The book world continues to be roiled as people of color and their allies are speaking up about racism and discrimination in the publishing industry. Glasstown Entertainment, a media content company with a book packaging division that is well-known in the YA community, is the latest company to be called out for its discriminatory treatment of people of color.
The company was founded in 2010 as Paper Lantern Lit by two YA authors, Lauren Oliver and Lexa Hillyer. There currently are eight full-time and part-time employees (including two paid interns).
Late last week, several former Glasstown employees, as well as authors previously affiliated with it, went public, condemning the company for discrimination against people of color and for not being able to retain POC employees. The controversy erupted on Twitter on June 4 after Hillyer had solicited queries by writers who are “people of color and marginalized voices.” A few days earlier, @GlasstownEnt had expressed its support for black creatives, including free query and first-page critiques to unrepresented black writers and screenwriters.
The first salvo in response to Hillyer’s tweet came from Kim Yoon Mi, an SFF author: “Your staff is so white. How can you represent POCs when you don't have any POCs on staff to argue against calling things like AAVE/BAE wrong? How will you recognize POC story conventions when it is apparent to people of that group, but not you? Can you recognize our style?” Her tweet included a screenshot of five employee headshots on the home page of Glasstown's website; they were photos of white women who are the full-time employees.
The tweets that followed included an exchange between former Glasstown editors, Kat Cho – who has since become a published YA author – and Mekisha Telfer – now an associate editor at Roaring Brook – recalling their negative experiences while working there.
“I experienced micro-aggressions that made me feel unsafe as a POC,” Cho tweeted. “I am still traumatized from that time.” Telfer tweeted, “I was with GTE for less than four months. I ran away from that job and did my best to protect others from falling into the same position. (I think we all did.)”
These tweets were followed by other former employees who were editors there and interns, both white and POC, confirming Cho and Telfer’s allegations, some disclosing their own negative experiences at Glasstown. Several of these former employees contacted PW to confirm their public tweets.
A number of POC authors, most of them YA and all expressing their support for the editors who were speaking out, also tweeted, some of them making their own allegations.
“I was chastised for ‘not respecting experience’ and gaslit into believing I was being childish and unprofessional for questioning how best for me to write a story about my lived Black experience,” Lily Meade tweeted.
YA author E.K. Johnson pointed out that Glasstown also exploits authors by paying them a flat fee, "maximum, $12,000" for their work, despite how much the company receives when it sells that project to a publisher. "I've seen so many gleeful 'six-figure deal' announcements," she tweeted "Sometimes they don't even pay royalties." Johnson subsequently added on that thread, "It's not uncommon for Glasstown to publish unagented authors, who don't know."
Several publishing professionals and creatives also weighed in throughout the weekend and afterwards. “Please support the POC editors who left Glasstown Entertainment as they speak up,” children’s book author Katherine Locke tweeted. “This is not easy at any time, but it's particularly fraught with professional ramifications for these brave editors and former editors. I stand with them.”
While Hillyer tweeted three times her apologies for causing POC editors on her staff pain, the last tweet naming six of them by their Twitter handles, people in the industry continue to criticize both her and the company for exploiting both employees and authors who are POC. As for Cho, she described her former employer's tweets in an email to PW as “disingenuous,” explaining, "I ended up speaking up with a screenshot of Lexa's reply tweet because it felt disingenuous for her to imply she'd never heard of these issues before and not acknowledge past harm when I am aware of multiple instances that concerns with microaggressions and problematic (in relation to race, etc) behavior were pointed out to her."
Glasstown announced Monday evening on its website that it is hiring a diversity expert “to evaluate the problems in our company culture, recommend strategies for addressing them, and guide us in developing and implementing an action plan. We realize that before we have made concrete changes, this may look like mere pandering. We hope to earn your trust through our actions going forward.”
In an email sent to PW Monday evening, Hillyer emphasized that the company condemns racism "in all forms." She wrote, "We have always maintained our mission of inclusivity since inception, and placed importance in the diversity of our staff and the authors we mentor, but it became clear we needed to do better internally."
Defending the company's record in its hiring practices, she disclosed that 44% of its employees (including paid interns) since the company was launched in 2010 identified as BIPOC, including the two interns currently working there; their headshots and that of a part-time employee who is white were added to Glasstown's website home page this weekend. Hillyer explained that this was done so that the photo lineup more accurately matched the staff biography section, which already included the three.
According to her records, Hillyer noted, one-third of the company's interns were promoted and became employees; "this percentage is equivalent for white and non-white staff."
As for allegations that authors were paid a flat fee for their work, Hillyer denied, this, stating, "E.K. Johnson does not and has not ever worked for or with Glasstown in any capacity, and her statement that Glasstown pays authors a $12,500 flat fee is false. Our payments to authors vary according to experience, platform, and the nature of the project, and these fees are consistent with author advances from small publishers." PW asked several authors who have contracted with Glasstown for their input, and was informed that, to their knowledge, agented authors invariably received better advances that included percentages of sales. Unagented authors were more likely to receive flat fees as low as $7,500.
Hillyer also disclosed that 30% of the authors affiliated with Glasstown over the years identified as “people of color or marginalized voices, including a debut novelist with whom we have secured a TV pilot deal, the terms of which match those of a high-profile white author within the same company. According to the company's website, Amazon Studios has acquired TV rights to Farah Naz Rishi's debut YA novel, I Hope You Get This Message.
UPDATE: Reaction to Hillyer’s defense of her company’s record in the original version of this story that ran in today's PW Daily was strong and swift: Rebecca Kuss, an editor at HarperCollins’ Inkyard YA fiction imprint who once worked at Glasstown, tweeted that PW allowed Glasstown “half a page to tout their hiring statistics and initiatives -- which in and of themselves are fundamentally racist. Not once did Lexa address the treatment of POC staff, which is what this is all about.” @WriteOrDiePodcast, which is hosted by Cho and middle grade author Claribel Ortega, tweeted, “Especially when one of the original critiques was that they hold up their POC interns as a shield and then the article gives them so much space to hold up POC interns/past staff/authors as a shield.” And Ortega tweeted, “Being committed to diversity is not just about hiring, it's about retention and care of those hires. The employees you're touting are speaking out against you. What's not clicking?”
This story has been updated with further information and to clarify that Hillyer did not disclose the name of an author referred to in an email to PW. Cho's comments were also edited for clarity.