What can publishers learn from the Women’s March London?
On 21st January 2017, I made the journey to London, met with my youngest sister and some friends and we marched from Grosvenor Square to Trafalgar Square along with an estimated 100,000 others.
We were there because, the day before, a man who had boasted about sexually assaulting women, who is endorsed by the KKK and who believes climate change to be a hoax, was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
In 70 cities around the world, on every single continent, similar gatherings were taking place with the largest being in Washington DC. At the time of writing an estimated 4.5 million people had come out to make their voices heard.
We all had our reasons for joining the march. For me, the most concerning fact is that the election of Donald Trump has emboldened and given a legitimacy to voices that spout racism, white supremacy, misogyny and homophobia. From the moment he began his campaign these voices became more prominent and today they can be heard loud and clear. On the march, our voices were calling for something different: equality for all.
Publishing as a platform
I knew from my social media feeds that the publishing industry had turned out in numbers. We are a female-heavy workforce. I knew that many of the people I marched alongside were working in books. And, as I marched, I started thinking about voices, legitimacy and platforms.
Publishing, as an industry, is about giving people platforms for their ideas, a conduit for reaching an audience. The rise of social media and independent publishing has meant that almost anyone can have access to a platform. People can tweet, they can blog, they can self-publish.
The simple fact is that, today, traditional publishers aren’t necessary for people to reach a big audience. What the industry does add, however, is a sense of legitimacy and significance. The presence of the logo on the spine is a silent signal but a powerful one. Our logos are the stamp of approval and they amplify the ideas within the pages they adorn. As an industry, we choose the voices that get heard the loudest. Now, more than ever, this is a huge responsibility.
As I write this, I can hear the familiar mantra of ‘Publishing is a business designed to make money.’ I hear that. I’ve been freelance for four years now and I know that we need to get paid. But we also need to respect the responsibility of our logos.
Freedom of speech is a right but we need to make sure that the loudest voices are not just from a small pool of people. As a predominantly white, middle-class industry we need to make sure that we don’t just look for ourselves in the books we publish and that we don’t take away other people’s stories, granting ourselves the right to tell them through our own, inexperienced words. We need to stretch out beyond the reaches of our familiar audience. Diversity shouldn’t be something that has to be crowdfunded.
Yes, we’re running a business. But our logos have power. Let’s never forget that.
Caroline Goldsmith has worked in publishing for sixteen years. She published fiction under the independent imprint Red Button Publishing from 2012-2016 and now works freelance, providing publishing and writing services. Check out her website.