The Book Publishing Industry’s Open Secret: Racism
Her voice still gets choked up when she talks about it. After working her way from an assistant position to a senior level publicist at a major publishing imprint, Robin* (who chose to withhold her identity for fear of retaliation) was proud to have worked her way into a competitive field as a black woman in an overwhelmingly white field.
She worked tirelessly, sacrificing personal relationships for the company, traveling mercilessly at a breakneck speed—giving everything to her job. Even as a debilitating illness painfully ravaged her body, and she went into the office under the effects of the medical treatment, Robin dedicated herself to the book publishing company, telling herself that if she had their backs in turn, they would have hers. And then, at what should have been the height of her career, her position was eliminated.
“After many years of stellar performance reviews, all of a sudden I was having performance issues that were never fully explained and there was NO plan for how I could improve. When I was also denied a cost of living raise, something I had gotten every year, I knew the writing was on the wall. I wasn’t surprised when I was told my position was eliminated. It was a ‘business decision’ which I came to understand to mean that they were no longer going to publish as many books by authors of color. How could they? Many of the editors of color who acquired those books had moved on and the list became more and more white which reflected the staff that was left. The imprint no longer felt like home and in many ways they freed me to pursue my passion elsewhere.”
It was a painful reminder of how far the industry needs to go in terms of creating true equality for people of color who work in book publishing.