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Keeping the Conversation Going: Minorities in Publishing Podcast

Unsurprisingly, the internet is home to lots of publishing blogs. Some focus on trends, some news, some a smattering of publishing ephemera, and some a mix of all of the above. But few websites are dedicated to providing the industry with the reality check it needs. Jenn Baker and Bev Rivero started Minorities in Publishing as a blog and podcast series to get the conversation really started, and to keep itmoving, regarding the lack of minorities on publishing. The podcast is available for free on their Tumblr, and you can also find them on Twitter

MiP Logo_600x600I know episode one of your podcast is mainly about introducing yourselves, but for those who haven’t listened to it yet, tell us about your backgrounds and what brought you to publishing and starting the podcast.

Jenn Baker: Well, I’m a production editor at a small university press and also freelance as a copyeditor. My publishing experience is heading into the 12 year mark. I found publishing via the Publishing Certificate program at City College of New York and the main goal of that program was to get more people of color into publishing jobs. Once I got into the industry I jumped a bit from position to position until I find my fit as a production editor. It caters to my obsessive and overly organized tendencies.

Bev Rivero: Currently I am a publicity manager at an independent press. I’ve been working in book publishing since graduation, almost 10 years ago, and I had internships in college – it was sort of always in my mind. The podcast came out of a bunch of conversations that we started before a lot of the great media coverage that’s happened this year, like the PW salary survey backlash. We chose the format of a podcast rather than a blog or something more static to highlight how we consider this to be a conversation with everyone – readers, those working in the industry or looking to get into it, and of course authors and artists.

One of my favorite things about the podcast is that each episode zooms in on one particular person and part of the publishing industry and how it can expand within that arena. To place things in a wider scope, how would you place Minorities in Publishing in the entire context of publishing now, and your hopes for the future?

JB: It’s interesting because in one of our most recent episodes with Anjali Singh I had mentioned that we all (Anjali, myself, and Bev) worked at small presses. So the numbers are different and the diversity aspect is also a bit more emphasized. When you work with a dozen or two dozen people you may see more people like yourself, maybe not. In my company my department is mostly minorities. So sometimes that can sway opinion because your immediate viewpoint is working with those of the non-majority but in the larger industries, the Big 5 in particular, the lack of diversity is even more evident in terms of not just what is being published but in terms of who is behind the scenes and has power to make things happen for any particular title. I would say in my eyes that perhaps it is getting more diverse but from a larger standpoint I’d say it’s still a very slow going process that can be much improved.

BR: I put MiP on the spectrum of conversation starters. I work on this with the hope that people will think differently about their colleagues, perspective authors, and those around them, and work towards bringing more POCs into the literary world. Looking towards the future I hope that we can continue to be out there and reach a level where more people in the industry are aware of our work and encourage everyone to listen and send people our way to interview.

How can everyone in publishing, regardless of their background, encourage more minorities in publishing?

JB: I think one thing is to actively reach out to minorities. So many of our guests, and myself included, didn’t even consider publishing as a career. People of color know books get made but do they know they can be involved in the process of these books being produced, edited, marketed, and sold? Are publishers reaching out to a diverse group when they appear at career fairs? Are master’s programs in publishing providing the guidance (and financial assistance) to those who may not have the money to embark on this industry? How are resumes looked at and sorted? Is it all about the “in”? And where are the mentors for those new to publishing?

BR: My answer to this has and always will be “Pay them.” To me this doesn’t just mean paid internships, but also upping the starting salary for entry-level employees that hasn’t changed in decades.

What other aspects of publishing are you planning on covering?

JB: Bev and I have touched base with many who have been supportive of our endeavor and we want to make sure to look at the bevy of people involved in the book publication process including illustrators, authors, agents, more booksellers of color, publishers, literary magazines that review books & publish stories, those in high positions at publishing houses big and small.

BR: I’m excited to talk to graphic novelists and others involved in working on comic books and illustrated book-length work in 2015. I’m an avid indie comics reader and so to be able to interview artists is a dream. We intentionally limited the podcast to book publishing rather than all media to really highlight the lack of diversity in this particular industry as well as all the hard work that industry professionals and creators are involved in.

The Cake Literary episode mentions something that really stuck with me, that diversity can’t and shouldn’t be a trend. In the ongoing We Need Diverse Books campaign (now non-profit) what steps do you think publishing as a whole needs to take to keep the momentum going on diversity within the field?

JB: As part of the WNDB team, one of the great things about the campaign that’s happened is adding the internship program to add more diversity into internships but to give these candidates a paycheck. It’s unfair in this day and age, and especially if you’re doing an internship in a place like New York City, to expect anyone to be able to work for free while going to school or to work for free and work another job on top of that. NYC is not a wholly economical city and for people to enjoy the process of being in publishing it’d be great to not have to worry about other external factors like how you’re going to get to work, pay for lunch, if you have to run to another job right after your internship for example.

BR: One of the things that comes up in our episodes is that when there are more non-White people in the room making decisions about what authors to publish, what images should be used for book covers, and how a book can be marketed, we’ll naturally see diversity taken seriously, instead of a conversation that needs to be forced. It starts with getting minorities into full-time jobs in house and as agents, etc., and then promoting them. One of the things we’ve discussed a bit is that even when there is a diversity in the intern level, you still see the same type of person consistently getting hired for the entry-level positions; publishers need to make an effort to examine why this is the case.

On your tumblr and on some of the podcasts, diverse representation in all forms of media has come up. How do you think increased diversity in publishing will help improve other industries?

JB: I think the hope is that all industries would, simultaneously, recognize the need for more diversity and not just having a person of color or other non-majority for the sake of saying “We’re diverse!” but real, positive, fully embodied characters that aren’t caricatures recycled over the past century for various groups in books. Not having the title of sassy Black friend as default or solely studious and quiet Chinese American teens in tomes because this is what people stereotype about these groups. It’s great to have those notable books, shows, movies, comics that are diverse but when will it become more of a norm? And note that I’m not saying that there should be less majority representation. There should be more variety in terms of diversity and there is room for that.

BR: I think all forms of art should reflect the voices of a country’s full cultural spectrum. Books are a vital part of the cultural conversation and have a long life and putting meaningful works out there that people can relate to is incredibly important.

What’s the dream you two have for this podcast?

JB: For me the goal is to keep the conversation going. Continuing having wonderful guests to discuss this and perhaps really drill down ways this can become a reality. Helping in any way we can with this podcast and for me even with my involvement with We Need Diverse BooksTM and as a writer of diverse work I want to help push this to the realm of not just conversation but action. And maybe our podcast is aiding in that happening.

BR: My goal has always been to have good, rich conversations with our guests, and then to have feedback from listeners that we can amplify on social media – We want to hear what you want to hear more of! Tell us what were some of your favorite moments and topics were or what you think was missing. My dream is to have live panel events come out of this podcast, so that publishing industry professionals, including those who don’t listen to podcasts, can hear different voices and make room for thinking about diversity, or current lack thereof, in their working lives.

One Trackback

  1. […] with minorities working throughout the publishing world. (Check out my 2014 interview with them here.) Writing in Real Life: A series by two publishing professionals who happen to be married to each […]

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