The Anonymous Instagram Account That’s The Gossip Girl of the Publishing World

An interview with the team behind @xoxopublishing, the IG meme account that functions as a publishing-world news source, posting tips accumulated via anonymous DMs.

It is a turbulent time in the publishing world. In the past few months, a historic antitrust trial prevented Penguin Random House—the largest book publisher in the US—from further expanding. There have also been a wave of layoffs and an ongoing strike at HarperCollins. The industry, which has long struggled with systemic labor issues, has been making headlines at a time where print book sales are also decreasing. “The Titanic has hit the iceberg in publishing,” says Kat Jagai, an Executive Assistant at Alloy Entertainment. 

Amid the tumult, there has been a source reporting behind the scenes. On Instagram, @xoxopublishinggg self-describes as “gossip girl, but publishing.” The account opened about a year ago, and already has over 16 thousand followers. In the past month alone, that number has increased by a thousand. The account’s Instagram icon features Kate Keller, a character from HBO’s Gossip Girl reboot, peering out into the audience with furrowed brows. When @xoxopublishinggg agrees to an interview with me—over email, to stay anonymous—the account that emails me back is named Kate Keller. 

Most visibly, @xoxoxpublishinggg is a meme account. Their feed is a colorful ripple of the Internet’s trendiest images—think stills of a gaunt Jeremy Allen White from The Bear, or that viral picture of the judges from The Great British Bake Off—repurposed to address ongoing issues in the publishing world. However, the levity of the account’s appearance is somewhat deceiving. The account also functions as a news source, posting tips that it accumulates throughout the day via anonymous DMs. Instagram highlights on the account share advice on everything from salary negotiations and job hunting tips to leads for those leaving the industry. 

To some workers in the publishing world, the account also serves as a much-needed source of solace and community. “I really appreciate the sense of camaraderie that @xoxopublishinggg’s account creates, bringing light to shared themes in our collective experiences—how hard it is to live on the industry’s low pay, especially as entry-level and mid-level employees, how hard it is to get promotions, and so on,” says an assistant at Penguin Random House, who would like to remain anonymous. “At the same time it can feel overwhelmingly bleak at times, which isn’t a fault of the account—it’s a product of exposing the insidious underbelly of a capitalist industry that doesn’t really look out for the wellbeing of its employees.”

Jagai, who interned at a former book division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt before working at Alloy, also acknowledges the communal aspects of the account—while arguing that @xoxopublishinggg does not posit a solution to the issues it addresses. “I don’t know necessarily if I feel like it’s actually providing meaningful ways to improve or change our situation, it feels more like complaining about things. But sometimes, that’s what you need. It’s not a criticism.” They continue: “I think it’s useful for people who aren’t in the industry and don’t necessarily know how bad it is for people who are working in it…It provides a window into the issues of the industry for people who are not in it.”

Below, an inside look into the anonymous account behind it all. 

What is the origin story of @xoxopublishinggg? 

A mix of boredom, years of frustration, and the (terrible) HBO reboot of Gossip Girl. It also came together about a year after George Floyd’s murder and the 2020 protests, after publishers made some hires and diversity statements and said they’d “do better.” All of our first memes were venting about the failures of these DEI initiatives…we’d sent a couple around, and then realized that there might be a larger audience for them. 

When did you open the account?

Last summer. Shout out to Summer Fridays!

Is @xoxopublishing one person or a team? If you are a team, what are your stories?

We are a team. Together we’ve seen the good, bad, and the ugly of the publishing industry, and this account has been a great source of shared jokes, angst, and motivation to imagine a better workplace for us all.

Why do you choose to remain anonymous, and how strictly do you protect that anonymity? 

The account started as a way to vent and commiserate, and anonymity makes it possible to do so without being afraid that your manager is looking over your shoulder. There is still an attitude, one that the account is trying to push against, that “complaining” about your job in publishing is being “ungrateful” or “negative.” 

Of course, this attitude is more common in old-school publishing execs, who are very removed from the reality of working in publishing today, when entry-level salaries have barely changed since the ’90s. Ultimately, being anonymous allows both the account and our followers to keep pushing for better workplaces through sharing memes, information, resources, and gossip.

Anonymous submissions are always, always kept anonymous, unless the submitter says otherwise. Sometimes we connect people in the DMs, with both parties’ approval.

What is your current professional relationship to the publishing industry?

Love/hate. It’s a weird balance of having to seem/act like you’re really in it for the long haul (to keep other job options open, to advance etc.), while also constantly joking/threatening semi-seriously to leave. 

Today, you have over 16 thousand followers on Instagram. Was there a specific moment, or meme, that made your page go viral?

