Woman reading about #PublishingPaidMe

Authors Reveal Disparities in Book Advances on Twitter’s #PublishingPaidMe

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A Twitter hashtag over the weekend kicked off by novelist LL McKinney has helped lay bare the wide disparity in book advance amounts in the publishing industry. McKinney’s stated intent with #PublishingPaidMe was to highlight “what’s paid to non-Black authors vs. Black authors.” (She has had to reiterate this target many times as debate raged and conversations veered.)

The hashtag took off, with many authors—from big names like Roxane Gay to debut writers—sharing their advance amounts. This thread was eye-opening, to say the least.

Amongst those contributing were high-profile names like Roxane Gay, N.K. Jemisin, John Scalzi, V.E. Schwab, Kiese Laymon, Alexander Chee, and more.

Sometimes the disparities on display were particularly striking and upsetting.

But it was extremely important to see all of this laid out—and how often non-Black authors were given larger initial and ongoing advances across the board.

Subsequent tweets have generated vital observations and ongoing conversations.

Some authors who wanted to share the information may have felt restricted by their contracts.

One thing to keep in mind about advances is that while they can appear to be an astronomical number, they are not often paid in a lump sum, and agent fees and taxes are also subtracted. An advance is more of a bet on how a book will do, and if it does not earn back more than that amount in royalties, that’s it. This is equally important to keep in mind for the non-astronomical numbers.

N.K. Jemisin also took the time to explain further about advances:

As did literary agent Patrice Caldwell:

The popular hashtag also sparked discussion about the low-paid positions within the field of publishing itself, and how this can disproportionately skew who works there.

Remember, folks, this hashtag isn’t here to pit writers against each other, but rather to serve as a callout to the industry’s practices and particularly the differences between what is offered to Black and non-Black authors. We live in a culture where talking about earnings is discouraged from a very young age—a practice that only benefits employers, studios, and as we can see, publishing houses. Knowledge is power.

Many more authors’ reports and important dialogues can be seen in the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag, which continues to grow.

(image: Retha Ferguson/Pexels, LL McKinney on Twitter)

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Kaila Hale-Stern
Kaila Hale-Stern (she/her) is a content director, editor, and writer who has been working in digital media for more than fifteen years. She started at TMS in 2016. She loves to write about TV—especially science fiction, fantasy, and mystery shows—and movies, with an emphasis on Marvel. Talk to her about fandom, queer representation, and Captain Kirk. Kaila has written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.