With everything evolving, the publishing industry is bound to adapt to a more welcoming environment for new and aspiring authors. Jenn T. Grace is back with Robin Colucci to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the publishing industry. Jenn is an award-winning author, nationally recognized speaker, and savvy publishing strategist. Heading her company, Publish Your Purpose, Jenn gives first-time authors the secrets to getting their books written, and marking their place in the publishing world. She also shares how she leads ambitious authors through every aspect of writing, editing, and publishing their books.
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Jenn T Grace On Inclusion As A Way Of Being – Not A Destination
We are going to continue our conversation on the question of how we make the publishing industry become a more diverse and welcoming environment for broader groups of authors, people working in the industry, and readers. I have with me, Jenn T. Grace. Jenn is sometimes known as a professional lesbian. She is a nationally recognized business strategist, speaker, and author, specializing in helping businesses figure out how to best tap into the LBGTQ market’s $3.7 trillion purchasing power.
Jenn has published four books on the subject including, Beyond The Rainbow: Personal Stories and Practical Strategies to Help your Business & Workplace Connect with the LGBTQ Market. Beyond that, Jenn has founded her own hybrid publishing house, fueled by her passion for helping people share their stories of adversity. She founded Publish Your Purpose Press in 2016. Since then, PYP has worked with a diverse group of authors to develop and publish books on topics ranging from mental health to racial trauma to building a more inclusive workplace.
PYP is also a proud member of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce and The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Her company, PYP, is also a B corp, which is a status that can be rather difficult to obtain but it’s a status that lets people know that your company is running their business with sustainable, environmentally, and socially conscious practices. PYP also runs its own internal supplier diversity program where they actively partner with diverse suppliers.
In this interview, I want to invite you to read with an open mind and heart. It goes in a rather interesting direction, where the perspective starts on the diversity question regarding LBGTQ authors. As we talk, we pull the lens back farther to take a broader and broader view. I will let you read, enjoy and see where we end up. Thank you and enjoy.
Jenn, welcome back to the show.
Thank you for having me back. It’s exciting.
It’s so great to have you back. You probably recall the first time we had you on, and you talked about the nine questions that a potential author should ask themselves before signing on the dotted line with any publisher. We’ve got some incredibly helpful tips. With all my years of experience in the industry, I can say every single one of them was right on point. It’s worth a go back and re-read. One of the things we talked about before that episode was another side of the question of the shortage of diversity and inclusion in the publishing industry itself.
There are some imperatives of being a publisher and what it looks like to be a socially and environmentally conscious publishing house. We could call these the nine questions or however many questions a publishing house should be asking themselves about how they are conducting their business. When I tossed that out to you, I was curious. What’s the first thing that pops into your mind?
The first thing that pops into my mind is an internal commitment to this being important to the publishing house. That’s the immediate thing, which is not the outward-facing thing people would typically say. People would be like, “How can we come out of the gate and tell everybody that we are inclusive of all people, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, so and so?” The reality is that it’s an internal thing first. There has to be a commitment and a buy-in on the inside, across the board, that diversity both from an employee and a customer base is an important part of the core values of the company.
It’s an author base. That’s a great point because otherwise, it’s about optics.
That’s where things fall apart when it is about the optics. You said environmentally and sustainable, and I think about being a certified B corp and the metrics in the hoops that you have to jump through to state these things. In those cases, there are checks and balances but in publishing broadly, where are the checks and balances? They don’t exist. It would be nice if they did exist.
I would love that because I would have no problem meeting whatever those checks and balances are. I think because there’s no overlord in the industry looking down upon people saying like, “You need to get yourselves together internally to do this.” Someone has to take the initiative, and I don’t know where that will come from a big picture standpoint.
I can’t even imagine where that would come from. I could also imagine that an overlord in publishing would create a whole new set of problems. We might be hurdling in that direction anyway with the publishing of the bigger houses, eating at the little houses, and acquiring them left and right. You are in a position where you are a smaller, independent hybrid press. As an out lesbian woman, you have written several books that address your experience within those circumstances connected to that.
