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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Race and publishing

The blogosphere has been abuzz about the obstacles black writers face with marketing discrimination, a practice which severely curtails their efforts to reach a mainstream audience. This is often because publishers and booksellers usually relegate black fiction (and non-fiction, for that matter) to a small African American section (that is usually hidden somewhere toward the back of the store). This is so despite the genre of the book written. So in that particular section of the store ghetto, you’ll find Octavia Butler, a preeminent sci-fi writer, shelved next to the latest urban lit book featuring a pimp and his ‘hos and the latest by Tananarive Due, a specifically (and wonderful) horror fiction author. And to be honest, for some black readers, this is OK, because they find it convenient, like a one-stop shopmart.

But this segregation is a bane for many black authors. Because the real question is, outside of the black market, who seeks out the African American section? Truth be told: no one (just a sparing few non-blacks). Thus, the targeted audience is a limited one and sales remain woefully low or at least lower than that of a mid-list non-black author. I recently posted a comment about this over at Monica’s, one of the writers who has been forthright in addressing this situation. Other authors who have spoken out have been Millenia Black, Best Selling Author, Tess Gerritsen, and most recently J. A. Konrath and M. J. Rose, who has opened her blog to the subject by inviting guest blogger, T. Myers to express her views about the shortcomings of segregated marketing. Blogmeister Patrick, a promotion producer at a local Virginia television station, also has spoken on the subject at Stop at Willoughby.

With these varied voices, it is a shame to know, to really, truly know, that the situation will not change because of one simple fact: even if we are promoted to a wider audience, most black authors will not be read by anyone but blacks. Non-black authors are rarely of the mind to read works they can’t “relate to.”

I consider my upcoming novel, Again, a probable test case. Brava, my imprint is under the Kensington label, and has a mostly white female romance readership. Interestingly, most authors under Kensington usually are directed to Delfina, which has a mostly black female readership. My cover prominently features a lovely African-American woman. What are the chances that it will be picked up by an interested non-black reader? I know there are open-minded readers of all hues, so I do expect some sales to non-blacks, but still overall, the likelihood is that my readership will be basically black. And this despite the fact that my story has elements that should appeal to all women. Risking sounding a bit egotistical, I believe the story is well-told, well-written with erotic pages that I’ve been told “turn you on” and a compelling plot. It’s a love story or actually two love stories that take place in contemporary 21st century Chicago and historical 19th century New York. I researched the era well so that I could provide details that make the scenes vivid. I’ve been told by my editor Kate Duffy that the whole novel works and she loves it. Still, this may not be enough to reach that broad audience I need.

To test market the book, I solicited author Larissa Ione (BTW, congrats girl on your first sale!) who had indicated that she didn’t read black-on-black romances because she couldn’t relate to a black male hero. I questioned whether she would be open to reading an I/R story featuring a black female protagonist, and she said she would, so I sent my ARC. Hopefully, she will like it and will blog about it to an audience I hope to reach soon.

Even so, I don’t have stars in my eyes about making the NY Times bestseller’s list. That hope is too halcyon, too pie-in-the-sky in the face of a dismal reality. Still, I’ll set some goals: getting decent sales despite market segregation and reader apathy toward black-authored books; getting another 2-book deal so I can expand my genres and hopefully my audience; earning enough money in advances and royalties to pay off that damnable law school debt; and finally getting enough money to at least move to a more amenable clime than Chicago (a city which I do love, BTW).

But if by some mercy from providence, I do make it on a mainstream bestseller list, that will be the cherry on my pie, and will be succulently savored.

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 2/23/2006 08:02:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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