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Common People: Breaking the class ceiling in UK publishing

The under-representation of British working-class writers in UK publishing has been identified as a major challenge by international publishing houses including Penguin Random House and Hachette UK, and also by the British and Scottish governments.

The challenge not only impacts the publishing sector, but adjacent creative industries: the outputs of the UK publishing industry provide source material for other creative industries, including theatre, television, film and video games, meaning issues of representation in publishing can have magnified economic and cultural consequences. 

The Common People project arose out of an on-going programme of work that New Writing North has undertaken in recent years within the publishing industry to highlight issues of regional and class diversity and representation.

With Writing West Midlands, New Writing North brought together the other regional writing development agencies: New Writing South, National Centre for Writing, Writing East Midlands, Literature Works and Spread the Word with the writer Kit de Waal, the publisher Unbound and Arts Council England, to create a new book and an associated development programme for the new writers involved.

The Common People report looks to a future of full cultural inclusion and recommends the following:

  • New public and private investment to support new publishing ventures outside of London, which will be bring publishing closer to broader audiences and generate more entry points to the industry for talent throughout the UK
  • Increased investment in regional writing development agencies, resulting in improved talent pipelines; fairer, more equitable talent development practices; and improved access to professional support and networks.
  • Decentralisation of the UK publishing industry, including more literary agents to be established outside the capital to facilitate change and broaden the base of the industry’s taste makers.
  • Improved access to the publishing industry through clearer progression routes into the industry; transparent pay and job opportunities; and accessible recruitment campaigns, in order to enhance diversity among agents, editors and publishers and change the profiles of gatekeepers
  • Awareness and acknowledgement of the multiple barriers facing working-class writers through meaningful designed and sustained support programmes across the UK
  • An industry-wide recognition that developing and supporting new working-class writers will ultimately benefit us all
  • New government policy and policy development - to create new policy options for overcoming barriers and incentivising partnership work through public funding and regional initiatives.

To read the full report please click here.

Read the Common People report press release.

Find out more about Postgraduate English and Creative Writing Courses at Northumbria University.

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