Amazon made a small change to the way it sells books. Publishers are terrified.
Very recently, Amazon made a small, barely noticeable tweak to the way it sells books. And that little tweak has publishers very, very worried.
The change has to do with what Amazon calls the “Buy Box.” That’s the little box on the right-hand side of Amazon product pages that lets you buy stuff through the company’s massive retail enterprise. It looks like this:
It used to be that when you were shopping for a new copy of a book and clicked “Add to Cart,” you were buying the book from Amazon itself. Amazon, in turn, had bought the book from its publisher or its publisher’s wholesalers, just like if you went to any other bookstore selling new copies of books. There was a clear supply chain that sent your money directly into the pockets of the people who wrote and published the book you were buying.
But now, reports the Huffington Post, that’s no longer the default scenario. Now you might be buying the book from Amazon, or you might be buying it from a third-party seller. And there’s no guarantee that if the latter is true, said third-party seller bought the book from the publisher. In fact, it’s most likely they didn’t.
Which means the publisher might not be getting paid. And, by extension, neither is the author.
Image: Cover of
America #2, starring America Chavez, Marvel’s lesbian Latina superhero. (Marvel
NPR’s Glen Weldon is used to comics shop chatter that revolves around things
like which new books are worth checking out, what storylines have gone way too
long and which hero could kick which other hero’s butt. Generally speaking, the
word “demographics” doesn’t crop up a lot; but it did last week, after a Marvel
executive’s comments about diversity in comics unleashed an online firestorm.
What does it take to get published by a big company like you guys?
To be honest: A LOT of hard work and determination. There are many steps between an author finishing a first draft of a book and seeing it published on bookshelves. Here are a few of the general publishing guidelines/steps!
Step 1. Find an agent.
Literary agents are the first step once you’ve edited and revised your manuscript a few times. You should have a pretty polished book before you even send out queries. For more info on what a query should look like and tips for writing one, check out this link. Hopefully, this will then lead you to signing on with an agent!
Step 2. Your agents will shop your book around.
Your agent will then send out your manuscript to various editors, who will either express interest or pass it over. If many editors from various Publishing Houses or Imprints like your book, then they will offer bids, or even take your book to auction. In the end, someone will agree to publish you, and your agent will help you to decide who is the best fit for you and your book.
Step 3. You work with an Editor.
Once you find out where your book will be published, you work with an editor to help put those last touches on your book. This can often take a while, so even if your book is acquired in January, it might not be ready to be published for another two years or so! (Publishing is a SLOW business, y’all.)
Step 4. You get a release date!
This is when the marketing team will come in and start dreaming of all the fun exciting ways to let the world know about your book! Will there be a live chat? A goodreads giveaway? A tumblr post? Something more? Publicity builds buzz around either you or your book, or both, and hopefully readers are pumped up for your novel! All this happens in the build up to your release day.
Step 5. Your book is born.
Happy birthday! After a long process, your story is now out in the world! To help promote your book you might go on tour, or maybe you write guest blog posts or do a giveaway. Hopefully your book is beloved by fans and then you can sit back and relax… oh wait, I mean you can keep writing the sequel your publisher begged you to write!
Be warned, this is all best case scenarios, and every author has a unique journey through the world of publishing, often dependent on genre or publisher, or agent, or book. Many people have to face rejection after rejection after rejection before any of this happens. But hopefully this little guide is a helpful start as you start exploring this beautiful bookish world!
This may be a weird question but do you think someone white would be taken more seriously when writing different races and ethnicities if they kept their identity anonymous? I've been writing a book for that is full of different races and ethnic groups. I gave it to an editor & the first thing he said was "way to really reach the diversity quota here, you'll get more readers with this." This hurt. I truly love my characters. I don't want them seen as just a ploy or a bating tactic.
White Privilege, Publishing, and Diversity Quotas
As in most cases, white privilege works in the white author’s favor. More likely to be published in the first place (with or without a diverse cast), more likely to be praised for being inclusive, as seen here, basically the things Writers of Color are accused of and struggle with happen less, if at all, to white authors.
Your editor seeing you as reaching a diversity quota is their flaw, not necessarily that of your writing. Thinking of diversity in terms of quotas is going about it wrong, in my opinion. It’s interesting that your editor does recognize that diversity sells and is seeing the dollar signs, thus “you’ll get more readers for this” but hey.
Do not write in a way that is a ploy or a bating tactic and you will be fine.
That is, don’t do any of the following:
Write PoC in solely to get more readers, money, pats on the back etc.
Under develop your Characters of Color and/or lazily rely on stereotypes
Consciously include “just enough PoC” to fit a mental or real diversity quota
Feature them at the beginning only to sideline, underplay, or kill them off later.
Fully develop your Characters of Color, be mindful of stereotypes and learn how to subvert and avoid them
Not concern yourself with quotas but instead just keep in mind your goals for an inclusive cast if it’s not something you do naturally (yet). No magical number required.
