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Let’s Talk About Racism in the Publishing Industry

On Feb. 19, I saw many people in the publishing industry discussing a Publisher’s Weekly article on my Twitter feed about the literate agent, Brooks Sherman, who was recently fired by Angie Thomas and other authors. However, the article people were talking about didn’t have a positive tone at all. 


For those of you not familiar with Angie Thomas, she is the best-selling author of novels such as, “The Hate U Give,” which turned into a movie in 2018, and “Concrete Rose.” 


Thomas has been appointed one of the most relevant writers of our generation for her ability to write about serious issues like racism and police brutality in stories that capture the readers’ attention and open more room for the discussion of these issues.


So, why did the Publisher’s Weekly article have such negative repercussions? In sum, it attributed the success of a black woman author to her white male agent.

assorted-title book lot placed on white wooden shelf
Nick Fewings/Unsplash

The original article claimed that Brooks Sherman “discovered her” and “plucked (Thomas) from obscurity.” Publisher’s Weekly received severe backlash on social media and they have since edited the article, removing these problematic statements. 


The article reports that Sherman is no longer a part of “Janklow & Nesbit Associates,” and that he was recently dropped by some authors like Thomas herself. Thomas is rumoured to have fired the agent after allegations about unethical work from Sherman’s part. 


The Publisher Weekly article claims that Sherman “had a pattern of deceiving clients regarding submissions and foreign rights, and that he denigrated authors to other authors and to editors.” 

The content of the article per se isn’t the issue, but how it was written was. To claim that a white male agent was responsible for the success of a black woman is beyond absurd. 


iPhone with Twitter logo
Photo by Sara Kurfeb from Unsplash

A few weeks ago I saw a few reports on social media of black authors who were contacted by publishers during the peak of Black Lives Matter around June 2020, only to never hear from them again when the movement’s visibility in the media died down. 

The importance of #OwnVoices books, a term that refers to under-represented groups writing about their experience,  gained visibility last year. However, it seems that most major publishers forgot about it now that the BLM isn’t trending as much as it was in mid 2020. 


When we bring the history of black authors within the publishing industry over the last year into conversation, the Publisher’s Weekly article becomes even more problematic. 


It should be unacceptable that a media platform would give credit to a black author’s success to her white male agent. It is especially infuriating if we note that this happened during Black History Month.


man behind a black lives matter sign
Photo by Cottonbro from Pexels


This further proves that a lot of companies and media platforms that supported the Black Lives Matter movement did so superficially. They did it to make their brand look good, but as soon as it meant changing their ways and looking at their own structural racism, they backed out.


Angie Thomas is an incredibly talented writer and her success is the result of no one but herself. Anyone who tries to claim otherwise should think hard about the reasons that lead them to believe so. 


Thomas has thanked her followers via Twitter for the support she’s gotten, but other than that she hasn’t publicly stated anything about the polemic article. 

Rafaela (she/her) is a sophomore at Penn State, majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Journalism and Sports Studies. She's obsessed with Taylor Swift, books, chocolate, and romantic comedy movies.
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