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Control, Knowledge, and the publishing industry.

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Over the past two years, I've published 6 separate titles, with numbers 7 and 8 due to be published over the next few months. Back in 2017 I set up a publishing company to publish my books, after sending hundreds of emails and receiving 4-5 polite rejections. 5 years later and after selling thousands of books, it's still hard work getting reviews and interviews for new books - it's to be expected, nothing worthwhile comes without hardwork, sacrifce, support and a slice of luck.


However.


Recently, I called a well known publisher to pitch my books in the hope of getting them in one of their book clubs or leaflets. Those 5-6 page leaflets that many of us were so excited to flip through as children. The person on the end of the phone proceeded to tell me that Scholastic wouldn't touch a book unless it was published by a major publisher or agent, and that any samples would probably be sent back. I won't reveal the person's name or title, but they claimed to have worked for the company for many years.


In an instant I saw the monopoly for what it was. I realised not only how the publishing industry decides who gets to be published, but also how they control knowledge and ideas. Especially for publishers who specialise in education, this gatekeeping of knowledge means that many Black and Brown writers will never have their books made available to children around the country, all because a publisher said no. Controlling the books in mainstream UK education, means controlling the knowledge that children are exposed to and influencing the thinking of society for potentially the next 20-30 years.


It doesn't matter that I'm a Black author, and one of very few non-fiction writers in English who have published books for children about music. It doesn't matter that in 2017, the Centre For Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) found that only 0.09% of all children's books about music have Black or Brown representation. In 2021, the CLPE report didn't mention any statistics as they relate to Black and Brown representation and music in children's literature - possibly because they couldn't find any.


It comes down to ownership. The swathe of diverse children's literature published in the last couple of years is very very welcome and much needed. More and more Black and Brown writers have earned platforms, and children of all backgrounds are learning about Black and Brown history and culture like never before. However, it is the publishers, not the authors who own the intellectual property of many (if not all) of these books. Royalties and intellectual property are not the same things.


It doesn't matter if I'm a Black author and sole owner of a publishing company. It seems as though the only books by Black and Brown authors that are most visible, are the ones published by the major publishers - who are white-owned. I know this because I have worked with a couple of these major publishers, and while the experience has been incredible, I see the difference in reach, accessibility and influence when my 'traditionally published' books are marketed. When it comes to the books we produce without their agents' approval or publishing imprints, we are ignored. I've had a few people ask me if I've been approached by any major publishers about helping to develop The Why Books, and the response has always been the same, 'No'.


I'm extremely grateful for the music education hubs who have bought copies of my books for all of their schools, and for every single person who has bought my books and shared them on social media, family and friends. This news hit home, but I have more drive and conviction than ever before, to make sure that these books are in every school in the English-speaking world (until we can translate more of them!). It'll take us all to achieve this, and I hope you are all along for the ride.

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