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What we learned about: how publishing can do better

Sharing what we learned: a series of blogs

At intervals during the 2021 – 2022 Megaphone Writer Development Scheme we asked the 50 + writers in Megaphone Community to share their views on how we, and publishing, are doing. We also carried out surveys at key points. We’re sharing our learning in a bid to amplify the voices of children’s and YA writers of colour. We would love other projects to share their learning too, so we can all improve. To give writers the confidence to speak, all quotes are anonymous (except where permission was given).

How can publishing do better for writers of colour? Eight take-aways from a discussion.

Last year, Stephanie King hosted feedback sessions where our Megaphone Community members could speak freely, honestly and anonymously, asking them specifically: “How can publishing do better for children’s writers of colour?”

Here, in summary, is what our members told us. Direct quotes from participants have been anonymised and placed in quotation marks. This is a long read, but a must-read, if you want to do more work with writers of colour. Click the arrows to read the detail!


1) Publishing can communicate better with writers of colour

Editors say we should write what we want to write…but is that true? It feels like we have to conform to a certain model if we are going to get noticed.”

When writers of colours ask editors – “what do you want?” – they don’t feel they get a transparent answer. It’s not helpful for an editor to say “I’ll know it when I see it”, because perhaps that editor doesn’t know what to look for when it comes to books by authors from under-represented groups.


Are agents and editors being honest about their expectations? When writers of colour receive rejections, they currently don’t feel confident that it isn’t simply because there’s “too much culture” in the book (something a white writer will never have to consider). Can rejections be more honest? If the writing is not good enough, our writers say they need to know so they can improve.


Submitting work to agents and not receiving any reply or follow-up, or receiving generic rejections from editors, leaves all writers in the dark. We know the entire industry is overworked, but some brief but considered and honest feedback could go a long way to help foster trust between agents, editors and under-represented writers.


2) Publishing should do more to ensure writers of colour trust it to publish them in good faith, with the same aspirations that it has for white writers.

As a Chinese writer, I find I’m being asked to write books about dragons or Chinese New Year.”

If you are a Black writer, it’s harder to get your story out because there’s a certain gap you’re meant to fill, and if you’re not filling that gap, you’re considered too niche. There’s a certain kind of
Black person /Asian person who will ‘pass’…”


The inclusion of diverse authors on lists still feels like a bit of a tick-box exercise to many writers. Do publishers really feel that there is room for more writers of colour on their lists? Or is there a subconscious thought that there is only room for one Black/Brown/East Asian author at a time? Are they being seen as a commodity or trend?

In the course of the discussion, some of our Megaphone writers framed their book as being “diverse”, as if this was a genre in itself – they had absorbed the idea that books featuring characters of colour were somehow grouped together in the eyes of the industry.


3) Publishing can do more to avoid writers of colour feeling pigeonholed

Always getting approached to write about our culture – but we want to write all different sorts of stories – THIS IS A CONSTANT CATCH 22.”

Our Megaphone Community members want to be given space to explore classic narratives (adventure, fantasy, friendship etc.) but from diverse perspectives, as opposed to issue-based books.

However, our members also say that everybody should be trying to write stories with diverse characters, and not be pigeonholed by their own ethnicity.

Publishing houses have a tendency to turn away from issues with nuance from writers of colour – they can’t or don’t recognise the element that makes a perspective unique or fresh. Publishers being aware of their own gaps in their knowledge and experience, and being willing to explore, accept and rectify that is key.

Writers of colour also have the sense that there is additional scrutiny on them. For example, that they are expected to provide a level of authenticity which white writers are not; that simply telling a great story is not enough. Our Community members are concerned they are not given as much freedom as white authors because of the burden of being in a minority and seen as a representative. Alongside this, there is the added burden to be ‘the’ Black/Asian author for the publisher, and the spokesperson for conversations on racism, equality, inclusion.


4) Publishing must do more to show that it wants to know writers of colour and their readers, not just sell them

Agents need to come to us! Not to talk to us, but to listen to us.”

