The book world is changing. And despite being notoriously slow-moving, the last
few years have seen the industry take a long, hard look at itself, and question
how it can better reflect its readers and society. Various pledges have been made
and initiatives set up. Yet, again, and again, industry reports have shown us how
white, middle-class and London-centric our industry still is, both in terms of
workforce and the range of writers being supported and published. The lessons
from these findings are clear: if you don’t have a diverse workforce or product,
sooner or later you will disappear.
So, what is to be done? If our industry is, as it claims, committed to tackling
inclusivity then we need to start diversifying our workforces and, perhaps more
importantly, dispersing across the UK in order to better engage with and
embolden a new generation of writers, readers and aspiring publishers.
The provocation, the invitation, then, is this: set up outside of London.
By moving away from traditional publishing centres, together we can reshape and
redefine the current literary landscape. Publishing – and the arts more widely –
should be in the business of bringing in perspectives from the peripheries; yet it is
one of the most centralised and metropolitan of all cultural industries. If we want
our industry to survive, or even flourish, we need to challenge this ‘old
monoculture’ and embed ourselves more thoroughly in different spaces and
communities across the UK. The business case for this is an obvious one: by
moving outside of the capital, publishers can also slash overheads, increase
profits and salaries. And that is to say nothing of the potential readers out there
whose tastes and experiences are currently being ignored.
Which brings us to the moral case for this provocation: how much talent do we
lose because, for a lot of people, London is too expensive, too far away, or,
frankly, too chaotic to move to? What message do we send and what narrative do
we build when entry to this industry relies so heavily on insider networks and the
wealth within one’s background?
To bring about real and long-lasting change, we need to encourage greater
collaboration and dialogue between publishers of all sizes within the industry, and
be bolder in our decision-making, recruitment and acquisitions policy. And what
could be bolder, more transformative, than bursting the publishing bubble, and
reconfiguring the industry, so the peripheries can inform the whole.
But there’s no point just agreeing with this sentiment. Here is our Eight Point
Plan, for genuinely changing your publishing house. Who’s in?
i. Sign up to the Spare Room Project, if you haven’t already, and offer
accommodation for someone living outside of London while they
undertake an internship or mentorship.
ii. Commit to paying all your interns the relevant Living Wage (in most cases,
this will be the London Living Wage, which is currently £10.20/hour)
iii. Attend the Northern Fiction Alliance roundtable on regional diversity in
iv. Undertake an internal workforce audit (including geographical
background) and provide the Northern Fiction Alliance with the data on an
v. Commit to publishing more regional writers as part of your editorial
programme, and develop a strategy to reach audiences outside the capital
(and literary festivals).
vi. Sign up to Comma’s annual cross-company mentorship scheme that will
connect Northern publishing professionals with industry experts and peers
from both inside and outside of the region.
vii. Encourage the next generation of publishers by volunteering to speak at
industry and public events outside of London, such as And Other Stories’
‘Is Publishing For Me?’ open days across the North, and Comma’s
National Creative Writing Graduate Fair.
viii. Set up a regional office in one of the cultural hubs outside of London.
the Northern Fiction Alliance
The Northern Fiction Alliance includes And Other Stories, Bluemoose Books, Comma Press, Dead Ink Books, Mayfly Press, Peepal Tree Press, Route, Saraband Books, Tilted Axis, Valley Press, Wrecking Ball Press