Friday, February 17, 2006

Jim Crow Publishing

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, a heated discussion is raging about racism in publishing.

Some African American authors are being marketed solely as African American authors, and they're shelved in the African American section of bookstores, even though their books have absolutely nothing to do with African Americans.

In other words, a black author writes a sci-fi novel, or a romance, or literary fiction, and it's automatically catagorized as African American even if it doesn't contain a single black character.

Is this fair? Is it racist?

I encourage the folks already blogging about this topic to post their views here.

I also encourage the regular readers of this blog to visit http://bestsellingauthor.blogspot.com and weigh in on the conversation.

And finally, I encourage folks to post their views about this topic on their own blogs.

Why should you bother? Especially if you aren't African American?

Don't you remember that old adage?

When the Nazis came for the Gypsies, I did not speak out because I was not a Gypsy.

When the Nazis came for the homosexuals, I did not speak out because I was not a homosexual.

When the Nazis came for the Jews, I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

When the Nazis came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me...

59 comments:

Steve said...

I don't have an African American section in my current store, mostly because we don't enough of a large enough customer base to warrant it.

But...

I've never felt comfortable with the concept, even when I've had a large African American demographic in my market. It seems too close to "separate but equal" shelf space.

HawkOwl said...

We have the same thing here, kinda. First Nations or Inuit artists get marketed as First Nations or Inuit artists, whether or not their art has anything to do with being First Nations or Inuit. How condescending... It's kinda like putting your kids' drawings on the fridge. "Oh look, the aboriginals are painting again! Let's buy it as a curio!" Blah.

That being said, I love novels written by First Nations authors about First Nations. Those are really neat, so if I could walk into a bookstore and see a whole section of such books, I'd be in book-buying heaven.

mapletree7 said...

Who is this happening to?

Brett Battles said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brett Battles said...

Stuff like this just drives me crazy! If it's a good story, it's a good story no matter who wrote it. If it's bad, it still doesn't matter.

I don't write white fiction...excuse me...northern European descendent fiction.

Yes, we are all different. And that's a good thing. Adds spice to life. But differences don't have to divide us, and they ESPECIALLY don't have to define us.

Bestselling Author, Pontif. said...

Thanks for the post, JA. Apropos title.

I wanted to mention....One of the contributing factors in this deal is the fact that there are many black authors, editors, indy publishers, etc. that support this treatment. Their identity is so deeply rooted in the color of their skin, the struggle, their cause, they wouldn't know who they were without it.

This is another instance of faulty reasoning. People cannot continue to fall into the muck of being defined by race. There'll never be true equality in any LOB if that doesn't change.

Steve is right, except it really isn't very equal is it? I mean, take two of the biggest AA authors, Terry McMillian and Eric Jerome Dickey. Hell, let's throw Walter Mosley in for good measure. Add up their gross units sold. You still don't have the sales of one of the biggest white authors.

Is this coincidence? Or is this due to the fact that black authors just happen to be restricted to 15% of book-buyers? Explanation? Niche marketing is in.

Niche marketing is fine. Just don't use skin color as the reason for doing it.

jamie ford said...

This discussion reminds me of that recent Morgan Freeman interview where he wanted to get rid of Black History Month. His quote was something like "You're going to relegate my history to a month?"

Separate shelf space? Not in the two bookstores near me. But I've seen it in larger markets. Asian and Native American author sections as well.

There's definitely a fine line here. And I can see some authors wanting their work separated.

But if an author is trying to reach the widest possible audience, it just doesn't make sense.

To categorically shelve books based soley on the author's race IS racism.

Mike H said...

I recently finished reading a book that was picked up based on its title and brubs. It sounded quirky and fun. It was a great read and it was not unitl after I finished it I discovered it was by a black author. (Aside: that fact surprised me only because the book was peopled by white characters and it made me wonder why the author did that and if I should put some black characters in my book)

My point, and I do have one, is that I would never have picked up that book, or even found it, if it had been relegated to an AA section in the bookstore.

