Editorial by Bobby Nayyar
The biggest lesson I’ve learned running my own business is that if something isn’t working, you have to make a radical change. This is easy when your business is you, a laptop, BlackBerry and several freelancers. In my two years of trying to influence the dialogue on equality in publishing I learned that change comes from the top, and external organizations such as Arts Council England and Equip can ask the questions, but the answers are complex and deep rooted, and they start at the top, not the entry level of the industry.
As I’ve been building a career for myself as a publisher, writer, freelance marketer and creative practitioner (I’m also happy to do babysitting), the question of how I can do my part to make the publishing industry more open and fair has never left me. And this is what I’ve decided to do:
1. Develop and trial an online system of recruiting freelancers, which uses ‘Blind Recruitment’ principles, i.e. the name, gender, address and ethnic identity of applicants are kept secret, so I judge applicants on the strength of their application, not my assumptions of who they might be. I’ve been surprised and somewhat saddened that bigger publishers have started using video submissions to vet intern applications and enrollment in graduate schemes – this is only going to perpetuate the industry hiring in its reflection.
2. Everybody gets paid, even those on work experience. I’ve been working on a YouTube series interviewing publishers and have employed college leavers that worked on a BFI project in association with Eastside Educational Trust. These are enthusiastic but inexperienced people, who have for the most part had to accept unpaid internships, which for filming work is exploitative. I’ve been paying them £7 an hour for the work, not the London Living Wage — I hope to do this if cashflow allows.
3. I discuss these matters with my authors, peers and wherever possible my customers. In my experience, part of the problem with equality is the reticence to engage in honest discussion about these issues — in part because the dialogue is mostly with white people who are understandably cautious so as not to offend, or implicate themselves in any potential legal action. The easiest option is not to engage, or keep discussions firmly behind closed doors. This has not helped — we’re in 2015 and still discussing the same issues that have been circling the publishing industry for the last 40 years.
I take a Voltairean ‘Il faut cultiver notre jardin’ (“We must tend to our garden”) approach to equality in publishing. Real change comes through radical action, in which the industry has much experience with the growth of Amazon, digital publishing and self-publishing. As an industry, if we took the same approach to equality as we do to these three, then the change we need to remain relevant in the UK and beyond will certainly happen within my lifetime.
Bobby Nayyar trained in publishing at Faber and Faber. He went on to join the marketing department at Little, Brown Book Group. In 2009, he founded his own publishing house, Limehouse Books. From 2011-13, he managed Equality in Publishing (Equip). His third book, Glass Scissors, will be published in October 2015. He lives in London.