ABA reveals review findings after sending out book against 'transgender craze'

ABA reveals review findings after sending out book against 'transgender craze'

The American Booksellers Association (ABA) has written to its members detailing the findings of an internal review it conducted after Abigail Shrier's Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters (Regnery Publishing/Swift Press) was included in its July "White Box" mailing.

The ABA apologised for sending out the book last month following criticism from booksellers who called Shrier's book anti-trans. In a letter to members on 5th August, c.e.o. Alison Hill said the book was sent out because of the absence of internal review processes for titles included in the promotional boxes.

She also outlined a number of steps being taken to address concerns raised by members, including new diversity roles, forums with members of the LGTBQIA+ community, and an annual session on queer history and activism for staff. She also announced a donation of $5,000 (£3,606) to the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, which provides legal support for name changes, advocacy for health insurance coverage for the needs of trans individuals. The fund also pursues legal cases seeking to expand transgender civil rights.

Hill said: "The policy to not review or screen titles submitted is in line with many members’ preference to not have ABA decide what books they have access to, preferring to review books themselves to determine what they read, buy, sell and promote." She added: "When we included this book in the box, we violated our commitment to equality and inclusion and we caused harm."

She went on to add that the board will review its policies at its August meeting and will implement new processes surrounding box mailings if applicable. In the meantime, the September box mailing books "will be screened and flagged by a team of staff members who are charged with bringing titles to senior staff’s attention that meet the United Nations’ criteria for hate speech". This is defined as “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are”.

Other planned improvements include an in-house audit of all ABA systems and programmes, "reviewing everything through a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) lens and ensuring that strong checks and balances are in place", and creating a new DEI and access membership manager position "that is responsible for outreach to and support of marginalised members, as well as West Coast members in general".

There will also be a new copyeditor position, responsible for copyediting and proofreading all content and communication for members, "reviewing for conscious language and an awareness of equity and inclusion issues". In addition, the ABA will create a beta advance access programme for marginalised voices, waiving the promotional fee and subsidising shipping costs for small presses. Hill said this is aimed at getting more proofs by people of colour, LGBTQIA+ authors and disabled writers into booksellers’ hands to "create a flywheel effect". She said: "As publishers see the demand and the subsequent sales of these books, the hope is that they will print more of these galleys for wider distribution and publish more of these authors in general."

She also noted that there had been a mistake owing to staff changes and training in a separate incident, where the cover for a Candace Owens book appeared on the Indie bestseller list instead of the correct cover for a book with the same title, Blackout (Quill Tree Books/Electric Monkey) by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk and Nicola Yoon. 

She thanked members for their "engagement and ideas", adding: "We believe that these steps will build on the progress that is already being made, reduce the risk of incidents happening again, and institutionalise DEI work for the association. Our commitment is strong and we are dedicating resources necessary for improvement. We know it will take time to rebuild trust within our community. We hope our progress will be evident as we show receipts going forward."