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#PublishingPaidMe is an eye-opening reveal of pay disparity in the publishing industry

by Erin Lindsay
08th Jun 2020

The hashtag began to gather steam on Twitter this week, as authors and illustrators shared their experiences with the publishing industry

How much does it pay to write a book? Well, depending on your background, the answer can vary a lot. This week on Twitter, authors and illustrators began to crunch the numbers of how well the publishing industry really pays, with some interesting results.

Author LL McKinney created the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe to highlight pay disparities between Black and white writers.

After the hashtag was shared by Tochi Onyebuchi, Twitter users relayed the amounts they were paid via advances (the sum of money an author is paid before the book is published, that is paid against any future royalty earnings) for each of their published books; sums were shared from fantasy writers, academic authors, graphic designers and illustrators and those with decades of experience.

The glaring disparities showed that white authors were often paid far more for their first advance than Black authors, and were often paid more for subsequent published works, even if their books were less commercially successful than their Black counterparts.

One example compared two fantasy authors: Laura Sebastian, who is white, and N.K Jemisin, who is Black. Both women are New York Times bestsellers, with Jemisin being the first author to have won the Hugo Award for Best Novel (an award for science fiction/fantasy works) for all three books in her Broken Earth trilogy.

Sebastian revealed that, for her first trilogy, she was paid $185,000 for each book. For her next trilogy, she was paid $200,000 for each book. In contrast, Jemisin was paid just $40,000 for each book in her first trilogy, and just $25,000 for each work in her next two trilogies (including her award-winning Broken Earth series).

In what is a hugely significant time for conversations about systemic racism, the conversation around #PublishingPaidMe turned to how BIPOC authors can be supported and encouraged in their fields. As one user Kerstin Hall pointed out, for many authors, advances only reach a big level by their fifth book, or even later. Which leaves us to wonder how those who don’t have the resources can afford to keep writing for a living.

But many Black authors lent their encouragement to up-and-coming new writers. Malorie Blackman OBE, author of the massively successful Noughts and Crosses series, which focuses on racism, voiced her support for POC writers.

Along with so many industries, the publishing industry has so much work to do to ensure that BIPOC authors and illustrators are properly supported and paid for their work. As we move along the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is hoped that more and more BIPOC writers can have their stories heard.


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