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#PublishingPaidMe: Authors Share Their Advances To Expose Racial Disparities

Author L.L. McKinney started the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag so authors could publicize racial disparities in book advances.
Nicole McLaughlin
Author L.L. McKinney started the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag so authors could publicize racial disparities in book advances.

Over the weekend, authors took to Twitter to share what they were paid for their books.

Big names, including like Roxane Gay, Matt Haig, and Jesmyn Ward are weighing in, sharing what they were paid for their first books, and the ones that followed.

This all gathered steam under the hashtag, #PublishingPaidMe, which was created by the fantasy novelist L.L. McKinney. She says the goal is "to highlight the disparity between what's paid to non-Black authors vs. Black authors."

Interview Highlights

On how the tag got started

So this is a conversation that black authors we've been sort of having in our circles for months, years now, and over the last week, with everything that's happening in the country, a lot of us, we're feeling this bittersweet moment because it took what happened in the streets to get the support that we now have, and that we're hoping is sustained.

And so Tochi Onyebuchi, who is another fantasy writer, he tweeted along the lines of, if you guys are going to do this equality thing, white authors, you have to be ready to have the uncomfortable conversation of what it is that you make ... the purpose of the hashtag was for black authors who were coming in and who were in to see, like — there's a difference between knowing and then knowing, you know. So there was no expectation ever put on black authors for sharing theirs. It was more, this is what publishing is able to give to people. You can now use this to fight for what you are worth.

On whether the discrepancies between advances were bigger or smaller than expected

It's honestly a little bit bigger than we expected, especially when it comes to seeing, like, N.K. Jemisin is a god in science fiction and fantasy. She has won awards back-to-back. No one else has done this. And to see what she gets paid, or got paid, versus what somebody who we don't know, who's coming out gets paid. It rocked a lot of people. We knew that the hole was there and we knew the hole was deep, but none of us knew it was that deep.

On black authors making less than other authors of color

That didn't surprise me. We were expecting to see our outliers. We were expecting N.K. Jemisin to be the exception to the rule, not the rule — but then seeing how few exceptions we had, and seeing where those exceptions lied, that was also very eye-opening. Because again, that's something that we've talked about was the obsession with the black pain narrative. That's what black actors get their Emmys and their Oscars for is playing their help, playing the gangbanger, playing the crackhead. That's what we get awards for. It's the same thing in publishing. So to see it even further narrow down was just — we were hurt.

On her next move

I have teased on the timeline, like I have stories from my family history with slavery, and one of the slave-owners sons falling in love with the slave ... Maybe I'll lean into the pain narrative, write that and get a good advance. Y'all pay me for that, right? So I've teased about it. But there people are like, no, do it, because somebody is gonna do it. Right now I'm just sort of sitting and taking it all in, talking with Tochi. Being the force that he is, he'd put together the form that's out so people can submit stuff anonymously, got data people crunching the numbers, you know, coming up with more tangible backend type things other than, here's just this thing of tweets, which is great as a conversation starter, but that shouldn't be where it ends.

This story was edited for radio by Mallory Yu and Sarah Handel, and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer,

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Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.