Post Number: 4
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|Posted on Monday, March 20, 2006 - 01:01 pm: ||
We've been having an interesting discussion in Thumper's on this subject, which started when an author, Millenia Black, cancelled a book-signing when an bookstore owner sent her an email asking if she was black. I thought I'd send it here for more input and opinions:
I read about author Millenia Black cancelling a Florida booksigning because the bookstore owner sent her an enail asking her if she was black. I found it at:
Do you think she made the right decision. On the Back List blog, this incident opened up a discussion about AA authors and the struggles we face. In my blog, I posed the question: Do I want to be known as an AA author. I really do think its time for a good discussion on the topic.
From my blog:
Do I want to be known as an African American Writer? Part I
I read the most recent entry from one of my favorite blogs: The BackList. Felicia, the blogger, wrote about an author who cancelled a book-signing after the owner of a bookstore emailed her to ask her if she was black. A discussion ensued about the author and eventually about the pitfalls of being an African American writer.
AA writers want the same thing almost every writer wants: To become a bestselling author with legions of fans. There are some who enjoy the craft and just want to make a living doing what they love. There are some that just want to get their stories out there. I'm one of those people who believe that everyone has a story in them (some more than others).
Every couple of months, I read or hear a story about an AA author who is mad about their books being placed in the AA section. These authors want to be mainstream, and they believe that their blackness is hurting their chances at success. "I want to be in the mainstream section," these authors say. "I want my book to be with all the other books."
I understand their position, but I also believe their concerns are in someways misplaced. In fact, I believe that AA authors have a unique opportunity to become successful authors because we do, in fact, belong to a niche market. Believe me, there are white authors out there that would kill to have the sales numbers of some of their black counterparts. But I can't help but pose the question: Do I want to be known as a African-American author? The answer is a resounding yes!!!
As someone who has been involved with literature for some time, I've tried to understand the publishing world. Right now, publishers are only interested in one thing - the bottom line. If your book doesn't have potential, it doesn't stand a chance. Publishers are looking for the next big thing or focusing their efforts on proven authors. This mentality doesn't give many authors a chance at success, no matter the race.
What AA authors have to understand is that they are a part of an emerging market. Not so long ago, if your name wasn't Toni or Maya, you weren't getting published by the big houses. Of course, Terri McMillian changed the game, and many authors tried to duplicate her success. Some came close, but many have failed. AA Literature is, in fact, a separate genre. The truth is that it has a separate set of rules and a separate set of readers that are different from the mainstream market. Publishers are only now beginning to make attempts to understand the AA market and what makes AA fiction successful.
Unfortunately, we authors have to bear the brunt of this "experiment." It seems that a lot of AA authors have to self-publish and sell a certain number of copies before a publisher will consider them. I used to think this was wrong, but then I started reading about white authors who had the same experience. Then I understood. It all goes back to the bottom line. If an AA author is out there busting his butt to sell 10,000 copies through aggressive marketing and promotion, surely this author will do the same once he is picked up by a major publishing house. At least, that is what the publisher thinks. Since the publisher doesn't yet understand the market, it thinks that the author does, and it hopes to utilize the author and his experience to make money. Most of the time, the author is thinking, "I'm busting my butt to sell all these copies so I can get that elusive six-fugure advance and the publisher can take care of everything after that." The hard truth is, it doesn't work that way.
If you study the AA literature market, or any market for that matter, you'll discover that the key to success is an innovative marketing and promotion plan that will boost sales and name recognition. So the key is marketing. And why should an AA author seriously consider using their race as a plus to achieve success? More on that in Part II.
Would love to hear comments on this subject.