In theory, the advance paid on signing a book contract is just the start of a writer-publisher relationship – a guaranteed sum pending shared royalties down the line. And yet, it can be both an author’s cornerstone and a vote of confidence. It’s also, according to a spreadsheet shared under the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe, often shockingly low, especially for novice color writers. Among more than 2,500 writers who shared their information Thursday, the median advance was $ 18,750.
Embarrassment at weak advances is one reason they have generally been closely watched – so far, with pressure for transparency to expose disparities following global protests against institutional racism.
The writers who shared their advances gave their reasoning on Twitter. LL McKinney, an author who created the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag last week, wrote about the “not-so-secret of publishing” in a wire.
“It was short and to the point,” McKinney said of the hashtag over the phone. “I like alliteration, so it was just one of those things that fit together. It was for people who would use it, so it’s like the start of a sentence.
McKinney wanted breakthroughs to be at the center of the hashtag in part because they’re easy to tweet and understand – and maybe turn into action.
“It was a peak of frustration with the post and people using the hashtag to amplify black voices,” she said. “It took black people to be killed and protest for this to happen. “
McKinney’s goal, she says, is to raise voices of color. “It’s not about trying to take things away from people,” she said. “It’s basically ‘OK, this is how you value these stories, we want you to value our stories. Our stories are also universal. This ensures that everyone is treated equally and fairly.’
Novelist Lydia Kiesling felt that “a person’s discomfort at being paid a lot of money is insignificant compared to the pain of being underpaid or ignored because of systemic racism”, and So she put her anxiety aside to post her lead on Twitter.
Kiesling, author of “Golden State,” explained via email the seemingly arbitrary nature of the post, particularly how “It seems white writers have the opportunity to experiment, succeed, and / or fail early in life. their careers much more often than other writers. It is particularly offensive that the black writers and writers of color who have won the highest accolades in this profession are not even widely rewarded by publishers after the fact.
Steph Cha, author of “Your House Will Pay”, also shared his advances. Over the phone, she said she hoped the move could change minds.
“Real change in reaction to a movement on social media is something you don’t always see,” Cha said. “And I would be surprised if the Big 5 [publishing conglomerates] answered it in a meaningful way.
Such a change, she added, had to go beyond hashtags and short-term trends. These were the sentiments of author Reni Eddo-Lodge, among several authors (including Ibram X. Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates) climbing the bestseller lists after the proliferation of anti-racist playlists.
“Well the numbers are there,” Eddo-Lodge tweeted on Wednesday, the day his book “Why I Don’t Talk To Whites About Race” reached number 1 on the UK list. “I am the first and only black woman to top the UK non-fiction bestseller list.” She was “appalled” that the accomplishment was the result of “tragic circumstances” and called the late step “a horrible indictment of the publishing industry”.
The breakthrough debate, meanwhile, focuses less on the ultimate success of a book and more on the bets placed on a writer at the start – a gap most clearly illustrated in NK Jemisin’s revelation that she didn’t. received just $ 25,000 for each book in his “Broken Earth” trilogy – all three of which won the Hugo Awards for Best Novel.
While pushing through Jemisin’s denial of a request to speak to The Times, his publisher, Orbit Books, reissued a statement from publisher Tim Holman that said, in part, “I wholeheartedly support the rights of black writers. to demand equal pay for their work …. It has been a privilege to publish and promote such an extraordinary writer since the beginning of her writing career. He added that their contract negotiations “were conducted in good faith and on the basis of the circumstances of the time.” And he pointed to the “substantial royalty checks” she has received since her advance was earned.
Jess Walter, author of “Beautiful Ruins,” fully supports the movement, but in an email he was concerned that the hashtag “would only increase the attention of the publishing industry and writers to the big breakthroughs. spectacular, especially for the beginnings ”.
Walter didn’t get a six-figure lead until “Beautiful Ruins,” his seventh book. Her eighth book earned her a $ 10,000 advance, just before “Beautiful Ruins” hit the bestseller list. He finds the focus on advancements somewhat problematic.
“It creates high, often unreasonable expectations and a sort of buzz culture around an art form that isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about buzz but about quality, patience and timelessness, about gaining a readership, ”he mentioned. “Publishers are paying these big advances in hopes of finding financial hubs like Hollywood, and the greatest thing about publishing… is that it’s not Hollywood.”
Ultimately, Walter thinks the focus on advancements is just the start:
“I hope publishers also make a commitment to developing young writers of color, beyond the big six and seven figure contracts that make the headlines. A glance at the bestseller list certainly gives some hope.
Kiese Laymon, the author of “Heavy”, joined the movement after seeing Roxane Gay’s tweets.
“I just think this is a time when we probably need to talk honestly about economic disparities in addition to prison reform and prison abolition,” he said over the phone. He was also keen to stress that this movement should help writers of color – and especially black writers – less established than him.
“As much as we can honestly talk about money, which is difficult in this country, we just have to be brave, so that the people who follow us don’t have the same fight,” he said. “Many of us didn’t know our business was so bad, we were embarrassed to talk about it [them]. This thing is to let people know, we don’t have to be embarrassed when there are disparities between different groups.
He called for concrete changes, including real data collection: “They have to do audits, they have to look at what kind of budgets different kinds of books are getting. But at the end of the day, to change the issue, the people with the power have to change.
Discussions about diversifying publishing were brewing long before the protests and erupted in particular around the debate over Jeanine Cummins’ “American Dirt,” a novel starring a Mexican woman and her family fleeing to the United States, that many Latinos have criticized as inauthentic and filled with stereotypes. This novel earned Cummins, a white woman, a seven-figure lead.
In February, a group formed in response, Dignidad Literaria, forced a meeting with Cummins publisher Macmillan, after which the company pledged to take a series of measures aimed at increasing diversity within its ranks.
The Big 5 publishers have responded to the latest hashtag campaign to varying degrees. Some have pinned statements acknowledging the Black Lives Matter movement on Twitter. Others announced the diversification of the stories they chose to tackle.
Penguin Random House tweeted a full thread describing its action plan.
Simon and Schuster Twitter account pin a declaration of solidarity following the death of George Floyd.
The HarperCollins account also pinned a brief statement.
The first step in a plan to reduce disparities in progress and beyond might be, as Laymon suggested, to compile solid data. “I don’t think that shows the whole picture,” McKinney said of the #PublishingPaidMe spreadsheet. “I think if you looked at the hashtag from the start you might get a better idea.” In fact, the paper relies on data with its own diversity problem. As of Thursday, 70% of those polled were white; only 4% were black.