When I began researching and writing my picture book with my children and other mixed race children in mind, I realised how limited the book industry is in the UK. I had to purchase books from the USA. In one instance, I waited over a month for a book to arrive. How could that situation have missed my attention, albeit my own children are still young? Many picture books feature wild animals, farm animals, sea animals, mythical creatures, aliens, monster and other make-believe creatures. In fact, I’m more likely to find a book with some sort of creature on the cover rather than a brown face or disabled person. Attending the diversity sessions at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival made me question how I felt about the lack of diversity in the publishing industry.
The Value Of Diversity in Publishing Industry
While my reading interests varies, I do love British classics from Austen, Bronte, Hardy, and Lawrence. The list goes on. However, I recognise that they represent a bygone era. In terms of modern fiction, I’ve never questioned the lack of non-white authors. I read a story if I like it end of.
Then, two years ago I ‘discovered’ Dorothy Koomson’s novels. I was pleasantly surprised that she explored mixed race relationships, without making race the ‘issue’. I couldn’t get enough. It was the same with my children. Once our books arrived from the USA and I began reading them, I noticed my kids engaged differently with the stories. They were able to find a kinship and connection to their own lives. It was a joy to behold.
The Diversity Manifesto
Based on our own journey to awakening, it’s possible some consumers don’t know what they are missing. If the materials are available and marketed well, buyers will come. So, how can the publishing industry become more inclusive?
I believe the Diversity Manifesto and the Diversity Debate at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival suggested excellent points for action. The manifesto was a joint effort of the panel (authors Catherine Johnson, Louie Stowell, SF Said and publishing intern Ming) and all attendees.
Representation in books
There should be more black and brown faces on book cover; let toys be toys approach to shame retailers into supporting more diverse books; educate librarians on diversity and it should be compulsory reading in schools; reading list challenges with diverse books that are current and available; educate that having a book a black or gay character doesn’t mean the book has to about that.
Representation in media
There should be representation in castings; a forum to enable conversation (call out culture to make publishers feel accountable); diversity in bloggers and vloggers; a funded job role to collect data and ask questions.
Quotas should be introduced such as 30% across the board; publishers, literary agents, writers, reviewers, bloggers etc.
On the panel for the Diversity Debate there were authors Courttia Newland, Salena Godden, Marketing Director Crystal Mahey-Morgan, and Publisher Sarah Odedina.
Below I note only the advice to literary agents, publishers from the panellists:
- Newland- Festival programming should have more diverse components well mixed into the programme
- Mahey-Morgan- If stories are good they will be accepted, there is money in diversity
- Godden- Be brave think beyond best sellers lists, think in terms of creating books for the future
- Odedina- Think more about who is hired (lack of diverse work force)
Final Work on Diversity in Publishing Industry
Now that I’m aware of the inequalities in publishing, I say it’s time for a change. I feel it’s the civic duty of publishing houses to be more inclusive. They should present work that’s authentic to our existence. If aliens came to earth they would have a much skewed picture of us.
Follow and/or get involved in the debate using hashtags #diversitymanifesto and #diversitydebate
(updated 2nd June 2020)