It would be interesting to talk a little bit more in detail about the LGBTQ community in publishing because they are also hugely underrepresented, especially writing about that particular experience. There are a lot of LGBTQ authors but they might not be necessarily out or even writing about them and especially not writing about their experience.
As someone who has been out my entire professional career, I have had moments in my professional time that it has been an issue. As a businesswoman, it has not been an issue. That’s hard for people to get to that place of being uncomfortable and don’t care what people say or don’t say. To me, it’s a vetting mechanism because if my sexual orientation bothers you that much, I do not want to work with you. It’s why I have it very clearly stated everywhere because, in marketing, you either want to attract or repel. We will always talk about attracting the right people but we don’t talk about repelling the wrong people. There’s that piece that popped in my head.Everybody wants to read about themselves. Everybody wants to read about their own experience or a new perspective on their own experience. Click To Tweet
I’m thinking about how we repel people pretty deliberately too when we talk about the kinds of books we help people write. That makes it clear that we believe in climate change as something that’s happening. Reading our blogs or looking at our shows, you can see that we are committed to diversity and inclusion. You can see that we, for the lack of a better term, have a more left-leaning perspective.
Not to say that we don’t work with people who are on the other side of the aisle. As long as we can agree on what we are writing about and support what the actual subject matter of the book is, I don’t need to be aligned with everybody on every point. What you say should also turn off the people who might not want to be writing about the things that you want to help share.
To your point, your catalog of books speaks volumes as to what you are passionate about. Our catalog of books certainly has a very socially responsible, a lot of diversity equity inclusion, leadership, self-help business books, and 46% of our authors are LGBTQ people. That does not mean that they are writing about LGBTQ topics. That’s an interesting distinction but I was reading something about the book banning.
Sexual orientation and gender identity were at the top of the heap of books being banned. I’m like, “That’s interesting since many of our books are orbiting in that space.” It goes to show from a high level the lack of inclusion that exists. I’m not an expert in book banning at all. I had a conversation or read an article. Seeing that there are laws and government involved in making these decisions as it relates to schools and things like that sets such a crappy tone.
There is nobody in the book industry who’s stepping forward to condemn the fact that this is happening regardless of what topic is being banned. There is no united front that I can see. Maybe it’s happening, and I’m not seeing it to combat this issue head-on. We are sitting back and allowing it. It’s like, “Are we in 2022 or 1950?” I don’t understand what timeframe we are living in now.
A lot is going on that smacks the World War II and post-World War II era. That is a good point. Where is the pushback of saying, “Enough is enough?” Why is the government making this decision when we supposedly have a First Amendment? A lot of these books deal with race, gender, coming of age, and things like that.
It’s censorship at its finest. If leadership reflected the diversity of the actual population of this country, in government, corporate, and publishing, maybe this would be a little bit different. It wouldn’t solve all of the problems. To me, there’s a lack of diversity broadly within publishing. That’s a well-established fact. I’m not sharing anything new. What’s great about companies like mine and yours is that we, as independent smaller, whether it’s service providers, hybrid publishers, wherever we are operating, are able to bring light to those voices that are being completely silenced in these larger contexts.
Publishing is interesting. Inside the industry itself, 3/4 of the employees are women but a very small percentage of management is women, and about 3/4 of the industry is White. When you have the people who are choosing the books, there’s always going to be an unconscious bias. Everybody wants to read about themselves, their own experience or a new perspective on their own experience. Publishers need to be mindful of being curious about other people’s experiences.
To me, that’s a function of corporate. There are also diversity and inclusion issues in every corporation as well, regardless of how well they tout how good they are. A lot of it is smoke and mirrors but it’s a corporate problem broadly that the top is so far removed from the bottom and what people want. That’s where a lot of this is happening.
Going back to what you and I do, and many people that we know, we are on the ground with the people, see what is missing, and are able to bring those things to light. Whereas when you are so far up in a corporate environment, you have no autonomy. You would like to think that the editors would have some say in what books they are bringing in but that might be debatable. I’m not going to put words.True inclusion looks different to different people. Click To Tweet
I’m going to say from my experience that they do. Having said that, there’s always somebody right above them who’s going to make the decision about, whether they are writing a check for that particular book or not.
