Talking Editorial - Book Machine Unplugged

This week Inspired Selection attended the Book Machine Unplugged event – Talking Editorial, which gave a fascinating insight on diversity and inclusion within the publishing industry; in who is hired, and what content is published.

Our host Abbie Headon, who runs Abbie Headon Publishing Services kicked us off with an overview into why we were discussing diversity within editorial – quite simply the publishing industry is disproportionately white and middle class, and publishing in well-established genres. As an industry we are not good at change, and if we do not reflect society truthfully, we are telling those unrepresented that they are not important. Commercially this is not viable, as the industry will become less relevant.  Abbie explains that there is plenty of discussion but not enough action – she was hoping that the evening’s event would leave attendees with some concrete ideas, and to question, how are we making space for those voices which are too often unheard?

Abbie then handed over to Nathan Connolly, Publishing Director at Dead Ink Books based in Liverpool, who was involved in The Northern Fiction Alliance publishing the open letter to the industry, picked up by major broadcasters, with an 8 point plan on how to tackle some of the issues. One of his points was that the industry needs to look outside of London, as currently we are missing out on talent and closing people off. Nathan also stated that only 12% of the publishing industry is working class yet there is a pervasive attitude that it's a meritocracy.

Sarah Shaffi, Freelance Journalist and Co-Founder of #BAMEInPublishing then spoke about the importance of listening to under-represented people in the industry. Hiring them can just become a box-ticking exercise, if their thoughts are not then taken seriously. Additionally, it should not only be the visible that is addressed – if we only hire on ethnicity, those whose differences are invisible are marginalised further. Basically, the underrepresented who go unseen, need to be listened to and treated the same way as the over represented, who often don’t see the issue.

Lastly we heard from Zainab Juma, Creative Manager at PRH and Nick Coveney, Digital Innovation and Project Director at Harper Collins who are also Co-Chairs of Pride in Publishing . They gave examples of excuses publishers give, and reasons why these excuses aren’t valid, including “we did that last year” - there should be no limit, or “we don’t get the submissions” – they are simply not looking. Instead, the latest bestseller is reproduced into an already saturated market, standing in the way of diversity. We are holding up a mirror to a world that does not exist, and the industry goes for what is easy not what is brave. I for one believe that brave and bestseller could often go hand in hand!

It was a thought provoking event and we look forward to what Book Machine are bringing next!