Racism means everyone loses.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

A good book is a good book. I went looking for THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD one night in the bookstore so I could share that gorgeous first paragraph with my critique group. I searched high and low in the literature section. It finally dawned on me where I'd have to go to find it. Yep, the Ethnic section. (On the other hand, I found Edward P. Jones in the lit section.)

When I was an undergrad, I took a class in African-American lit. It was the BEST class I ever took. I loved those books -- NATIVE SON, INVISIBLE MAN, the aforementioned EYES, A GATHERING OF OLD MEN, CLOTEL, THE STREET, THE BLUEST EYE, and the best one of all, INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL by Harriet Jacobs. I shudder to think I might have never read them. If they were all shelved in an ethnic section, I'd have never gone there. Oh, I do NOW, because I know better. But how many WASPy people pass that section by because they don't want to read about characters unlike themselves?

I loaned my copy of NATIVE SON to a friend about a year ago. He's a 65 yr old college professor who'd never read it before. He asked me, about halfway through, "Why have I never read this before? If only I'd read this book 30 years ago."

Lynn Raye Harris said...

You know, I realize in reading over my post, that all those books I named are classics. What about books by today's authors? The truth is I don't always know what to read. Toni Morrison, Stephen Carter, Terry McMillan, Zane, EJD--sure, those names are easy.

But WHY aren't books by ALL authors being marketed to me? I lose out by certain groups being lumped in one section, just as the authors are losing out on a broader audience. Geez, that sucks. In all ignorance, I've thought that section was there because people wanted it that way. I never stopped to question WHICH people. Now I feel like an idiot....

Okay, I'm going to have a glass of wine and go to bed. I hate feeling dumb.

Pat Mullan said...

YES JOE, THE GREATEST EVIL IN THIS WORLD IS RACISM! NOTHING ELSE!

Last year we here in Ireland awarded our IMPAC prize - the best literary prize in the world, worth over £100,00 - to an African-American. I'll paste below an entry from my own (infrequently used) blog:

*******************************

Tuesday, June 21, 2005
THE KNOWN WORLD has won Ireland's Impac literary prize!

American writer Edward P. Jones has won the prestigious 10th International Impac Dublin Literary Award. He won the Pulitzer Prize last year. He read Joyce's Dubliners at Holy Cross College, where he took a BA in 1972. (He went on to the University of Virginia, where he received an MFA in creative writing in 1981.) "I liked the way he had all these characters living in the same city," Jones says, "I thought, what if I could write about Washington the way Joyce wrote about Dublin." And so he did in Lost in the City (1991) . Lost in the City and The Known World were both shortlisted for the National Book Award in the USA.

*******************************

But we did not award (or deny) him the prize because of the colo(u)r of his skin - no, he got the prize for his talent and his work. That's as it should be.

If black writers are lumped into an African-American corner of your bookstores, then why isn't there an Irish-American corner that lumps together the following (just a sample): Tom Clancy, Denis Lehane, James Lee Burke, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John O'Hara, James T. Farrell, Michael Connolly, Jay McInerney, et al....

Kevin Avery said...

JA, the haunting adage you paraphrase is one of my favorites. It comes from Pastor Martin Niemoeller, who Hitler sent to a concentration camp for seven years. The exact quote is: “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Karen Syed said...

