The stories posted in Pantsuit Nation are testaments, fleeting snapshots, exhortations, rallying cries, eulogies, and community bulletins. These stories pierce through the noise of social media and sound an internal alarm bell for each of our 3.9 million members: Wake up. Listen. Connect. Speak out. March. Call. Donate. Write. Defend. Protect. Witness. Learn. Push yourself. Engage. Act.
Since this group started five months ago, these stories have come flying across our screens – on the subway or in the school parking lot or on sleepless nights – transporting us momentarily into lives not our own. Giving us strength or enraging us. Making us smile or slam down our fists. Pushing us into discomfort or welcoming us into solace. There for an instant. Then gone into the Facebook ether. A few of these stories have gone on to be featured in publications from The Huffington Post to the New York Times to Upworthy, but the vast majority are nearly impossible to access once they are buried given the volume and activity level of the group. They are also never seen by anyone who is not a member or who doesn’t have a Facebook account.
The idea for a book that would be a permanent collection of some of the stories shared in Pantsuit Nation came up as early as October, when we still numbered fewer than 250,000 members. I was spending nearly every waking moment of my free time moderating the group, reading posts and responding to member questions and concerns, blocking abusive trolls, and training a team of volunteer moderators and admins, a team that would grow to include over 170 people by Election Day. As the group size swelled and we began to see hundreds and then thousands of posts coming in every day (on Election Day alone, Pantsuit Nation members submitted over 120,000 posts to the group), I often found myself scrolling back to try to find a post I had loved and wanted to return to, only to be stymied by the sheer number of other posts and technical glitches within Facebook.
There was something so beautiful and ephemeral about the posts – the way they captured those days leading up to and immediately after the election. They painted a portrait of that moment in time that felt so much more real, more human and raw, than what we were seeing in the news. I didn’t want to lose that, and the hundreds of messages and comments from members who requested or suggested that some of the posts be collected in a book indicated that I wasn’t the only one who felt like I was trying to catch lightning in a bottle.
In early November I also began to hear from Pantsuit Nation members who were literary agents, editors, publishers, or published authors themselves who were suggesting or expressing interest in putting together a book based on the stories in the group. At that point I was still so overwhelmed with the unexpected growth of Pantsuit Nation and the day-to-day management of the group (and, as always, with being a mom to two young children) that I didn’t respond to most of these inquiries other than to say we were focused on getting out the vote for Hillary. And then, on November 9, when the world seemed shattered (but that highest glass ceiling remained obstinately, infuriatingly intact), I heard Secretary Clinton’s concession speech: “To the millions of volunteers, community leaders, activists and union organizers who knocked on doors, talked to their neighbors, posted on Facebook — even in secret private Facebook sites — I want everybody coming out from behind that and make sure your voices are heard going forward.”
I decided a few things in those (gutting) few days after the election, and as we have seen in this group and beyond, I wasn’t alone. I committed myself to continuing the work of the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group as long as possible. Like many others, I decided to reorient my life to focus much more directly on dismantling the systems of oppression and white/male/hetero/cis/able supremacy that allowed Donald Trump to become president. And I let Hillary’s message sink in: make sure your voices are heard going forward.
There are a lot of ways to create change — as we have seen time and again through the stories of our members, some who have been politically active since long before the election, some who are newly inspired to activism by recent events. You can run for office. You can donate money to impactful organizations or campaigns that align with your values. You can #grabyourwallet and boycott brands or companies that don’t align with your values. You can march. You can volunteer in your community. You can make a meal for someone. You can show up to a town hall or make a phone call or write a postcard. You can offer a bed or a warm coat or a clean shower. You can donate your expertise. You can make art. You can educate. You can vote. (Please vote.) What Pantsuit Nation has proven to us, and what Hillary and others have echoed, is that stories have an essential role in this constellation of actions. The explosive growth of the group and the stamina it has shown over the past five months to stay relevant and maintain momentum are further evidence that stories aren’t just pleasant distractions on the sidelines of the fight for justice. They are at the heart of it.
