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Category: Diversity

On Monday 13th November, London Book Fair and the Publisher’s Association held their second annual Building Inclusivity in Publishing Conference in London. Hosted by BBC’s Razia Iqbal, the day’s purpose was to confront what more the publishing industry should be doing to ensure it is representative of the world we are speaking to.

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Salomé is one of the newest publications to hit the independent press scene. Launched in April this year, Salomé is the literary magazine for emerging female writers, and gives self-identifying women the platform, confidence and experience to get their writing published. Jacquelyn Guderley, the magazine’s founder, shares lessons she’s learned along the way.

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We really need diverse books

Typically, when I tell someone I work at the Feminist Press one of two things usually happens. People either share all of their (usually negative) thoughts about feminism or they ask what that means. The simple answer is that we are a small nonprofit publisher dedicated to uplifting marginalized voices from around the world. Founded in 1970 to recover lost literature by women, the Feminist Press is the longest continually running feminist press in the United States. A large part of why we have lasted so long is that we have adapted with the movements, become more intersectional, and embraced feminisms.

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William Horsnell joined Jessica Kingsley Publishers in April 2016 and is the marketing executive responsible for their Education, Special Education, Early Years and Adoption and Fostering lists.  He takes a particular interest in digital marketing and finding new ways to make campaigns more innovative. Here, he discusses the use of paid social media advertising.

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January this year saw the launch of our new series of books on gender diversity. From first-person memoirs to children’s storybooks, many of these books are written by trans and non-binary people and consider the particular challenges that this group faces.

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Alice Curry is the Founder and Publisher of Lantana Publishing, a London-based independent publishing company nominated for the Bologna Prize for Best Children’s Publisher of the Year 2017. She is this year’s winner of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize. Norah Myers interviews her here. 

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Abbie Headon is Commissioning and Digital Development Editor at Summersdale Publishers, and a BookMachine Board Member (representing the Editorial Channel).

I was lucky enough last week to go to my first official publishing event wearing my BookMachine hat, as I wended my way to The Caledonian Club in the heart of London for the catchily-titled ‘Westminster Media Forum Keynote Seminar: Book publishing and the wider creative market – cross-sector collaboration, copyright and new avenues for growth’.

Despite having a total inability to remember the name of this event, I was excited to hear a panel of experts from across our industry discussing the issues of the day, including the likely impact of Brexit, the relationship between publishers and authors, the importance of technology and innovation, and the lack of diversity in publishing.

A force for good

Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of The Publishers Association, introduced the event with a summary of the main issues to be discussed – Brexit, copyright and diversity – but what really struck me was his statement that ‘Book publishing is a profound force for good, and one that we should cherish.’ In an era that sees Simon & Schuster USA’s Threshold Editions paying $250,000 to bring us the collected thoughts of Milo Yiannopoulos, it’s a useful reminder of our duty to publish books we can truly be proud of.

Brexit

Paul Herbert, a partner at Goodman Derrick LLP, gave us a rundown of the specific ways that changes to the EU copyright framework may affect us as UK publishers. In summary, we won’t be facing a full-scale rewrite of our copyright laws, but rather a set of tweaks at the margins.

After taking us through all the details of the likely changes, Herbert explained that, as the new framework will be an EU directive, it will not be legally binding unless enacted by the UK parliament in legislation – so whether we press on with Brexit or not, we will still be able to choose whether to exist in harmony with our EU neighbours.

Working with authors

It says a lot about the publishing industry that authors are seen relatively rarely at publishing conferences. Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors, presented us with a list of concerns she has for her members, including the need for a strong copyright framework, for all work by authors, illustrators, photographers and translators to be credited, and for freedom of movement of creators in and out of the UK to be maintained.

Solomon called for accounting clauses to show authors not only how many books a publisher has sold, but also who has sold them down the line, and for authors to be rescued from a ‘triple tax whammy’. Touching on an issue that has flared up frequently on social media over recent months, she also supported the need for more diverse voices to be published, but pushed back on authors’ right to create characters beyond their own identities, saying, ‘Please don’t troll our authors for cultural appropriation every time they put a black face in their book if they’re not black.’

Cross-platform storytelling

Many of the speakers mentioned the competition that books now face as a category, as our attention is distracted by Netflix, online gaming, 24-hour news, social media and more. Crystal Mahey-Morgan described her strategy of reaching a wide audience through cross-platform publishing: her company OWN IT’s first product, Don’t Be Alien, exists as an animated video, a book and a song, and as six-word stories that can be bought as designed t-shirts and jumpers. People can enter the world of this story through any of these products, ranging from a 99p song to a £30 t-shirt.

