Harassment rife in the book industry, a new survey says

Sexual harassment is rife in the n book world, according to a survey carried out by the industry newsletter, Books & Publishing.

More than half the people who responded said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment. A total of 213 people contributed their experiences to the survey, of whom 114 reported harassment. Of these 101 were women; 11 men, and two identified as gender non-binary.

According to the report, the incidents reported included “leering, suggestive jokes, comments about physical appearance, intrusive questions about personal life, repeated unwanted advances, inappropriate touching and groping. One person reported being raped at a publisher’s sales conference.”

Books & Publishing editor Jackie Tang said she was not surprised by the results of the survey. “It’s in line with the booksellers’ survey and what we’re hearing from other arts-related industries.”

The areas of work where most harassment occurred were editorial, marketing and publicity, followed by bookselling.

The most vulnerable to harassment were young female publicists, according to the report. One respondent said: “One of our company’s focuses is ‘author care’, which for a publicist means make the authors happy no matter what the cost. Publicists are essentially pimped out and if you dare complain about it, the big impressive campaigns will be taken off you.”

Another commented: “Over my years as a publicist I had incidents of unwanted touching and comments from a bookseller, an author and a senior journalist. The first and last incidents were at industry social events. The author was touring and made numerous attempts to hit on me over several days. I felt trapped, and thought I had to endure him and very gently, smilingly rebuff his repeated overtures rather than cause him embarrassment and risk upsetting his publicity and event commitments.”

Jane Finemore, publicity manager at Text Publishing in Melbourne, suggested there was often a blurring of the line between work and socialising in the industry.

“There is a culture, particularly with visiting international authors, to make sure they’re having a good time, that they enjoy themselves and that they give good reports when they go home. It’s hard for less experienced publicists to recognise the boundaries.”

She said there needed to be more structure, advice, training and understanding in the industry.

Booksellers reported harassment mainly by male customers, but also by co-workers and senior managers.

And several people who contributed to the report said harassment remained pervasive, despite the n book world being largely dominated by women. One editor commented: “This (publishing) is an industry with older, established men in the corner offices and young women working themselves to the ground in the cubicles, trying to earn themselves a break; that is, an industry where sexual harassment based on power differentials is bound to flourish.”

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