Allow Characters of Color to live to see happiness. In a world where the “Black person dies first”, it’s rule-breaking to see PoC live sometimes.
There’s always going to be people who see inclusive writing as an attempt to reach a quota, whether that’s viewed negatively or positively. There is no quota! And no need to have to defend your choices as if white people are the only ones who should exist in stories unless it’s some book about a certain group or “the struggle.” As if a cast of all white people is ever scrutinized so closely.
A stupid question, but what exactly is the role of a publishing company for artists?
Song royalties are split into three parts: Performance, Writer, and Publisher.
Publishers market and promote songs written by the people signed with them (that’s called song plugging). The publishing royalties go to whomever owns publishing rights, collecting money every time one of their songs is sold or played on the radio, a streaming service, in a video, movie, or commercial.
For a songwriter that doesn’t already have money, having a publisher is great because they pay a stipend against future sales of your music, so you have an income while writing songs and waiting for them to sell. But if a songwriter is already financially secure, having their own publishing company ensures that they retain control of their songs and collect a much larger share of royalties.
And even the artists that have their own publishing usually have a deal with a larger publisher to plug their songs, but in that case the large publisher earns a smaller percentage of any sales they make and they don’t control the use of the song.
How can we work our way into the editing/publishing world?
The first thing you should know is that there are MANY MANY other jobs in the industry besides being an editor. Editors are great! They’re so essential to publishing and we’d be absolutely lost without them. But there are also many other jobs, as well, that are just as important to a book’s success.
There are jobs in online marketing, there are jobs in publicity, in sales, and design! There are jobs at literary agencies where you would help an author find a publisher or look for great foreign works to bring to your country. Don’t limit yourself to one sort of opportunity.
Because honestly, the key to getting ahead in publishing is definitely the internship. Luckily, here at Penguin, our interns are paid, and they get a lot of great, hands on learning experience. But not every experience is like this, and you should always ask what your responsibilities will be when you interview for an internship experience.
But you don’t need to intern with big name companies in New York to gain experience. Start small! Starting a small press at your high school or college is a great way to begin building skills. Find any kind of literary organization in your area and work with them (a newspaper, a local author, etc). Publishing is a small world, and sometimes meeting one person can lead to a small opportunity, then from there to something bigger, and from there to a small messy office piled high with books on books on books on books!
Learning specific skills and be helpful as well. Taking opportunities to learn Adobe products like Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign can be incredibly valuable, or having good organizational or leadership skills. Leading a club or balancing a budget (yes, money is part of publishing too)
But most of all a real passion for books and publishing will serve your well! Being well read (and diversely read) is important, but so is knowing what you like. Go after jobs that deal with the kind of books you like to read, and keep an eye on what the trends are. A subscription to Publisher’s Weekly might be handy to get an idea of what challenges and successes are currently happening in the industry.
If I were to write a story that contained characters that were racially ambiguous or in a place where race didn't really exist (like with mermaids or human-like fantasy creatures) would the story be considered literature specific to my race even tho it doesn't necessarily contain race? I'm Korean and black.
Will my Literature be considered “[Insert Ethnicity] Literature” Despite Who/What I Write?
This could very well happen.
Libraries and bookshops may sort your fiction as “Ethnic/African American/whatever” literature no matter what the genre or subject matter because of your race alone. I’ve seen Authors of Color speak on this, that for having a diverse cast and/or just daring to publish while non-white despite genre or subject matter, their works are marked as “[insert group] literature”.
That isn’t a reason to avoid writing clearly defined racially diverse characters, as racial ambiguity is not necessarily proper representation (see Racial Ambiguity tag). Even human-like fantasy creatures can be ethnically coded by means of appearance, cultures, region, language, etc. something we’ve offered many resources for here as well.
You shouldn’t necessary feel you must publish anonymously or under a pen name for this reason either, if you don’t want to. You didn’t bring up this issue but it’s something worth mentioning.
In the case your work does get pushed into the “ethnic corner” and you’re uncomfortable with it, I believe you should reach out, and ask for it to be properly placed or labelled. I’d also suggest making your publisher aware of the issue too as they may have some solutions. I don’t have experience with this battle to offer much advice, unfortunately. Readers who do, feel free to share.
It’s a symptom of “white as default” in mass society. Because you’re an Author of Color, you’ll run into challenges like people thinking everything you write is autobiographical. It’s the same deal with women authors who write about women— books about boys are gender neutral, books about girls are marketed only to girls and it’s not recommended boys read them.
It’s not fun, but unless a whole bunch of Authors of Color go through the process of fighting it and speaking out about it, nothing’s going to change. Right now there’s still a belief that diversity is some bold political statement instead of just part of life, so we’ve got to make them realize it’s part of life.
But things are already changing a lot! Of course, my point of reference is Canadian bookshelves, where I find diverse gene fiction semi-routinely, not separated out by the fact it’s diverse (mostly LGBT+, but some PoC-centric stories, too).
The more of us out there telling stories where we’re reflected, the more integration will happen.