This month, Manchester University Press was given the opportunity to meet with group of school pupils to talk about the publishing industry. Universities and publishing are two established institutions with a similar issue: their accessibility for people from underrepresented groups.
Research into the UK publishing industry by the Publishers Association shows some encouraging results: over 50 per cent of leadership roles are held by women, and we are seeing increasing representation from the LGBT community, and people with disabilities. However, representation of people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups currently stands at around 13 per cent, and had not increased in the two years to 2020.*
The research has no data for children from deprived backgrounds, but the majority of entry-level publishing jobs currently require a degree, and the figures for university entrance are widely available: just 26 percent of pupils in England who received free school meals go on to university, compared with 46 percent of other children.**
Policies in admissions and employment can help to pave the way, but so can letting children know from a young age what opportunities are within their reach. A straw poll around the office showed that many of us were unaware of the jobs available in publishing while we were in education. I came into the industry via a journalism degree, a career in magazine production, two redundancies, raising a child, and several years working in catering (I am surely the best barista in the industry), before finally entering the world of academic publishing at the age of 47.
At MUP, our commitment to social responsibility includes adopting the C4DISC principles of Accessibility, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The University of Manchester Widening Participation scheme aims to expose children to the opportunities open to them, and I was delighted to take the opportunity to extol the virtues of publishing to a captive audience of 12 and 13 year olds.
They were at the end of a three-day trip to the university, with the assistance of UoM partners Into University. When I met them, they were telling us all sorts of interesting facts (I found out that UoM has 100 buildings, and the library has 40 thousand books), and the day before had done a publishing project, so they were already thinking about book production.
While I could doubtless spend days discussing books with kids, I only had an hour so we took a whistle-stop tour through publishing.
While I could doubtless spend days discussing books with kids, I only had an hour so we took a whistle-stop tour through publishing. I asked them who is involved in making a book, and they enthusiastically covered at least half of the people involved, including illustrators, cover designers, editors and even the underappreciated production team.
We talked about the difference between fiction and non-fiction, and how academic publishing differs from other non-fiction publishing (shout out to the 12 year old who told the group about peer review), and took a quick tour through all the working parts of a book – publishing pages, contents pages, referencing, appendices, bibliography.
Then we had the fun part. First, I gave them covers with the titles blanked out and asked them to match a list of titles and subtitles to the books. They did pretty well, and those they got wrong tended to work together anyway. For example, they all thought the cover of Held in Contempt – showing a caricature cartoon of Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Theresa May – was the cover to The Road to Brexit. Based on the title alone, it could have been.
We looked at book covers: how they are designed to appeal to an existing audience, and how they are updated for new ones (one of the girls pulled the exact copy of The Handmaid’s Tale used in the presentation from her bag), and at subtitling. I then asked them to come up with a title, subtitle and cover idea for a non-fiction book, and they came up with some brilliant ideas. Perhaps in ten years’ time we will be commissioning COVID-19: How a virus changed the world; Fame or lame: How social media affects the young; Old feminism: How feminism has always been around; or even a biography of the early years of Cristiano Ronaldo called First Steps (with, I am informed, a definite sequel).
I hope the children went home with more of an insight in how to get into publishing, and more importantly, the knowledge that they would be welcomed into our industry with open arms.
The scheme is running throughout May, and hopefully into the future.
*The UK Publishing Workforce: Diversity, inclusion and belonging in 2020. https://www.publishers.org.uk/publications/diversity-survey-of-the-publishing-workforce-2020/
Karen Nash is Production Editor at Manchester University Press.
Find out more about The University of Manchester’s Widening Participation scheme.