byFrances Golinski Drinkwater
The publishing industry is broad and ever-changing, attracting book-lovers and academics alike – anyone with a creative mind and an interest in communicating important ideas. The industry has faced huge pressures in recent decades, with rapid changes due to increasing use of technology: fewer people are now reading fiction – book sales in this sector fallen by 23% since 2012, and more people are accessing content online (digital sales increased by 6% in 2016 and now account for 35% of total revenues). Nevertheless, publishing, whether in books or magazines, is still a great place to work, offering wide range of roles in a changing industry.
However, publishing faces two major problems: it is highly competitive and there is a distinct lack of diversity – both in the writers being published and the professionals working within the industry. Perhaps surprisingly, publishing has a higher applicant-position ratio than both finance and law, so competition for jobs is tough. Without training, industry knowledge and work experience, even competent university graduates struggle to find paid work in the industry. Applicants may find themselves stuck in that common cycle of lack of experience leading to no job offers leading to lack of experience. Even those who do manage to land an internship, will likely find that it’s unpaid, favouring more privileged individuals who can afford to work for free. The statistics speak for themselves: in 2017, bookcareers.com surveyed more than 1,000 people and found that more than 90% currently working in the industry classify themselves as white British.
Its not just the people who work in the industry who are overwhelmingly white – its also the writers they publish? In 2016 World Book Night, organised by the UK charity The Reading Agency, was criticised for its all-white author’s list of 15 giveaway books (their 2018 list is just slightly better, with 5 out of 23 writers of colour). World Book Day also issued its own all-white list of authors in Autumn 2016, along with the Carnegie Medal for Children’s Literature, who similarly failed to nominate any writers of colour to a longlist of 20.
Arkbound, the ‘publisher that has social enterprise at its heart’ confronts both of these problems. Founded in 2015, the Bristol-based publisher is dedicated to supporting aspiring writers and publishing professionals from disadvantaged backgrounds. Arkbound publishes authors who experience barriers to the industry – especially writers with an important message about society or the environment. It also helps individuals to launch careers in publishing.
Along with a small group of publishers across the UK, Arkbound has developed the Publishing Excellence Programme, which offers candidates valuable information about the publishing industry and teaches practical skills like proofreading, copy-editing, getting ISBN codes and contacting and networking with retailers. Candidates receive one to one tuition in the basics of both book and magazine publishing, they are assessed at the end of the course, and leave with a full reference, in-depth report and certificate. Arkbound also ensures that candidates are fully supported after finishing the course; those who complete the Programme will also be the first to be considered for any publishing positions and internships. Gradutates of the course may also be referred on to other, non participating publishers. In some cases, candidates may be directly recruited by a delivery partner after the course. In line with their commitment to improving access to and diversity in the industry, Arkbound can sponsor applicants from disadvantaged groups to cover the full cost of the course and their expenses.
The initiative is unique in combatting some of the barriers to entry in the publishing industry and providing practical and tangible results.
Arkbound also has an exciting new release from a ground breaking writer of children’s literature. Odiri Ighamre’s debut book Arcadia is a beautifully illustrated children’s story which celebrates the beauty of Africa’s natural environment and asserts the importance of conserving this beauty. Through the character of Timone, the story introduces children to contemporary environmental issues whilst celebrating diversity and imagining a truly magical fictional place.
Whilst it’s impossible to authentically tell stories which reflect the experience of every community in every part of the world, nevertheless barriers in the publishing industry are starting to be broken down. Hopefully publishers like Arkbound can play their part: by making a wider diversity of great and exciting literature more accessible to their readers, and also by opening up the publishing industry which supports it, to a more diverse workforce.