October 12, 2016
Penguin Random House UK is dealing with their lack of diversity #WriteNow
by Simon Reichley
There has been plenty of discussion about the embarrassing lack of diversity in publishing this year. Sadly, solutions have been hard to come by. Penguin Random House UK—that nation’s largest publisher—is looking to change that. They’ve been talking the talk on diversity for almost a year now, and are making the moves to walk the walk. Specifically, they’ve announced a new initiative, dubbed #WriteNow, which aims to bring “new writers with different stories to tell” into the UK publishing scene.
The initiative will bring together 150 writers in London, Birmingham, and Manchester (two of which are not generally considered industry centers in the UK) to meet with other authors, editors, and agents, and to discuss their work. These writers will be selected from a pool of over 1,000 applicants. The panel of editors making the final selections will be looking for new writers (nothing commercially published in the last ten years), working on fiction or non-fiction (no cookbooks, no graphic novels, no poems), and coming “from a background that is currently under-represented in books and publishing.”
At the end of the process, ten writers will be invited to join an exclusive mentoring program, which will include editorial, marketing, and business advice. With any luck, the ten aspiring authors will publish books with PRHUK and go on to great fame and even greater fortune, as most writers do.
In comments given to the Guardian, Tom Weldon, chief executive of PRHUK, said of the program and the problem that it it attempting to remedy:
“We feel very strongly about diversity in publishing. For me it is a real problem when we don’t reflect the society we live in. It’s not good for books, or culture, or commercially. We are going to become irrelevant… We know we have a real issue, and we have been slow. We have to address it.”
Weldon is right, but perhaps the most exciting thing about #WriteNow is that it’s only a small portion of Penguin Random House’s plan to address its diversity problem. Early this year they announced that they would be eliminating degree requirements for new applicants, and launched “The Scheme,” an ominious-sounding program to attract non-standard applicants to entry-level marketing positions. It’s encouraging to see PRH moving to transform their staff in the same ways, and at the same time, as they transform their frontlist, and it will hopefully create culture of diversity in the company that long outlasts this most recent hashtag.
Simon Reichley is the rights and operations manager at Melville House.