NEW YORK (AP) — As nationwide rallies against police violence and racism continue, book publishing employees are holding a “day of action” to support protesters and call attention to the industry’s lack of diversity.
Participants said in an email that the action was “in solidarity with the uprisings across the United States in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and others.
“We protest our industry’s role in systemic racism, its failure to hire and retain a significant number of Black employees or publish a significant number of Black authors, and its pursuit of profit through books that incite racism.”
Suggested actions include donating a day’s pay to anti-racism organizations, joining marches and promoting works by black authors. Monday’s statement also comes as anti-racism books top the bestseller lists on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. According to NPD BookScan, which tracks around 85% of the print market, sales have jumped for such works as Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” and Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want to Talk About Race.”
The initiative was an unusually public statement from an industry where until recently employee objections about diversity and other issues were made either anonymously or privately. The organizers of the initiative are five Farrar, Straus & Giroux staffers, including editorial assistant Deborah Ghim and production editor Carrie Hsieh, who say that more than 1,300 workers have expressed support. In a joint statement emailed Monday to The Associated Press, the FSG employees said they were disgusted with publishers’ efforts to diversify.
“We’ve had enough experience with corporate Diversity & Inclusion initiatives to know that they are largely toothless and built on a top-down model that ultimately benefits only a very select few and often exploits marginalized workers,” they wrote. “An effort to build collective power, we realized, was in order.”
Throughout 2020, the book industry has been pushed to confront its past and present, with an estimated 75% of employees being white. The year began with numerous board members of the Romance Writers of America resigning or being forced out because of low diversity. One of the most anticipated novels of the year, Jeanine Cummins’ “American Dirt,” was criticized for its stereotypical portrait of Mexican immigrants and led to an extraordinary forum in February. Oprah Winfrey, who had selected it for her book club, invited some of the novel’s leading detractors to join her and Cummins for a debate about the book and the absence of Latinos in publishing. Winfrey herself was chastised for not picking more books by Latinos and promised to change.
Over the past few days, Roxane Gay, N.K. Jemisin and other prominent writers have been using the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe to emphasize the history of blacks receiving low advances compared to whites. Jemisin, the acclaimed speculative fiction novelist, called advances “an indicator of ‘consumer confidence.’ Specifically, the publisher’s confidence in consumers.”
“And ‘yeah,’ racism has an impact on that confidence,” added Jemisin, whose own advances were often well under $50,000. “In a racist industry trying to sell books to a racist public within a racist society? Come on. Implicit bias alone will make negotiations harder.”
Monday’s protest isn’t the first time publishing employees have rebelled this year. Staffers at Hachette Book Group walked off their jobs in March after the publisher announced it had acquired a memoir by Woody Allen, who has been accused of sexually abusing his daughter Dylan Farrow. Hachette dropped the book, titled “Apropos of Nothing,” which was soon released by Skyhorse Publishing.