This makes no sense. I am coming at this from a personal aspect. I sit on both sides of the fence as my father was black, my mother white. Now, as an author, I have written one inter-racial novel and I would NOT want it separated into a section determined by the color of my skin (which is very nice, by the way). While watching Oprah this week (she did a special on two families who switched "colors"-good Lord what is the world coming to- I could have naswered her questions myself) I was struck with the silliness of this entire issue. Is it not enough that we are all here and we share the same basic history? Oh sure, we have different skin colors, but should this mean that we write with different color pens, or only where certain color clothes, or whatever else? I have lived in both cultures and I can tell you, it was no picnic. Black kids wouldn't play with me cause I was white, white kids wouldn't because I was black. And let's talk about being politically correct. When I was growing up, I wasn't black, I was colored, as were my father and his family. Now, I'm criticized if I use the term colored. Why in the name of all that is...well why does it matter? Someone already posted... A good story is a good story... and if no one said or showed pictures, you might never know the color of the author's skin. I will probably be horsewhipped for this, but a lot of this segregation is brought on by the AA authors. It is the same with e-pubbed authors, or Asian authors.. They want to be treated and viewed equally, but they want their own "space." You can't have it both ways. Either you want to be a part of the big picture, or you want to segregate yourself so people can look at you and say, "oh look they're different." The only place a cultural distinction might be appropriate in publishing is in the blurb! The story will speak for itself. The problem is that the people who have the control, buy into the drama. We can't control the chain stores, but shouldn't there be some kind of education for the indies who can make a difference. If you are of another ethnic background and don't want to be segregated, meet those store owners and let them know! We can talk about it all we want, but until we do something to change it, it will remain the same.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Hmmm. Nobody saw my face when I sold my book. As far as I know, nobody ever asked if I was white or black or brown or yellow or 95 years old. I don't think it mattered.

And I would hope that my book will be marketed based on its content, not its author.

This isn't to deny that's there's racism in the industry. I really wouldn't know to what it extent, but every industry has its share.

Walter Mosely writes mysteries and science fiction and they're marketed as such.

Are other African Americans authors like Gar Anthony Haywood and Hugh Holton being marketed based on the color of their skin?

If so, I think it's a damn sorry shame.

Millenia Black said...

Karen is right. This problem is sustained, in part, because of AA authors. Many are simply victims of the conditioning living in a pro-white society manifests.

It's also true that action is needed, more so than grumbles and complaints. Awareness is the first step, though. Many people - black and white - aren't even aware this issue exists. As Lynn expressed, many people aren't aware that not ALL black authors wish to be labeled as African-American. Not ALL black authors write African-American fiction. I don't. Many just want to be labeled as authors. Period.

If black writers are lumped into an African-American corner of your bookstores, then why isn't there an Irish-American corner that lumps together the following (just a sample): Tom Clancy, Denis Lehane, James Lee Burke, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John O'Hara, James T. Farrell, Michael Connolly, Jay McInerney, et al....

Exactly, Pat.

If the treatment of authors - who only happen to be of color - were equitable, you'd see publishers carving out ethnic niches for white authors, too. But, they don't.

It really is Jim Crow publishing.

Monica said...

Did y'all know that Waldenbooks/Borders segregate their books by the race of the author per their policy?

They say they took a survey of their black customers and that's how they wanted it.

Many blacks are as clueless about the gravity of the book segregation issue as many whites. It's easier to find books by author race if segregated and blacks love to read, buy lots of books and we support our own.

So in my midwestern region, I'm often horrified to see SFF author Octavia Butler shoved up next to inspirational romance writer Angela Benson and scholarly nonfiction tomes shoved next to Eric Jerome Dickey in the chain bookstores (yes, including B. Dalton and B&N).

There are lots of Jews, they love to read and buy lots of books too. Since a common rationale for literary segregation is to make money on a targeted Negro Niche, why isn't there a Jew Niche to rake in those Jew Dollars? Why don't the publishers put all books authored by Jews in a special section of their cataloges and create separate Jew imprints?

Why don't the chain bookstores take a survey of random Jews and ask how they want their Jew Authored books shelved?

Why doesn't Waldenbooks/Borders and B&N pull out all the books by Jewish authors--fiction, all genres and sorts, nonfiction, any and all subject matter and content and shove them altogether into a small Jew Book section?

Oh yeah . . . because the Third Reich is over. Jews are considered regular people now, right? Thus no Jew Book section, only a Nigger one.

kathie said...

I don't like the idea of shelving someone in the African American section because they're black. It doesn't make any sense. If not racist, it's the lesser (prob. doesn't feel lesser) prejudice level of ignorance. The big boxes don't think. For instance I wrote a kids book about Pittsburgh. Barnes and NOble's puts it in the Pittsburgh section. NOt the right spot if you ask me.