Does the industry know who their readers are? And by this we mean all of their potential readers? Do agents and publishers know who wants to read these books and why, beyond the theoretical need for representation? (Note: Spread the Word’s Rethinking Diversity in Publishing report is a must-read on this topic. https://www.spreadtheword.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Rethinking_diversity_in-publishing_WEB.pdf )

And if publishers know who they are publishing for, how do they make sure readers can find these books? Not every high street has a bookshop, and not all children have easy access to books. How can publishers ensure books by writers of colour find their ways into schools and stand out above the big-brand authors?

Books written by authors of colour are for ALL children, not just children of the same ethnicity as the author, and this needs to be a driving force in the submissions pile, at the acquisitions meeting, in the sales pitches and in the bookshops. Everyone needs to get used to seeing a whole rainbow of stories on the shelves.

Writers are constantly asked to be brave and persevere – and so should publishers! It takes time to break through as a writer and it may take more time to break through an author from an under-represented background. Publishing houses need to be prepared to invest big in debut authors from under-represented groups if things are going to change. If there is room for another magical middle grade story or an animal adventure there HAS to be space for more writers of colour. Publishing has a habit of seeking out tried and tested successes. Every writer of colour who tries to break into publishing is taking a risk – it’s time for publishers to do the same. And are publishers truly giving writers of colour the freedom to fail?

Are there opportunities for publishing houses to collaborate with writers of colours – not just in fiction, but on non-fiction projects, creative non-fiction, or commissioned series? Our Megaphone Community members are asking, why not create WITH us?


5) The whole publishing industry needs to do better at transparency

Let’s ask some tough questions, that publishing needs to provide honest answers to:

Do books from writers of colour sell well?
Are they supported by booksellers?
Who is selling the books, and to whom?

How much is the success of a book determined by the initial advance?

Who decides if a work by an author of colour “is not commercial enough”?
Does publishing really understand or know all its potential readers?

Megaphone believes that readers will diversify their reading if a wider variety of stories is promoted. Let’s move away from pushing the same big-brand authors and classics – let’s work to build NEW classics.


6) Publishing needs to provide sustained support for writers.

Diverse writers are winning competitions for unpublished authors, being invited onto schemes to help them learn more about the industry and being told they can write – but aren’t getting further than that. Competitions, mentorship, schemes and initiatives are all welcome – but publishing needs to provide sustained support for writers, as opposed to one-off successes.

After a competition win or commendation, writers can feel abandoned, as there’s often no follow-up or meaningful progress made to bring writers into the industry as a result of some of these initiatives. There was also a sense from our writers that authors of colour were expected to ‘be grateful’ for these opportunities, as if children’s publishing were a space that belongs predominantly to white writers and where authors of colour are merely invited guests. For example, we’ve seen mentorships and schemes only available during working hours, making them inaccessible to writers who are unable to reduce their hours or take holiday.

Some writers in Megaphone Community had actually felt they had to leave other writers’ groups due to growing resentment of the opportunities currently being offered to authors of colour. Some have been told by their peers that they would definitely get published just because of their ethnicity.

Writers of colour want advocacy from white writers, in particular those with power. Phillip Pullman’s position on Kate Clanchy’s memoir (which occurred at the time one of these conversations took place) was very much something the Megaphone Community were aware of. Writers expressed a concern that if they publicly disagreed with a prominent figure, or called out racism or prejudice publicly, they could be sacrificing their potential career or putting their mental health at risk.


7) Publishing could do more to acknowledge and capitalise on the fact that storytelling is international

““Mummy – let’s find a book that has a Mummy that looks like you in it!’” And we searched the shelves and couldn’t find one.”

More tough questions from our writers, who though based in England, are a very international group.

Why are so many books with Black main characters buy-ins from the US? Black British children are still almost invisible in fiction. This sends the message that they don’t matter.
Why is America so much warmer to diversity than the UK? What can we learn from the US?

How do stories from UK writers of colour sell abroad? How are their stories received in Commonwealth countries/Europe etc?

What can UK publishing do to promote writers of colour internationally?


8) Publishing could do more to ensure writers of colour are sensitively edited

Our writers are concerned about whether a white editor will “get” their book, and asked us, how willing are editors to diversify their reading, as there are still not enough editors of colour.