Another way of looking beyond the book came from Rosamund de la Hay, President of the Booksellers Association and owner of The Mainstreet Trading Company. She pointed out that bookshops are a vital ‘third place’ in our communities: ‘not home, not school, but familiar and safe.’ Her bookshop in the Scottish Borders also has an antiques concession, a deli and a café, and they cross-promote books across the entire shop. Books are displayed with relevant products (just as shops like Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters are doing), and the café produces food from specific cookbooks. These strategies, combined with festivals and other events, demonstrate how a book can be far more than just a book.

Another advocate for reaching broad audiences is Sam Missingham of Harper Collins, who described the way that fan communities congregate in different spaces, such as Wattpad for sci-fi lovers. Her BFI Lovefest last year was a virtual book festival delivered via Twitter, Facebook, and Google Hangouts, with a live film screening at the BFI itself. The broad range of events combined with the massive reach of the BFI’s social media following provided a huge audience of people who might not see themselves as natural literary-festival-goers.

Technology and innovation

Justine Solomons, founder of Byte the Book, took us on a tour of innovation in publishing. Her own quest to bring tech companies, authors and publishers together began when she was reading a fellow student’s typescript on a Kindle six years ago and wondered, ‘Why can’t I buy this directly from the author?’

Although self-publishing can seem to be a modern phenomenon, it has a long history, reaching back to Jane Austen, Ezra Pound and Virginia Woolf, and even including J. K. Rowling, the founder of the Pottermore website. Indeed, Solomons argued, traditional publishing can even be regarded as a form of vanity publishing, because it shows that as an author, you need somebody to validate you. She highlighted Unbound and OWN IT! as innovative publishing companies, and Mark Edwards and Mark Dawson as impressive examples of self-published authors.

Oli Christie of Neon Play shared his tips on what the book industry can learn from the world of gaming. His first piece of advice was to be agile and prepared to pivot: bring out products quickly and be willing to change them if they’re not working. Next he stressed the importance of analytics: examining user data and trying A/B testing to find the most successful types of plot and character. Finally, use brand partnerships to extend your reach to much bigger audiences.

Diversity

This was a constant theme throughout the conference, and it’s one that none of us can ignore any longer. Sarah Shaffi of The Bookseller explained that it’s not just the wealth of competing distractions that turns people away from books; she said that many readers feel the publishing industry ‘isn’t speaking to them in their language or in the spaces that they occupy.’

Shaffi reminded us of the troubling fact that of the thousands and thousands of books published in the UK in 2016, less than one hundred were written by non-white British authors. She also gave an impressive range of statistics showing that film and TV adaptations, which demonstrably boost book sales, are nearly always based on books written by white people and feature non-diverse casts. This is an area where so much more needs to be done, and as Shaffi pointed out, the argument of ‘but we need to be commercial’ just doesn’t hold water: the book on which the musical Hamilton is based saw a 16,000% sales increase in two years, something any publisher would welcome heartily.

Crystal Mahey-Morgan made the ultimate point to close down any argument that diverse publishing is bad for business. In 2016, she published Mama Can’t Raise No Man, by Robyn Travis, which according to reports was the only novel published by a black British man in the entire year. (Take a moment for that to sink in.) The launch event, featuring a gospel choir along with poets and other performers, sold out the Hackney Empire, with tickets priced at £7-£10. So not only is it the morally correct thing for us to do as publishers in opening up our lists to diverse authors; it makes financial sense too. And in this era of constant change, that sounds like exactly what we need.

For more information, check out the Westminster Media Forum website and the Twitter stream from the event at #WMFEvents.

Abbie Headon interviews Julia Kingsford, literary agent and marketing consultant at Kingsford Campbell, about her new project, The Good Journal.

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Talking Podcasts: Standard Issue

While the details of any book are important to get right, books about personal or sensitive topics require an extra level of attention to ensure inclusivity and correctness.

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WriteNow, Penguin Random House UK’s programme to find, mentor and publish new writers currently under-represented on the nation’s bookshelves, is back for 2017. The world’s number-one publisher is looking for new writers from a socio-economically marginalised background, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) and BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) writers, or writers with a disability, to make books and publishing more representative of the society we live in. Find out more and apply at www.write-now.live. Applications close on 16 July 2017. Join the conversation using #WriteNowLive @PenguinRHUK. 

