As some of you may already know, there’s been a lot of discussion about how publishing treats its authors of colour in the wake of the protests about the murder of George Floyd. The #PublishingPaidMe hashtag has really made the disparity in advances between white authors and authors of colour, and many people have been sharing their stories about working with white publishers and agents who have actively held them back.
I’ve included some links to articles if anyone would like to read more about this. Unfortunately this isn’t really something I can talk about freely: I work in publishing and my contract has a confidentiality clause. But what I can do is explain how this part of the process works, and what you can do to help.
When a publisher is trying to decide how much of an advance to give an author, the first thing they do will be to look at sales figures. If the author has had books out before, they’ll check how many copies have sold; if it’s a debut author, they’ll look at the sales figures of similar books to see how well readers responded to that kind of story. Obviously there are other factors as well: whether the author has a following, whether there’s a rights deal in place for film or TV, whether the editor, sales team or publicist feels that this particular book would do well in the current market, but sales figures are the hard data which a lot of advance levels are based on. If you would like to see more books by authors of colour, one of the best things you can do is buy the books that are already published – or read a library copy if buying it isn’t a financial option, as most authors should still get some income from library loans.
Don’t know where to start? Here’s some of the ones I’ve enjoyed:
The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
I’m 90% sure that if you’re into SFF someone has already recommended this book to you, but that’s because IT’S SO GOOD. The Fifth Season is set in a world where certain people have the ability to control energy, usually the energy found in rocks, but sometimes accidentally kill people in the process. The novel is the first in a trilogy which deals with how society responds to this (hint: they’re not 100% on board) and every book won a Hugo Award so you know it’s dead good.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Ever wondered what would happen if zombies showed up in the American Civil War? Well you don’t need to, just go read this book! It’s set in the aftermath of the war, in an America which forces its Black and Native American citizens to protect white people from the restless dead, and it’s all based on a lot of real-life American history which I didn’t know about. Also the protagonist, Jane McKeene, is charming and funny and the best and I love her. I usually can’t deal with zombies at all, even Shaun of the Dead is too much for me, so the fact that I love this book as much as I do legit surprises me.
Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
This one is really fun! It’s a YA fantasy set in a world inspired by West Africa – it can get pretty dark at times but that is exactly my thing. The protagonist, Arrah, is a girl whose magic hasn’t arrived so she chooses to trade years of her own life for magical power. Isn’t that such a cool premise?? I really loved the magic system in this one as well – I have such a lot of respect for authors who put so much work into worldbuilding.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I’m currently reading this one at the moment so no spoilers, BUT I LOVE IT. It’s set in 1920s Mexico and it’s about a girl who sets free an ancient Mayan death god and they have to go on a quest so that he can reclaim his throne. The setting is gorgeous, Casiopea is a wonderful main character and I love the way it draws on Mayan mythology. It gets a bit dark at times so it might not be for everyone, but that just means it’s absolutely definitely for me.
Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
Ah man this one is just GREAT. It’s a YA fantasy set in a world inspired by Imperial China and it’s just wonderful. The main character becomes empress when her father dies in suspicious circumstances and it kicks off a massive chain of drama when she decides to investigate his death. I’m usually fairly good at guessing the twists in books, having worked on so many of them, but there was a twist halfway through this one which COMPLETELY blindsided me. It’s great and everyone should read it.
And there you have it! If you’re looking to support more authors of colour, here are five places to start. Also, if you have any recommendations please feel free to leave a comment! I would encourage everyone to sign petitions, write to your political representatives and donate to organisations supporting Black people if you’re financially able as well – these things are way more important than books. However, if you aren’t able to do any of these things, supporting authors of colour is another way that you can help.