Writers in the Megaphone Community do not expect their editors to know everything about their culture and heritage – and they know that very few editors will be from the same background as them. The most important thing is to engage in a two-way conversation – and perhaps editors need to consider the fact that they can learn a lot from their authors.

Our writers – surely all writers – want their books to be as accessible to as many readers as possible, and a good editor will help with that. But no writer wants their books to be misunderstood, and editors may have to listen harder to their children’s writers of colours to help them communicate exactly what it is they want to say through their work. The Megaphone writers trust the editorial experience, but agents and editors need to ensure their writers feel able to stand up to some edits and to know they will be listened to. The energy an editor brings to the table can be so transformative – but if an editor is always questioning an author’s choices, it might be because they do not know the gaps in their knowledge and their own biases. People in the publishing industry need to be open and willing to be educated by their writers of colour.

If a writer feels that an editor does not get their work, or their experience, but theirs is the only deal on the table, our Community members asked us, should the writer take the deal anyway? Should they speak up in that early editorial meeting and express their reservations? Can publishing foster an environment where this is no longer a question? Perhaps editors can become nervous about topics they are unfamiliar with, but ultimately ignorance and a lack of familiarity cannot be an excuse. In fact, it should be even more of a reason to reach out, as children’s publishing cannot grow if publishers just continue to do what they’ve always done.

Finally, any writer who begins working with any editor, no matter what their background or ethnicity, cannot assume to start off knowing and understanding each other – it’s a relationship that every writer and editor has to negotiate. Therefore, with this in mind, there’s no reason to make difference a barrier.

How lovely would it be for us to all be on a panel and just talk about writing, not ethnicity.”

– anonymous Megaphone writer

We hope you’ve found these learning blogs useful – here are the links to the other two.

What we learned about: why Megaphone matters.

What we learned: who does Megaphone reach?

You can contact us: megaphone.write AT gmail.com

Review: Jump Up! A story of Carnival

Carnival! It’s a familiar word and many children will have been to one, but how did it all begin? Author and illustrator Ken Wilson-Max brings to life the roots and the meaning of this celebration of freedom, which stretches all the way back through the memories and traditions of enslaved people, to Africa.

Jump Up! starts with a fiction story told through a little girl’s eyes, about the first carnival. At the end there is a non-fiction section which gives more information on the topic. It includes a useful vocabulary list with the meaning and origins of common Carnival words. I learned lots of new things – the steel pan drums are very familiar to me from Birmingham streets, but I didn’t know that their origins were from when enslaved people were forbidden to use drums and instead created rhythms on pans and other things.

That’s another important element of this book: it celebrates creativity. Jump Up! is a story of resourcefulness, hope and inspiration, which tells us how people living in the most dehumanising circumstances were able to create a new and enduring human celebration.

A double spread from the book. On the left hand page, Cecille's dad carves a big mask from wood. On the right. Cecille watches him. Colour: deep green and yellow flowers in a tropical landscape. Text:  Cecille's dad carved a mask. "This will be the first time that we can be ourselves and remember where we come from. We come from so many places," he said.
A double page spread shows what carnival means to the adults in Cecille’s life

This picture book will inspire curiosity and interest in children about the world around them, whether they have a carnival tradition in their area or not. It would be a fantastic book for schools and teachers in particular to use with KS1 children to bring added value and understanding to the carnival period, perhaps to coincide with a class trip. The illustrations are richly-coloured, affectionate and warm. Ken Wilson-Max says: “This book, in a small way, connects the past with the present and hopefully helps readers consider a more inclusive future.” I’m sure it will do that, and in no small way.

The cover is rich in colour

Jump Up! is part of a range of black history books for children in the same format, called Reaching New Generations. It is published by The George Padmore Institute, drawing on their wealth of archives. You can find more information at their website: https://www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org/discover . Publication was supported by a grant from Arts Council England.

Review by Leila Rasheed

  • Age range: 3 – 7 (but could be used with older children too)
  • Words and illustrations by Ken Wilson-Max
  • Published by the George Padmore Institute
  • ISBN 978-19996198-5-5

What we learned about: why Megaphone matters.

