People of Color in Publishing and We Need Diverse Books, two volunteer organizations focused on making the book industry more diverse, held a joint town hall meeting on April 11 in the auditorium of the Penguin Random House building to mark their progress and discuss plans for the future.
The meeting attracted a crowd of nearly 90 industry professionals for a panel featuring WNDB founder/CEO Ellen Oh that was moderated by POCinPub founder Patrice Caldwell. Along with Oh, the panel featured WNDB executive director Nicole Johnson and WNDB program director Carolyn Richmond. They updated town hall attendees on the impact of WNBD’s programs, as well as on the fast growth and development of POCinPub since its founding in 2017.
Caldwell opened the meeting with an outline of POCinPub’s beginnings as a private Facebook group in 2016 that quickly grew to more than 900 members. POCinPub, she noted, is organized around a number of committees—among them the Communications and External Events Committee, which maintains POCinPub’s social media accounts, organizes social events such as the POCinPub Holiday Social, facilitates jobs contacts, and manages email and other promotional support for books aimed at minority readers.
POCinPub’s Membership and Retention Committee, Caldwell said, has launched a mentorship program that connects more than 20 veteran editors with junior professionals that will run from January through June. Caldwell added that, since its formal launch in late 2017, POCinPub has “placed over 40 people of color into book industry jobs.” A POCinPub committee for writers and illustrators also offers a mentoring program that pairs 35 mentors and protégés, and hosts portfolio reviews and social events including a series of write-and-sketch nights.
The POCinPub Outreach and Events Committee works to create social events and sponsors webinars on diversity to help people of color find positions in publishing, or simply to provide a community to those who have book industry experience.
Coming up in 2019, Caldwell said, POCinPub is working to become a nonprofit 501(c)(3) and, in conjunction with Latinx in Publishing, is working to launch the Anonymous Survey Examining Workplace Racism, a study that will try to get information on whether staffers feel they are victims of racism in the workplace.
Oh noted that WNDB was founded in response to the “BookCon debacle” of 2014, when ReedPop scheduled a slate of “all white dudes” for the young adult panels at its consumer-oriented book fair. Both organizations, Oh and Caldwell emphasized, essentially began as hashtags on social media. “So much has changed and not changed,” Oh said. “But the energy level in this room feels good. Five years ago we were just a hashtag.”
The panelists praised the power of social media, citing WNDB social media campaigns such as the popular “We need diverse books because…” campaign. “It showed that the diverse books movement is comprised not just of people of color but of people with disabilities, the LGTBQ community, etc.,” Oh said. “Diversity is for everyone; you can read books about everyone.”
“It’s still special when kids get a book with a character in it who looks like them,” Johnson said. “There are still young people who are not getting that experience; it’s still a challenge.”
Oh said that in the future, WNDB will strive to directly engage with publishers to expand diversity in their publishing programs. The organization also plans to hire additional personnel, extend its social media capacity, and add video content to its social media and outreach campaigns. Oh emphasized the need to “share success stories” about diversity in book publishing, noting that WNDB will continue to publish a series of anthologies featuring diverse authors. The organization will also focus its efforts to encourage sales and marketing departments to support diverse titles.
Most importantly, Oh said, WNDB and POCinPub will continue to support people of color and other minorities in book publishing. “We’ve got your back,” she said. “We’re your community.”