There are a few inconspicuous holes in the publishing industry that prevent books written by diverse authors from being published. These gaps come from a shortage of editors who understand and relate to these authors’ points of view.
In May 2022, The Writers’ Union of Canada published “Diversity in Canadian Writing,” which reported that 96 authors identified as BIPOC out of the 573 respondents of their survey, which was passed on by 46 publishers. They also found that 104 respondents identified as LGBTQ2SIA+, although 57 people skipped the question.
“There’s no shortage of diverse authors, but there is a shortage of diverse publishers, agents, and editors,” one respondent writes. “We need better representation in those fields so that authors from all walks of life can be better supported.”
This idea has been echoed by others who are part of the publishing industry. A lack of editors with varying intersectional viewpoints could consequently reduce the number of opportunities for certain books to be published.
With diversity rapidly increasing in Canada, there will inevitably be higher demands for media and content that represent different groups of people.
By 2041, the racialized population in Canada could rise to between 16.4 to 22.3 million people, up from 8 million in 2016, according to a 2022 Statistics Canada projection.
Some publishers, like Hachette Book Group — one of the “Big Five” publishing houses — say that they are advancing their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commitments. While these numbers are likely not Canadian exclusive, the Hachette workforce in general was nearly 65 per cent white in 2021. However, their 2021 highlights show that 54 per cent of their new hires are BIPOC, up from about 48 per cent in 2020.
While Hachette doesn’t specifically mention anything about editors here, publishing houses should remember that editors are the backbone of books. To encourage underrepresented authors to submit their manuscripts, publishers should have editors who are ready to really hear these authors.
One respondent of The Writers’ Union of Canada’s survey has a suggestion: “Really push for more EDITORS of colour and with disabilities and marginalized identities. They are the ones who can give diverse authors a chance!”
In addition to more accurate representation and harmonious author-editor relationships, open-minded Canadians who want to read more about other communities will have the chance to do so rather than being limited to books with a narrower range of voices. While some strides have been taken to fill the lack of diversity, more still needs to be done to ensure this.
If a publishing house, for instance, has a larger pool of diverse editors, it would be easier to choose someone who would be best suited for a manuscript that the house recently acquired.
Editing, after all, is based on choices. It would be difficult to make decisions on how to substantively edit a manuscript without involving people whose identities are reflected in an author’s work.
If we want to read more types of stories, then we need to urge publishers to continue breaking down barriers in the industry. They must publish more diverse authors while creating better and more opportunities for diverse editors — the former typically relies on the latter.