That’s more of my point. They might have interests that they are bringing up. Where does it get blocked before it becomes something?
I have seen that happen through an unconscious bias or maybe a conscious one. A book got turned down when it was totally qualified.
We have a number of books that speak to unconscious bias if anyone needs to read up on it.
When you talked about 46% of your authors being LGBTQ, not all of them are writing about their experiences. That’s also an important thing. It’s not about inviting authors from different backgrounds and preferences to write about their experiences. It’s about inviting more authors to the table. I’m wondering if you have anything else to add to that because that is also a nuance that could get missed in this conversation of true inclusion.
True inclusion looks different to different people but if you are truly inclusive in the books you are publishing, authors you are supporting, and your company values, it emanates and seeps out in all of those directions. Whereas if you are not, the same holds true in reverse. What I know to be true from my personal standpoint and having had a consulting business that trained many people all around the globe on this particular thing, is that when you were coming from a marginalized standpoint, whether it’s because you have a disability, LGBTQ status, it could be simply because you are a woman in disadvantaged in that regard in a specific industry.
What I know to be true for how a consumer buys is when I am going to look at a company that I want to do business with, whether that’s me on a personal level, I’m buying a car or whatever I’m doing. If it’s me as a business owner looking for other suppliers or vendors to work with, I am looking up and down at all of these data points to see, “Is this going to be a safe person to work with?” Safety is the number one factor. It’s not inclusion.
Inclusion and diversity are there but at the end of the day, I am looking for safety. Here’s an example unrelated to books that I share about in a book that I wrote a number of years ago. My now ex-wife screwed up our garbage disposal. I had to hire a plumber to come in and look at the thing but he couldn’t figure it out. We had four different plumbers who had to come into the house to figure it out because it was so destroyed. Every time a plumber came to the door, our wedding picture was over my shoulder when you would open the front door.
Every time I opened that door, I had the idea of, “Am I safe letting this person in the house when my wedding picture showing two women is directly behind me?” Safety is the bottom-line decision. This is applicable to authors, too. If they are evaluating a publisher’s website and there is something antisemitic on it, you can draw a pretty good parallel.If leadership reflected the diversity of the actual population of this country, things would be a little bit different. Click To Tweet
If someone is antisemitic, they are also going to be anti-LGBTQ. It’s not a direct correlation but hate is hate. I’m not saying that there are people out there publishing these things. It’s one of those things that, from a consumer standpoint, your consumers or readers are watching you, whether you realize they are watching you or not.
Safety is one of those fundamental pieces. It’s called psychological safety. We also have books we publish that covers this, too. Consumers are paying attention to those empty promises to say like, “We support this community or we sponsored this thing.” People know very clearly if that is real or not. You might think that you are pulling one over on someone but you are not. At least for us publishers, we can control how inclusive we come across by the books we choose to publish without having even to enter that person’s mind of, “Is this a safe company to do business with?”
I can’t help but think about when Simon & Schuster signed Michael Pence to a two-book deal. Many of the employees of Simon & Schuster were upset. Some of them even resigned. That also raises an interesting question because I wouldn’t have wanted to help Michael Pence with his book, that’s for sure. On the other hand, there’s an interesting question of, “Are we getting into different censorship if we are so unwilling to present an alternative viewpoint?” I have run into this with having clients who sometimes have some points of view that are not congruent with toeing the line of what the media at large wants people to hear. It has been challenging.
You are right because it borders on a different type of censorship. Censorship is wrong across the board, regardless of what point of view you are coming from. Am I a fan of Michael Pence? I’m not. Do I think that his book or books should be censored? Not really. It’s a matter of finding the right outlet and publisher to support that book. That’s the beautiful thing about being the founder because I get the final say.
If it doesn’t align with my personal values and the core values of my company are, I can send them to somebody else. There’s always going to be somebody else available to help that person even if their values don’t align with you. The idea of telling somebody that they are wrong and their voice has no value, even if it contradicts your own, is not fair at all.
To your point, it becomes within the publisher’s domain of, “Is this a book that we want to have in our catalog? Is this the author that we want to promote in our catalog?” That’s where the pushback from many of the staff.
