Piggybacking off of our previous article on ageism in publishing, it seems quite a few isms have sneaked its way into the publishing model, particularly the traditional one, over the years.
Especially in Christian publishing, a phenomenon of classism seems to have taken over the industry in the past few decades.
Now, you may be thinking, "Wait a minute, Hope. Anyone can write a book no matter what their economic background. I've seen people with wealth and people without get books published."
True, but most success in publishing comes from an investment. Let's take a look at what publishers often expect from an author, in the Christian and non-Christian markets, and just how much money an author has to cough up before they'll see a fraction of it come back.
Professional Edit: $1000+
You could try the critique group or beta swap route where you get feedback for free. But often publishers will suggest you get a professional edit. If not, you may get caught in a Revise and Resubmit loop (see my previous blog post on this). Unless you have a publishing mentor who takes you under their wing and gives free feedback, and unless you have the funds for an edit, it may take years just to get a contract.
Sensitivity Reader: $200-600+
Especially if you write YA and MG, many publishers will now suggest you have a sensitivity reader. This reader helps ensure you're not being insensitive to underrepresented populations.
Contests: $40-200/per contest
Most publishers will suggest, once you get a book contracted, that you enter it into contests. After all, if you get onto a shortlist people are more wont to check out your book. Unfortunately, contests are cutthroat and cost a lot. You may have to enter 3-5 to even end up on a longlist.
I had a traditional publisher once tell me, "Traditional authors must invest at least $1000 dollars per book for it to do well." And trust me, many people will be happy to take your money. In addition to Amazon and Facebook ads, plenty of podcasts, reviewers, magazines, etc. will ask for an upfront fee to do an interview or review of your book. Even if you refuse (especially with the reviews, since that's a bad business practice to charge money for a review) another author with more money will take them up on it and get more publicity.
Giveaways aren't cheap (especially if you open them up internationally). And you would not BELIEVE the number of people who ask you to provide them with a copy of the book, gratis. Speaking of ...
Author Copies: $100-1000+
A publisher will only give an author so many free copies. Usually, unless you land Big Five, we're talking maybe a dozen. And what happens when you do book signings or book events? You gotta bring your own books. Bookstores usually won't do it for you, to avoid risk. So you pay your publisher a discounted price to get copies of your books. Trust me, it ain't cheap.
Agents and publishers are hard to get a hold of. And if you don't meet them in person, you go to the slush pile. And very few people get out of the slush pile. So people spend thousands of dollars to pitch agents and publishers in the hopes that they get a request.
And much, much more.
All to say, yes, anyone can get a book published. But in the traditional industry, it seems that only those with money get seen.
My Story with Classism
I would love to believe the publishing industry is not intentionally classist. That it doesn't intentionally pay NYC editors only $40K (not a livable income in NYC) and gives famous authors six-figure advances.
But it's difficult to ignore how many costs the author has to put into a book just to get the word out. We're not even counting how much time goes into a book (hundreds of hours) and how much an author could've made if they worked another job using those hours.
I experienced classism in publishing when I got a book contract in college.
As is the case with most college students, I barely had two nickels to rub together. So when I had a publisher tell me, "You have to spend at least $1000 per book," that really saddened me.
Of course, I knew many successful authors, especially in the CBA, who won contests all the time and sold lots of books. But they also had spouses who brought in a supplemental income. They could enter a contest without worrying about grocery money for the week, since the contest cost the same amount as eight grocery runs for myself.
Granted, I was very fortunate to have attended a college program geared specifically toward publishing. From that program, I met agents and editors and took on lots of unpaid internships to understand the industry better. But that took a massive investment.
So when it came time for the release, I'd invested far more than I received back.
When I got my first royalty statement, I cried. I'd put my heart, soul, and mortgage funds into this book and didn't see much reciprocated.
What Can We Do about Classism in Publishing?
As authors, not much. The system is bent against anyone but middle class on up.
But readers? They can do a lot.
Trying new authors: Even if the book hasn't won a contest, even if you've never heard of the author, give them a chance. Bestselling authors have plenty of sales, but if you invest in an unknown, you may help them pay for groceries for the week.
Leaving reviews (especially on Amazon): This seems like something trivial, but if an unknown author gets 50+ reviews in its first release month, their book becomes far more visible to readers who may not have tried out their books before.
Ordering copies at your library: Can't afford a book? Have your library stock it. That way, the author still earns sales on that copy, and you don't have to spend money.
Classism won't go away overnight. But if we truly want to see all author's voices celebrated, even those who aren't rich, we need to support them.