Sharing what we learned: a series of blogs

At intervals during the 2021 – 2022 Megaphone Writer Development Scheme we asked the 50 + writers in Megaphone Community to share their views on how we, and publishing, are doing. We also carried out surveys at key points. We’re sharing our learning in a bid to amplify the voices of children’s and YA writers of colour. We would love other projects to share their learning too, so we can all improve. To give writers the confidence to speak, all quotes are anonymous (except where permission was given).

As numerous studies over the past few years have shown, children’s publishing and associated industries (e.g. librarianship) are overwhelmingly white, not least in gate-keeping areas such as editorial and agenting. Most of the time, children’s writers of colour will not be among other people of colour. Does this matter? What do emerging children’s writers of colour get out of being among other children’s writers of colour?

In our June 2021 survey we sought their opinions.

HOW IMPORTANT IS A GROUP LIKE MEGAPHONE? (1)

We asked the writers in Megaphone Community how important it was to them to be in a group with other writers who experience marginalisation due to their ethnicity. 15 out of 25 respondents said it was very important. A further 6 said it was somewhat important.

We asked them to add detail to their answer; their comments follow:

“It is very important for me to have this space as it introduced me to authors who look and sound like me, who understand my protagonists and also my worries. I am able to express my insecurities and vulnerabilities openly and without feeling worried about being judged”

Anonymous comment on June 2021 survey

“Being a member of this group makes me feel equal. I normally stick out like a sore thumb”

Anonymous comment on June 2021 survey

“I want to be recognised as a writer and mix with other writers and hone my craft regardless of heritage. I just want to be included not constantly marked out as different”

Anonymous comment on June 2021 survey

This all tallied with Leila and Stephanie’s personal experiences and their conversations with published writers of colour. In the June 2021 survey, we presented some statements and asked respondents to tick the ones they agreed with.

HOW IMPORTANT IS A GROUP LIKE MEGAPHONE? (2)

Alongside 76% who agreed “ I don’t usually meet writers or publishing/ literary people who share my heritage. “ and “It is hard to find children’s books where my life, culture and family are reflected.” 76% of respondents also agreed with the statement “There are some conversations I don’t feel comfortable having in a group of majority white writers”.

It is worth dwelling on what these responses mean in practice, for any person or group who organises on behalf of emerging writers. Are minorities (of any kind) in your space able to express their opinions comfortably, honestly and freely, or do they feel isolated, unable to speak up when there’s a problem, for fear of being ostracised? Writers should be given opportunities to feedback freely, anonymously and honestly about their experiences. They should be listened to in good faith. From Megaphone’s point of view, we want to ensure that we are really inclusive, of everyone within the very large (global majority!) group ‘people of colour’ . This will require ongoing, proactive and self-critical work.

“It’s important that the nuances and specificities of people’s backgrounds and cultures are not homogenised into ‘BAME.’ I think MEGAPHONE do a great job of being specific and giving lots of different cultures air time and respect.

Anonymous comment on June 2021 survey

It’s important to note that everyone is different. Many of the Megaphone Community writers are also involved in other writer development schemes which are not specifically for writers of colour, and get a lot of value out of those excellent schemes. The point is not that people should be restricted to only being in spaces with those who share one part of their identity, but that identity-specific space should exist as an option among many options: a diverse eco-system of writer development. Having the option of being in a space with other people who share their life experiences can take away some of the burden of “sticking out like a sore thumb” as one writer put it, and free them to simply be creative.

Finally, we’ve had some amazing feedback from both mentees and people on Community about why Megaphone matters (do read it, here: What people say about us) but I wanted to share this comment because it’s exactly what I intended the scheme to be.

(Megaphone offers) Real, targeted, personalised support. Equitable, transparent and meaningful. The support is amazing and I have learnt tonnes”

Anonymous comment on Dec 2021 survey

In the next and last blog post, we’ll share the findings from a free discussion hosted by Stephanie King, Commissioning Editor at Usborne, which asked Megaphone Community the question: How can publishing do better for writers of colour?

We’d love to hear from other projects, whether you’ve found the same as us as or not. Questions and comments are welcomed at megaphone.write AT gmail.com and stay tuned for the next learning blog.

What we learned: who does Megaphone reach?

