All in a Day’s Work

Image courtesy Laura Chouette on Unsplash

In 2019, Lee and Low published an important Diversity Baseline Study showing statistics among publishers related to the “the racial, gender, sexual orientation, and ability makeup of their employees.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found a diversity problem, which was reflected in the major offerings in the catalogs of most publishing houses. We began our press with diversity in mind and have resolved to do better, and hope that our offerings continue to show that even small, independent presses need to take seriously the call for diverse books.

Late in 2020, The New York Times sought to take the temperature of the publishing world: were things improving, and if so, how and where? The results were disappointing. While slightly more books of fiction were being published by minority and ethnically-diverse writers, publishing wasn’t paying them as well, and there were still vastly more books overall by white authors. When surveying the most popular books of the period 1950 to 2018 in order to provide a comparative baseline of current author diversity among the largest US publishing houses, an overwhelming 95% works were found to be authored by white writers, while non-Hispanic white persons make up about 60% of the US population. In 2018 alone, 89% of published books were by white authors. Clearly there is room for improvement.

Both studies found that the makeup of publishing houses tended to be factors in what was chosen for publication, and the majority of employees in publishing were, and still are, white. It was noted that during the tenure of Toni Morrison, the percentage of non-white published authors rose at Random House, and dropped notably when she left. Marie Dutton Brown, a contemporary editor at Doubleday who is now a literary agent, has noted that the fluctuation in publishers’ support for Black writers may be attributed to the news cycle, “which periodically directs the nation’s attention to acts of brutality against Black people. Publishers’ interest in amplifying Black voices wanes as media coverage peters out because “many white editors are not exposed to Black life beyond the headlines,” Ms. Brown said.”

Where does Propertius Press lie on the spectrum? We thought we should take a close look. Of the thirty-two (32) books that we will have released by November 20, 2021, fully nine (9) of them are wholly or partially written by those who identify as Black or Minority Ethnic (BAME). This includes Latin, Asian, and Jewish writers. This calculates to about 28% of our catalogue. Seven (7) include works by LGBTQ+ authors. These include our three short-story anthologies, fiction, and non-fiction works. We still have a ways to go before we will be satisfied that our catalogue fully reflects the diversity that it should. Finding statistics on worldwide racial population is actually a bit difficult – Wikipedia, for example, gives population by country but not by race specifically. The closest thing I could find is this pie chart offered by an independent researcher:

Screencapped by Quora Reader, here:

So we don’t actually have a good goal in mind, but we try to be aware of the makeup of our catalogue as it grows. In the past, we have limited certain types of submissions categories only to BAME writers. Currently, we are not accepting submissions while we evaluate all of what we have to-date. In the future, we expect the percentage of Black and minority authors in our catalogue to grow. We are open to suggestions about how to do this better, please leave these in the comments below. Thank you so much for your support and readership.

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