Supporting authors and publishing employees in their fight for industry change
Thanks to everyone who provided survey feedback—we are excited to integrate it into future issues. And congratulations to our giveaway winner (we’ve reached out to you individually)!
While the publishing industry has undergone waves of change throughout its history, social media has amplified the industry’s flaws, harmful behaviors, and oppressive stances in a new way. Like readers, authors and publishing employees are calling for structural change. What are they asking for, why does it matter for us readers, and how can we help?
Earlier this month, Publishers Weekly (a highly circulated outlet in the publishing industry for book reviews, news, and industry updates) released the article “They Made a Difference: 25 Book Business Change Makers.” It doesn’t take more than a casual glance to realize that the vast majority of individuals included are white men and that no women of color are featured. And there’s the fact that Jeff Bezos is on the list (but, please, Publishers Weekly, tell us how exactly Bezos has been a force for good for all the bookstores he’s put out of business?).
Ironically, the article comes at a time when murmurs of a reckoning in the industry are circulating. Back on March 11, it’s estimated that about .5-1% of acquisition editors left the industry. Why? These individuals were all at junior levels, and with the mass mergers, budget cuts from the pandemic, discrimination, etc., all of these individuals were overworked and underpaid.
And that’s just from one day. Resignations and turnover have always been high at low- to mid-levels in the industry due to these same factors…but during the pandemic they’ve been even higher. And the resignations have continued, too:
(Here’s Zakiya’s blog post on why she left, detailing the burnout, extremely high workload, unequal pay, etc.)
While there’s always skepticism about whether meaningful change will occur, it’s impossible to doubt that something is happening in the industry. Time and time again, BIPOC employees, authors, and industry leaders have called out the industry’s lack of commitment to equity. Largely, us white individuals have only recently begun to acknowledge and amplify the calls they’ve been making for decades. And this Publishers Weekly article only reinforces the fact that we have so much more to do—especially us allies.
In this newsletter issue, we’re going to be diving further into current issues faced by both authors and industry employees. We’ll be sharing resources and tips for how us readers can amplify the calls for change—because a more equitable industry benefits us all.
Have you read any books that call for change in the publishing industry? Dear Senthuran, Uncanny Valley, and Minor Feelings are three books that come to mind. Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong in particular unabashedly calls attention to the thought processes that plague readers, writers, and editors. The memoir is a call to action for us readers, encouraging us to think all the more critically about what we are consuming and how we are consuming it.
Have you read Minor Feelings? What other books come to mind?
Interested in sharing your thoughts with us on other books? In upcoming newsletter issues, look for spotlights on Violeta by Isabel Allende, Heartbroke by Chelsea Bieker, The Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, and Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa. Read along with us, and join in the conversation as we share future spotlights! And you can always find more reading reflections—and submit your own for consideration—on the site.
What else is being called out about the publishing industry? Why do these issues matter to us readers?
Have you ever wondered how authors are paid? A few years back, the #PublishingPaidMe movement began, which, for many, brought to light the inequitable pay authors of color receive in comparison to white authors. But even beyond that, the structure itself—which breaks up an advance on book sales into three or more (often four) payments over the course of 2-3 years—is exclusionary and definitely not sustainable. You can learn more about this in our mid-April newsletter issue “How Authors Get Paid (Hint: It’s Not a Great System).”
As Amazon, Starbucks, Condé Nast and other companies begin to demand the formation of unions, the question for many employees is why publishing has not done so yet. The HarperCollins Union is the only major publishing house union, and they’re actively calling for additional support and more publishing employees to fight for unions. Doing so could better protect employees from discriminatory pay and practices.
White authors continue to profit off of the work of BIPOC creators—particularly women of color. Recently, a white woman published a book entitled “Bad and Boujee: Toward a Trap Feminist Theology.” After a wave of Black women criticized both the author and publisher, the book was pulled. Unfortunately, this happens quite often in publishing. More diversity across all levels, particularly at executive levels (which are overwhelmingly white), could help ensure that stronger acquisition, publication, and editorial decisions are made.
Tangential to the publishing industry is the bookselling industry. Just as with other commerce industries, many booksellers cut staff and pay during the pandemic, leading to overworked, under compensated employees. An incredibly problematic “open letter” from one bookseller to the American Bookseller Association detailed her exodus due to the association’s attempt to be a “social justice” organization—a move that, she argues, favors bookstore employees over owners. This thread details why such a mindset is harmful:
Former editor in chief of The New York Times Book Review, Pamela Paul, recently left to join The NYT Opinion team. As many readers know, the Book Review possesses many flaws—particularly with regards to their consideration of stories by BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and disabled authors. In Pamela’s first piece for the Opinion column, she critiques the push for publishing stories by authors with “lived experiences.” The article is written in an incredibly privileged tone and only further demonstrates the flaws of the Book Review and its history, with her as editor. It also amplifies a dangerous, consequential, and problematic narrative that continues to erase individuals from historically marginalized communities—one that suggests white writers are the “victims,” when in reality, they overwhelmingly continue to be published (and get paid) at higher rates than BIPOC writers.
All of these issues are reader issues. To ensure that the stories we read represent the diversity of our world and are written in non-harmful ways, there needs to be more diversity in the industry, both in whom it employs and whom it publishes. This means creating equal pay, a living wage, safe work environments, diversity in employees across all levels, and opportunities for career development.
If there’s an issue you are passionate about that we haven’t discussed, send us an email or DM—we’d love to collaborate with you on a spotlight.
How has your reading been going lately? Often, we don’t have the energy or time to share thoughts on every book we read…which is why sharing quick thoughts on Instagram Stories can be so helpful.
We’ve created a few templates to help you do so.
And, for exclusives we’ve created additional templates to help you share info about recent reads. Check them all out here with the password: ILoveToRead!
But…is it a bookmark? People left some pretty weird things in the comments on this one. Let us know if you’ve used anything weirder.
We are looking for short (~150 words) writing submissions on any topic, as long as they are rooted in and/or guided by an intersectional feminist lens.
Each published writer will receive their choice of one of the following:
$25.00 gift card to bookstore of choice
$25.00 donation to organization of choice
More info can be found here. Feel free to email or DM us on Instagram with any questions.
Given everything going on in the industry, how can we readers help?
As always, advocate for the authors you love by engaging with them on social media, attending virtual or in-person events with them, requesting their books at your library, purchasing their books, and telling others about their books. To get you started, here’s a round up of five authors we think everyone should read.
Support bookstores near you that are creating equitable work spaces and fighting for change. Here’s a list of stores in the Bay Area that we love, and here are some pretty cool bookish organizations fighting for prison abolition.
There are many individuals that are working to create change in the industry. We rounded up a few that we are inspired by, and the account @xoxopublishinggg has featured more. Find those that you’re a fan of and amplify them on social media.
Support book reviewers and book review/recommendation outlets that are pushing for a more inclusive industry, and that spotlight a diverse range of works. These could be content creators on social media; outlets like Lee & Low’s blog, We Need Diverse Book’s blog, and The Conscious Kid; or even podcasts like The Stacks and Books Are Pop Culture.
The HarperCollins Union has outlined steps here for how you can support their union and help others form in the industry:
Share any other ideas with us in the comments! As always, thanks so much for reading. If you have any thoughts, questions, or concerns, be sure to get in touch.
Olivia and Fiona