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When Rebekah “Bex” Borucki (she/they) was 15, she shoplifted a copy of Ram Dass’ Be Here Now from a used book shop. As a child, a series of mental health crises had led to hospitalizations and psychiatric group home stays. It was social workers and therapists who introduced her to mindfulness and meditation—practices that would come to define her life. By the time she boosted that book, she was serious about her mindfulness practice.
Little did she know that her personal search for wholeness would lead her to become an author in her own right and a revolutionary in book publishing. What began as a personal journey has led her to disrupt and reclaim not one industry, but two: wellness and publishing.
Finding ways to serve
One of the ways Borucki shows up is by writing through the lens of social justice. When she decided she wanted to write a book, she gained access to the publishing world with surprising ease.Borucki turned to fitness and yoga to help with her anxiety, panic attacks, and severe depression. She practiced and taught yoga asana for a decade, but her personal practice has always been expressed through how she moves in the world. “There are as many ways to show up in service to healing, peace, and unity as there are people on this planet. And there are as many ways to practice yoga as there are choices of vocations,” she says.
“I walked into the door of an in-person meeting [with a publisher] that a friend with connections had gotten for me,” she says. She didn’t have a book proposal. “Just a single piece of paper with some of my social media stats and a blurb about my book idea. I realize now that getting a book deal is largely about who you know, and it was the privilege of my proximity to wellness celebrities that put me in that meeting.”
Her first book hit the shelves in 2017—a meditation guide titled You Have 4 Minutes to Change Your Life. Then in 2019, she wrote Managing the Motherload: A Guide to Creating More Ease, Space, and Grace in Motherhood, a book that relied on her experience as the mother of five and as a teacher of yoga and mindfulness practices.
The only brown person
Borucki felt welcomed by the publisher at the beginning. But one day, at an authors’ weekend event hosted by the publisher, “I realized that I was the only brown person in a sea of white faces. That, to me, felt problematic,” she says.
When she asked why there were so few writers of color, the publishing execs explained that they ‘cater to an affluent audience.’
“Which, as my BIPOC siblings and I know, is code for, ‘We cater to wealthy White people,’” she says. She suspected that, as a biracial woman, her white-presenting appearance made her more acceptable. “I was treated well, but it was clear that the community of my BIPOC siblings—my community—was not welcomed or considered valuable when it came to [the publisher’s] bottom line.”
Changing the face of publishing
It wasn’t enough for Borucki to extract herself from that environment. She wanted to shift the face of publishing. Her vision is a platform for healers, activists, and game-changers who are writing books that make a positive impact on the world. She wanted to build a publishing house that reflected her values, with a book list that looked radically different from those that had historically featured white faces, voices, and perspectives. Her vision included cultivating a community of authors committed to supporting one another.
As she saw it, the path to true inclusivity and diversity wasn’t forged by fighting people in systems they aren’t really designed to change. “I decided to take it upon myself to make that change happen outside of traditional models instead of exhausting myself trying to change things from the inside,” she says.
In 2020, Borucki founded Row House Publishing, a company based on an equitable publishing model that represents the values and diversity of its authors and its audience. Vice President and Editor-at-Large Kristen McGuiness, an author and a 20-year veteran of the publishing industry, dove in to help bring Borucki’s vision to life.
Addressing industry inequities
Aside from publishing books with a positive impact, Borucki wanted to address inequities in both the publishing and wellness industries. Publishing has long been seen as an industry operated for and by a White and monied community. Borucki cites a 2018 study that revealed that 76 percent of all publishing professionals were white, as were 90 percent of all published authors. The #PublishingPaidMe Twitter campaign pointed out significant differences in pay for white authors compared to people of color.
It’s a similar story in the yoga and wellness industry valued at more than $4.5 trillion. Holistic and spiritual practices are largely marketed by and to white women who are wealthy enough to afford books, products, exclusive retreats, classes, and programs. When the focus of these wellness “products” angles too much toward the profit motive, this can create branches of harm in the wellness, yoga, and spiritual communities, Borucki says.
“With the commodification of wellness came all of the trappings of an inherently exclusionary, cutthroat, hyper-individualistic, pro-competition, and anti-community capitalist model,” she says.
The Row House model
Together, Borucki and McGuiness are building a company that aims to be the antithesis of all that. They are developing a list of books that includes titles about wellness, spirituality, personal development, social sciences, and business. While they are seeking manuscripts written through the lens of social justice, liberation, and equity, they also want to platform writers who have uplifting stories as well. Borucki says the these aren’t mutually exclusive.
“My Black and Brown siblings don’t want to be poster children for diversity initiatives. We want our stories of joy, love, intellectualism, to be seen and heard,” Borucki says. “White people get to work outside of the lens of social justice; we deserve that, too. But every part of our being as Black and Brown people is tied to social justice movements, we don’t get to have a choice.”
And while Row House will provide a platform for Black and Indigenous people of color, she says, “We want to publish white authors, too!” She is interested great writers with small platforms and unique, disruptive, inclusive voices—people whom large publishing houses may not consider. “Y’all are welcome here.”
Row House’s first roster of authors sit firmly at the intersection of wellness and social justice. Borucki has signed EbonyJanice, activist and founder of Black Girl Mixtape, and history scholar Jermaine Fowler. Bestselling author, seer, and bruja (witch) Juliet Diaz is on the list. Also included is activist Myisha T Hill, whose platform Check Your Privilege has more than 700,000 followers. They’ll publish a memoir from actor and author Christopher Rivas, creator of the stage play “The Real James Bond…Was Dominican!”
Creating equitable structures
One thing that makes Row House stand out is the equitable structure of its author contracts. The company’s 40/40 standard contract gives all authors a flat advance of $40,000 and 40 percent of profit participation. This structure, which is unique in the publishing world, reflects the “40 acres and a mule” promise made to enslaved black people upon emancipation. It also represents a transparency in pay structures that sets a precedent for traditional publishing houses. Most offer as little as a 10 percent advance, and an even lower percentage of royalties depending on the reach of each individual author’s platform. The structure ensures that BIPOC authors are underpaid in comparison to their white counterparts.
Row House has also built in policies that support their values and emphasize the importance of social and ethical practices within the publishing industry at large. They created a C.R.E.D. commitment, which stands for Community, Responsibility, Equity, and Disruption. It undergirds their commitment to create community (not competition) among authors, highlight social justice issues, platform writers from diverse backgrounds, and build equity in the publishing industry.
Row House is serious about accountability, as well. The company’s Faith Investor Publishing Council consists of four authors who get equity stake in the company in exchange for serving on an accountability board. They’ve opted not to ask authors or personnel to sign non-disparagement agreements. “We welcome accountability, even public forms of it,” Borucki explains.
Opening doors for all
Even with their revolutionary approach, Row House doesn’t operate completely outside the mainstream. They have a distribution relationship with publishing powerhouse Simon & Schuster. “We want our authors on the shelves of big box stores. The most efficient way to do that is by partnering with a business that already has their whole body in the door. We are all about opening doors here,” Borucki says.
And Borucki intends to make a profit—but honestly and without exploiting anyone involved. They are working with a Black and Brown-founded and -funded equity crowdfunding portal called Seed at the Table to find investors. To make investing as accessible as possible, they are welcoming investments starting at $300.
“Row houses are small, sturdy brick houses,” she says. “The world is shifting in ways that require us to be real, to practice mindfulness not through a profitable white lens, but to build a mindful community from the ground up. We aren’t blowing apart a faulty industry. We are building an inclusive community from the ground up. Brick by tiny brick.”
She believes that publishing can be about so much more than selling books; it can be a critical part of a revolution.