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HIGHLIGHTS OF APRIL 2021 INDEPENDENT BOOK PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION PUBLISHERS UNIVERSITY


Wendy Jones

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NO SURPRISE--PUBLISHING INDUSTRY STILL LACKS DIVERSITY

 

Diversity, equity, and inclusion were central components of several workshops and one of the two keynote speeches. 

 

A little over 100 out of approximately 3,700 members attended online April 7 - April 10.

 

One keynote panel composed of women of color from various publishing houses  spoke of the continuing lack of diversity among the staff and executives in publishing as the main reason for the lack of diversity in books published by people of color, differently abled people, LGBTQ+, and people who are gender non-conforming.


A panelist from Lee & Low-- a minority-owned,  family-owned, independent publisher of diverse children’s books since 1991-- published its first diversity report on the publishing industry in 2015.


Here is an excerpt from the analysis of the 2019 report, the most recent
from Lee & Low’s website:


According to the survey, 76 percent of publishing staff,
review journal staff, and literary agents are White.

 

The rest are comprised of people who self-report as

 

Asian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (7 percent);

 

Hispanic/Latino/Mexican (6 percent);

 

Black/African American (5 percent);

 

and biracial/multiracial (3 percent).

 

 Native Americans and Middle Easterners each comprise less than 1 percent of publishing staff.

 

 

“The 2015 survey reported that overall, 79 percent of people who work in publishing self-report as White.

 

Given the sample size difference, this 3 percent change in White employees does not meet the bar for statistically significant change.

There is no discernible change to any of the other racial categories.

 

 

In other words, the field is just as White today as it was four years ago.“

 

 

For more details on the report and hyperlinks to various recent
publishing controversies, please click on the link below for the Lee & Low website:


https://blog.leeandlow.com/2020/01/28/2019diversitybaselinesurvey/

 

Panelists felt there were  problems concerning the practice of using “sensitivity editors,” free lancers who review manuscripts to catch cultural, racial, and ethnic blunders.

 

By hiring these freelancers, companies avoid hiring full-time staff members from diverse populations. Also,  these independent contractors  are often underpaid.  

After all, without these sensitivity editors, publishers could end up recalling 10,000 books and dealing with a public relations debacle.


NEW POLICIES FROM BARNES & NOBLE

 

The other keynote speaker was Jim Daunt, the head of Barnes & Noble. Daunt said  that B & N’s stores would focus on their local areas instead of having book-purchasing decisions emanate from headquarters.

 

In other words, books from  local writers and the book-buying habits of each area would be paramount in managers’ purchasing decisions.  

 

Daunt was asked about the return policy, in which bookstores are allowed to  return unsold books, instead of discounting unsold items as every other retail business does.

 

He said that returns would now be “rare” and seen as a sign of failure. However, he did not jettison the practice altogether.

 

 

 IBPA IS TAKING THE SOCIAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT SERIOUSLY


Trainings, workshops, evaluations, revisions of values statements, revamping committee criteria, all are ongoing at IBPA.

 

Those of us working on these committees are doing all that we can to make change that is structural, not cosmetic.

 

Some members have left because they felt the organization was getting  too “political.” IBPA did not try to convince these people to stay.   

 

I know, we have seen this many times  before: Reconstruction followed by Jim Crow laws, When the Negro was in Vogue (Langston Hughes’ s chapter about the Harlem Renaissance in his autobiography) followed by the First Depression, the Civil Rights Movement followed by backlash.

 

But this time is different.

 

In the aftermath of the January 6th unsuccessful coup and the flood of  voter theft laws, enough people have had their eyes opened that lasting change is possible if we’re willing to do the work.

 

And many of us are.  

 

That work is both inner–-reading  true  American History, working on the racialized trauma in the  bodies of all Americans (“My Grandmother’s Hands” by Resmaa Menakem is highly recommended)– and outer–joining  local political organizations,  making phone calls, or  sending postcards to  urge others to take different types of political actions

 

There is nothing easy about any of this, but together we can do it.

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