Black authors expose racial disparities with #PublishingPaidMe

Jesmyn Ward is one of the numerous authors who revealed her book advances as part of the #PublishingPaidMe movement. (AFP pic)

Young adult novelis L L McKinney launched the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag in an effort to encourage black and nonblack book authors to compare their book advances, as protests against racial inequalities continue around the world.

“Come on, white authors. Use the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe and share what you got for your books. Debuts as well. Let’s go,” McKinney tweeted on June 6, calling on authors to reveal the amount of money they had been paid by publishers for their books before any royalties.

As the hashtag began trending on Twitter, hundreds of authors have contributed to McKinney’s movement and shared their advances, from big names such as Roxane Gay, John Scalzi and Matt Haig to smaller indie voices.

Gay revealed she was paid US$12,500 for “An Untamed State,” US$15,000 for “Bad Feminist,” US$100,000 for “Hunger,” US$150,000 for “Year I Learned Everything” and “a significant jump” for her next two nonfiction books.

Meanwhile, Lydia Kiesling, who is white, shared that she received US$200,000 for her debut literary novel, “The Golden State.”

She commented on Twitter that she “shared it because I know for a fact that writers of colour who sell more books than I do have gotten less of an investment up front.”

That was the case for black American novelist Jesmyn Ward, who said that she “fought and fought” for a six-figure advance for her third novel, “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” even after she won a National Book Award with “Salvage the Bones.”

“I switched publishers before ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’ was published, so my agent was able to renegotiate the sale of the book. And while that new sale was a healthy increase on the old deal, it was still barely equal to some of my writer friends’ debut novel advances,” she added.

This is not the first time that outrage has erupted over pay disparities and lack of diversity in the publishing industry.

In late January, children’s publisher Lee & Low Books revealed in a study that 76% of workers in US publishing identify as white, while only 6% and 5% of them identify respectively as Latinx and black.

Additionally, many in the publishing industry have pushed for more books featuring underrepresented narratives and authors, a call popularised as early as in 2015 by YA author Corinne Duyvis with the #OWNVoices movement on social media.

“Why are Black stories riskier bets than White stories? Why is there a tacit assumption that there can only be so many Black stories in the marketplace at one time? Look to your peers in other fields.

“No one is limiting the number of Black artists at the top of the Billboard charts,” author Mariah Stovall recently wrote in an open letter.