The decision to collaborate on a book with members of Pantsuit Nation wasn’t a hard one. In retrospect it feels almost predetermined, because the suggestion came up so often and because it felt like such a natural and needed extension of the group. It also aligned nearly perfectly with Pantsuit Nation’s (newly minted) mission to amplify historically underrepresented and excluded voices through the power of collective storytelling. While our Facebook group remains the cornerstone, Pantsuit Nation has the potential to move beyond that platform and reach so many more people. The book is one important piece of that effort, though not the only one.
I didn’t write a book proposal for Pantsuit Nation. I was fortunate to be able to rely on the advice of a good friend with deep experience in the publishing world, and she helped me navigate some of the inquiries from literary agents and publishers that had accelerated in the days after the election. I met with one agency and representatives from two publishing houses, all of whom were already members of the group. In late November, Flatiron Books acquired the rights to publish a book, edited and with an introduction by me, based on our Facebook group.
In December, I began to think about what that book might look like and to do some research within the group about what kind of stories it might include. Although I still couldn’t get back to some of the early posts that I had loved (I still wish there was a way to find them!), I did manage to bookmark many from the days just before the election by scrolling back through photos and posts. In late December I began to contact members of the group to see if they would be interested in having their story considered for inclusion in a book. I reached out to over 700 members via Facebook, and provided those who responded with further information about the book via email and invited them to submit their post for consideration via a secure form outside of Facebook. There were also over 400 Pantsuit Nation members who emailed me directly to offer their posts for consideration for the book, and I contacted an additional 100 (or so) photographers whose photos had appeared alongside the written posts of Pantsuit Nation members. Every person who was interested in having their post considered for inclusion in the book submitted their material via a secure website and granted me and Flatiron Books a “nonexclusive right to use” their words and/or images, meaning that the contributors retain copyright over their work and can choose to publish it elsewhere.
In my communication with potential contributors, I clarified how they would be credited in the book if they wished or how their privacy would be protected if they wanted to contribute but remain anonymous. I offered compensation for contributors whose work was selected for publication and who chose to be compensated. Over 700 individuals – writers and photographers – gave permission for their posts to be considered for the book. Of these, over 250 are included in the finished book, and it has been an incredible pleasure working with and getting to know these contributors over the past 3+ months. They are courageous, passionate, inspiring people who firmly believe in the power of a story to ignite action.
The book also represents the first potential source of revenue for Pantsuit Nation. I’ve written about this at length in another post, but Pantsuit Nation has been managed by a group of volunteers for the past five months, and while we have benefitted tremendously from the work of so many tireless volunteers – graphic designers and lawyers and nonprofit finance mentors and others who have offered their expertise, in addition to our amazing group of moderators and admins – an entirely volunteer-run organization is neither sustainable nor likely to have the kind of impact we hope and trust Pantsuit Nation can have. We plan to build our non-profit organization into a powerful tool for progressive change with a lean budget, and the money allocated to Pantsuit Nation from sales of the book (roughly 10% of the suggested retail price of the hardcover edition, less the cost of compensating the contributors and other costs associated with creating the book) will be one important source of revenue for us this year. In addition to revenue from the book, we will also need to raise money from donations and grants to meet our goals, which include building a dynamic staff to guide this organization, developing strategic partnerships with other organizations with aligned missions, and creating a public archive of stories on our website for use by educators, advocates, activists, and anyone who wants to link storytelling with calls to action.
A Facebook group that was started on a whim by a woman in rural Maine who wanted to gather some friends to wear pantsuits to the polls, and which then exploded to a 3.9-million-person community, is anything but conventional. The path has not been straight, but we’re still here and we’re still together. I believe fiercely in what you’re doing, Pantsuit Nation. I believe that your stories matter, that your voices are crucial. I am proud of this book and I am proud of this group. It is an incredible privilege and honor to be a part of this huge, diverse, complex, multifaceted community, united as we are by our belief in the power of collective storytelling and a commitment to justice and inclusion. I can't wait to take this next step as we continue to move – confidently and with the urgency necessary to meet the terrifying administration that confronts us – out from behind a “secret private Facebook site.” Onward!
