As a college student, I can attest that printing color pages can get pricey. The library I had access to growing up only had four printers and colored pages were 75 cents a sheet. Eventually you learn to settle for black and white, all the while mourning the brilliance that could’ve been yours, if you’d had 75 cents.
The publishing industry is something like that. Except it’s going to take more than a few quarters for color pages to get on the same level as white ones.
In the article “Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing”, Daniel José Older discusses the disparity in the publishing industry between works published by authors of color and works published by white writers. That’s not to say that writers of color don’t get published. However an investigation by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin shows the levels at which children’s books about children of color were published over a number of years.
Cooperative Children’s Book Center, University of Wisconsin
Unpacking these numbers shows that historically there has been a disparity between representation of people of color and that of the dominant Caucasian culture. And as with most social issues, the answer isn’t just black and white.
The series of graphs below depict a relatively recent census of the standing of diversity in the publishing industry. While the overall community is becoming more inclusive there is still a disheartening 79% white population in the industry as a whole as of 2015. While there is visible improvement in the structure of the publishing community in regards to diversity, more work can be done to promote diversity and inclusiveness in publishing.
One of Older’s main points is that the change that needs to occur has to happen on multiple levels at the same time. Editors and publishers are likely to shift the blame to authors or “The Market”. The mysterious and fickle “Market” doesn’t ask for books about people of color and therefore fewer are printed.
In 2015, following an incident involving the “Best American” poetry anthology of the preceding year, Antonio Aiello of PEN America conducted an interview with several editors of the contemporary publishing scene. In an interesting argument the first interviewee, Gregory Pardlo, suggests that the problem of the literary publishing industry isn’t that of the publishers or editors necessarily but of education. This argument is best summarized by the latter end of his commentary: “How bizarre, for example, that some professors can teach Modernism, and make no reference to Hurston or Toomer. Odd that Younghill Kang’s East Goes West is not mentioned in the same breath as Native Son and Grapes of Wrath.”
Within the same interview another of the participants, Anna Devries, says that while there do need to be more people of color in the publishing industry the problem lies in the amount of available opportunity. One prominent quote from her segment hones in on the hardships of the industry that can be faced by all young people coming into publishing but is particularly disadvantageous to people of color.
“Publishing tends to eat its young, especially in editorial, making it difficult for many to advance beyond assistant level. Salaries start low and can remain low for years. Add to that the hiring process can be opaque, with entry-level positions often being filled through personal recommendations or from publishing programs that cater to those who can afford the expensive fees those programs charge and which are also very white.”
So it’s not “the Market”. But then why were less than 3 percent of the children’s book published in 2013 about black people? In Older’s words, “the underlying illness is institutional racism.”
While steps are being taken towards change, it’s important that more people of color are involved at every stage of the publishing process. As Older says “[it’s] work for writers, agents, editors, artists, fans, executives, interns, directors and publicists… reviewers, educators [and] administrators.” Everyone in the publishing community needs to come together for a “more than diverse” future.
Aiello, Antonio. “Equity in Publishing: What Should Editors Be Doing?”. Pen America, pen.org/equity-in-publishing-what-should-editors-be-doing
Low, Jason. “Where is The Diversity In Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results”. Lee & Low Books, http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/