Authors on Twitter have been sharing their advance payment figures to highlight the glaring difference between the earnings between black and white writers.
The hashtag #publishingpaidme was started by fantasy author LL McKinney, to call on white authors to share what they had been paid.
Matt Haig, a white British author, said it was “seriously uncomfy”, but offered that his first book payment was £5,000 and his 10th book secured £600,000.
The UK’s former poet laureate Malorie Blackman who wrote the popular YA series Noughts and Crosses, explained that she had “never in my life received anything like the sums being posted by some white authors”.
“My latest contracts contain NDA clauses so I can’t say what I earn but it is NOWHERE near what some white authors are getting for their nth book where n is a single digit. I make a living but I’ve had to learn to cut my cloth to fit my income,” wrote Blackman. “And I’m in a better position than a number of my BIPOC [black, indigenous and people of colour] peers. I’m not having a pity party for one, not even a little bit, but if we give up, nothing changes. Our stories are worth telling and need telling.”
Roxanne Gay revealed she was paid $12,500 for An Untamed State, $15,000 for Bad Feminist, $100,000 for Hunger, $150,000 for Year I Learned Everything with “a significant jump” for her next two nonfiction books
“The discrepancy along racial lines is very real. Keep your day job,” wrote Gay. “I like my publishers quite a lot but this is why all those corporate statements about diversity are nonsense. A little Instagram post doesn’t make up for racial disparities in everything else.”
Another Black American writer, Jesmyn Ward, showed that she actually wrote her second novel, Salvage the Bones, before securing an advance. It sold for aprox. $20,000 when finished, she explained, and later won the National Book Award. Sadly that success was not indicative of fair future payments and she (along with her agent) had to fight hard for a decent payment.
Ward took Sing, Unburied, Sing, to another publisher who paid her $100,000 and the book also won a National Book Award.
“While that new sale was a healthy increase on the old deal, it was still barely equal to some of my writer friends’ debut novel advances.”
LL McKinney said that the differences between how different races are treated in the literary world and that “publishing literally does not value black voices”.
“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,” she wrote. “We’re here because publishing, like so many of these other industries and companies, only has something to say when shit pops off.”
Malorie Blackman urged all black writers, authors and illustrators to keep writing:
“Your voice, your work, your stories matter. The situation will improve. It has to. Yes, it’s off-putting, and yes, it’s dispiriting but please don’t stop writing. We might not win at this game but to not play is to definitely lose.”
I, a totally unknown white woman with one viral article, got an advance that was more than double what @rgay got for her highest advance. #publishingpaidme $400,000 for How to Fall in Love with Anyone. I've written an essay about this (forthcoming) but I want to say more here: https://t.co/gC5tARfvDv— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020
The advance worked like this: Once my agent took his cut, I received $85,000 a year for four years. Converted to Canadian Dollars that was about $100K, which Google tells me is about what the average physiotherapist in my city earns.— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020
That amount of money was a little more than double what I made teaching full time at a major Canadian university. It changed my life in all sorts of ways, opportunities writers of color almost never receive:— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020
I was able to take A FULL YEAR off from my teaching job to write my book. (You'll note, I was privileged enough to have a job that would give me time off in the first place.) I was able to take time off from teaching to promote my book, which was a full-time job for a few months.— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020
I was able to afford a down payment on a very small condo in my wildly expensive city, meaning that I, unlike many other writers, don't have to leave town to continue to pursue this career. I have an affordable mortgage payment that is now less than what I would pay for rent.— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020
For the first time in my adult life, I have savings! As a sessional/adjunct I only had a very small pension. This financial cushion now means that I can take career risks that I never could've taken before.— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020
It also means that I can take no- and low-paying opportunities that raise my profile as a writer. The two TEDs Talks I've done have opened many doors for me, but I couldn't have devoted the time to those talks without knowing that I didn't have to use that time to make money.— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020
When almost all of my sessional colleagues lost their jobs from UBC's English Department last year, I was able to choose to leave that job before it officially ended and take a part time job in the Creative Writing program, all because I knew I had a financial cushion.— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020
In the end, the book did not sell all that well. Even though I am super proud of it, it is laughably far from earning out that advance. My publishers took a risk on me: a white, straight, able, cis woman writing about love. Would they have taken that risk on a different writer?— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020
Because my publishers took a risk on me, they put a ton of energy and resources into promoting my book. So even despite it's lackluster sales, I personally benefited and continue to benefit from the media exposure that came along with that book.— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020
I have felt so much embarrassment and shame over the dollar amount on that contract. Not because I think my work is less valuable than a physiotherapist's, but because I know how cutthroat the industry is and how stupidly lucky and privileged I have been and continue to be.— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020
I believe being transparent about money is a fundamentally feminist and anti-capitalist act. Especially when you are a beneficiary of our capitalist system. I know writers who earn more than I have, but the vast majority do not.— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020
Last year I earned $36,000 and it was one of the happiest years of my work life. I'll probably earn the same this year. I'm constantly trying to figure out the balance between this career and being able to donate time and money to my community and causes that advance justice.— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020
Since so many more people than I expected are seeing this, I also want to add this for white folks: transparency is great and necessary but it is also not enough. If you have the means: redistribute your wealth. I’m working on ways to better build this practice into my life.— Mandy Len Catron (@LenMandy) June 9, 2020