Sally Doherty lives with her husband, Jack Russell Terror, three-legged Labrador and the fifth unwelcome member of their family – M.E. which keeps her tied to the house and often bed. She writes flash fiction and middle grade books.
The publishing world is notoriously white, middle class, London-centric and able bodied. Fortunately, this is something that the industry has recently woken up to. At the moment, INCLUSIVITY and DIVERSITY are the buzz words.
Increasingly, agents and publishers are opening up opportunities to authors from marginalised communities – including but not limited to BAME, LBGTQI+, working class and those with disabilities.
So what is the industry doing?
Many agents and publishers are specifically looking for submissions from diverse writers, particularly own voices (where the book features a character from a marginalised community and the author shares this experience).
An increasing number of competitions and conferences are offering sponsored or scholarship places.
There are initiatives solely for diverse writers such as Penguin’s WriteNow and DHH Literary Agency’s open days. DHA Literary Agency is also running pitch days across the country which opens up opportunities for writers living further afield.
As someone who has spent the past fourteen years housebound with M.E., this new drive is extremely welcome. However, I am seeing backlash from some writers. I should point out this is definitely in the minority but still it is there. These writers feel that they themselves are being discriminated against when there are opportunities solely for marginalised communities. Recently, I shared news of my publisher’s open submissions window. Before they ran an open submission for all writers, they held separate submissions windows for diverse writers. The aforementioned authors expressed frustration that they were shut out of this.
I can understand it might seem that the publishing industry is currently favouring those from marginalised communities. What other authors needs to realise is, that there are hundreds of opportunities already out there for them. Every day I see writing conferences, networking events and agent pitch days that I am unable to attend due to my health. Those who live in the north of the U.K., who have children, who are carers or who can’t afford travel and accommodation are also cut out of these opportunities.
White, able bodied, middle class writers have always been favoured in the industry. Enabling diverse writers to get a foot into the door will not close the door in the faces of other writers. It just extends a helping hand, which is well overdue.
Increasing inclusivity in publishing is not just about opening up doors to diverse authors. It’s also about increasing marginalised representation in novels. Those who identify as BAME and LGBTQ+ as well as those from working class backgrounds and with disabilities have rarely seen themselves in novels in the past. It is so important for both children and adults to be able to read books that feature characters like them. And it’s also important for others to read about this experience to raise awareness.
This is just the start
I am so pleased I have joined the writing world at a time when inclusivity and diversity is being encouraged. I’m grateful to all the agents and publishers who are opening up opportunities for writers from marginalised communities. I do, however, feel the publishing industry still has a long way to go. I for one, for example, would love it if there were more opportunities for those who can’t travel. Three times over the past couple of years, when pitching sessions have been announced, I’ve emailed to ask if I can participate by video call. I’m delighted to say that all three agreed to my request and went out of their way to make it happen. It would be wonderful, though, if with every opportunity like this, a couple of video calls could be offered as standard. (I feel extremely cheeky asking!)
For those of you who still feel diverse authors are being favourited right now, I will say this: my life is not easy. I struggle every day with poor health. I miss pretty much every opportunity there is (not just in writing). So, if the publishing industry is making things a bit easier for those of us who are disadvantaged or who feel marginalised in some way, then I’ll take it, thank you very much.
Thank you to everyone in publishing who is making the effort to be inclusive. I just hope this is not a passing trend. Let us hope it will continue and expand and that the industry will increasingly put its money where its mouth is.