Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Case for More African American Books

I Heart Black Authors

I've been away awhile, revising, yet again, my first novel so that my agent can send it back out into the world. Now, I have been around on other blogs commenting about life and writing, but I really need to work on my own stuff. So let’s talk about the bane of every writer’s life – REJECTION.

Rejection hurts, but sometimes rejection letters are important because they reveal important truths you have to learn to deal with as a writer, be it the quality of your work or the nature of the publishing industry. Rejection letters make you face truths you knew were out there but preferred to ignore because they were well…depressing.

Last year ,in my quest for representation for my first novel, I received the following rejection letter from a well-known African American agent:

Dear Karen

Thank you for your query and I apologize for the delay in my response. This is an indication as to how overwhelmed I am by the numerous submissions that we receive on a daily basis. It would not be as bad if publishers were a bit more receptive to diverse works by African American writers.

In most instances the editorial direction at many publishing houses is based on whatever is trendy or the pre-selected categories that represent only a narrow segment of African American reader’s interests.

I am certain that if you survey any bookstore you will quickly determine that there is little diversity among the overall titles representing African American writer of fiction and nonfiction… much of it poorly written.

It is truly an unlevel playing field and one that necessitates my having to decline representation of many worthy projects such as yours, simply because each submission requires an enormous amount of time and effort to garner the interest and support necessary to achieve the objectives of acquisition, publication, marketing and promotion.


Now, I consider this letter a gem of knowledge, even though, at first, it stung my soul. I consider it important because I needed to know the truth about what I and other writers of color of are up against. This letter also now serves to remind me to appreciate my agent’s hard work and her own frustration about not being able to place my novel.

As with any business, publishing is about the numbers and cash.” You have to be able to make them(publishers) money.” My agent once explained. All publishers can see, especially in these hard economic times, are the dollars they can get from selling only certain kinds of book written by and for black people. Art and the beauty of the written word about African American life and culture be damned since they believe people will only purchase certain kinds of more titillating fiction .

The lack of diversity in African American fiction and non fiction is a problem, but problems can’t be solved unless some of us are willing to step up and take action. Carleen Brice, author of Orange Mint and Honey has started a movement to level the playing field on her blog White Readers Meet Black Authors .The goal of the blog is to introduce people of all colors and cultures to books by African American authors. Because the truth is, change can only come for black writers and authors if people spend more money on a variety of African American books. So take a look at Carleen's new blog, veiw the video and buy a few copies of her wonderful novel to give as gifts.


Carleen Brice said...

Karen, I am so devastated at that rejection letter! Not that I'm surprised, but still to see it in writing always pierces me. I'd love to link to this post, which makes the case as strong as I've ever seen! May I?

Love the graphic too (I've been working on getting some buttons made that are similar.)

Hang in there!

Lafreya said...

Yes Please do

Shauna Roberts said...

A startling letter. I wonder how editors come up the idea that certain people only want to read about a limited slice of life. Editors who buy science fiction seem to have a bias against women, issues of particular interest to women, and women characters (unless they are "guylike," such as being a hardnosed military officer).

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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LK Hunsaker said...

Skip the agents and try for small publishers.

All of us who write in genres other than fantasy/sci-fi/steamy romance will have a hard time getting in with a big publisher because they're all losing money and only go for the easy sells.

Or do it on your own. These days, anyone can find a reputable POD company and get her work out there.

Anonymous said...

Love the look of this page - the quilt background is cool.

ON the subject of variety in black book genres. I think self publishing will be the way to go for a while - That and maybe live readings on youtube. Once you gain a following, take it to the next step. And don't think that we as AAs are your only audience. You're talking to a larger group of people than you realize!

Keep writing - I need stuff to read!

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that now publishing has moved on from supporting, however lukewarmly, African American writers.
Many of my friends who have published, are ignored. The positive thing is that we're responding. Eventually, big publishing will change its ways or be replaced.
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