by Toluwanimi Onakoya
Do you consider yourself a bookworm? Have you ever wondered how much your favourite author was paid for your favourite book? Well, the answers came tumbling in recently, revealing a shocking truth that many of us did not see coming.
A viral hashtag made rounds on Twitter this week, encouraging Black and White authors to disclose and compare their pay. The hashtag was named #PublishingPaidMe and garnered many contributions from Black Americans, Europeans and Africans alike. This trend was pushed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by police officers in the United States of America. The tragic event showed a prevalent issue of racism in the country.
Many started educating others and beginning conversations on the topic of systemic racism and it’s presence in several organisations in America. Soon authors decided to add to the conversation; exposing the systemic racism in the publishing industry by sharing how much they were paid for their books.
The trend was started by two Black Young Adult writers namely, Tochi Onyebuchi and L.L. McKinney. They started the Twitter campaign to push accountability on the publishing industry. In a tweeted statement, Onyebuchi said
“Publishing houses, y’all BLM statements are cute but I’ma need that SAME energy when we start talking Black writers and book advances. If y’all think the receipts are bad now, it’s about to be CVS on this website, and y’all don’t want that.”
It was quickly revealed that Black authors were paid a ridiculously paltry amount in comparison to White authors by publishing houses. Notable and acclaimed Black authors such as Roxane Gay, Malorie Blackman, and Jesmyn Ward were frank with the specific amount they were given as advances for their first books. They were notably paid much less than their white equals in terms of advances.
The contrast here is amazing. #PublishingPaidMe
They both post their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd trilogies but the compensations are wildly different. I loved Broken Earth and it seems very widely read so I'm shocked at $25k for it. pic.twitter.com/2iVuCjvc2l
— LaLexxia (@LaLexxia) June 7, 2020
A Quick Guide On What Advances In Publishing Mean
An advance is an amount a publisher pays for a book ahead of its publication. It is an advance on the royalties the author could receive from book sales, so it is basically the publishing company projecting what they think the book would make in sales. Most times, the advance is paid in three installments. This excludes the amount that would be paid for tax, the agent’s cut and for fact-checking; reducing the specified amount distinctly.
Black authors such as Roxane Gay was found to have been paid 15,000 dollars in advance for Bad Feminist; a book that sold millions of copies in the U.S and over the world whereas unfamous white counterparts had received close to a 100,000 dollars in advance for their debut books.
It’s pretty well known but $12,500 for An Untamed State, $15,000 for Bad Feminist, $100k for Hunger, $150k for Year I Learned Everything and a significant jump for my next 2 nonfiction books. #publishingpaidme
— roxane gay (@rgay) June 6, 2020
Our very own African authors such as Akwaeke Emezi and Nnedi Okorafor also joined the conversation. Akwaeke’s brilliant book Freshwater was said to have received an advance of a lower-than-normal 10,000 dollars for her book. Fantasy writer Nnedi Okorafor, spoke saying she preferred to take no advance and earn higher royalty percentage to avoid things like this.
I have an upcoming project that will be super transparent about my book money, but for now, #publishingpaidme $10k for FRESHWATER, $40k for PET, and then it jumped to six figures for every book after that.
— akwaeke emezi (@azemezi) June 10, 2020
I’m not participating in #PublishingPaidMe, but from glancing through the hashtag…All I’ll say is: I’m speechless. 😶
Note: I took no advance and a higher royalty percentage for Binti. Great decision. 💃🏿
— Nnedi Okorafor, PhD (@Nnedi) June 7, 2020
Still, whatever route authors take there is still a glaring disparity in the income of Black authors and White authors. Notable authors have commented on this saying that the amount a publisher pays not only reflects what they think the sales would be but also what they think the quality of the work is. It seems publishers are insinuating that Black written books are of lesser quality and so remunerate it accordingly.
The hope is that this conversation would engender major change in the system, and ensure the gap in pay between White authors and Black authors is closed.
Toluwanimi Onakoya is a spirited writer, creative and videographer. Her biggest drive is to connect with people and depict tales using various forms of media.
Toluwanimi is available on Instagram and Twitter @nimi_onaks