Rethinking ‘Diversity’ – Our Call to Action


As London’s writer development agency, Spread the Word has been committed to equality and inclusion for 25 years. We welcome the report.

The report is published at a time when the longstanding structural inequalities and racism in the UK have been starkly revealed through the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black and Asian communities and when Black Lives Matter activists and communities across the country are calling for wholescale change to bring about equity and social justice.

As one of the least diverse and socially mobile creative industries in the UK, the publishing industry needs to do more, and it needs to do better.

We have been working with Dr Anamik Saha (Goldsmiths, University of London) since our Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers in the UK Marketplace report was published in 2015. Writing the Future gave the evidence base for many of the initiatives that are currently taking place across the industry (and which itself followed The Bookseller’s 2004 In Full Colour report).

Rethinking ‘Diversity’ in Publishing shows that the industry’s current diversity and inclusion initiatives are not enough to bring about the sustained systemic change that needs to happen to create a level playing field for and a valuing of Black, Asian, minority ethnic and working-class writers and audiences.

None of this is new and none of it is unknown. The publishing industry needs to do the work. It needs to commit to culture change and ensuring there is equity across its business – not just acquisitions and editorial but also marketing, publicity, sales and retail.

Our experience is that, on the whole, the industry has little understanding and awareness of the wider not-for-profit literature sector and our role in developing writers and readers.

As a charity, Spread the Word is focused on providing opportunities for writers under-represented in publishing to take their writing forward, to write the book they want to write and to have a career as a writer. We build and design our programmes to be intersectional, to be accessible and to address the systemic barriers that under-represented writers face – time, space, money and networks. Our work has advocacy, development, community and wellbeing at its heart.

Our flagship annual London Writers Awards programme is built on these principles. It is a free nine-month development programme for 30 writers a year from under-represented backgrounds. Twelve have already been agented with one book published, one two-book deal, with others waiting to be announced.

Spread the Word recognises that the not-for-profit literature sector needs to also look at its own house. We will be reviewing our own organisation and governance to ensure that equity and anti-racism are built throughout our systems, processes and practice.

We are part of a network of literature development organisations – Literature Works, National Centre for Writing, New Writing North, New Writing South, Writing East Midlands and Writing West Midlands – that work with and for communities across England.  We will be working with them to develop a collective response to the report and to take action forward.

We invite organisations from across the sector and wider to join us, as we seek a collective path to broadening the range of talent making writing a viable career.

One-off initiatives don’t work and won’t bring about the change that needs to happen. The not-for-profit literature sector is the development arm of the publishing industry. The industry needs to rethink how it makes long-term fixed investments in writers and readers and how it builds strategic alliances to effect and support sustained meaningful change.

We call on the publishing industry to open up a dialogue and to start working in partnership to make change happen.

Our statement to the publishing industry is detailed in the report – click here to read it.

Published 23 June 2020