In the eight weeks between the leaking of a 98-page draft opinion against Roe v. Wade and the gutting of the constitutional right to an abortion by the U.S. Supreme Court last week, publishers revisited backlists, adjusted pub dates, rushed paperback editions, and ordered second printings of titles concerning reproductive rights. Booksellers, too, mobilized with shelf displays and fundraisers, taking to the streets and social media to demand justice and solidarity. Although books about abortion and healthcare did not land on bestseller lists between the May 2 leak and the June 24 ruling, publishers reported brisk sales and a rise in media attention for both frontlist and backlist titles.
Some saw shortages and moved to replenish stock. On May 12, Seven Stories Press noted that two books—Annie Ernaux’s 2001 memoir Happening and Robin Marty’s The New Handbook for a Post-Roe America—would be restocked before the end of the month. In Happening, adapted into an award-winning film, Ernaux details the dangerous consequences of her illegal abortion in 1963; the U.S. film release coincided with the SCOTUS draft, and Happening’s sales jumped 400%. Seven Stories rushed 15,000 copies and ordered additional reprints, said publicity director Ruth Weiner, noting that “Penguin Random House has been incredibly supportive, informing accounts and getting orders processed quickly from all channels.”
Simultaneously, Seven Stories offered a free e-book version of The New Handbook for 48 hours, took out an ad in the Nation, updated vendors on the book’s availability, and coordinated interview requests for Marty. “Sales spiked [for The New Handbook] on the day of the Supreme Court leak—we sold over 500 copies that day,” said Weiner. “We went back to press in anticipation of the actual ruling.” Both Happening and The New Handbook suggest “our post-Roe future--one showing us what that future could be by looking back to when abortion was illegal, the other giving us options for what to do about it by looking ahead.”
Where The New Handbook considers a post-Roe landscape, Joshua Prager’s The Family Roe—announced as a Pulitzer Prize finalist exactly a week after the leaked opinion—offers a biography of the pseudonymous “Jane Roe,” Norma McCorvey. The Family Roe attracted media attention from CNN, Texas Public Radio, Politico, and other venues; ABC News aired an interview with Prager on June 24, and forthcoming pieces include a New York Times op-ed by Kara Swisher and a piece on WNYC, both scheduled for June 30. “The Family Roe had a tenfold sales order spike the week of May 8 over previous weeks, according to our sales department,” said Louise Brockett, W. W. Norton's chief communications officer. “While it’s still a little early to know about the impact since this past Friday, Sales says there were indications over the weekend that demand for the book is rising again.”
Another timely entry is Lauren Rankin’s April publication Bodies on the Line: At the Front Lines of the Fight to Protect Abortion in America. Through interviews with patients, staff, and volunteer escorts who accompany patients past hostile sidewalk protesters, Rankin recounts the history of clinic access; she summarized her conclusions in a May 11 Slate article. “We had originally scheduled the book to be published in April 2022 to coincide with the SCOTUS session but the leaked memo transformed the conversation,” said Megan Fishman, v-p and associate publisher at Counterpoint. “Major outlets such as Jezebel, InStyle, the Nation, Elle, Time, [and] the New York Times Book Review all covered this moving book,” and Counterpoint did promotion in stores and online.
Rankin’s Bodies on the Line focuses “on how we care for each other,” Fishman said, and that community spirit also drives Shelly Oria's multi-genre anthology I Know What's Best for You: Stories on Reproductive Freedom. Published by McSweeney’s in collaboration with Brigid Alliance, a confidential network that gives travel support to those seeking abortions, I Know What’s Best for You represents a range of experiences. According to Amanda Uhle, McSweeney’s executive director and publisher, “Abortion rights are too often seen through the lens of a one note argument. The book demonstrates…the broad range of what reproductive freedom means."
Superpacks and Toolkits
At Microcosm, publisher Joe Biel deals in punk paperbacks and inexpensive saddle-stitched zines. Microcosm’s $20 superpack of six publications, “Get Your Laws Off My Uterus,” is in high demand, and includes Judith Arcana’s zine, Jane: The Legendary Story of the Underground Abortion Service, 1968-1973 and Hot Pants: Do It Yourself Gynecology, originally published in Canada in 1993 and adapted by Microcosm in 2015 (“it has procedures in it,” said Biel). In early May, Biel noted, “what we usually sold in 90 days we sold in six hours. For things that are 20 years old, it’s pretty wild when you sell hundreds.”
Microcosm’s DIY aesthetic means the publisher can move fast. “We have a new title now, I Deserve Good Things: An Introductory Guide to Abortion Support, that pubbed last week,” said Biel. “And we are rushing a new title, How to Get Your Period: A Guide to Menstrual Extraction, through production this week…. We want to distribute as many of these publications as we can, before distributing information is criminalized.”
