This July, the American Booksellers Association was enmeshed in two sizable controversies. Firstly, the ABA mixed up two books by Black authors with the title Blackout, displaying information about the romance anthology Blackout next to the cover of Blackout by conservative commentator Candace Owens. Then, as part of their July “white box” promotional mailing, they mailed 750 bookstores a copy of freelance journalist Abigail Shrier’s scientifically inaccurate book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters; when booksellers reacted poorly, the ABA apologized on Twitter, and when the statement was ill-received, they deleted it and locked their account.
Now, after that false start of an apology, the ABA has released the findings of an internal review they conducted after these two incidents. Publishers Weekly has released the full text of an August 5th email to ABA members from CEO Allison Hill explaining how the events happened and outlining ABA’s planned response.
Regarding the Blackout gaffe, Hill said that the staff member typically responsible for creating bestseller lists was on vacation and another staff member filled in for them—this was the staff member who pulled the wrong cover image. The article was proofread by a second employee who was new to copy-editing and didn’t catch the error. In Hill’s words, “It was a terrible mistake with terrible racist implications. However . . . we have no reason to believe the action was malicious in intention.” Hill said that all employees involved are apologetic and have agreed to further training.
Regarding the Irreversible Damage debacle, Hill said that it has always been ABA’s policy never to review or screen the titles submitted by publishers to their “white box” mailing: “It has been a pay-to-play program.” Hill said that a new permanent box mailing policy will be discussed at the ABA Board’s August meeting; in the meantime, the September box mailing books will be screened and flagged by staff members for potential hate speech.
Hill also included a list of planned improvements, which include: a sweeping review of ABA through a diversity, equity and inclusion lens; a new page on BookWeb that offers information about how all ABA programs and services work; a new Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access Membership Manager position; a new copyeditor position; a beta galley-on-demand program promoting books by marginalized voices where promotional fees are waived and small presses’ shipping costs are subsidized; a quarterly LGBTQIA+ forum between members and ABA staff; and an annual session on queer history and activism as part of ABA’s staff training. ABA also plans to purchase 100 copies of the Blackout anthology for each of its six authors to distribute as they wish, as well as donate $5000 to the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.
The letter in full can be read here.