Sample pages from the book!
I am so thrilled that Pantsuit Nation is now available for pre-order and will be released on May 9. I worked full-time on this book from late December to mid March, and it was my honor and incredible pleasure to collaborate with the over two hundred contributors – photographers and writers – who are featured in its pages. I’ll be writing about the process of putting this book together in another blog post (update: here!), but first I wanted to talk more about how sales of the book will support the work of Pantsuit Nation.
I’ve sought to provide a clear and accurate description of how proceeds from this book will be allocated, while also recognizing that book publishing and nonprofit finance are complex and it’s impractical to attempt to address every nuance in a blog post. That said, I hope the information below will offer some clarification. I’ve included some percentages and numbers that are based on industry standards and will fluctuate slightly with regards to Pantsuit Nation depending on book format (hardcover or eBook) and sales levels. I found this article to be tremendously helpful when writing this post and if you are interested in the economics of publishing, I encourage you to read it.
First, to address the next chapters for Pantsuit Nation.
Our budget goals this year and beyond
Pantsuit Nation remains, primarily, a Facebook group with a current membership of 3.9 million people. With our focus on empowering individuals and creating large-scale change through the amplification of small-scale actions, Pantsuit Nation represents a well of energy and hope. We are confident that this 5-month-old startup can be a powerful force for progressive change: in 2017, 2018, and beyond. In order to achieve this, one of the first goals of Pantsuit Nation Foundation, the nonprofit we established this year, will be to develop partnerships with established and growing organizations to harness the power of collective storytelling to drive social and political change. Pantsuit Nation does not seek to take the place of any of the other incredible groups that are working to increase civic engagement, advocate for progressive change, support women and minorities who wish to pursue office, or any of the other issues that are central to Pantsuit Nation and our members. What we can offer that is different and new is our large number of engaged members (many of whom are new to activism) and the focus on first-person storytelling that has become the hallmark of our group. With resources to cultivate partnerships with organizations we admire (and whose missions are often beautifully illustrated by posts in our group) such as Planned Parenthood, Indivisible, Anti-Defamation League, and She Should Run, we can respond – as a nearly 4-million-strong coalition – to threats of injustice and regressive policies that will impact those most vulnerable in our country under the new administration.
Our second (and related) initiative is creating a web-based digital collection of stories that have been shared in Pantsuit Nation. With permission from the authors, these posts will be available in a public, searchable, constantly evolving archive to support the work of educators, activists, advocates, and progressives. At the heart of Pantsuit Nation is the idea that change comes from the heart, and the best way to move a heart is to share a story. Our archive will be one answer to Secretary Clinton’s call to action that we make sure our voices are heard beyond “private, secret Facebook sites” going forward.
These two projects will account for approximately 40% of our nonprofit’s budget this year.
In the past five months, this group has been run by a team of volunteers, which started with just me and quickly grew to include as many as 170 people all over the world. Our current team has about 40 people, almost entirely women, who volunteer between 4 and 20 hours a week (usually in addition to their full-time jobs and family responsibilities). That’s a ratio of 1 moderator or admin for every 100,000 members. Online community managers – for companies from The New York Times to HelloGiggles to Instagram – often work with groups a fraction of our size and earn between $60,000 and $200,000 a year. Of course this is in the private, for-profit sector, and these are individuals with a high degree of training in the field who work full-time. That said, another primary goal for our nonprofit is to begin compensating and more fully supporting the team that runs Pantsuit Nation. In addition to moderating our flagship Facebook group, managing our public social media platforms, coordinating our local chapters (also run by volunteers), and putting together our weekly Story+Action series, this team helped raise over $250,000 in 2016 for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and for the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. We hope to do much more in the coming months and years.
