Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Some new year's resolutions for publishing. By Keren David


Over the last year I've heard a lot about how children's publishing is terribly, terribly white and awfully, awfully middle class, and really something should be done. But what? Oh, how difficult it is blah, blah, etc etc.

None of it is enough. None of it addresses the root problems. So, lovely publishers, wonderful agencies, I have some ideas.  I may well have said some of this before. But it needs saying all over again. 

1)  Get out of London. If publishers and agents have all their operations in London, they will only attract employees who can afford to live there. That's a very narrow group.  Move to Manchester. Set up an office in Newcastle. Let your editors work remotely from Swansea, St Ives and Aberdeen. An agent in Middlesborough can Skype an editor in Norwich, it's 2019, guys.


2) In all those places, actively seek talent. Run those creative writing courses than currently make you  vast amounts of money from Londoners,  but run them for half, a quarter of the price you charge at present. Make them available on the internet.  Nurture and encourage writers from all backgrounds. Open your ears to varied voices. Remember that not all readers are white and middle class. 

3) Publish books with diverse covers and diverse characters.  In your efforts to make these books universal, don't lose the authentic voice of the minority author. Don't make minority readers feel shut out of books that are supposedly for and about them. Learn about racism. Learn about tropes. Never fall back on lazy stereotypes. Never lecture your writers about their own cultures.


4) Don't be scared of intersectionality in your books. People have more than one label.

5) Think about how you pay your authors. For many of us, the vagueness of the three tranche system makes life impossible. How can you pay your rent when the money is paid 'on signature' ie six weeks after the author has waited by their letterbox for months, praying that today will bring the document they need to sign to unleash the money;then 'on delivery', ie six weeks after the author has stayed up all night for a week to write the thing for the deadline given in said contract, and 'on publication', which may well get changed by months.  

When I say six weeks, I might sometimes mean six months.. These casual arrangements make it impossible for many of us to be writers without a pretty much full time salary on the side. Writing gets pushed to the margins of our lives. Think about a single mother. How can she pay the rent if you're paying her whenever you fancy.

Which leads me neatly to:


6) Think about who you reward. When you sign a celebrity, someone who may well already be rich, and then make them richer by spending most of your marketing on their ghost-written books, you are not encouraging general reading. Neither are you encouraging talented writers from diverse backgrounds to believe that they can succeed in getting published. You create a model of success that can only be replicated by first becoming a celebrity. Books become off-shoots of a successful brand.Writers migrate to other fields. Quality plummets. Publishing chokes on its own vomit and dies. 

7) See those people who do successful things to encourage diverse writers? People like Leila Rasheed who set up Megaphone, people like David Stevens and Aimee Felone of Knights Of, to take just two examples. Talk to them. Copy them. Back their initiatives. 

8) Employ non-graduates. Employ graduates from new universities. Employ people who went to state schools. Don't allow your HR department to filter out everyone except 'the brightest and the best' before you even see them. Create apprenticeships. Mix up your internal structures. Examine everything you do, and change it. 

9) Spend money on people, not swanky buildings. 

10) Be proud of your authors. Show them off. Interview them, photograph them, film them. The internet is yours to exploit, but you don't seem to want to do that. Make celebrities, don't chase them. And let them be from all those places and classes and races and nationalities and genders and sexualities and bodies and spaces that we don't usually hear from.

And I promise you, it will pay off.

13 comments:

catdownunder said...

Excellent resolutions but please widen some of them to include some faraway places!

Susan Price said...

Lord. Every word on the nail.

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for this, Keren.

Leila said...

Thank you for posting this (and for the mention!) Keren. xx
Just to add - some publishers are already doing some of this. But too many are not. Too many are also doing diversity badly. Another thought I think is relevant: I was recently re-reading a book called The Corporation by Joel Bakan, which, among other things, explores the limits of CSR (corporate social responsibility) programmes, which is the heading that almost all publishers' diversity programmes will come under. Corporations must, essentially, make money for their share holders, or be acting illegally. As soon as their CSR programmes fail to perform financially for their share holders, they will be (*must* be) dropped. This is why we need independent bodies which have the specific legal purpose of acting and agitating for genuine, meaningful diversity in whatever their specific area is. I believe we cannot rely on publishing to make real change.

kathryn evans said...

Wowsers - SPOT ON!

Ann Turnbull said...

Yes, indeed! Well said, Keren.

Lynne Benton said...

Well said, Keren! Hope this blog reaches the people who need to read it!

Anne Booth said...

I agree!

Enid Richemont said...

Well-said, Keren, and especially Point 6.

Katherine Hetzel said...

Yes to all of this! But most definitely to publishers looking beyond London and the whole 'celebrity' writer thing...

Julie Pike said...

Great blog, Keren. I hope you don’t mind if come back on Leila’s point regarding CSR? I’ve been working in mainstream CSR since 2004. I think Joel’s book was published in 2005, CSR has moved on a long way in the last 13 years and the ‘must be dropped’ thinking is no longer the predominant way of thinking. Also many CSR programmes aren’t generally assessed against profit delivery anyway. Happy to chat if you’d like to know more, or suggest other reading material.

Andrew Preston said...

What I see is London people writing about their London friends , recommending their friends, London newspapers talking mostly about London people, and London issues.

And then one thinks.... Why is it all so London centric? How did it get like this ? .

Duh.

Dear Keren ...

The Amazon profile...

"... Growing up in a small town in Hertfordshire, Keren David had two ambitions: to write a book and to live in London. Several decades on, she has finally achieved both. ..".

Keren David said...

Seriously? Where do I claim not to live in London? You can advocate for people other than yourself.