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ECPA Wire: Industry Issues

Five Principles for Publishing Diverse Voices

Wednesday, October 19, 2016  
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by Helen Lee, Director of Marketing, InterVarsity Press

Based on "Diversity & Inclusion" session at PUBu 2016


Hanging from my bulletin board, in easy view from where I sit at my desk, is IVP’s Purpose & Values statement as a publishing house. One of those statements mean so much to me as a person of color: our stated celebration of “each person’s contribution of ethnicity, church heritage and personality.” This applies to our publishing program as well, for IVP has made it a high priority to reflect a diversity of voices in both our general trade and academic lines. Here are five principles that guide our endeavors to do so:


1) Commitment to diversity in publishing needs to be valued from the top levels of leadership.

In the early stages of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s history in the 1940s, campus staffworker Jane Hollingsworth confronted an IV board member for refusing to allow black students in her home for a meeting. Hollingsworth’s challenge triggered both a personal transformation in the board member and resulted in a resolution by the IVCF board against segregation in the ministry. This story shows that commitment to valuing diversity can be initiated by anyone in an organization, but that ultimately, the highest levels of leadership must embrace this commitment for it to stick. IVP would not have continued this legacy of commitment to diversity since the 1940s without the rock-solid support of our leadership over the years.


2) Adopt a mission-driven and not purely market-driven perspective.

We have been steadfastly committed to publishing books on race, reconciliation, and justice, or books by lesser-known authors of color, due to our commitment to multiethnicity in our publishing program. At times, this means we place a greater emphasis on our mission rather than on market realities in our publishing decisions. But without doing so, we would not have been able to publish nearly as many books by diverse authors or on these topics. This allows authors of color to build an audience over time and to publish multiple books with us. (All of the books featured below are written by authors of color who have done more than one title with us.)



3) Publish books that serve specific, underserved segments of the church.

One way to build credibility with the full range of readers in the church is to publish books that speak specifically to their experiences. For example, I helped to edit and contribute to a book we published called Growing Healthy Asian American Churches. The target market for this book was Asian American pastors serving Asian American congregations—not exactly the recipe for getting onto the New York Times bestsellers list! But this was an example of how we demonstrate our desire to serve segments of the church that were otherwise not finding products that spoke to their experience and reality. And we also create books for white readers with content that they may not easily find elsewhere.


4) Adopt a long-term strategy with authors of color.

Over the past two decades, we have hosted numerous groups of authors of color to nurture long-term relationships and help shepherd ideas into books—but the gestation time for this process can be long. We have also encouraged collaborative projects, especially with first-time authors of color, as a way to help provide community and support in the writing process. The rich and deep interactions that resulted from these collaborations produced books that still continue to speak to readers today, 10-20 years after they were first published. And we have maintained long-term relationships with these authors who have continued to work with us on their future books.


5) Acquire authors of color who need to be heard by the whole church.

We don’t assume that authors of color will only be able to write on topics of race, reconciliation and justice. Instead, we actively search for diverse authors whose voices we believe the whole church needs to hear, whether on topics of leadership, worship, evangelism, or prayer, just to name a few. This also helps us to gain the trust of readers of color, who deeply appreciate when they see authors of color being published and promoted in the marketplace.



Commitment to diversity in publishing is not a simple strategic add-on for a publishing program, but one that needs to be rooted in humility and sincerity. You may make mistakes (as we ourselves have), and you will likely offend readers and authors at various points on this journey. Yet it is too important for us not to embrace God’s clear call to value voices of every race and ethnicity. In our increasingly diverse society, we need to pursue and publish these voices now more than ever.


--Helen Lee, director of marketing, InterVarsity Press

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