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It’s entirely possible that you won’t have heard of Calibre and yet this organisation is a key part of the publishing supply chain for thousands of adults and children in the UK and EU.

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Sarah Plows manages the marketing and publicity team at Jessica Kingsley Publishers, having previously held positions in the marketing departments of Palgrave Macmillan and Robert Hale. She features on The Bookseller’s 2017 list of Rising Stars in the publishing industry. Here Norah Myers interviews her about her role and recent award. 

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Rebecca Lewis-Oakes is the 2015 winner of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize. She is currently Managing Editor for Fiction at Egmont UK and has been a commissioning editor at Puffin, Faber & Faber and Scholastic, working across all ages and ranges of children’s books, from fiction and non-fiction to picture books, gift and novelty. Her successes include editing the multi-award-winning Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, commissioning the YouTuber hit Sprinkle of Glitter Diary and developing the first app for the Eric Hill Spot brand.

1) Congratulations on winning the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize in 2016. What an achievement. How has the win helped you professionally?

Thank you very much! It was an honour to win, especially with such a strong shortlist. The shortlist announcement timing was fantastic for me professionally – it came during London Book Fair which is obviously prime networking time, but also on the second day of my then-new job at Puffin. So the prize raised my profile within the industry and also at Penguin Random House, where, being such a big corporate, personal profile is hugely important. Winning the prize gave me a big confidence boost and sense of validation, since the judges recognised the importance of the behind-the-scenes nature of my accomplishments. While it’s often not the glamorous or headline-grabbing side of being an editor, it encouraged me to continue to see the broader picture in my career.

2) Please tell us about a few women working in publishing whose work and careers you really admire. What makes them stand out?

There are so many! Aside from the obvious trailblazers like Dame Gail Rebuck and Ursula Mackenzie, and current heads of houses like Francesca Dow and Hilary Murray Hill, I could perhaps highlight three women at different stages of their careers.

Philippa Milnes-Smith is always impressive, having headed up Puffin spectacularly, then becoming a top agent whose finger is always on the pulse and who is particularly great to work with.

Zosia Knopp is not only a Guinness world record-holding Rights Director, but she is really good at and committed to developing talent in-house. She is very inspiring to see in action, and is extremely generous with her knowledge and time.

Finally, Juliet Mushens (a KSW shortlistee, I believe) through sheer force of personality, hard work and great taste, has had phenomenal success early on in her career as an agent, which is clearly going to continue.

3) You approached Louise Pentland, a YouTube star, before it was popular to commission books from vloggers. What potential did you see in YouTube talent that you felt would fit naturally with book publishing?

Yes, we were only the second publisher to approach Gleam for any of their social talent. Louise in particular seemed a perfect fit for book publishing, since we went to her with the idea of a branded diary because she loves stationery and her followers love it too. It felt like a great project to do in print form, as the YouTube format is perfect for her content such as makeup tips, but this was a brilliant way to extend the interactive relationship between Louise and her audience on the page.

It was that combination of innovative creator and devoted audience that just made sense to us – and has been proven with all the social talent topping the book charts since then.

4) Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

I’d like to have progressed and expanded my current role. Beyond that, it’s hard to say: five years ago I couldn’t have imagined being where I am now, especially with the digital projects I’ve worked on. I never thought I would launch an app for Spot the dog, or help develop an xhtml-based typesetting programme! So I hope in five years I’ll still be open to new opportunities, helping my company run more smoothly and achieve more in whatever format that might take.

5) Why should women in trade publishing apply for the prize (or let others nominate them?)

The very process of applying for the KSW prize is empowering. The judges have designed a rigorous application process which will help women think critically about themselves and their careers. I found that in itself really positive. Being shortlisted and winning was a bonus and a huge boost for me. It’s so important to identify and own your achievements in your career, not just when applying for a new job, but think actively critically about your career in an ongoing way. So I say go for it!

Even though publishing is a pretty female-friendly industry, more can be done towards equality. Every choice that individual women take towards confidence makes a positive change.

6) What’s the most rewarding thing about working in children’s publishing?

Helping children to love reading. The mission statement at my first company, Scholastic, is about helping children to achieve their true potential on society through reading and – while lofty – that has always stayed with me. And it’s only possible because of the brilliant people I work with – across the board, I find everyone in children’s publishing is talented, committed and driven to produce great books for children to enjoy.

The Kim Scott Walwyn Prize recognises excellence and future potential in women in their first seven years of a publishing career. The deadline for applications is Friday 10th February and details can be found here: https://kimscottwalwyn.org/

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