A panel of editors and agents took on the finances behind publishing’s diversity problems in a discussion hosted by the Independent Book Publishers Association yesterday. Jason Low, publisher and co-owner of Lee & Low Books, cited a three-fold rise in the number of diverse children’s books published in recent years. But, Low said, the numbers hide the fact that many books are still written by white, able-bodied, authors.
“There are real consequences,” said Low, who created the Diversity Baseline Survey, which polled the industry and produced a 2016 report that showed publishing is overwhelmingly white and has widespread diversity issues. “I don’t think we have the luxury of ignoring diversity, because it is a growth market.”
Fellow panelists Ayesha Pande of Ayesha Pande Literary and Chris Jackson, v-p, editor-in-chief, and publisher of One World Random House, said that their work with authors from diverse backgrounds shows that there is an audience and a financial incentive for publishing more diverse books. But, he added, the industry has to look harder at the core problems of diversity and the potential solutions.
In particular, Pande said that the problem of diversity isn’t just that industry professionals are white but that they come from the same backgrounds. “The gatekeepers, the people who are making the decisions, still are almost entirely white. But they’re not only white, they’re a particular kind of white. So they’re looking for authors that reflect their experiences,” Pande said. “I find myself having to work very, very hard to convince them that there are these other stories that are worth putting out there in the world.”
Jackson pointed to the pop culture success of films like Black Panther, as well as sold-out literary events in New York with authors like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Trevor Noah, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as proof that the way to cement the industry’s recognition of the financial power in diverse publishing has to be more proactive. “One of the important things is to think about diversity and multiculturalism and things like that not as necessarily solutions to someone else’s problem, but as being generative, creative things that are actually helping to build something that is new and exciting,” Jackson said.