In a series of highly public missteps, the publishing industry has proven it is not a diverse or inclusive place. Laine Cunningham, a 20-year industry professional, has begun a reverse engineering process that can change diversity at publishing companies…and even our society.
By all appearances, publishing is an open-to-all endeavor. But for female authors and authors of color and LGBT authors, and for authors who write about women or people of color or individuals in the LGBT community, entry is all but barred. Now a provocative and polarizing–yet often deadly funny–look behind the scenes of the publishing industry by a 20-year professional launches a movement to change that dynamic from the ground up.
“God forbid you be female, black, gay, or any other version of ‘not a straight white guy’ and pick up a pen today,” says Laine Cunningham, a 20-year publishing consultant, “because gender, race, and the politics of power will shroud your words in obscurity.”
Independent studies have shown that publishing contracts, awards and book reviews woefully underrepresent women, people of color, and LGBT individuals. The New York Times’ 2011 book reviews were found to skew 90% white and 67% male, for example, while the London Review of Books was called out for reviews that leaned 89% male.
The books women write are treated differently from representation through to marketing and remaindering. Authors of color and individuals writing about LGBT characters are immediately relegated to niche categories no matter how universal or far-reaching their work. Until, that is, a publisher feels the need to prove a commitment to diversity.
“Diverse authors and diverse books,” Cunningham says, “exist in a shadowland where they are purchased, printed and pulped in a way that seems engineered to ensure that no one can hear them scream.”
Now she invites authors and publishers and readers and reviewers to fix the problems by reverse engineering the publishing industry. Her calls to action include:
Buying books by diverse authors…and buying them new to ensure the author receives both income and credit for the sale, which is important to their career.
Lobbying contests and awards to accept self-published authors because so many diverse authors are shut out of the traditional routes open to nominees.
Working with local bookstores and local news media to find and support diverse authors in their region.
Cunningham is producing a series of articles and books that address these issues. The first book is Writing While Female or Black or Gay: Why Women, Authors of Color, and LGBT Authors Need Not Apply. The introduction, “Dateline: Clusterf*ck,” throws an immediate punch at diversity in publishing today. Chapters like “P*ssy Pink Covers” and “What Color is Your Category?” delve into the adult market. Juvenile and YA categories are covered in “Goodnight, Pale White Moon,” while “The Gilded Penis” and “On Their Knees” examine contests, awards, and book reviews.
Easy calls to action can help reengineer publishing from the ground up. A project page has been set up on the arts funding site Patreon at www.Patreon.com/LaineCunningham. Information about the book is available at WritingWhileFemale.com.
For the past twenty years, Laine Cunningham has worked as a publishing consultant and ghostwriter through her company, Writer’s Resource. She has been quoted on MSNBC.com, CNN, FoxNews.com, and international media as a publishing consultant and author. She can be reached at 919-928-2245 or through her website LaineCunningham.com.