In 2017, we plan to create 3-5 full-time, paid positions, to fund small monthly stipends for our part-time volunteers, and to provide additional training for all of our staff – paid and unpaid – to better serve the Pantsuit Nation community and to do more of what I’ve outlined above. We estimate that these costs will account for the remaining 60% of our operating budget this first year. In addition to the money generated from sales of the book (see more below), our nonprofits will also need to raise money from other sources (individual donations, grants, or revenue from merchandise, for example) in the coming months to accomplish our goals.
How the proceeds from the book will be allocated
Again, these figures are based on market standards and don’t reflect any specific arrangements for this particular book (arrangements that are proprietary and protected by law), but they are nonetheless helpful guideposts when thinking about book publishing in general.
The retail price of the hardcover edition of the book is $27.99. Of that, about 10%, or $2.80 per book, goes to Pantsuit Nation. From that amount, about 35% ($1/book) will go to the cost of creating this book and getting it published – compensating the contributing writers and photographers and our literary agent, and covering some administrative costs (legal fees, my local print shop, a few part time assistants who have helped me get this book ready to publish in a very short amount of time, etc.). The remaining 65% (or $1.80/book) will go to Pantsuit Nation Foundation and the areas I’ve described above – about $.70/book to projects including developing our online archive and building partnerships with other progressive organizations to drive social and political change and $1.10/book to staff and training.
As is the case with the vast majority of traditionally published books, an advance payment against future royalties (i.e. the ~10% of revenue allocated to Pantsuit Nation) will be paid to us by the publisher (Flatiron Books). This upfront payment means that we can both cover the initial costs of creating the book as well as have some seed money go directly to our nonprofit for the above-listed projects. An advance essentially gives us the opportunity to borrow money from our own future earnings from the sale of the book instead of taking out loans at this early stage of our development as an organization. If total income from royalties exceeds the advance (if it “earns out”), Pantsuit Nation will continue to earn about $2.80 per copy, which will be directed almost entirely to Pantsuit Nation Foundation (as most of our upfront costs are covered by the advance). The advance also means that the publisher does not start earning money from the book right away, as their initial costs are all incurred long before their allocated revenue from the sale of each book surpasses that initial investment. It’s a leap of faith (grounded in market research and a deep understanding of how books sell), and I remain incredibly grateful to our publisher for taking that leap with Pantsuit Nation.
The other 90% (or roughly $25 per book) of the revenue goes to the bookseller (45-60%) and to the publisher (30-45%). Let’s assume for the sake of this post that 50% of the money goes to the bookseller and 40% to the publisher. This is a good thing.
We need bookstores and we need books. Let’s start with bookstores and their roughly $14 of revenue for each copy of Pantsuit Nation sold at the list price. (Again this is not an exact figure but an approximate representation. Retailers are free to discount the book at their discretion, which impacts only their percentage of the proceeds.) I’m not sure I need to make the case here, but independent bookstores are pretty amazing institutions. They are small businesses. They are often centers of community, conversation, and, in the Trump era, resistance. They employ people and keep money within local economies. They host events and promote literacy and celebrate a culture of reading. They are intellectual, hopeful, soulful places. They are the brick-and-mortar, face-to-face, IRL antidote to our often screen-saturated society. We need more of that. Now more than ever.
There are also chain bookstores and online retailers that are similarly important. They put a lot of books into a lot of people’s hands. They are accessible for a broad range of readers in a huge number of places (as someone who lives in rural Maine, I can attest to their importance in my life!). They are on college campuses and in airports, they ship to servicemen and women overseas and to the very remotest corners of our country, and they can be incredibly important for those with limited mobility or less financial flexibility. I’m proud that the book will support both local independent bookstores and the larger retailers.