But to think they'd shelve a romance novel in an African American section is too much to imagine. I don't have to imagine it if its happening!!!

JA Konrath said...

As long as the African American section of a bookstore makes money, and as long as African American authors who are shelved there make a profit, nothing will change.

Because it's so damn hard to get published for everyone, BSA remains anonymous and won't go public with her complaints.

I can't blame her. I worked my ass off to get a book deal. I wouldn't rock the boat, even if I was being treated unfairly. And let's admit it, to one degree or another, ALL authors are treated unfairly.

But if I cared as much as she says she does, I'd have a long talk with my agent and editor that would end in an ultimatum--move me to fiction or I'm leaving.

If enough authors do the same thing, the sytem might change.

Or it might not, because it's making money.

Is the system unfair? Yes. Racist? I think it has nothing to do with feelings of superiority on behalf of the white publishers, or racial hatred, so much as ignorance and profit motive. That doesn't make it right. But it does make it hard to fix.

Complaining about the situation is a start, but someone needs to start offering solutions.

On other blogs, many AA authors have come out in favor of the AA section in bookstores.

The more I think about it, the more I think that this section needs to be eliminated. After all, even if her publisher and the Libray of Congress declared BSA'a books "Literary Fiction" they'd still be shelved in the AA section, because that's where the bookstores will put them.

Separate but equal doesn't work.

The bookstores are the ones that need to change. And it won't hurt sales for AA authors.

A few years back, the HORROR section disappeared in bookstores, to be absorbed by MYSTERY, SCI-FI, and FICION. Stephen King and Anne Rice kept selling.

It would require more browsing on behalf of AA patrons looking for AA books, but they'll do it. The AA authors will also be brosed by non AA readers, which will increase their readership.

How about an Internet petition to B&N and Borders to get them to eliminate the AA section? That could generate press, publicity, news, and maybe even force a change.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Wahooo!!!What a great discussion...I've been knodding my head at each comment....LOL...I agree with everyone above me...I say that 'cause I don't know what kind of comments will come in below me...LOL.

When I get published I don't want to be religated to some segregated section of the book shelves!

My writings are not black stories or white stories...they're just good entertaining stories...my protagonist is of Protestant/Catholic Irish background...but that's cause I was going for the Lara Croft/TombRaider type.

I know black people have their reasonings, just like on Oprah the other day...but to me it makes no sense to perpetuate the stereotypes, especially from within! Black people sometimes feel that one one but blacks will get anything out of what they write...That's so sad to think so little of your abilities.

I, like Karen, grew up in the middle of both sides...it's a tough road to hoe!

Thanks, JA for such a thought provoking topic!

Bestselling Author, Pontif. said...

But if I cared as much as she says she does, I'd have a long talk with my agent and editor that would end in an ultimatum--move me to fiction or I'm leaving.

That talks been going on for years now, JA. They feed us (my agent and I) the same crap you outline for why it continues.

You know what they want me to do? Write under another name. I resent that. I should not have to do that. Maybe others don't see it that way, may even think I should just do it, but I find it offensive because I wouldn't be writing anything that departs from what I've been writing all these years. I resent that they put me through this simply because I'm a black person.

Perhaps the time for me to take the stand was when they bought my first book. Ah, it's for naught. Much too late to think about that now.

I am thinking, however. My husband, my agent, and I are thinking about the best way to handle this; where to go from here. JA's idea of a petition sounds good....we'll see what happens.

Bob Liparulo said...

Walter Mosley is simply a fantastic writer. So is Stephen Carter. I buy them because they are just that: great writers. I don't think their lower-than-Stephen-King's sales figures are a result of their being AA or that their market is "limited to 15% of the book-buyers." (Does that phrase imply that only AA book-buyers buy AA authors? I buy them, and I'm a plain ol' white guy of Italian descent). Their sales are reflective of the fact that it's hard as hell to build a big readership, regardless of talent, regardless of race. Am I being naive?

Karen Syed said...

There is something that might sway the tides a bit. Take a note from Joe. It's all about marketing.