They have every right to but they also are making a conscious decision to be employed by that company. It’s hard because we are influenced so heavily by the media. Regardless of whether you are left, right or center, we are all being influenced by that pull all day long. I don’t want to put inherent good or evil on any of the sides but what side do you think you are on? You automatically think you are on the right side. Everyone believes they are on the good side.
I don’t think it is a great, healthy way to approach this leader. We have to be collaborative because we have such influence, bringing books and voices to the world. Think about the weight of that influence that we have, whether you publish one book a year or a catalog of 1,000. It’s still influenced what we ultimately have, which is an incredible tool if used properly.
People wouldn’t be banning books if they were not so powerful.
That’s the good in all of this. If they are so powerful, they have to be banned.
You change the world, which is why our tagline is, “Write world-changing books,” because it is true. You could go all the way back to Plato’s The Republic. Books have been changing the world for Millennia. Let’s talk about this B corp status because this is the other spot. When you are a publisher, it requires paper, computers, chips, and power. I know that you have gone to great lengths to create your publishing house in a way that is also aligned as a global citizen. Tell us more about what it’s set up and how this came about for you.
It’s interesting because the B corp tagline is, “Business as a force for good.” That summarizes all of it. The whole mindset of being a B corp is that every action you take, everything that you do in your business, is a force for the greater good. It’s socially responsible, sustainable, and environmentally friendly practices. For me personally, it came up because I have been like this since I was in high school. I have been neurotic to an extreme around recycling and eliminating waste because we are such wasteful humans in so many ways. It drives me crazy.
One of my son and I’s favorite pastimes is to go kayaking in bodies of water nearby and picking up garbage because it’s amazing how many people go out for a day of boating and dump all crap into the river, the reservoir, wherever. We bring giant garbage bags, and there’s no way to dump them. You can’t put a big dumpster because then people abuse it. I have a trunk full of garbage that I bring home. This is what we do for fun.The environment is living and breathing and animals are being impacted by all of these things too. Everything is connected and we need to be mindful of that. Click To Tweet
I pick up the litter out in parking lots. It’s a compulsion. It’s who I am. I can’t control it, and I’m not going to try. I feel like it’s a good thing. When I learned that B corps were a thing, I was like, “I have to know more about this.” I started the process. It is an incredibly daunting process. It is not easy at all because you have to put in metrics besides every single thing you do. It includes recycling your trash, how you get electricity and water, how you dispose of hazardous materials, and source paper.
It covers all of the things. What’s also interesting, which I appreciate because it’s being a force for good is that they have a whole section around supplier diversity. They are requiring you to be intentional and mindful of how you are sourcing suppliers, and either what type of person or business they are, what their products are, and if they are also sustainable in this food chain as it goes down from a supply standpoint.
It’s interesting and fascinating. I ended up hiring a company based in New Haven, Connecticut, called Impact Growth Partners, to walk me through the process because it was so overwhelming. I was like, “What can I do about the paper? We would go through a lot of trees and print books. What do I do with this?” They were able to help me figure out a way to write my answer to that question without getting penalized for it. That’s like the one thing, especially printing on demand. We do offset printing. In those cases, we have some control over the paper but printing on demand, I have no control over the paper. I wish I did.
The order is going through, and they are printing it out, whatever paper is there. Did you get your B corp status?
We did in 2019. I’m starting the B Local of Connecticut, which is the state version of the national organization from Impact Growth Partners. That’s an undertaking. Why not throw that into the mix of my day-to-day? It’s important to me. We are growing up in Connecticut. There are only fifteen companies that are certified in the State of Connecticut.
That is shocking to me. I would have assumed it would have been a couple hundred, at least.
I don’t know what the number is on a national or global level but it’s not a huge number, which is why I’m always talking about it because consumers care about how sustainable or environmentally friendly your company is they are buying from. I buy all random things that are compostable or even the dissolvable tablets that come in minimal packaging for laundry, anything to eliminate the amount of plastic being used. Consumers care about that.
