to work in an industry up to a higher level than ever before.