Last year, Publishers Weekly's annual salary survey showed minimal improvement in terms of creating a more diverse publishing industry. This week, Lee and Low, which conducted its own survey focusing on diversity in the book business in 2015, released the results of its latest update, for 2019. They were much the same.
The survey found that in the industry overall, 76% of employees who responded to the survey were white, 74% were cis women, 81% were straight, and 89% were non-disabled. At the executive level, 78% were white, 60% were cis women, 82% were straight, and 90% were non-disabled. Some other big takeaways: there's some more diversity at the top, but editorial departments continue to trend even more toward white hires, while the industry's interns are vastly more diverse than the industry itself.
The findings come as adult publishing finds itself mired in a controversy over one of Flatiron Books' top titles for the season, Jeanine Cummins's American Dirt, a book acquired at a competitive auction in a seven-figure deal that is written by a woman who identified as white up until recently and tells the story of two Latinx refugees. Many members of the literary community, especially those who identify as Latinx, have argued that the book and the massive publicity push surrounding it is not only in poor taste but is proof that a predominantly white industry continues to preference white authors over authors of color.
The controversy around American Dirt comes on the heels of another, at the Romance Writers of America. There, mass resignations, the cancelation of this year's Rita Awards, and a publisher boycott of the organization's conference followed uproar over the improper dismissal of the group's former ethics chair.
In children's literature, where the hashtags #ownvoices (which spotlights books where the creator and protagonist share a cultural background and marginalized identity) and #DVpit (which was designed to help creators from diverse backgrounds query agents and editors) have popped up over the past few years and have been buoyed by such organizations as We Need Diverse Books, these conversations have typically been more common. In the adult book world, despite efforts from such groups as People of Color in Publishing, these conversations have remained more in the margins—or at least more often comfortably behind closed doors.
While the American Dirt and the RWA controversies have certainly not been the first to rattle the publishing industry's hierarchy, they have been the most significant since the #MeToo movement began in 2018. And as the discourse on American Dirt continues on through a second week, it's becoming clearer that the conversations they have brought to the fore will not be going away.
"Until we all start to care about equity, we will not make progress, and any gains the industry makes will continue to be not statistically significant," Jason Low and Hannah Ehrlich wrote in their analysis of the survey. "So, the same questions that we asked four years ago bear repeating: How can company cultures be more welcoming for diverse staff?"