There is an article in the winter 2019 edition of The Author, the journal of the Society of Authors, titled “Bursting the Bubble” and written by Francine Toon, who is an editor at Hodder & Stoughton, a Hachette imprint. She writes about her involvement in Hachette’s Future Bookshelf project which is intended to get poorer and ethnic minority authors into print. Ms Toon is herself a debut author: her first novel, Pine, will be published by Doubleday in January.
Ms Toon says that being from the Highlands of Scotland, where literary events are rare, working as an editor for a publishing house, seeing many books in a wide range of genres, and having her first novel published made her realise that there may be other potential authors who are unfamiliar with the process, or don’t have the funds to go on an expensive creative writing course. She therefore joined a small group of her colleagues who started the Future Bookshelf Project in 2016. They used paid advertising and their outreach presence at different communities of writers to encourage writers to submit their manuscripts during the second year of open submissions. In December 2017 they issued a call for submissions by unpublished, un-agented authors who self-defined as ‘under-represented’, owing to such characteristics as age, disability or race. Authors were asked to write a short personal statement outlining why they felt under-represented when they submitted a sample of their work. The top five reasons applicants gave were, in order, race, sexual orientation, age, disability and socio-economic status.
757 submissions were read by 59 in-house readers from across the four divisions of Hackette. Since this reading was in addition to the day work commitments of the readers, it took almost a year to complete. The most promising submissions were passed on the commissioning editors. No decisions were made at the outset as to the number of authors to be published, and since the project ran in parallel to reading submissions from agents, the commissioning editors decided which books they felt passionate about and took those books through the normal submission process. “The aim of the open submissions was to consider authors we wouldn’t see through the agenting route. However, during the acquisition process, we tried our best to match authors with agents if they so wanted.”
“Among the three authors whose work we were thrilled to acquire, I found Elizabeth Okoh, a British Nigerian writer, whose transportive gem of a novel, The Returnees, held me spellbound.” Rather than calling the selected authors ‘winners’, they are called the Class of 2018.
“As I write this, hundreds more submissions are filling the Future Bookshelf’s inbox. This year we have spread our wings to include colleagues from Orion and Little, Brown, and are advertising the project through channels that might reach under-represented writers more effectively.”
More information on The Future Bookshelf can be found at thefuturebookshelf.co.uk.