This may sound naive, but think about it. Not a lot of publishers do a lot of marketing, unless you are huge, so you are marketing yourself. You don't have to play into the publisher's stereotype of you or your characters. Write your own press releases, design your own marketing materials, race or ethnicity need not play a role in any of it.

Not too long ago I heard a black author complaining about this subject. Her stories were being played up as "Ghetto Tales, or tales of the ghetto, some such nonsense. She was not happy (now, her characters do have a tendency to lean toward the more "hip slang," but her stories are very elegant and poetic in nature. She is mad because she feels forced to follow the publishers lead when setting up events. That is crap.

If you have to set up our own events, then you better be willing to make them exactly what YOU want them to be. She dresses the part her pub has established (ethnic costume), when in fact she is a very contemporary business woman. Why? Her publisher isn't going to fire her for dressing up. The fans might appreciate her more, and a larger variety of readers might be more receptive to her, in general.

You don't have to be a rabble rouser, but you should consider being true to yourself. If it makes you uncomfortable, find a way to say that delicately. No need to go in guns blazing, but honesty goes a long way in a partnership, and your publisher should be willing to at least listen. Who knows what might happen.

Steve said...

Monica, I can state with 100% conviction that your statement regarding Waldenbooks/Borders segregation of books based on the author's race is totally inaccurate. Whoever told you this has done you (and us) a disservice by making such a specious claim.

Seems to me like someone's trying to pour gasoline on a fire.

Barbara W. Klaser said...

I wasn't aware books were grouped that way in any bookstores, and I find it strange anyone would consider it logical. I expect to find all the mysteries on the mystery shelf. If that's not where they are, then I feel cheated in my browsing.

Steve said...

I should have said "This segregation by author's race is not a corporate mandate."

As I stated earlier here and on bestselling author's blog, my fiction doesn't live that way, and I've been a Manager for sixteen years.

Monica said...

Steve, I do honestly think this is the case as far as their corporate policy.

I'm not at liberty to cite my sources at this time--but Sue Grimshaw, a Borders corporate romance buyer could be a resource to check out the facts.

I would appreciate any further information if you have it.

Personally I haven't been in a Borders that didn't separate out AA fiction to a degree, but I know that my local chain bookstore has some leeway in bookshelving.

Possibly individual store managers can override the policy.

Steve said...

Monica, after a decade and a half in the field for them and more exposure to marketing/merchandising directives than I can measure, I have never -ever- seen a memo, manual or guideline that stated, recommended or proscribed shelving based on race. As someone said earlier, how would one even know an author's race without a photo?

Trust me; this is not true. I deny both the allegation and the alligator.

Not to malign your information (or informant), but this just seems too inflamatory to be believable.

Monica said...

That's the same as denying schools were segregated before Brown VS Topeka because you didn't see the directive clearly stated in the teacher's manual.

Why does book segregation happen so often then? If the bookstore's market warrants carrying any significant stock of African American genre fiction at all, why is it so often shelved separately?

Most people can observe this practice quite clearly with a trip to a chain book store or two.

I have noticed that bookstores in liberal areas, or areas with very few blacks often don't segregate yjr black books out. Literary fiction is seldom segregated either.

But the Borders in Lawrence,Kansas, the most liberal town in the state, certainly does segregate their books by race. Zane's hot-mama-in-heat-jungle-bunny-sexcapades is crammed up next to John McWhorter's latest depressing Oreo tome on black America.

Why is that?

Just because you didn't get the memo (and no, I can't imagine it put in writing by any corporate entity liable to legal action either) doesn't mean book segregation ain't so.

Open your eyes. Geez.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

When I went to the bookstore today, I paid particular attention to this. I blogged about it, including pics, if anyone's interested. :)

Karen Syed said...

