April 16, 2015

A new report commissioned by Spread the Word, London’s writer development agency, reveals that the publishing industry’s poor commitment to diversity is putting it at risk of becoming culturally irrelevant. Writers, literary agents and mainstream and independent publishers were surveyed to determine whether progress was being made on cultural diversity. The findings give cause for concern.

A survey of publishers and literary agents indicates that of the respondents over 74% of those employed by large publishing houses, and an alarming 97% of agents, believe that the industry is only ‘a little diverse’ or ‘not diverse at all’. Out of 203 UK-based published novelists polled, 30% came from a BAME background. Only 47% said their début was agented compared to 64% of the White novelists. Once into their publishing career, 53% of BAME authors remained without an agent against 37% of White authors. The business case for publishers to be more culturally diverse in recruitment and the writers they publish is also compelling. BAME communities’ disposable income currently stands at an estimated £300bn, and they are expected to represent 30% of the population by 2050.

Three decades ago, few novels were published by Britain’s Black and Asian novelists, while 20 years ago, a breakthrough occurred that became a short-lived trend, for the past few years, we have seen a return to the literary invisibility of the past, concealed by a deceptive tokenism. Bernadine Evaristo

Over the last three or four years, I seem to have gone back to being the sole face of colour at literary or publishing events. What happened? Malorie Blackman

There is an orthodoxy whereby the presumed reader is totally mono-cultural, White middle England. We know from looking at census data that this is a very out-dated view. I think sometimes a paradigm gets created and everyone starts to subscribe to it. Aminatta Forna

Download the report here.


Related RSL Fellows

Malorie Blackman 2009
Bernardine Evaristo 2004
Aminatta Forna 2012