From a broader messaging standpoint, they don’t realize that there’s the seal of approval that says like, “If I do business with this company, I don’t have to worry about it.” Like Patagonia or Athletica, for example, they are a B corp, which is no surprise to anybody. There are so many of these companies on a global scale like Bigelow Tea, which is also here in Connecticut. People don’t know that. It’s about spreading the broader mission. Inclusion means a lot of different things in my world. It’s not necessarily just race or sexual orientation-based.
Say more about how you see the B corp status and being environmentally responsible as a piece of inclusion. I would love to hear more on that.
We are talking about the environment, which is living and breathing. We downplay climate change a lot of times. I don’t know if you watch Don’t Look Up. We won’t spoiler alert it. In the ending, I was like, “This is so sad. I should have known that this was going to happen.”
I cried like a baby and sobbed. I have been shocked at how few people have said good things about the movie because it was extraordinarily well done. It’s a very ambitious and tough line to walk.
It speaks volumes about where we are at as a society. It doesn’t speak to what side you are on in it, which I appreciated. It made its implications but it wasn’t one side is right, and one side is wrong. It was like, “We are all wrong because we can’t come to a common agreement here. We are talking over each other rather than having a conversation.”
It’s a metaphor for climate change and how we are not dealing with it. You can say that without it being a spoiler. There’s a six-month window analogous to a 60-year window that we have had since we have had the opportunity to know. We are coming up on ground zero time and have done very little.
The environment is living and breathing. There are animals that are being impacted by all of these things, too. I’m not trying to equate someone who might be an Animal Rights activist with someone who’s a Civil Rights activist. I’m not trying to make that equation. However, there is a broader inclusive standpoint here if we are thinking through what we mean by being inclusive of everything.
We are all interconnected. You can’t say we will save all the humans and screw all the other life because we all are interdependent.
We can’t say screw the trees because then where’s our oxygen? Everything is so connected. We need to be mindful of that. Like smaller businesses, we have influence over those things, and we have a say. The bigger you get, the harder it is to maintain true to what those core values once were. I don’t know how familiar you are with Lulu, the self-publishing platform. I’m not super familiar with them yet. We are evaluating of, “Is Lulu a better company to refer self-publishing authors to over IngramSpark or KDP?”
When I look at Lulu, the number one appeal to me is that they are also a B corp. For them to be a company of that size to make a commitment about the environment and sustainability is a big statement. It would be very easy to do what everybody else in this industry is doing. Seeing that, I was like, “What is this? I need to explore this.” IngramSpark is a division of Ingram that are billions and billions of dollars that have this huge market share. Even if it’s my small company that publishes 30 books a year, having Lulu be part of some distribution piece, it’s still taking away from that corporate ladder that is not doing much in the way of trying to be more inclusive.
That can be easy, especially in the face of these huge conglomerates. Publishing is consolidating very rapidly. We have less diversity in terms of ownership, and publishing is going to mean more of these mega-companies that are making these huge decisions that impact us all. It’s also important to remember that a little company is doing big things, even inside your own organization or the simple act of picking up trash that you see when you are walking on the beach or kayaking. Those things also add up. It can be at least a beginning. We are also kidding ourselves if we think that it’s enough. We all could sit back and ask how we can be more inclusive in everything with ideas, hiring, the clients that we choose, and our earthly home.
Inclusion is a way of being. It’s not a destination or a statistic. That’s how too many companies are treating it. To a large degree, it feels overwhelming and daunting. People don’t know where to start and want to take a step forward. That’s the wrong step because we are in such a cancel culture that they are going to get attacked for even trying. That feels wildly unfair to me for companies that are genuinely trying but they don’t have their footing yet to be completely torn down.Inclusion is a way of being. It's not just a destination or a statistic. Click To Tweet
We’ve got to give people some wiggle room to at least fall on their face, to pick themselves back up, and then to do it right. How else are people going to be able to do it? It’s not inherent. I have been doing this work since 2006. It’s who I am and how I operate. If someone reading this were like, “I want to try to figure out how to be more inclusive.” If you or I tore them down for their efforts, what incentive do they have? It hurts all of us.