I think Steve is right. You can't say that it is absolutely a company mandated rule if there is no documentation of it. Monica, you seem to forget that all corporations have their narrow-minded individuals who do wield some degree of power. Is this the companies fault? No, if they are good at their jobs then their stupidity is a risk the company has to take. Otherwise they would be discriminating against stupid people. You can't fire someone because he goes around convincing people that it is good marketing to segregate books. Where does it end? I have been in stores, big and small, that segregate, and I have been in just as many others stores, of all sizes that do not. Why not praise those who don't and put the attention on them. Eventually the positive will overshadow the negative and perhaps in time it will no longer seem like a good idea to segregate the cultures.

We've already established that segregation in stores happens. It's not Steve's fault, and I don't really think it's Borders fault. I think this goes back to the publishers who use those BISAC codes. I also think that this may have all begun because of well-meaning AA author made a comment about not being seen for all the white books. How the heck will we ever know?? The question is, how do we fix the broken wheel?

JA Konrath said...

As long as there's an AA section, black authors are going to be shelved there, both on purspose and accidentally.

Millenia Black said...

I've always said that the AA section is a legitimate one. It should not be abolished. Books dealing specifically with AA culture, AA migration, slavery, etc. ought to remain in that section. It's all about appropriate classification.

While booksellers do have a hand in the problem, I firmly believe the root of the problem lay in the publisher's hands. They have to stop dressing and labeling books incorrectly before we can expect booksellers to shelve them accordingly.

Robert mentioned no one asked him his race when he sold. I'm sure he wasn't exactly trying to hide or remain silent on it either. I'm sure the assumption was that he was Caucasian.

Agent 007 blogged about this issue. What does an author look like? Is an author tourable? It's often during this grill that one's agent may just happen to mention race.

They take it and run with it.

Of course - it's after the cat's run from the bag that you realize you needed to lie about, or take measures to hide, the fact that you are black.

Nowhere near anything Robert had to worry about on the journey to publication.

BSA Pontif coined a phrase I'm going to borrow --- Writing while black is very different that writing while white. Very different indeed. In the current atmosphere, there really is no comparison.

Anonymous said...

Well, regardless of the racial implications, from BSA Pontiff's own words that her publisher asked her to consider a pseudonym for work marketed as general fiction, I think the publishers have a concern that a general market push for BSA might confuse her current readers. It's as thought to them BSA is a "brand" in what they've termed the "African American fiction" genre, whatever that is.

They seem to be willing to allow BSA a chance at the general market but they are unwilling to risk "tarnishing" the existing and, I assume, profitable brand that she/he already has.

Apparently, it's clear to BSA that her numbers would go UP with a general market push while the publishers don't seem as assured. They appear to be willing to risk it but not with the existing brand.

Question: Why is it a problem with using a new name? IF (and I know this is a big IF) the publishers are sincere in doing the general market push, what do you have to lose? You maintain/protect your current brand and you get a chance to be the prime example (or, test case) that fiction by African American authors can be successfully marketed as general market fiction rather than niche market fiction.

What am I missing here? Once BSA is successful with her new name in the market, then other authors can point to her case with their publishers. Again, what am I missing here?

You know, Nora Roberts was asked to use a pseudonym for her JD Robb series and she was already a NYT bestseller. Now that the books have taken off, the different brands still exist but everybody knows they are Nora's books.

You didn't ask for my advice, BSA, but I urge you to strongly consider doing the psuedonym book. Of course, you'd need strong backing from your publisher to do the general market push, but it would be an interesting experiment.

Just my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Who even knows if BSA is a published author? Why does everyone take her word for anything she says?

Jude Hardin said...

Relegating an author's work to a certain section of a bookstore, based on the author's skin color, is ludicrous. I can't see that it makes any sense, marketing or otherwise. Books should be shelved by genre, nothing else.

What you need is some wide media exposure. Write some letters, get someone like Oprah to champion the cause, and the problem will disappear overnight.

Wesley Smith said...

I thought the whole purpose of an "African American" section in the bookstore was so African Americans could find books featuring people of color in the first place. They were looking for books that spoke directly to what it means to be black in modern America.

Does it make more sense to shelve books by African American authors in with the appropriate genre? Perhaps. But right now the fans of Zane, for example, know exactly where to find what their looking for. Would they be able to find, or even willing to look, if not in a special section.