The remaining $11 (roughly!) per book goes to the publishing house, which in turn is responsible for paying for the book to be printed (in this case, at a printer in the US, which, again, employs people and contributes to a book-reading economy), for marketing the book, and of course for compensating all of the people who worked on this book and others – from proofreaders to designers to production managers to editors. Some books earn publishing houses a profit, some do not. The books that are profitable allow publishing houses to publish books that are less likely to be so – books by lesser-known writers or in less traditionally profitable genres (for example: poetry, gender studies, and literary fiction). About 78% of the people who work in publishing in this country are women.
I also want to add that in addition to being businesses (which, in my opinion, contribute tremendously to a social good), individual booksellers and publishers almost always have a commitment to philanthropy. They donate money and books, provide educators and community leaders essential resources to do their work, and they are an integral part of the support network that allows artists to create art. Flatiron Books, our publisher, is no different. In addition to being available at independent bookstores, chain bookstores, online retailers, and in eBook format, you may also request a copy of Pantsuit Nation at your local library. Flatiron Books will be donating 1,000 copies of the book to libraries around the country.
While I realize I could have self-published Pantsuit Nation and potentially generated a higher percentage of revenue from sales for Pantsuit Nation Foundation, I believe that publishing houses are important institutions to support. I would also strongly argue that this book would not have turned out as engaging and powerful as it has if I had tried to do it without the expertise Flatiron has provided. It would not have been prepared for publication as quickly, nor would it have the same potential to be distributed as widely and to be read by as many people as possible, which is central to the mission of the book and Pantsuit Nation. We amplify historically marginalized voices through the power of collective storytelling, and few industries have more experience and ability to carry out that objective than traditional publishing.
The power of purchase
Buying a book, or making any purchase for that matter, is an action and therefore an opportunity to engage in activism. Whom and what you choose to support as a consumer – whether it’s a local farm, an emerging artist, a socially conscious brand, a newly-threatened publicly funded program, or any of the other thousands of worthy investments we all know and see around us each day – is one powerful way to make your voice heard and so is very much in line with the mission of Pantsuit Nation. I want readers of this book to understand where their money goes, but also to see that the book has the potential to accomplish much more than simply provide a source of revenue that is divvied up. I believe, wholeheartedly, that this book has the potential to inspire conversation and reflection, to change the hearts and minds of people who may have previously lacked the sense of urgency that many of us feel about the state of our country, and to be, as one book contributor wrote, “wind in the sails” for all those who are marching, protesting, lobbying, writing letters, making phone calls, and working to create change at every level of government. We can do both. We can contribute to a bookselling economy that is aligned with progressive goals while also being mission-driven.
Thanks for reading, Pantsuiters, and stay tuned for more information about events at independent bookstores this spring.
For International Women's Day, we're excited to feature the following post and call to action from Brianna Wu. Brianna is the head of development at Giant Spacekat, and a well known figure for women in tech. She is running for Congress in Massachusetts’ 8th district in 2018.
When you’re a woman, you’re endlessly marketed products that promise to empower you. I’m often barraged with ads for candles, creams, fragrances - I was even pitched a $150 leather calendar this week that promised to make my wildest career goals come true.
To learn more and to support some amazing organizations that help women running for office:
A “Phenomenal Woman” tee-shirt campaign that's raising money for seven women’s organizations, including EMILY's List and Emerge America
“We ignite change by getting pro-choice Democratic women elected to office.”
She Should Run
“We believe that women of all backgrounds should have an equal shot at elected leadership and that our country will benefit from having a government with varied perspectives and experiences.”
“Emerge gives Democratic women who want to run for public office a unique opportunity. We are the only in-depth, seven-month, 70-hour, training program providing aspiring female leaders with cutting-edge tools and training to run for elected office and elevate themselves in our political system.
Ready to Run
“Ready to Run is a non-partisan campaign training program to encourage and train women to run for elective office, position themselves for appointive office, work on a campaign, or get involved in public life in other way.”
“Bringing young women to politics.”
For more information about Brianna Wu, please visit her campaign website.