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Picturing a World


Good news! Bookstores are reopening in Massachusetts. Shopping in one of my favorites, the Bookloft, requires an appointment; but the store has a good website. For summer reading, I have just ordered a Martin Walker mystery and a boxed set of N. K. Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy.
Bad news: I have also just read an article about disparities in pay between white and black authors. Good grief. Jemisin, who is black, was given advances of just $25,000 for each volume of the trilogy—each one of which won the Hugo Award for Fiction (the third also won the Nebula Award).

Of course, in the end, a bestselling author like Jemisin receives the same royalties whether her advance is big or small (her books have sold over a million copies). Nevertheless bigger advances go hand in hand with bigger publicity budgets, which, in turn, means that authors of color or debut novelists generally are unlikely to reach the stratosphere.
So where does that lead us? Well, first, if you plan to make a fortune with a debut novel, um, better rethink the probabilities regardless of your color. Second, if you write fiction or poetry because you are more yourself when you do it than at any other time, then keep writing! Even if your audience is small, even if art must be its own reward for you, it's worth more than money. And third, don't rely on just bestsellers when you buy books (okay, mea culpa this time). There are marvelous writers who get less attention but will expand our worlds. So finally cross your fingers that we can one day return to brick-and-mortar stores where knowledgeable sales staff can point us to unexpected treasures.

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