In a conversation prior to June 24, Biel reflected that bookstores might be reluctant to display how-to gynecological guides: "Historically, we got the most orders from suburbs, exurbs, places where there might not be a bookstore,” he said. “Bookstores have always been a little hesitant, afraid they might offend somebody." In a follow-up email after the SCOTUS decision, a different mood prevailed: “Our salespeople had line sheets prepared and have been restocking retailers, who are quite receptive even to the most radical titles.”
Like Microcosm, Chicago’s Haymarket Books put together a Reproductive Justice Starter Kit. The kit includes five books for $55, among them Choice Words: Writers on Abortion, Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organizing for Reproductive Justice, and The Billboard: A Play About Abortion, which premiered at Northwestern University on June 25. “Sales of Choice Words are more than double what they were at this point last year,” said Jim Plank, Haymarket’s publicity director. “After hearing from several indies, we’ve decided to crash the paperback edition of Choice Words, so that’ll be available this summer.”
“We’ve been doing what we can to amplify those fighting to defend reproductive justice and freedom,” Plank continued. “We’ve been working closely with Chicago Abortion Fund and Chicago for Abortion Rights. Last week we hosted a conversation with organizers called ‘The New Abortion Strategies,’ marking the release of Verso Books and Lux Magazine’s free e-book, We Organize to Change Everything.”
Radical publisher PM Press, also known for its labor history, reported “small spikes” in sales for three books: Beezus B. Murphy and illustrator Tatianna Gill’s coming-of-age comic My Mother Had an Abortion; Jenny Brown’s 2019 Birth Strike; and Shout Your Abortion, a movement book edited by Amelia Bonow and Emily Nokes, with a foreword by Lindy West. “Because of the two-minute soundbite culture we are in, unless it’s the Ukraine war, reproductive rights has been a weird nonseller [for PM],” said publisher Ramsey Kanaan. “The majority of Americans are for it, it’s a cornerstone of the progressive movement. You’d think it’d be kind of a staple, but it hasn’t been.” Following the SCOTUS decision, PM Press raised awareness by posting an announcement headlined “Fuck SCOTUS. We're doing it anyway.” Shout Your Abortion linked to a toolkit including legal tips, printable posters, and access to their book.
Making Information Available
Even if not all publishers offer free copies or toolkits, the political moment has inspired a sharing of essential information. The New Press posted the Nation justice columnist Elie Mystal’s “The Abortion Chapter” from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution, because “Mystal anticipated how the Supreme Court might overturn Roe,” said Brian Ulicky, New Press director of marketing and publicity. “We thought it was important to share his argument with booksellers and librarians. We have gone back to print multiple times this spring to meet ongoing demand and reorders across all accounts, driven in no small part by his can’t-miss Twitter account.”
Others are meeting the moment by hastening work into print. “We moved up our forthcoming title No Choice: The Destruction of Roe v. Wade and the Fight to Protect a Fundamental American Right by [Mother Jones reporter] Becca Andrews, which had been scheduled in the early part of 2023, to October 11,” said Jaime Leifer, director of publicity at PublicAffairs. Leifer also reported “steady sales of [Lyz Lenz’s] Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant People and a nice restock by Ingram” of that title.
Backlist, too, deserves mention. Kelsey Marrujo, assistant director of publicity at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, observed “double-digit growth on [Karen Blumenthal’s] Jane Against the World,” an informational 2020 book aimed at readers ages 12-18. Reproductive rights veterans Katha Pollitt (Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, Picador, 2014) and Jennifer Baumgardner (Abortion and Life, Akashic, 2008) recently co-founded an online journal, LIBER: A Feminist Review. Devotees of Planned Parenthood can seek out Cecile Richards’s 2018 autobiography, Make Trouble (Touchstone/Gallery). Dorothy Roberts's Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (Vintage, 1997) takes an anti-racist perspective on the issue.
At the Feminist Press at CUNY, senior sales and marketing director Jisu Kim pointed to a title called Radical Reproductive Justice, a 2017 anthology from the Atlanta-based SisterSong Collective. “The Sistersong Collective has been doing this work for so long because the infrastructure is in crisis,” Kim said. “They are a women’s health collective with an intersectional framework rooted in Black feminism.”
The Feminist Press took immediate action following the draft leak, Kim explained. “We ran an online campaign saying that if our readers sent us receipts for donations to abortion funds, providers, and grassroots organizations, we would send them a free book in the genre of their choice,” she said. “We received receipts for a little under $5,000 in donations. We wanted to express solidarity for what people were doing within their means.”
This was a short-term initiative, Kim said, and “on the long term, we can provide more complicated, nuanced, hard-hitting books on the right to choose, to provide reproductive access, and to parent.” In terms of acquisitions, she added, “we are not publishing books that are reactive; we tackle deeper systemic issues. But any publisher looking at a book dealing with this subject going to think about it differently now.”
Indeed, everyone is looking at 50 years of reproductive rights through a new lens. “I always think back to the poll where 71% of respondents do not want to make abortion illegal in the United States,” said Microcosm’s Biel. “Yet here we are.”