When the 2016 Man Booker Prize shortlist and World Book Day 2017 titles were released last week, both lists faced criticism for their lack of racial diversity. Unfortunately, these lists illustrate a larger problem within the industry. Not only does publishing have few authors of color, but the publishing houses themselves are lacking in racial diversity and contributing to the larger problem of diversity in publishing.
When the World Book Day titles for 2017 were called out for their exclusion of authors of color, World Book Day director Kirsten Grant defended the selection. According to Grant, the problem stems from which books the publishers put forward for consideration.
“Each year, publishers are invited to nominate their authors to write a £1 World Book Day book. Ten authors are then chosen by a panel made up of representatives from across the bookselling industry, as well as World Book Day itself,”
she said in a statement.
“The panel aims to choose as diverse a range of authors as possible from the names that are put forward”.
So why aren’t publishers promoting books for authors of color?
The problem may be the “whiteness” of publishing houses themselves. According to a Diversity Baseline Survey done by Lee and Low Books in 2015, 79 percent of the publishing industry as a whole is White/Caucasian. While most minorities are underrepresented in the industry, the Lee and Low survey also shows that some are more dramatically underrepresented than others. According to the survey only 4 percent of the industry is made up of those who identify as Black/African American. When compared to the 13.3 percent of the U.S. population who self-identify as Black/African American, the under-representation is clear. In contrast, those who identify as White/Caucasian account for 77 percent of the population – meaning that they are over-represented in the publishing industry as a whole.
According to Publisher’s Weekly , this overwhelming homogeneity of the industry may be what leads to the lack of authors – and characters – of color. So how does the industry change and include more diverse authors and characters?
The Association of American Publishers has made this question a primary focus of theirs over the last several years, working with publishing houses to change their practices. From the creation of diversity councils to partnerships with multicultural organizations, the AAP has started taking steps to ensure the hiring practice is more diverse and inclusive. Individual publishing houses have also taken their own steps, with places like New Press creating a diversity driven internship program that has graduated 249 people to date. The success of these programs is mostly seen in independent and small presses however, with the Big Five houses remaining largely unchanged.
Despite these efforts though, diversity is still lacking in the industry as a whole. The 2016 Man Booker Prize shortlist and World Book Day 2017 titles demonstrate that – even with better practices in place – publishing still has a long way to go. It’s important to be aware of these trends and the importance of diversity at publishing houses themselves as we enter the industry and start our careers. Though there are many aspects of the publishing industry that are broken and need to be changed, fair and diverse hiring practices might be the best place to start.