Sharing what we learned: a series of blogs

At intervals during the 2021 – 2022 Megaphone Writer Development Scheme we asked the 50 + writers in Megaphone Community to share their views on how we, and publishing, are doing. We also carried out surveys at key points. We’re sharing our learning in a bid to amplify the voices of children’s and YA writers of colour. We would love other projects to share their learning too, so we can all improve. To give writers the confidence to speak, all comments are anonymous.

Megaphone was set up to help all emerging children’s and YA writers of colour improve their skills and confidence in writing for children. But how far are we really managing that?

1. What ethnicities did we actually reach?

We asked applicants ‘How would you define your ethnicity?’ rather than giving them a pre-filled list to select from. In order to present the data, we then took key words and created categories. With a small number of respondents (40 out of 60 applicants), this was practical.

We had applications from a good range of ethnic groups, as in 2016. Comparing the data from 2016 with that from 2021, the most significant change was an increase in people defining themselves as Black (British or African) from 29% to 43% of respondents, and a decrease in people defining themselves as Mixed or Other, from 25% to 12.5% . It is impossible to know exactly why this is, while other groups stayed roughly the same. However, it is interesting to wonder whether an increase in higher-profile role models for Black writers for children and teenagers since 2016 encouraged more applications from this group. In 2017, The Hate U Give, a hugely successful YA book by a Black American author, Angie Thomas, was first published, and drew increased attention as the Black Lives Movement featured in the media. Patrice Lawrence and Alex Wheatle, both masterclass leaders on the 2016 scheme, went on to win national attention for their work. Role models matter. Could these have prompted more Black writers to consider writing for children and teenagers as a career?

There was a very small increase in applicants from BESEA backgrounds, likely due to author and mentor Maisie Chan offering a place specifically for someone from this background.

2. Did we reach people of colour all over England?

As we had funding from Arts Council England, which has to benefit people who live in England, we limited applications to those who live in England. This is something we’d like to broaden in the future.

We were surprised to find that although we offered the scheme online (due to Covid restrictions), which we thought would broaden the geographic locations of applicants, in fact 26 out of 39 respondents lived in London or the South-East.

Possibly, this is because during lockdown, some of the regional communication networks for advertising the scheme to writers outside London broke down. Libraries (which are important for letting local networks like writers’ groups know about schemes like Megaphone) were closed, and small, writer-focused organisations that serve regions outside London were working under enormous pressure.

Although most people from ethnic minorities live in London, by no means all of them do. People of colour in the UK often have living roots and active connections across the globe, but also live in very specific, locally rooted, communities in the UK, in districts of cities and towns like Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol and many more. These can also be deprived and/or working class communities. Therefore, reaching people beyond London and the South-East is important for diversity of all kinds, and something we want to focus on in the future.

3. Who did we NOT reach?

This is a question every writer development scheme should ask itself. One thing to bear in mind is that promotion of the scheme and delivery was all online in 2021 – 2022, due to the Covid situation. Feedback from Megaphone Community on the value of being online was overwhelmingly positive. Writers told us it had made it possible for them to take part. Barriers posed by caring responsibilities, work commitments, cost and geographical location vanished. This is extremely valuable.

However, we need to remember that we only get feedback from those can access Megaphone in the first place – to access it, it was essential to be online and know where to look for opportunities like this. Delivering schemes online is brilliantly inclusive, but it can also exclude.

As being online – using Twitter and accessing schemes like this – is so important in becoming a published children’s author, many questions arise. At the start of the scheme, we bought an accessibility plug-in for the website, but is this enough to make it inclusive for disabled people of colour? How will we know if it isn’t? Do all the people who want to take part in Megaphone have appropriate technology to write a novel and reach an audience? Should we be providing training in using social media as a writer? Do all people have a quiet place at home to access Megaphone events, or would it actually be easier for some people to be outside the house? These are all questions we will be thinking about as we consider how to develop the next scheme.

We’d love to hear from other projects, whether you’ve found the same as us as or not. Questions and comments are welcomed at megaphone.write AT gmail.com and stay tuned for the next learning blog.

Agents and editors, come and hear new talent at our showcase!

Meet our mentees and hear their stories

Agents and editors are warmly invited to join our webinar on Thursday 5th May at 7.30pm, when Megaphone will be presenting a showcase of new children’s and YA literature from our mentees. To secure your place, email sking.megaphone@gmail.com or DM @beretgirl on Twitter.