And, as far as this goes, in the bookstores I most often frequent, the African American Literature section is at the front of the store in a prominent display near the newest releases.

JA Konrath said...

Jim Winter has some interesting things to say about the topic at
http://jamesrwinter.typepad.com

Mary R said...

I would be curious about what the numbers are. Do AA books sell better when placed in a distinct section? If that is the case, I'd call it profit-taking, not racism. (Not that those are always entirely separate categories.) Most larger bookstores do have an AA section, although to my mind the were usually non-fiction, like the Judaica sections.

It probably does help the sales of mainstream books written by and for the AA community. But it probably hurts genre fiction most, because most mystery readers I know read the genre to, in large part, learn about a world other than the one they live in. Having mysteries written by actual people living those lives shelved somewhere else probably hurts sales.

I have an actual example of this. On a round-up of mysteries with strong female leads on Salon.com, the list included THE BLUE PLACE, by Nicola Griffith. I looked for it at the many large bookstores I frequent, but never found it on the shelf. I finally did ask about it. The clerk looked it up. "Oh, that's in gay & lesbian fiction." And here I was looking for a mystery in the mystery section! (Actually, this is a fantastic book. If you have any doubt as to whether a woman can be/write hard-boiled this will erase it. The follow up, STAY, is also worthy, but you have to read A BLUE PLACE first.)

Susan said...

I don't often comment here because I'm a reader, not a writer. And I'm waaay more knowledgable about the publishing industry than the average reader. Even so, I'm going to ask what is clearly a very naive question: Why can't the AA titles be shelved in both locations?

That said, I'm now going to express what is clearly an unpopular opinion. Monica made some mildly obnoxious comparisons to the Jewish market. First, Monica, you should know that there are Jewish imprints and there are Jewish literature sections in markets that would support such a section. I don't think you'd have to look to hard in NY, but I could show you a few here in San Francisco.

Clearly, I'm Jewish. Not religious, mind you, but fairly ethnic. I am often attracted to fiction with Jewish themes. I read ALL kinds of books, but sometimes it's nice to read about characters with similar experiences or families or histories as yourself. If I see a book has Jewish themes, I'm automatically a little more interested in reading it. There are so many books out there, I miss the vast majority of Jewish-themed books that are published. I would be delighted to see these books shelved together. As a CONSUMER, it just makes it easier for me to find what I'm interested in, if and when that's what I'm looking for. I would not feel ghetto-ized.

Additionally, as a consumer, I can figure things out. Unable to locate Armisted Maupin in general fiction, I walked over to the gay/lesbian section and found lots and lots of his books over there. Even if that was too taxing for me, I could have asked an employee. We shoppers really aren't quite as dumb as you seem to think.

I read Stephen L. Carter and John Ridley and Percival Everett and God knows how many other AA authors. No, I probably didn't have to go to a different section to locate their work. I don't read Mary Monroe (though I certainly know who she is and I've got nothing against her work). Her novels are never going to attract as broad an audience as some of the authors I just listed above, no matter where they're shelved. They are simply written for a more niche market.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, it depends on the title. Perhaps BSA is correct. Her titles should be marketed as broadly as Toni Morrison's. The thing is, almost no one's titles are marketed as broadly as Toni Morrison's. Period. I just don't think there's a huge racial conspiracy to keep AA authors down. Ultimately publishing houses want to sell as many books as humanly possible. They definitely make marketing mistakes occasionally, but theoretically they've done some research into what sells best where.

Just my opinion. Now tell me why I'm wrong.

Susan

Bestselling Author, Pontif. said...

Yes, Mary Monroe writes specifically for an AA audience. She, and authors of that fare, are therefore appropriately labeled and shelved as such. I am not an advocate for losing the AA section. Just as Susan would like Jewish-themed books segregated, many AA readers appreciate the AA section. But, don't put me there if I don't write AA fiction.