It’s been fascinating to see the responses to different memes and posts! We think the open Q&A posts made a huge impact. When people had a prompt to share their experiences, advice, frustration, and commiserations, everyone really responded. Much more than anticipated. Everyone’s just been sitting on these frustrations and anxieties, talking about it in their group chats at most–-but clearly there’s a need to talk about publishing problems on a much wider, cross company/organizational scale. People also always love a “before publishing/after publishing” meme!

Can you tell me a little bit about your process?

For the memes we try to strike a balance between riffing on timely publishing news and happenings, like the DOJ v PRH lawsuit or the manuscript thief for example, with more general commiseration memes that speak to the generally toxic working conditions of the publishing industry. 

The process involves collecting potential meme images and screenshots over time and also keeping an eye on what memes are going around Twitter and Insta. A lot of it is based on what we find funny or attention-grabbing. In terms of the Q&A, we’ll take suggestions from followers on what kinds of questions to ask next. We have a list going somewhere…but we also try and take the temperature of what people want to talk about based on DMs or what’s been happening in the industry lately. 

Your account often takes on a journalistic role — peeling back the curtain to reveal some of the more toxic realities of the publishing world. The anonymity you guarantee allows publishing employees to share their stories with you. Are there any stories in particular that stick with you?  

So many. The very first question we opened up to responses was where people cry at work…it was a real flood of responses, and it was so sad to see so much pent up frustration and dissatisfaction (and occasionally hilarious to see some of the creative cry spots). But it was also somewhat energizing—that so many of us want something better for ourselves and this industry we work in. This comes through in every set of Q&As. 

There are stories of bosses who are so actively cruel and verbally abusive that are really distressing. And sometimes we get DMs from folks who are just so burnt out from toxic work environments and not sure what to do and who to turn to—honestly those might be the ones that stick with us the most, because everyone in the industry has been in that place at least a few times. Those messages really follow us throughout the day—we try to give as much advice and comfort as we can, but it’s hard to do as an anon third party who doesn’t know the actual details of the situation, or the person. But yeah, sometimes collating all these stories can be really emotionally taxing—but it still feels important to do it.

In your opinion, what are the biggest issues facing publishing today? 

Salaries. So many people in this industry have family money. For people who don’t come from wealth, working in publishing is very expensive. Which ties into publishing’s problems with race and class–who can afford to work in publishing? Who can afford to stay in publishing? If publishing houses continually fail to retain their BIPOC staff, then new BIPOC workers at the entry level are in a situation where they’re the only one in the room and subject to a microaggressive or racist work environment. Lack of collective bargaining power…wonky old-fashioned business practices…conglomeration…so much!

Do you ever receive pushback for your work?

We get the occasional troll. Sometimes we get people who are on some kind of thinly veiled damage control mission. A message to all the trolls out there, please save your energy and keep in mind that this account started as a joke. We’ve also heard of publishing execs telling staff not to share information to the account or discouraging people from following the account. There are people in charge who are so invested in maintaining the publishing industry’s “pay your dues” work culture that they’re afraid of a meme account. We also sometimes get people who say that our account is too depressing…will pass those notes along to our therapists. 

We’ve gotten some helpful feedback too–we’ve learned to be really careful about whose stories we share. Like we will no longer post stories about individuals from third parties who want to raise awareness about something negative that happened to someone unless that individual has given the sign off for information to be shared about them. Sometimes pushback or criticism (but like, not written in a mean way if possible please our work inboxes are filled with enough attacks) are helpful! It’s been a learning curve for sure, and we appreciate the community for engaging with us in the way that it has so far.

Last June, The New York Times published a longform piece about the state of diversity in publishing. It noted that two previous waves to diversify the industry—including the one that landed Toni Morrison her job in 1967—”created little lasting change.” In your opinion, what would it really take to really diversify the publishing world?

What a big question! Sustained systemic change will diversify the publishing world. Again, raising salaries across the board, and removing as much of the structural hierarchy ingrained within the system as possible. Making real commitments to retention. (Dear HR/execs: Words mean nothing unless there’s money behind it.) A few high profile hires is not enough to make change. The entire structure and system has to be transformed. We feel hopeful that organizing publishing workers, and increasing the number of independent presses could be catalysts for these transformations.

What do you hope to ultimately achieve with @xoxopublinggg?

Hopefully the account functions like a giant publishing group chat for people who want a better publishing industry. For all the memes and jokes about how working in publishing is horrible, there would be no memes and no followers if we didn’t care about each other, the work we are doing and the work we hope to do. We hope the shared resources and responses help people navigate practical matters like asking for raises, negotiating salaries, or finding jobs outside of publishing if that’s what they want to do. And finally we want people to laugh, let out some steam, find community, and know that they’re not screaming, crying, throwing up into the void alone. We can all scream and meme together.

Is there any other gossip you’d like to share?

You’ll have to follow the stories for more…xoxo.

  The Anonymous Instagram Account That’s The Gossip Girl of the Publishing World