It’s nearly the end of the 2021 – 2022 Megaphone Writer Development scheme! For twelve months, seven talented writers of colour – Munira Jannath, Iqbal Hussein, Alka Handa, Zareena Subhani, Ten The Gioi, Abimbola Fashola and Nazima Pathan – have been working on a novel for children or teenagers. They’ve had masterclasses with authors such as Alex Wheatle MBE, Dean Atta, Sharna Jackson and Bali Rai – https://megaphonewrite.com/megaphone-masterclass-leaders-2021/ and they’ve been given intense 1-1 feedback focused on their work-in-progress by authors Danielle Jawando, Maisie Chan, Leila Rasheed and Alexandra Sheppard. They’ve also benefited from advice from agents, editors and experts in pitching and synopsis-writing, all aimed at making them not just more likely to become published, but also better able to sustain a career, as they understand the nuts and bolts of the children’s publishing industry.

Our aim is for more people of colour to be published and stay published in children’s and YA literature, so every child can benefit from better bookshelves.

This is your opportunity to meet our seven talented mentees, hear excerpts from their completed novels, receive early material, and discover some of the most exciting talent ahead of the submissions pile. Stunning tales of magic, mystery, friendship, sisterhood and coming-of-age await you, from truly original and gifted authors. Previous Megaphone mentees (and current mentors) include critically-acclaimed, powerful YA author, Danielle Jawando and wonderfully child-friendly MG author, Maisie Chan.
Agents and editors are warmly invited to join our webinar on Thursday 5th May at 7.30pm, when Megaphone will be presenting a showcase of new children’s and YA literature from our mentees. To secure your place, email sking.megaphone@gmail.com or DM @beretgirl on Twitter.

Introducing Megaphone Writers C.i.c.

I’m very happy to announce that I (Leila Rasheed) and Stephanie King are the first directors of Megaphone Writers C.i.c. , a new not-for-profit set up to continue and develop the work of the Megaphone Writer Development Scheme.
A C.i.c. or Community Interest Company is a special type of limited company which exists to benefit a community rather than private shareholders. Any profit it makes is legally bound to be used for the benefit of the community, which for Megaphone Writers C.i.c. is “actual and aspiring writers of Children’s and YA literature from Black, Asian and other Ethnic Minority heritages in Britain”. Everything we do will be focused on benefitting this group.

You can read our formal statement of community interest below:

We’ve done this in order to ensure that Megaphone Writer Development Scheme is sustainable for, and accountable to, people of colour who want to write for children and teenagers. At the moment, there is no writer development organisation that focuses specifically on this group. We think there should be one. Diversity is not a trend.
You can read more in this Book Brunch article: https://www.bookbrunch.co.uk/page/free-article/megaphone-invites-editors-and-agents-to-new-writing-showcase/

As the year goes on, we will be seeking to form an advisory board who will guide Megaphone Writers C.i.c. ‘s future direction, and may want to become directors. We are especially looking for people who are creators of children’s and YA literature, who come from racialised and/or ethnic minority groups, who believe in the basic principles of Megaphone Writers C.i.c. and who are excited about helping more people of colour to get into writing for children and take up the space that belongs to them. If this is you, please email Leila on megaphone.write AT gmail.com to express interest!

You can read more about Megaphone Writers C.i.c. on the Companies House website (search for Megaphone Writers here https://www.gov.uk/get-information-about-a-company ).


If you’d like, you can donate to the C.i.c. via Paypal at the bottom of this page. We will use any donations to create more mentoring places, events, courses and opportunities for people of colour who want to get involved in Children’s and YA literature in Britain. Thank you!

Happy holiday message to all Megaphone writers and friends!

