On Twitter over the weekend, authors across a wide range of genres and segments of the publishing industry took to the platform to publicly share what they were paid for their books under the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe. Among the hundreds of authors who have contributed are Holly Black, Alexander Chee, Roxane Gay, Matt Haig, Kiese Laymon, Nick Robles, John Scalzi, Emily St. John Mandel, Scott Westerfeld, and G. Willow Wilson. Many of the payments revealed—which stuck primarily to advances, rather than royalty payments—have been collected in a public spreadsheet of the same name.
Among the authors who were candid was National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward, who wrote: "Even after Salvage the Bones won the NBA, my publishing company did not want to give me 100k for my next novel. My agent and I fought and fought before we wrestled our way to that number."
Some authors, such as Angie Thomas, declined to reveal specifics. Thomas, author of The Hate U Give and other bestsellers, said she was "the exception, not the rule." She then added: "The rules have to change."
The intention of the campaign, which was created by author L.L. McKinney on June 6, was to expose the disparity in book advances between white and black authors by asking white authors to share their advances, in order to compare their advances with those of black authors and hold publishing houses accountable for the imbalance in pay. She specified that the campaign was intended to focus on the plight of black authors, not people of color in general, although hundreds of authors across all backgrounds have taken part to date.
Good morning. The bottom line of the #PublishingPaidMe conversation is that many publishers clearly have the funds to pay Black authors more money, so they should pay Black authors more money. The end. pic.twitter.com/DO0zvtr6Zk— Alyssa!!! Cole (@AlyssaColeLit) June 7, 2020
Important to watch the #PublishingPaidMe hash, writers and esp BIPOC writers. For the curious, as I recall, my advances were:— N. K. Jemisin (@nkjemisin) June 6, 2020
$40K for each book of Inheritance
$25K for each book of the Dreamblood
$25K for each book of the Broken Earth
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
Ooooh, #PublishingPaidMe advances. Okay. For novels, and to the best of my recollection:— John Scalzi (@scalzi) June 6, 2020
Then comes The Deal (13 books, $3.4M)
Most 1/3 at signing, 1/3 at D/A, 1/3 at pub (The Deal breaks up pub for HC/PB). Plus royalties.
👋🏼 @TochiTrueStory #PublishingPaidMe— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) June 7, 2020
debut book (coloring book): $10K
second book (rap book): $25K
i signed a deal for another book *before* the rap book came out cuz i was nervous the rap book wasn’t gonna sell well and nobody would give me another deal — it was for $36K...
Okay it's seriously uncomfy but been asked to do #publishingpaidme to highlight inequality so, just on uk adult book advances: book one 5k, two 20k, three 50k, four 45k, five 100k, six (reasons to stay alive) 25k (topped up later), seven 100k, eight 200k, nine 200k, ten 600k.— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) June 7, 2020
We still doing #publishingpaidme? initially got 17k for two book deal. editor at one of the big ones told me they could get me 17k for one book if I got out of deal. I got out. they offered me 10k. asked me to take out racial politics. I gave money back. ended up getting ...— Kiese (@KieseLaymon) June 7, 2020
My career goes back to 1997. YMMV— Scott Westerfeld (@ScottWesterfeld) June 6, 2020
Here's what #PublishingPaidMe:
$7,500 x 3
Uglies (original trilogy)
$15K x 3
So Yesterday/Peeps/Last Days
$40K x 3
$400K x 3
Spill Zone GNs
$75K x 2 (script)
new Uglies books
$500K x 4
So I am going to leave off any collaborations, since that’s someone else’s business too, but here are my #PublishingPaidMe numbers:— 𝕳𝖔𝖑𝖑𝖞 𝕭𝖑𝖆𝖈𝕶 (@hollyblack) June 6, 2020
My debut YA in 2002: 5K
2 YA sequels (2005 & 2007): 50K each
All announced YA novels since then have been between 150K-175K each
I feel like I’m always telling people about how white bestsellers and award winners get paid way more than Black people and YUP. Like just knowing what many of the bestselling and award winning Black authors have been paid, the gap is huge #PublishingPaidMe— Patrice Caldwell (@whimsicallyours) June 6, 2020
"Black authors understand that the advance isn't paid all at once. We know it needs to be taxed. We know agents need to be paid. That just makes the disparity worse, doesn't it?," McKinney tweeted. "When books by white authors don't perform, they're likely to get another chance and another 100k advance. When books by Black authors don't perform, the ENTIRE demographic gets blamed and punished. Black authors are told our books don't sell. No one wants them. Lies are told about Black readers, saying they don't read, when Black women and girls is the LARGEST reading demographic. #PublishingPaidMe is part of a bigger conversation about the system issues in publishing that Black people face. Issues we've been talking about, and screaming about, for years, but we've largely gone ignored."
Several authors noted that advances alone did not offer the full picture. N.K. Jemisin offered a long thread elucidating her thoughts on the situation. "A lot of people are treating advances like the earnings for a book, and... no. Basically advances indicate what the publishing industry *thinks* readers will like in the future, so they are effectively attempting to peer into a crystal ball when they do this," she wrote. "Since these are big corporations and not fortune tellers, some hard facts go into this guess: the author's previous sales, for one. Sales of comparable books by comparable authors."
Jemisin then wrote: "But here's where hard facts start to slip and other factors start to slip in, like, who are my comparable authors? Who is trying a different subgenre of SFF with every series, a different style, etc., like me? IDK. How many readers *like* authors who jump around like that? And this is America 2020, where for the past X years we've had to endure targeted marketing based on demographics. You've probably heard of TV shows being cancelled because they were wildly popular—but with the 'wrong' demographic. Corporations think like this."
Jemisin then continued to point to numerous other issues, such as "marketability" and other factors that publishers may use to determine a writer's perceived value. "Publishers aren't going, "Mwahaha, lemme lowball this n****r!" It's systemic," Jemisin wrote. "Lots of little biases at many points forming a big racist Voltron."