How are black people represented in the publishing industry?

carolynn bain Blog Employment Inclusion Publishing assoc

There are so many roles in publishing editorial, design, production, contracts, rights, marketing, publicity, sales. Yet there seems to be no space for black people

Without black people in these roles how can we get true representation in the books that go on the shelves. That hasn’t even considered those who procure books for the major bookstores and librarians.

And what about those who sit on the panels and hand out the awards. Non-blacks are applauded for including a black person in their books. Why has Rachel Isadora won so many awards for including black characters in her books when there are so many black writers doing the same thing just as well, sometimes better who cannot even get their books onto a shelf?

Supporting black authors is just the tiny tip of the iceberg in an industry that is dominated by Non blacks.

We have just seen the release of the publishing associations annual diversity survey.

If you are a white woman it is great news. As the report showed that white women make up the majority of the industry. Not really breaking news to anyone who has been around publishing. If you are black it is not looking good. The report showed no increase in the percentage of black people in the country, although the numbers do show that the percentage is in inline with overall representation. Which sound good?

The problem here is, the biggest group of respondents (businesses) to the survey came from London and the South East. When you look at this then the figures change dramatically. In London black people make up 13% of the population. In fact, in the last census London had the smallest percentage of white people in the country, yet they make up the majority of the publishing industry which is still predominantly based in London. It is further suggested in the report that many of those working in the industry did not grow up in London and the South East. So, if I read between the lines this says to me that an employer in publishing is more likely to employ a white woman moving to the area than a local black person. That is heart-breaking.

Don’t get me wrong it is good that the publishing industry continue to put this survey out, but the lack of progression really does say that they are not doing much about it.

I firmly believe that what we read will change attitudes to racism in this country. I had a mum ask me for a book about hair that will make her daughter feel positive about her own hair. I responded that the books her daughter needed were not just about hair. Her daughter needed the book where the hero was a little black girl. A book where the black child has friends over and is popular, a book where the all the characters were black just because they were.

So where are these books? Why don’t black authors write them? They do. And then these books get stuck in the publishing quagmire because publishers say that unless the character is dealing with black issues the book won’t sell. (I wonder what white issues Harry Potter was dealing with? Or the famous 5? And of course, Percy Jackson had all those white issues!) So black authors are left on their own trying to self-publish, promote and sell their books.

Until there is true representation in the industry there will continue to be a lack of representation in the main bookstores. We are all truly grateful for the independent black bookshops who have stocked these books for years and for places like Jacaranda books who have made a way for black authors and become a voice in the industry. But we need so much more.

So, come on publishing world. Stand up and be the difference not on paper but in real life and then we’ll see the change that we all need.

You can read the report for yourself here.



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