Hard to believe, but we’re nearly at the end of 2021! This was always going to be a difficult year, for everyone, but I am so proud of how it has gone. I am glad we took the decision to go wholly online – yes, we missed the lack of face-to-face interaction, but we also became accessible to many more people than before, and the continuing uncertainty around Covid, rising cases etc., means I think it was the right call for this project. A few messages…
CONGRATULATIONS to the seven Megaphone mentees – Zareena Subhani, Abimbola Fashola, Nazima Pathan, Alka Handa, Ten The Gioi, Munira Jannath, Iqbal Hussein for just keeping on writing and producing work that’s been funny, moving, exciting and compelling. I know this year has been full of shocks and challenges, but it has been full of successes too – not least, simply persisting with writing. As we head towards the end of the mentoring scheme, I hope many more people will soon be able to read your wonderful novels.
WELL DONE to the many members of the Community Group – there is some brilliant writing being done here too and many of you are working on books I hope and expect to see in print sooner or later. I’ve loved running the Writers’ Surgeries and meeting many of you (on Zoom!) individually. I feel this is a massive bank of talent for the publishing industry to take note of, but also a community of practice, people working together on something they love doing for the sake of it.
THANK YOU to Stephanie King for making Community happen – for voluntarily organising all the Open Doors and In Conversations so Megaphone writers can find out how the wild world of publishing works and get feedback from the best. Words are insufficient!
THANK YOU to the Megaphone mentors – Danielle Jawando, Maisie Chan, Alexandra Sheppard – for guiding and helping your mentees grow as authors, all while writing your own, stellar books and juggling your careers! NOT EASY.
THANK YOU to every single person – publishing professionals, booksellers, authors -who has given up their time to talk to Megaphone’s writers – you are so generous and it is so appreciated.
THANK YOU to our funders and in kind supporters, both past and present. To Jonathan at https://writingwestmidlands.org/ for constant support, to Arts Council England and players of the National Lottery for making it happen, to https://usborne.com/gb/ for funding and supporting Megaphone throughout the year. And to individuals who have helped, donated and more – you’re amazing.
I have no doubt I’ve forgotten someone – it won’t be because I don’t appreciate you! It will be because by this time in December my brain has its out of office on…
I hope you all enjoy the holiday time (and that you do get some actual holiday…) and I’ll see you in in 2022, hopefully with some exciting news about Megaphone’s future!
Leila Rasheed


Leila Rasheed
See you in 2022!
Arts Council England logo - our funder
https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/
Usborne Publishing logo - our funder

5 things I wish I’d known about a creative career by Maritsa Baksh (The Creative Pandemic)

Maritsa Baksh of QPOC publishing project The Creative Pandemic has written a guest blog for Megaphone!

I first got in touch with Leila because I applied to the mentoring scheme (Megaphone mentoring, in 2020). I didn’t win a place, but I was shortlisted. It hurt, because it was a failure, but with that failure came an opportunity. Leila offered me a zoom meeting, to chat. I didn’t know what to expect from a zoom meeting, but I agreed. 

In the meeting, Leila asked about what else I was up to, alongside my writing. I told her about my website, https://www.thecreativepandemic.com/about-us , and she listened, asked questions. She asked if the site was funded – I said no. Had I considered applying for funding – yes, I had, but the process seemed overwhelming. 

The Creative Pandemic logohttps://www.thecreativepandemic.com/about-us

From this, Leila sent me resources to help write my application. She proofread my application, put me in touch with her own network, and was there every time I had questions with encouragement and support. 

From the application I developed, I secured funding for the website, and developed a short story collection that paid qpoc writers for their work. It seems baffling that this process started with a rejection, and an offer of a zoom call. Baffling how easily I could have seen that rejection, and deleted the email. 

So, I made a list of the things I wish I knew this time last year. 

  1. Apply to everything. Even if you don’t think you’ll win, apply anyway. Even if you don’t win, or your work isn’t published, it’s the chance to open a dialogue with someone doing something you want to do. Take that chance. Sometimes it’s some feedback on your work, sometimes it’s the offer to write something freelance, sometimes it’s as simple as a zoom meeting. 
  2. Say yes to everything. Does the idea of talking with a stranger about your work fill you with dread and anxiety? Say yes anyway. Especially if it’s scary. That fear tells you where your comfort zone ends – and where you need to do some more growing.
  3. Ask questions. The people you meet can be your biggest asset. And if they seem like they want to offer advice, make it clear that you want it. Even if you don’t end up following their advice, just hear what they have to say. Share your own thoughts. Those connections are invaluable. Treat them well. 
  4. Set your work hours. Then stick to that plan. This was the biggest one for me to get right. Because I set my own hours, I could work indefinitely. And I was wildly productive – for a while. Then, inevitably, I’d crash. Set your work hours in a day, then stick to it. At the end of that time, put it away. No matter what. It’ll help you in the long run. Overworking and burning out isn’t something to strive for; it’s unhealthy, unsustainable, and other parts of your life will suffer for it. 
  5. Learn when to put it away. I want to say “Never ever give up!” but, honestly, I don’t think that’s always realistic, especially at the start. If you need to take a break from your passion project – do it. Creative work is a privilege, a joy.  When it becomes more of a chore than enjoyable – stop. Give yourself a chance to miss the writing. Come back when you’re ready to fall in love with it again.

