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Black Writers’ Guild reports progress as publishers confront diversity problems

The Black Writers Guild has called for sweeping changes in the UK publishing industry

Nels Abbey is one of the founding members of the Guild

The Black Writers’ Guild says it is “pleased” with the progress that has been made since its publication of an open letter in June which called on all major publishing houses to address the racial inequalities within their organisations.

The Guild says it is around hallway through a series of virtual meetings with publishers and should be on track to complete these by the middle of September. It says “robust discussions” have been had and has provided honest feedback about many “well-intentioned” but ultimately “futile” schemes already in place. It is believed that many major publishing houses, including Penguin Random House, Hachette UK and HarperCollins, are among those the Guild has held meetings with, along with a number of independent publishers.

A spokesman for the Guild has praised publishers’ engagement and their willingness to expedite change. At the moment all publishers they have spoken to have agreed to form a stakeholder group with the Guild which will be co-chaired by and organiser of the Guild and the heads of the various publishers.

After the Guild’s open letter back in June, which was signed by more than 100 writers, leading publishers including Hachette UK, Penguin Random House UK, Bonnier Books UK, Pan Macmillan and S&S UK, all conceded that the pace of change in the industry was too slow and that they had work to do.

The Guild was very specific in its requirements from the industry. Their letter called for transparent audits to provide data on the submission-to-acquisition ratio of black authors and median and mode averages of the advances given to black authors. They also called for an immediate address for core leaderships lack of black members and the “worrying absence” of black publishing staff in key positions in sales, marketing and publicity departments.

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Reporting on progress since the publishing leaders’ statements of intent, a spokesperson from the Guild said: “Thus far, the publishers have been open, honest, co-operative and demonstrably eager to make progress. We welcome the fact that many houses have made their desire to work with us to achieve change very clear.

“Each publisher we have met with has admitted that they have a serious diversity deficit, both in terms of black writers and staff. And in some situations, they don’t have the data and/or a data collection mechanism to determine the scale of the issue.

“The Black Writers’ Guild is currently creating a framework to rectify the lack of data and information. This framework will create a fair and transparent playing field, and will help enshrine racial equality in the industry on a permanent basis.”

The Guild has also criticised the current diversity initiatives currently underway: “Individual publishing houses have their own plans, that are as unique as their companies, to address the issues. We’ve had robust discussions around these plans and given advice and feedback where we feel they may prove futile given the history of such actions,” said the spokesperson. “It is still very early days, but we are pleased with the progress we are making thus far.”

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