Over the weekend, hundreds of writers posted their book advances on Twitter to highlight disparities between what Black and non-Black authors are paid. Urban fantasy author L.L. McKinney created the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe on June 6, specifically encouraging white writers who claim to be allies to Black people to post what they earned: “White YA authors, looking at you. Let’s go. Debuts as well,” McKinney wrote. “Come on. I know it’s uncomfortable. I know it’s ‘taboo.’ But the industry counts on your silence so it can keep doing what it does.”
McKinney’s call for transparency came during the second weekend of widespread rallies and marches in cities large and small across the country protesting police brutality against Black people following the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis.
Since the hashtag was created on Saturday, hundreds of people writing in different genres, and published by small, independent presses all the way up to the big five publishing houses, have posted and are still posting their numbers. Roxane Gay, N.K. Jemisin, Jesmyn Ward, John Scalzi, Lacy M. Johnson, Kiese Laymon, Emily St. John Mandel, and Mat Johnson are among those who have participated.
While by no means offering a comprehensive view, the hashtag helps collect compelling anecdotal evidence and stark examples of disparities in publishing. One such example comes from two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward. On Sunday she shared that, despite winning the NBA for her 2011 novel, Salvage The Bones, she and her agent “fought and fought” to get a $100,000 advance for her next novel. That next novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, would go on to earn the author another National Book Award, in 2017.
The hashtag places hard-won advances like Ward’s alongside those of white authors, many writing debuts. On Sunday, Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, which administers the National Book Awards, expressed her disappointment with such discrepancies:
As many people have pointed out, advances don’t tell the complete financial story of a publishing deal, nor do they fully reflect the amount of money an author will ultimately receive from their book, which can be more or less than that amount. For example, advances are taxed, usually paid out in installments, and cut further by agents’ fees. Many authors don’t earn back their advances, but if they do, they’ll begin to receive royalties. What these advances do reflect, however, is the faith that publishers put into a book, its author, and how much they think any given book will sell.
The highly decorated sci-fi/fantasy writer N.K. Jemisin, in addition to sharing her advances, provided valuable context (thread):
As people continue to talk about disparity in publishing (and continue to nudge white cishet dudes to share their advances), those working in the publishing industry—including editors, agents, and publicists—have begun to share their salaries, pushing for greater transparency on both sides of the book deal.