Statement from Megaphone – August 2021

The exchanges on Twitter of the past week (please see the links below) have left many people in children’s literature feeling isolated, upset, angry and sad. This includes members of our Megaphone community. At a member’s request we provided an informal opportunity for our community to discuss the topic and air views if they wanted to. Following that discussion I have decided to restate Megaphone’s mission and the context for that mission.

This statement comes from Leila Rasheed and from Stephanie King, as the organisers of this Arts Council England funded project. Megaphone Community is a group of around 50 people and no statement can encompass everyone’s views, nor is it intended to.

Megaphone Writer Development Scheme was created by Leila in 2015 to amplify the voices of people of colour in British children’s literature. The core activity is writer education, especially published children’s writers of colour mentoring emerging children’s writers of colour.

Megaphone Community’s members are all very different and have experiences of racism that are very different. Some of us are privileged enough to experience very little day-to-day direct racism. Others experience direct racism every single day of their lives.

However, what we all have in common is not being white in an industry that normalises and centres upon whiteness.   Book Trust and UCL’s research has demonstrated that over the past 11 years, fewer than 2% of creators of children’s literature published in the UK have been British people of colour. CLPE’s research, too, has shown how children of colour are under-represented and mis-represented in children’s books. Multiple reports from well-established organisations over many years have identified how people of colour are racialised and minoritized in publishing and also in education. Information is out there. It is hard to see what else writers of colour can do to make themselves heard. Publishing, and associated areas, have to want to listen.

Recently, we conducted an anonymised survey of the 50 members of Megaphone Community, all emerging children’s writers of colour, in order to better understand their experiences. Among other findings, 76% of respondents (19/25 responses) agreed with the statement that “there are some conversations I do not feel comfortable having in a group of majority white writers”. This feeling will surely only be reinforced by online behaviour such as that last week of highly visible, influential, white children’s authors.

Megaphone exists exactly because people of colour are all very different, and currently, too few voices among this vast range of people are heard and represented in publishing and literary authorship, which results in stereotyping and tokenism. We want to enable a real diversity of voices to be heard and listened to in children’s literature because we think this is the only way that events such as those of last week will stop happening. We intend to continue now to concentrate on our mission to support and sustain people of colour to write and publish great literature for children because we think that is the best and most positive contribution we can make to the situation.

Finally, we warmly thank everyone who has offered support, both moral and financial, to Megaphone in the past few days. We are glad you see us as part of the solution.  We also thank our core funders and partners over the years who have made Megaphone possible: Arts Council England, Usborne Publishing, The Publishers’ Association and Writing West Midlands.

Article by one of the directly affected people: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/aug/13/pointing-out-racism-in-books-is-not-an-attack-kate-clanchy

Statement from the Society of Authors: https://societyofauthors.org/News/News/2021/August/Inclusivity-across-publishing

Booktrust represents: https://www.booktrust.org.uk/what-we-do/programmes-and-campaigns/booktrust-represents/representation-of-people-of-colour-among-childrens-book-authors-and-illustrators/#!?q=&sortOption=MostRecent&pageNo=1

CLPE: Reflecting Realities: https://clpe.org.uk/research/clpe-reflecting-realities-survey-ethnic-representation-within-uk-childrens-literature

Rethinking diversity in publishing: https://www.spreadtheword.org.uk/projects/rethinking-diversity/

Racism in education: https://www.nasuwt.org.uk/news/campaigns/act-for-racial-justice.html

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