Diversity and Inclusivity in Children's Literature: The difference between publishing diverse authors and having diverse characters in children's publishing

Take a search on The Bookseller’s website for anything referring to “inclusivity” or “diversity” and you’ll find pages upon pages of articles, interviews, and opinion pieces about what seems to be the current hot topic for the Industry. It’s no secret that publishing does indeed have a diversity and inclusivity problem; its workforce is predominately dominated by the educated white middle class and when looking at children’s publishing its authors are very much from the same background. This problem is due, in part, to publishing claiming to be “a place for everyone” yet doing nothing to cultivate such an environment. There is an increasing and almost overwhelming amount of noise and energy given to panels and conferences on diversity and inclusivity solutions, yet the workforce and those who are given permanent access to roles continues to be dominated by a homogenous group of individuals.

Issues around access to publishing have resulted in a London-centric Industry that focuses more on talking about its problems rather than taking steps to make effective lasting change. Not discrediting or disregarding the hard work that has been put in place by the few, The Good Lit Agency, Stripes Publishing and Penguin’s Write Now programme to name a few recent ventures and longstanding schemes whose primary aim is opening up the industry, there is a move towards sidestepping the gatekeeper to allow different voices and people in. However, the facts are that the numbers just don’t compare. Children’s publishing equates for 40% of the entire Industry, why then when considering the number of UK based Young Adult books by People of Colour were there only nine published in 2017 and nine planned for this year?

Who writes whose story and what characters are being featured in children’s books has been the centre of the OWN voices and sensitivity reader debate. OWN voices refers to the Twitter hashtag created by Corinne Duyvis, YA author of Otherbound and was created to highlight stories about people from marginalised and minority communities, written by members from within these communities themselves. Without being reduced to stereotypes or caricatures, it is the accurate depiction of a person from a minority group that is at the centre of the promotion of OWN voice authors. In this way celebrating and highlighting diverse authors in Children’s publishing gives often time debut authors the push they need and gives children the representation they deserve. On the other hand, authors from non-minority backgrounds are writing stories that feature diverse characters and ensuring their authenticity by making use of sensitivity readers. Sensitivity readers are enlisted to “sense check” as it were that the characters written are authentic and representative of their communities and that the voice adopted by the author is a genuine depiction of what their life would be like.

It is our aim at Knights Of to make room for both diverse characters and diverse authors whilst simultaneously opening the doors to the Industry for people who want to work within it. In publishing inclusively, we are making room for every voice to be heard and are focusing on a diversity that spans not only race but also gender, ability and accessibility. The team that works on a book are just as important as the characters that feature within the story and the author themselves. We’re committing to improving the landscape of each department first and foremost, by hiring people from as diverse a background as possible to ensure that their voice is heard when decisions are made. We’re committing to providing an open space for authors of every background to find a publishing home with us by removing as many barriers to entry as possible. In not requiring our authors to be agented, we’re doing away with the expectation that you have to know the traditional way of doing things and are trying to be as open as possible to as many people as possible.

With the topic of diversity and inclusivity growing some may argue that in giving so much attention to what the industry is lacking, we’re failing to see what it’s doing well. This is a valid point and the achievements of the few shouldn’t be overlooked by the failures of the many. However, and until the achievements outweigh the disproportionate number of instances whereby we’ve failed to give minority children equal representation, we have to focus on actual ways to break down the invisible barriers that prevent people from entering the workforce and getting their work published.

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