Okay, writers, time to pull down your financial pants to expose systemic racism in publishing

There’s a #PublishingPaidMe hashtag out there to expose how much less writers of colour get paid than their white counterparts. It’s probably all going to be shockingly depressing for anyone getting into the racket, but you should go in with eyes wide open. (I have published nine books since 2000, eight of poetry and aphorisms and one for children, and the advances go like this: $0, $750, $750, $300, $350, $350, $350, $350 for the poetry and aphorisms, and $500 for the kids book. So, just give that a long mull over before you decide you’re going to go make it big in the poetry world.) It’s really hard to stomach how little Roxane Gay got for some of those books, which are everywhere in our house. And NK Jemisin, who is a new favourite of mine. WTF?

As a means of exposing the book-advance imbalance of white and black authors, urban fantasy novelist L.L. McKinney created the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag on June 6, which aims to hold publishing houses accountable for why black authors typically don’t receive the same advances as their white peers. “Come on, white authors. Use the hashtag and share what you got for your books,” McKinney wrote. “Debuts as well. Let’s go.” She added that the movement is meant to highlight “the disparity between what’s paid to non-Black authors vs. Black authors. Not PoC. There’s a reason for that, especially in the context of this moment.” Since the hashtag was first tweeted, hundreds of authors have been encouraged by McKinney’s movement and shared their salaries, who range from big names such as Roxane Gay and Matt Haig to smaller indie scribes. Several authors were also inspired enough to share the complete history of their advances.

Essential reading: how headlines cover up police violence

The Atlantic looks at how journalism needs to change its language and structure to properly report on police violence. Back when I was 22, I worked in a group home as a social worker caring for dual-diagnosed adults (no DSW was needed back then, and I was basically hired for my size and martial arts experience to work with violent residents in a farmwork day program) I saw an act of blatant abuse by a staff member and wrote an incident report on it. I was sat down by the administration and “taught” how to recode the language so no one got in trouble. “Shoved to the ground and kicked” became “physically assisted the client to the ground” and “threatened an aquaphobic resident with a garden hose” became “the client was encouraged to return to his room”. I was 22, and protested too weakly against the changes. Then I quit shortly thereafter, probably out of guilt as much as disgust. But this shit has been going on forever, in all facets of life where those in power are free to choke the life out of those without because they know the language will minimize their crimes.

In light of the recent police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, journalists are faced, once again, with the task of making sense of black protest for the American public. It bears asking what media professionals have learned, not just in the six years since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, spurred national outrage, but also in the decades, and centuries, of black American resistance.

How the news covers activism matters profoundly to a democracy because the media can influence public support or rejection of policies that might solve social ills such as racism and police brutality. Following the dozens of uprisings that swept U.S. cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, commonly known as the Kerner Commission, reported on the cause and possible future prevention of such unrest. The commission asserted that, in addition to generational poverty, housing and employment discrimination, and over-policing, the media was partially responsible for the neglect felt by black communities.

Paperback writer

Behind the scenes info for those readers outside the publishing industry: How do publishers decide when to release paperbacks after hardcovers?

Although it depends on the publisher, the paperback release usually comes when sales for the hardcover book have subsided with the average time being six months to a year between the initial hardcover release and the paperback edition. With the release of the paperback version, publishers are able to create a new round of publicity for the book that can create enough fanfare to entice a new crowd of buyers along with the super fans purchasing another copy of their new favorite book that is more travel friendly.

Friday bookish news

What a complete, unrelenting shitshow the world is. And has been. I think this weekend we don’t drink for fun, we drink for medicinal purposes. Speaking as the most privileged person in almost any room (a white, straight, middle class, cis man) I can only imagine what people are going through, but I stand in solidarity with all that’s happening. Waiting for protests to be organized here to attend as a background sign holder. Hope the new week coming brings better news and more change.

On sinking morale among librarians

Low morale seems to be everywhere in the book world these days, but librarians have been dealing with it for a long while.

In August 2019, LJ spoke with Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, then associate professor and associate librarian at Medford Library, University of South Carolina–Lancaster, and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) 2019 Academic/Research Librarian of the Year, about her research on low morale among academic librarians. Using this and her earlier work on low morale among racial and ethnic minority librarians as a template, Kendrick recently completed a new study examining low workplace morale among public librarians, and is working on a report analyzing responses to a November 2018 call for librarians who wished to talk about their experiences.

What she discovered included a disturbing level of abuse coming from patrons, a lack of institutional support to help librarians resolve such issues, and a mindset in which librarians view surviving such abuses as “earning their stripes.”

LJ caught up with Kendrick to hear about the survey, its overlaps with—and differences from—her previous work, how vocational awe and resilience narratives feed into the acceptance of abuse, countermeasures to develop assertive communication practices, her current work on low morale during the COVID-19 crisis, resources for librarians who would like to find communities of support, and more.

On the benefits of small publishers

We all know it, but does the public? Small publishers are the incubators of talent that the big guys don’t touch because they’re focused on sales over art. I like the metaphor of the coral reef: colourful fish, oddities, and a teeming lung for the creative planet.

The world of publishing these days is consumed by the big book, the one that seems to take all the oxygen, all the advertising and yes, again I understand the economics of it, and its commercial necessity for booksellers and publishers but these successes used to fund the fledgling careers of new writers – not so much these days.

The big book pushes the smaller presses to the margins and the voices of our authors to the edges. It greets the casual browser with a big hello and says, you don’t really have to go anywhere else in the bookshop because it’s here, the book you want and need, stacked high on this table.

Prior to the demise of the net book agreement in 1995, when books could not be discounted, the publishing decisions were made by editors. Today, the most important decision makers in corporate publishing will be the sales and marketing people. They have lots of graphs and Venn diagrams but publishing and creativity doesn’t have a template.

Amazon may have the best marketing algorithm on the planet, but algorithms are not best placed in finding great new talent and stories. People do that.