The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus Media
The publishing industry has had a reputation for lacking diversity for decades. This directly reflects the books and authors that are published by the major publishing houses. Only recently have people have taken notice of how disproportionately white it is, and the direct consequences of it. The Big Five, which includes Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, and MacMillan, currently dominate the publishing industry.
Most authors consider being published by one of the Big Five a long-term career goal. However, this dream is very difficult to achieve and often deemed out of reach to many due to the severe lack of diversity. The people involved in the publishing process have direct influence over what types of books are published, what authors are given book deals and the amount of compensation an author receives. In most cases, the publishing houses tend to favor white authors and their books by publishing them frequently and compensating them better than others. The Big Five publishing companies are highly influential, as of 2022, they control “over 80% of the US trade book market.” So, when much of the publishing industry largely favors white authors, it leads to a serious absence of opportunities for POC and LGBTQIA+ authors with diverse backgrounds and histories.
Racial representation, as stated previously, is one of the biggest concerns within the publishing industry. As of 2019, 76% of the publishing industry consisted of white/Caucasian people. The remaining 24% includes people of different races that are clearly underrepresented within the industry. Publishing companies that contain majority white employees and executives are more likely to publish white authors and stories surrounding white people. The lack of representation can be detrimental to author’s careers as well as society. When people rarely see themselves represented in characters in forms of media like books or movies, they often struggle to relate to them. Being unable to relate to characters often leads to people feeling that they do not “belong” in society because important aspects of their identities are not being represented.
Many diverse authors feel that they will have a harder time getting published traditionally, so they turn to smaller publishing companies or choose to self-publish because they feel that it is the only way that they can produce their work. Talia Hibbert, author of Get a Life, Chloe Brown, described how she “didn’t even think of trying to be traditionally published,” because of who she is and the kinds of characters she wrote. She originally did not have much confidence in her writing, stating she did not think she was “good enough to overcome not being white.” She started out by self-publishing her books and built a loyal fan base. Eventually, she signed with a literary agent and was traditionally published through Avon Books, which is an imprint of HarperCollins. Talia Hibbert is now a New York Times Bestselling author. However, not all authors are as fortunate as her.
The overall diversity of authors has increased, “but white writers are still over-represented.” When authors are published, they still face many disparities based on race, especially with pay. In 2020, a movement emerged on Twitter called #PublishingPaidMe. This was a way for people to draw attention to the gaps of pay between Black and non-Black writers. The trend went viral, and a Google document was made as a place for authors to share the advances and compensation they have received. It indicated that “well-recognized black authors were earning small advances when compared to some unrecognized white authors.” This revelation of how deep the inequalities run in the publishing industry led to anger among the public and a call for change. Employees in publishing and media decided to take a “day of action” and spent it “working on books by black authors, phone banking or donating their day’s pay.” Publishers made attempts to address the situation, pledging to work on their diversity. Penguin Random House U.S. stated that they felt they had made significant progress in diversifying their employees as well as their books but did acknowledge that they could do more. PRH said that they intend to live up to their “goal of publishing books for all readers.” This statement came with additional actions taken by PRH, including mandatory anti-racism training, multiple donations to different funds, and initiatives that encourage and highlight Black authors. Hachette Book Group’s executive management board announced that they were increasing their initiatives for “expanding diversity of all kinds” and stated that there would be “important changes.” Simon & Schuster made a statement about wanting to work to make their company and the industry “a safe and inclusive environment for all” and to publish “works that represent the breadth and depth of our diverse population.” MacMillan announced a major change in management a few weeks after the #PublishingPaidMe movement. The CEO at the time, John Sargent, explained that he would take a step back to allow room for “new voices”. MacMillan also revealed the creation of their new “‘Trade Management Committee’ to spearhead diversity and inclusion.” HarperCollins did not make a statement after the Day of Solidarity, however, in November of 2022, a Union Strike began and lasted for three months. Over 250 workers went on strike demanding better compensation, as well as more commitment to union rights and the company’s diversity policy. Many authors that are signed with the company supported the strike, including R.F. Kuang, author of Babel, and Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give. On February 16th of this year, an agreement was reached that satisfied the workers. HarperCollins stated that they are happy with the agreement and “are excited to move forward together.” The union workers returned to work soon after the agreement’s ratification and were pleased with the progress that the strike made.
LGBTQIA+ and disability representation within publishing significantly affects the books and authors that are published. As of 2019, 81% of the publishing industry identified as heterosexual and 89% did not have a disability. In the last few years, the publishing industry has started to release more books that include LGBTQ+ representation, as well as disability and neurodivergence. These books provide characters and storylines for people to identify with and relate to. Representation matters and it can significantly affect people’s perception of themselves as well as society. Diverse stories need to be published and heard so that people can not only feel understood but also have the opportunity to read about people who are different from them. Reading about people and characters who have different backgrounds and experiences allows one to better understand various perspectives and to empathize with oppressed groups.
Diversity in the publishing industry is extremely important. It directly affects the authors and the books that are published. Though the lack of diversity is now well-known, there is still much to be done. Hopefully, pay disparities will end now that they have been revealed and more diverse authors and stories will continue to be published. Publishing opportunities should be equal for all authors, but it is still a work in progress. As readers, we can educate ourselves on publishing companies and how they treat employees and authors. Furthermore, we can support diverse authors, especially those who turn to self-publishing and smaller publishing companies. We can branch out and explore authors who are not as well-known and who are telling important stories. The industry is slowly improving, but it is important that as readers, we are aware that we can make a difference by holding people accountable for lack of diversity and by supporting a variety of authors and their storylines and voices.