How Readers Can Advance Equity in Publishing in 2023
Although 2022 wasn’t the best year for publishing in terms of following through with commitments to equity, readers hold immense power that can shape the actions of publishers in 2023 and beyond. What might that look like?
[Dear readers: This month’s issue includes a brief discussion of and reference to domestic abuse.]
Over the course of the last year, we have shared numerous newsletters detailing problematic ongoings in the publishing industry. From the Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster merger to Barnes & Noble’s decision to no longer carry most titles by first-time authors to the HarperCollins Union’s ongoing strike, it often seems like publishers are taking steps backward instead of progressing toward equity.
This month, however, we want to focus on the positive, namely the power readers have to enact deep-seated change in publishing. We’re constantly inspired by those we see on social media advocating for change, whether that be by pushing for greater representation in authors, stronger commitments to publishing employees, or more investment in creators. And we’ve seen how such advocacy has created real-life change.
For example, when Atria Books and Colleen Hoover announced a coloring book based off of Hoover’s It Ends With Us, a book that centers domestic abuse yet has been marketed as a romance, readers called the decision out on social media. As many readers pointed out, a coloring book only further romanticizes the subject matter. While Atria, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, needs to interrogate how this coloring book got so far through the publishing process, the company did push out a statement and canceled the release.
The questions we readers, particularly us allies, force publishers to consider are critical, especially as the industry continues to make empty promises time and time again. In this newsletter, we’ll dive into why we hold so much power and how we can use it to create a stronger, more diverse, and equitable industry—one that benefits us all.
A Deeper Look
During the Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster merger trial, Jonathan Karp, CEO of Simon and Schuster, made clear what many of us readers and social media bloggers already know: that the publishing industry relies on our unpaid work to promote their titles.
“He noted that many authors of bestselling books bolster publishers' marketing and publicity budgets with their own resources. He cited, as one example, Colleen Hoover, noting that her books don't require a large portion of S&S's resources to support them because ‘she's the queen of TikTok.’” — “DOJ vs. PRH: Karp’s Second Day of Testimony,” Publishers Weekly
Because of Hoover’s success with BookTokers, Karp’s statement suggests the reliance on social media promotion for sales—promotion that comes for free and allows publishers to use their marketing and publicity efforts elsewhere. In fact, publishers may not even consider a book seriously if the author doesn’t already have a social media following…despite the literal purpose of a marketing department being to promote a title. And if a large title like Hoover’s is not receiving this support, then this is especially the case for books by BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and disabled authors…books that historically receive smaller advances, and therefore smaller marketing dollars.
(A quick breakdown of this process: When a publisher acquires a book, they invest money upfront into that title by way of an advance payment to an author. Advances typically represent the amount of money an author thinks they can earn back on a title through sales. So, if a book receives a larger advance, that means a publisher believes they’ll sell a large number of copies…but it also means they’ll have to put that much marketing effort into the title to sell those copies. Check out slide four in this post for a helpful infographic.)
There are amazing content creators out there dedicated to amplifying books by historically underrepresented authors. But when publishers rely on these creators to freely promote these books—which is more often the case than not—they only reinforce this problematic cycle. They imply that these books aren’t worth the investment of their marketing budget. And when that book doesn’t sell as well because the publisher has relied on unpaid labor, then the author not only makes less money, but also publishers can use this argument going forward for why “books like this one” (code for racism/sexism/homophobia/etc.) don’t sell…and why that author in particular doesn’t necessarily deserve another book deal.
We are looking for short (~150 words) writing submissions on any topic that 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
Feel free to reach out with any questions and submit your pieces either at the link below or via email, with the subject line Collected Words Submission.
Someone is starting 2023 off all high-and-mighty.
Thankfully, there are straightforward actions we readers can take to create change, and they include leveraging this power we have on social media. If publishers rely on our work for sales, how will they benefit when we stop posting? Or if we start demanding compensation by way of payment instead of product?
To bring equity into the publishing workforce:
Continue to support the HarperCollins Union. Just like Atria altered their decision to publish Hoover’s coloring book, HarperCollins can only go so far when we continue to put pressure on them to invest in fair pay, DEI commitments, and union security. Check out last month’s newsletter for ways to support them.
Demand publishers release workplace data annually. An increase in diversity of staff → an increase in diversity of authors and on-page representation.
Speak out when publishers announce problematic deals or courses of action. Like readers did with Hoover’s coloring book, bringing publishers into a conversation is essential. Especially with problematic white supremacist figures, employees often start petitions to have their book deals disintegrated. Sign these petitions, amplify them to your reader and non-reader friends, and hold publishers accountable. Email them directly and express your frustration and disappointment.
We also can’t forget the impact publishing has on the environment. What are publishers doing in 2023 to further their commitments to combating the climate emergency? Hachette recently made some announcements, but there’s always more to be done. As with the above, interrogate their actions and hold them to higher standards.
…and to the publishing-adjacent:
Particularly us allies: Follow, listen to, amplify, and advocate for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and/or disabled authors and content creators. Share their posts, attend their readings and interviews, request their books at your library or purchase them from an indie store. Check out these upcoming releases we can’t wait to read, these 2023 books by disabled authors, these forthcoming releases by Latine authors, and these books featuring LGBTQIA+ rep.
If you’re a white, cis, abled, and/or straight creator approached about a paid campaign, inquire whether any BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and/or disabled creators are partaking, and only sign if the answer is “yes.”
As always, thanks for taking the time to read this month’s newsletter. We will be back in a few weeks with a spotlight on Bad Fruit by Ella King (spoiler: it was one of Olivia’s favorite reads of 2022). If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to get in touch via email, the comments below, or on Instagram DM.
Olivia and Fiona