I am such a newbie in even trying to participate in these conversations. My heart has always been there but take your heart and be able to speak to some of these issues. There’s not an inclusion, diversity, and equity school yet where you can go and even get the vocabulary or understand the parameters to navigate. It can be very daunting.
It starts with picking up a singular book written by somebody that doesn’t share your viewpoint and trying to put yourself into their experience for a minute. I can’t put myself into the experience of a Black woman but I can put my shoes on being a queer woman in this world. Those are not to be compared against one another. There are different lived experiences, and it provides different vantage points.
If I were trying to force my view on someone else or someone else on me, it would fall apart. It’s not practical. Trying to learn, hear, and read things from people you don’t agree with is so important. I feel very centered about a lot of things. There are plenty of people that I’m not a super fan of in the media but there’s always something to be learned from somebody who shares a different perspective than you are always.
The empathy piece is so essential, whether you think you agree with someone or not. The practice of reading about a different person’s experience that might be unfamiliar to you and imagining yourself in that circumstance and feeling into that is so vital. What’s threatening when certain people decide to ban books? If we can feel empathy for each other, it automatically humanizes the so-called other. It makes it harder to divide people with trumped-up reasons.
If we look at empathy for a second, it’s a muscle. A lot of people either believe that they have empathy or don’t. The reality is it is something that we can develop, hone in and strengthen. It’s a muscle we have to exercise. I have empathy for people who think 180 degrees differently than I do. I can still hold both of those truths at once where I don’t agree with you but I can hold empathy for how you’ve got here or whatever other thing that you might be saying. That’s possible but from a media standpoint, we are trained to hate anybody that even remotely looks or thinks differently than us. It makes no sense.
It’s so much harder to figure out any viable solutions to anything if nobody is listening to anyone else. We are all yelling at each other. It’s not productive.
It’s not, which is the entire message of Don’t Look Up.
It’s also a wonderful thing about books. When you are reading a book, it forces you to slow down. Hopefully, you are reading and giving this author your full attention. It is a great reason to seek out books by people you probably don’t agree with.
We have much more in common than any of us realize because we are constantly getting these messages that you are different, wrong, this, and that. The reality is we were all close to that center. We are leaning one way or the other in our general beliefs because someone tells us that we need to. It’s a tricky environment out here.
Jenn, thank you for being here, sharing, and having this conversation with me. It’s so fun. I have learned some new stuff.
I appreciate it. I can talk about this stuff all day. Thank you for giving me the opportunity, too.
It’s my pleasure.
If you would like to learn more about how to be a great global citizen, be sure to check out our client, Nicole Stott’s new book, Back To Earth. Nicole is a retired NASA astronaut, and Back To Earth is about what life in space taught her about our home planet and its mission to protect it. Thank you again for reading.
- Beyond The Rainbow: Personal Stories and Practical Strategies to Help your Business & Workplace Connect with the LGBTQ Market
- Publish Your Purpose Press
- Impact Growth Partners
- Back To Earth
- The nine questions that a potential author should ask themselves before signing on the dotted line with any publisher – Past Episode
About Jenn T. Grace
An award-winning author, nationally recognized speaker, and savvy publishing strategist, Jenn T. Grace is the founder of Publish Your Purpose, the acclaimed hybrid publishing company that gives first-time authors the secrets to getting their books written, finding an eager audience & marking their place in the publishing world. Publish Your Purpose is a certified B Corp social enterprise that meets the gold standard of socially and environmentally-friendly business practices.
Jenn leads ambitious authors through every aspect of writing, editing, and publishing so their book strategically aligns with their business objectives. Whether it’s a business guide that shows the breadth of their expertise or an emotional memoir that takes readers deep into life’s challenges, she helps authors articulate their purpose and fulfill their mission.
Jenn has published the books of nearly 100 business owners, entrepreneurs, speakers, and memoirists so more diverse stories can exist in the world and her authors can make a positive impact and achieve the recognition and success they deserve. She is the author of six books, including her memoir, House on Fire. Jenn has been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and CNBC.
Jenn lives in Connecticut with her family and enjoys being outside with her son, kayaking, and admiring the birds and nature around her.