With the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gaining momentum in America, as well as across the world, more and more people are talking about the existence and impact of racism. That includes the publishing sector. UK publishers in particular have been vocal, and their messages are being heard across the globe. Most (if not all) of the big publishers in the United Kingdom are officially supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, but some indicate that is still not enough.
UK publishers and racial inequalitities
Among the major publishing houses are Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette, Harper Collins, and Simon & Schuster. They have separately agreed to conduct audits about the number of Black authors they publish yearly, the number of books sold, and the pay that these Black authors receive too.
Recently, the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe trended on Twitter, with many authors disclosing what advance the publishing house gave them on their books. While some were fairly modest, books by big contemporary writers reached astonishing sums.
For example, British author Matt Haig said he received 600,000 pounds for his tenth novel. Many noted that Black authors do not receive such sums from publishing, although it should be noted that Haig is a tremendously popular writer, and that such advancement sums are not the norm for any starting-out writer just publishing their first novel.
The British bookstore chain Waterstones also came under fire as they refused to donate to Black Lives Matter causes because of the substantial revenue losses sustained over the Covid-19 pandemic. Naturally, this did not go well with the Black community, and one Waterstones employee even called out the company for profiting off of Black authors’ works (which have seen a surge of popularity in recent weeks), and yet not supporting BLM.
The experiences of two Black female authors
British author Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book titled “Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race” has been topping the UK charts for the past couple of weeks now, jumping ahead 155 places in the non-fiction UK paperback charts.
Similarly, Black author Bernardine Evaristo’s book, “Girl, Woman, Other” has also seen a surge, with Evaristo becoming the first Black woman to top the UK fiction paperback chart, which had only had one black author as number one before. Although it’s important to note that Evaristo did win the Booker Prize last year, so she was doing quite well to begin with.
Still, these authors were less than impressed by their recent popularity, with Eddo-Lodge commenting on Instagram that she feels “dismayed” at the news.
“I can’t just uncritically celebrate breaking a barrier without asking why the hell the barriers were there in the first place,” Eddo-Lodge wrote on Instagram.
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I want to elaborate on why I'm 'dismayed' at what many perceive to be an historic achievement. I understand why some of you might consider my reaction to this news to be unduly negative. But I can't just uncritically celebrate breaking a barrier without asking why the hell the barriers were there in the first place. It pains me to be the first, to know that the present is still history, that we are making it, with our hands, right now. To know that injustice won't be uprooted unless we throw ourselves and everything we have against it. To know that people in the past put their lives on the line and that the work still isn't finished. That white society had to watch a man have the life squeezed out of him in order to wake up to black humanity. My emotions are conflicted at this time. If Angela Davis is feeling hopeful about this moment, then so will I…but I can't stop being distressed about injustice just because I'm having individual success.
More about Reni Eddo-Lodge and Black Lives Matter
Reni Eddo-Lodge has also asked potential readers who want to buy her book to match the cost with a donation to the Minnesota Freedom Fund. This organization is a non-profit that posts bail for low-income people of color who have been jailed.
“This book financially transformed my life and I really don’t like the idea of personally profiting every time a video of a black person’s death goes viral,” said Eddo-Lodge.
On a more positive note, I look at the news of increased book sales as encouraging as they mean that more people are looking to learn about history, present, and future issues relating to racism, respect, and gender. Learning is a good first step toward change, so I am staying hopeful.