LBF stages inspirational conference
London Book Fair's packed Building Inclusivity in Publishing Conference, held yesterday afternoon (27 November) at the Coin Street Conference Centre, heard from other creative industries and expert panels as well as inspiring case studies.
The scene was set by Kerry Hudson, author of Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (Vintage), who told the audience that "books and stories are not just a business, they're a fundamental element of any society. Let's harness that enormous power of our diversity not only to meet our current financial objectives, but to fulfil our future responsibilities to generations to come."
Hudson noted that publishers were developing strong diversity programmes to recruit outside the London-centric bubble, helped by the phasing out of unpaid internships and programmes such as the SpareRoomProject. But there was plenty more to do: under 13% of people working in publishing came from the lowest social classes, while recent Society of Authors figures showed that the average income for authors was less than £11,000 per year.
The industry needs to continue to build on existing initiatives by, for example, giving salary details when advertising entry level jobs; stopping unpaid internships altogether; and focusing on retention as well as recruitment. As Verna Myer said in her TED Talk on overcoming bias: "Diversity is inviting us to the party; inclusivity is asking us to dance."
The Power of Regional Diversity panel, chaired by Emma House of the Publishers Association, heard from a number of inspiring panelists. Alice Curry started Lantana because she felt strongly that "all children deserve to see themselves in the books they read". The publisher now has picture book number 30 in production, with its writers and illustrators representing over 25 different nationalities.
Emma Wright of Emma Press, founded six years ago in Birmingham, said that she hoped to "demystify the publishing process" and make it approachable for those outside the system hoping to get in, while Sarah Cleave of Comma Press, a not-for-profit publisher based in Manchester and specialising in short stories and works in translation, is also the founder of the Northern Fiction Alliance, which has a remit to showcase publishers from the north to international markets. The alliance now represents 12 publishers.
The problems faced by those wanting to get into publishing who cannot afford (or do not want) to move to London were discussed, as was what might encourage publishers to set up regional offices - something that Channel 4 has done, with a new head office in Leeds and cultural hubs in Bristol and Glasgow. Priscilla Baffour, head of diversity and inclusion at ITN, said that the broadcaster had set itself tough diversity targets: 20% of the workforce - and 20% of the top earners - from a BAME background by 2022, plus a 50% gender split and no more all-white male shortlists.
Saskia Bewley, diversity and inclusion manager at Hachette, talked about the "grassroots" D&I network at the group, where eight employee networks with 800-plus members were creating safe spaces for difficult conversations, allowing people to challenge the status quo. HUK is leading the agenda within the international Hachette group of companies - and all organisations should have D&I policies, not just for the moral case or even the business case, but also for the legal one.
A panel on children's books discussed recent CLPE research showing that only 4% of children's books had any BAME characters, with less than 1% having a BAME character as the protagonist. Heather Lacey, an Inclusive Minds ambassador, spoke about the equally urgent need to have representation of characters with disabilities - something that was almost entirely missing from contemporary children's books. From Pages Bookshop in Hackney, Jo Heygate talked about how to ensure that the shop's stock represented the backgrounds of its customers: 64% of Hackney's population came from BAME backgrounds, with half the borough living in socially rented housing. "Everyone", she said, "deserves to have access to books that reflect their experience." If the speakers at this inspirational conference have their way, that day won't be too long coming.
Photo left to right: Emma House of the PA, Chris Gribble of the National Centre for Writing, Sarah Cleave from Comma Press