I’ve been in the publishing industry for more than thirteen years. And while I don’t claim expertise as a publisher—I anchor heavily to the writing side of the industry—I’ve been around long enough and seen enough to know things are not as they should be.
In 2020, I was cautiously optimistic that things might change. As racial protests broke out across the country, big publishers sought out more voices of color. But it turned out that they were offering these voices a fraction of what their white counterparts made. The hashtag #publishingpaidme went viral as authors began sharing numbers. The discrepancies were shocking. One white author, for example, shared her $400,000 advance as a relatively unknown first-time author; a black author who had won a National Book Award shared how she had to fight for a $100,000 advance.
To put this into perspective, most authors only pocket about one-third of their advances after taxes and expected marketing expenses. A book can take a year or more to write. A net gain of $30,000 isn’t much, especially for a proven author.
Compound that with an assessment by The New York Times. After reviewing fiction books published by major publishers between 1950 and 2018, they found that 95 percent were written by white authors.
Things have gotten better, but they’re nowhere near equitable. More in this week’s episode.