In the midst of a global pandemic that was already transforming the publishing landscape in unprecedented ways, the civil rights and social justice movement that arose following the killing of George Floyd by law enforcement at the end of May led to an industry-wide reckoning about the authors who’ve historically been given platforms and opportunities over more marginalized voices, and the kinds of restrictive, non-inclusive stories that have long been the industry standard in many works of fiction and nonfiction.
As peaceful protests took place across this nation and many Americans sought out books that talked about fighting the systemic racism and white supremacy that have permeated our society and culture for centuries, many editorial, publishing, and media companies were criticized for their explicit or implicit racial discrimination against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in workspaces (one of them being food magazine Bon Appetit’s editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport resigning from his post in June 2020 following the surfacing of photos of a racially insensitive Halloween costume, as well as reports of pay discrepancies between white and nonwhite employees).
If you’ll recall, back in January we posted about an alarming statistic regarding the lack of diversity in publishing that was shared on the Lee & Low Books blog in January of 2020. It revealed that overall, those working in the industry (including executive, editorial, sales, marketing, reviewers, literary agents, and interns departments) were 76 percent white. There is no denying that a dedicated adherence to increasing the diversity and inclusivity of employees—especially in roles of leadership and senior staff—must become a focal point for years to come in publishing, to overcome the inherent biases and shortcomings that have permeated this industry for too long. While some publishers have pledged to do that in the wake of the movement in spring 2020, it remains to be seen whether those promises will be followed through on, as this Vox article examines.
On the flip side of the coin about prevalent implicit and explicit racism in publishing currently deals with the additional difficulties BIPOC authors face when trying to get their books acquired by traditional publishers, as well as the various hurdles those authors navigate regarding advance amounts and equal payment compared to white authors. A hashtag entitled #PublishingPaidMe was started by author L.L. McKinney on Twitter in June with the goal of highlighting racial disparities between advances for traditional book deals, and the results were deeply troubling but not all that surprising—high advance amounts skewed predominantly toward white authors, as other racial iniquities like lower advances equaling lower marketing budgets were laid bare. (Find the #PublishingPaidMe Google Doc reference spreadsheet here.)
Ultimately the publishing industry as a whole needs to make some serious changes to who they have making the in-house decisions about which books are bought, as well as acquiring manuscripts from diverse authors that tell inclusive stories and providing those authors with a high-enough marketing budget to result in successful book sales that lead to more opportunities for all BIPOC authors. How do we begin and continue living by anti-racist principles in the publishing industry? For starters, by having difficult conversations with one another, reading and self-reflecting on how to live an anti-racist life every day, and pursuing best practices in ways that are sustainable, tangible, and far-reaching.
The editors and writers here at Midnight Publishing firmly believe that all voices—and especially those belonging to minorities and marginalized groups—must be amplified, upheld, respected, and shared as our industry continues to self-reflect and work to do better for authors and readers in 2020 and beyond. It’s our pledge to continue educating ourselves while advocating for and supporting our clients as we help to shape the stories that deserve to be shared. Contact us with any questions or to inquire about working together today.