Special Commentary: Demanding Accountability

Signed author copies of WANLB
Image: Signed author copies of We Are No Longer Babaylan prepared for shipment by author herself, 2020 (no distributor involved here)

I originally intended to post this commentary in my News section as this space is ordinarily reserved for my poetry and prose, but I thought it important to address what has come to my attention as of yesterday. I don’t think I have any clout in the matter, but it feels wrong to stand silently and idly by. I speak independently as an author whose distributor is SPD.

Regarding serious allegations against SPD for egregious wage and labor violations, I’m deeply saddened, enraged, and disappointed, particularly as nearly 500 independent presses who publish marginalized writers are being represented by a distributor who has exploited its workers and egregiously violated their rights. Indie presses have played a significant role in recognizing new voices who oftentimes are overlooked by the competitive larger publishing houses, so it is deeply disappointing to learn of these allegations against SPD as a distributor who fails to practice the social justice standards that they so preach. As an author whose distributor is SPD, I STAND WITH SPD’s WORKERS.

As a writer of color who has struggled to get published in an industry that I feel already marginalizes so many of us, I still want to support our indie press authors but not at the expense of workers being exploited in our industry, especially since most of what we write is to fight against and address these very systemic practices and exploitations taking place now, which brings me to examine another issue: How do we still support our indie press authors and their work when their distributor has committed such grievances and we do not want to enable further behavior of such grievances by such authority in the publishing industry?

I do not have the ultimate solution on that. I don’t know if anyone has. However, as an indie press author, I do offer some suggestions below.

Please seek to support more indie press authors directly if possible. When you do, involvement with a distributor is pretty much nil when it’s just Author and Reader directly in communication with one another. I understand direct communication between Author and Reader may not always be desired by the author for various reasons regarding safety, privacy, workload, and expense, but where communication is welcome and possible, please try.

On that note, if anyone would still like to purchase my book but are feeling conflicted on what distributor to go through, please feel free to reach out to me directly for a copy. My supply of author copies comes straight from my press. There is NO distributor involved if you directly contact me for a copy. I will gladly continue to sign and sell copies and mail directly to my readers. I’ve mentioned before that my author supply is dwindling but I’ll gladly replenish it directly from my press without SPD’s involvement.

Please get local bookstores to stock the book. Putting in a request for a book at your local bookstore will often push them to investigate locating and ordering the book. However, due to pandemic conditions, a walk-in request might not be the safest option for some, and instead, calling your local bookstore to request the book might be more feasible during these times.

I’m not going to lie as it does take some effort to accomplish this. I myself have walked into several local bookstores when in search of a book by an indie press author (oftentimes a friend or colleague in my close literary circle) and I refuse to go through a distributor whom I have qualms about their labor practices. Sometimes you will find there are backorders, and you will have to go from bookstore to bookstore to put in a successful request, but it is worth it in the end to support the local bookstore and author this way. Further marginalization of marginalized authors happens in so many different layers in the publishing industry. Oftentimes you have to find ways to combat it, and it won’t be just one easy way.

Please know there are ways to still support indie press authors and local bookstores without having to go through a certain distributor who is known to commit labor offenses.

I agree that we shouldn’t stand by a distributor that commits labor violations against the very people and communities that we are advocating for in our writing. However, as SPD can be the sole distributor, if not primary, for hundreds of indie presses (currently, they distribute for 436 indie presses that could produce as little as one title a year), it’s naïve to think that an indie press barely surviving as a press and representing marginalized writers can just instantly drop a distributor. As an example, my indie press faces closure in Spring 2022 due to budget cuts. So far, it hasn’t found a new home and faces the threat of permanent closure after what will be 54 years of service.

Those who violated workers’ rights at SPD must be held accountable immediately. Proper framework to make reparations and compensate their workers must be addressed and implemented in a timely manner. SPD can’t just go away as it stands as a primary distributor for hundreds of indie presses, but we can demand accountability. We can demand change.

I’m still working on next steps of what I should do as an author to demand accountability from SPD for their egregious wage and labor violations. I hope other indie press authors also stand with SPD’s workers and demand accountability. I imagine this will be an ongoing process to repair if these violations have been brazenly happening for several years without fear of consequence, and affecting the lives and everyday well-being of all workers who have been negatively impacted. Toxic and hostile work cultures that permeate the literary community and are enabled by those in positions of authority, cannot and should not continue for its own good if we are to fully support authors, readers, and workers.

This should not become a situation where an authority organization pits marginalized authors against marginalized workers.

This should not become a situation where authors feel threatened of being blackballed for standing with workers.

For Damaged Book Worker, I believe you. Thank you for sharing your truth.


Updated as of December 18, 2020: There is an open letter to Small Press Distribution. Please sign & stand with current and former SPD books staff hereThis letter was authored by concerned community members which has been approved and supported by Damaged Book Worker.

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