Abbie Headon interviews Julia Kingsford, literary agent and marketing consultant at Kingsford Campbell, about her new project, The Good Journal.
1) You’ve just launched The Good Journal on Kickstarter: what is it?
It’s a quarterly literary magazine for writers of colour. We’re launching it because we believe there should be more of a platform for both established and emerging writers, to showcase the incredible BAME talent in the UK.
2) Can you tell us more about the team behind it?
It’s myself and Nikesh Shukla. I set up my literary agency, Kingsford Campbell, three years ago and Nikesh became a client not long after because his previous agent had moved to become a publisher. We worked together on his book of essays about race and immigration, The Good Immigrant, and the idea for the journal came directly out of it. It built an amazing platform and we wanted to build on that but in a way that was more flexible and regular than just doing another book.
3) So you felt that a journal was a more suitable way of achieving your goals than another book of essays?
We wanted the chance that a journal gives to be fresher, faster turnaround and more responsive and also to have the chance to play around with format and themes. It’s difficult to say at this stage what we’ll be able to commission but we’ve talked about the idea of a real range of writing from essays and short stories through poems and even graphic or photo stories.
4) I love the idea of going into a project with this kind of flexibility and open-mindedness: trying different types of content and seeing what works for each issue. Was this the reason you opted for a crowdfunded model?
There are many special things about The Good Immigrant, but the community we’ve had behind it has been really important to us and to its success and we wanted to be able to take the incredible supporters we’ve had with us. At the same time we also want to use it to raise funds for another project – a social enterprise literary agency for under-represented writers called The Good Literary Agency – and so anything we make from the crowdfunding over and above the costs we need for the journal will go towards funding that.
5) And am I right in thinking that The Good Agency will have a wider remit in terms of the people it will represent?
Yes. Whilst the journal is really focused on continuing on from The Good Immigrant and being focused on writers of colour, the idea behind the agency is to offer representation to any talented writer who is currently under-represented in mainstream publishing, whether BAME, working class, disabled or LGBTQ+. We looked at all the issues around getting published and realised the pipeline is a really big problem and we just wanted to blow that open.
6) You and Nikesh are well known for the work you’ve done to increase diversity in the publishing industry. In 2017, in a very multicultural country, why is it that we’re still struggling to see proper representation of BAME writers and other under-represented communities, do you think?
Wow that’s a big question! I have so many answers! Everything though really comes down to structural inequality and how that ripples through, and that’s not just in writing but across the media, creative industries and the establishment. There are lots of talented writers, but if you haven’t been to an elite school or university you haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to perfect your craft in the same way – yet. Helping talented authors with developing their work is a big part of what we want to do.
If you look at fiction then you have to look at how many writers have done creative writing courses or MAs and how much these cost in both money and the time you need to devote to them. If you look at non-fiction then you have to look at how social mobility hasn’t seen enough scientists / historians / professionals coming through from under-represented backgrounds.
All of this is not to ignore that there is unconscious bias at work in parts of publishing and particularly in the simply prejudiced assumptions some publishers make about what readers will or won’t read based on what’s sold in the past. Publishing has a problem and we should all work together to solve it whilst recognising that there are big societal issues at work as well.
7) Would you like to live in a world where projects like The Good Journal and The Good Agency weren’t necessary?
Yes. In an ideal world they shouldn’t be. And it would be great if that weren’t the case, but we can’t go on not doing things to make change happen. And practically we really hope they’ll be obsolete in a few years after they’ve done what they need to – we’ve planned for it!
8) I like this attitude: you’ve started something that, by succeeding, will make itself obsolete! How can we help you achieve this and get involved with The Good Journal?
Buy a subscription to the journal via our crowdfunder! We’re crowdfunding till 31 October. We’re more than halfway there but we still have a good way to go. And it’s as amazing seeing people give a few pounds as it is the generous authors who’ve given hundreds. Subscriptions start at £25 for a digital subscription (or just £15 for students or those on a low income) and there are lots of other options for giving more or less.