What Comes Next?: 23 Steps Toward Ending Publishing’s Diversity Problem

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I asked every person I spoke to for “‘You Will Be Tokenized’: Speaking Out About the State of Diversity in Publishing” what could be done about publishing’s monoculture. I got a range of answers, as I summarized in my introduction, from “urge the existing publishing industry to change” to “dismantle capitalism.” The most practical answer is likely somewhere in the middle—neither a painless change of heart nor a truly radical overhaul. Models for change already exist within the book world: We Need Diverse Books in particular is a powerful and inspiring agent of progress; the practical value of a database like writersofcolor.org is obvious; BuzzFeed’s Emerging Writers Fellowships puts money where the media organization’s values are. What follows is an aggregated list of “actionable items” both from the group of 50 writers and professionals I spoke to and from beyond. Neither exhaustive nor authoritative, it is a place to start. (Add your own suggestions in the comments!) Take out something to write with, decision makers, and start taking notes.

Pay your interns. Pay your interns. Pay your interns.

Offer entry-level salaries that allow your employees to live in the place where they work and maybe pay off a little of their student loans.

Institute formal, friendly policies for flexible schedules and working remotely.

If you are an agent, an editor, a critic, a bookseller, a librarian—it is YOUR JOB to find a diverse array of writers and books. If you find yourself only representing, editing, reviewing, buying, or displaying one kind of book from one kind of author—you have failed. It is your responsibility, and yours alone, to fix it.

Looking for excellent writers from diverse backgrounds but aren’t finding any? You are looking in the wrong places. Choose a different conference, pick up a different literary magazine, find a different review publication. In the meantime you can look here too: writersofcolor.org

Looking for excellent employees from diverse backgrounds but only white/cis/straight/wealthy people are applying? You are advertising in the wrong places. Consider creating a fellowship for employees from underrepresented communities. Try setting up an internship program with an HBCU. Actively reach out to professional or advocacy organizations like the Asian American Writers Workshop or Lambda Literary. Build partnerships. Get on some listservs.

Assessing many writers of color or job candidates of color but not finding anyone—not one—who meets your standards? You should probably reassess your standards. Write them down, share them, try and figure out what isn’t working. Because standards that are met only by one kind of person from one kind background aren’t working.

Try not to be defensive. You are the person in power here.

Trying is not doing. Doing is doing.

If your company values diversity, make it a priority. In writing. Commit to hiring and acquiring a certain number of underrepresented candidates and writers. Establish and enforce real consequences when those standards are not met.

Every time you call in your former professor’s favorite student for an interview, bring in three candidates whose resumes don’t look like yours.

If you are a white person, ask other white people what they are doing about diversity. Embarrass them, encourage them, persuade them, sell them. Race is a part of your life every day: acknowledge it. Then work on it.

Stop putting headless women on covers. Stop putting that one tree on covers. Stop putting white people on covers of books about characters of color.

Shelve every work of literary or commercial fiction, regardless of the author, in the fiction section. See also: politics, biography, romance, and so on.

Amplify the voices of people from underrepresented communities who speak out. Support them. Respect those who choose to remain silent. Support them.

Pay people with equivalent experience and job titles the same amount of money.

Create formal mentorship programs for entry level employees from marginalized communities.

Make all jobs, contracts, and awards available to undocumented immigrants.

Ask emerging writers from marginalized communities to participate in your residency committee, to judge your contest, to sit on your panel. Ask emerging writers from marginalized communities to talk about everything, not just their marginalization. Ask about plot. Ask about character. Ask about ~the craft~.

If you are publishing ten books about World War II, maybe publish only five. Give the remaining five contracts to histories that have not yet been published: a history of indigenous peoples written by an indigenous person for indigenous people.

Make books that aren’t for white people.

Give money to writers and employees of color. Give money to indigenous writers and employees. Give money to queer writers and employees. Give money to writers and employees who are disabled. Give money to trans writers and employees. Give money to writers and employees who come from poverty. Give it to them in the form of book contracts and salaries. This is in exchange for their labor. This is an investment.

Listen.