Further......Who's ever asserted a word about conspiracies or purposeful suppression of black authors? If that's been said by someone, I've not seen it. But yet it's consistently being asserted that there is no conspiracy to keep AA authors down. Smacks of reluctance to address the basic, fundemental question.

Should an author be treated differently by a publisher simply because of their race, not the content of the work he or she created?

Anyone who says yes, for any reason, should meet up with Adolf Hitler in the afterlife.

Intentions are one thing. Results are another. Racism is the result of differential treatment on the basis of race. Period. Point. Blank.

Susan said...

Should an author be treated differently by a publisher simply because of their race, not the content of the work he or she created?

No.

Anonymous said...

Okay, BSA, what do you want us to do? You've gotten more than a couple of suggestions for what YOU can do but there seems to be some reason that you CAN'T or WON'T take the suggested actions. So, I ask, what do you want US to do?

M. G. Tarquini said...

Further......Who's ever asserted a word about conspiracies or purposeful suppression of black authors? If that's been said by someone, I've not seen it.

From your own blog, BSA. Your very own words:

At any rate, it's a crying shame that we can so easily count the number of black women that have made the list this century. I'm sure it's just as easy to count them from the inception of the list. How about we count the number of white female authors. Anyone see a problem here? Publishing house presidents? Vice presidents? Acquisition editors?

Why are you doing this to black authors? Why?


And this:

Now.....Let's take a wild guess. What color is Allison Brennan? Well, let's see. Debut novel. New York Times bestseller list.

Of course, she's white.

What difference does that make, you ask? Well.....they're always white. Name a romantic suspense novel written by a black author that debuted on the New York Time bestseller list. Go ahead. Give it your best shot.

Do you think Ms. Brennan has ever given a single thought to the fact that if she were black, this rare success never would've happened? Probably not. Do you think that fact bothers her in the slightest? I doubt it. After all, why should it? She's not black....and that's all that matters, right?

Let's face it, white authors don't give a damn about the unfair treatment their fellow black authors receive in publishing. They don't care one bit.

They're all too busy enjoying the privileges of being white.


Seriously, BSA, what are you looking for here? Flinging vitriol is unlikely to get you what you want and what you want is unclear. Would you say these horrid, ugly things with your name attached? It's not nice talking to anonymous people who come at everybody screeching racism! Discrimination!

Adolf Hitler? My goodness.

Bestselling Author, Pontif. said...

First of all....Kill the borderline hostility, dude. I've not asked anyone to climb Mt. Rushmore and slay the dragons. All I asked was that the issue be acknowledged and denounced by all; that discussion breathe life into a push for changing the injustice. That's beginning to happen thanks to JA and others. I appreciate it. That's all I can ask. It helps to spread awareness and shift the atmosphere so it can favor the next move on my part.

Again....Kill the latent hostility. It doesn't suit you.

Bestselling Author, Pontif. said...

Wrong Tarquini. Nothing there says I believe there's a mass conspiracy to keep black authors down. It does, however, say that it is happening, nonetheless.

Why can't folks get that simple distinction? Is it because they find it easier not to? Hmm...

What you're getting is an angry tone. You'll have to forgive me the anger....it's that "writing while black thing" again.

I've stated that I am aware I have options. Again: I KNOW I HAVE OPTIONS. I started the anon blog to get discussion going. It's happening. I am weighing my options with all the pretinent people. Again, thank you to all who've contributed to the discussion and honest effort for a solution.

Bestselling Author, Pontif. said...

Thank you, Tarquini.

M. G. Tarquini said...

First of all....Kill the borderline hostility, dude.

Not sure if you're talking to me, BSA, or the anonymous person before me, or just to anybody in general who is calling you on this, but if you're looking for a pissing contest, you won't get one from me. Godwin's Law is invoked. Game over.

I wish you well in your future pursuits. May you find whatever justification and peace you're looking for.

Bestselling Author, Pontif. said...

LOL....Looks like we're all blogging at the same time and they're posting quite discombobulated. To clarify:

Kill the latent hositility post was in reponse to the anon person above Tarquini.

Thank you, Tarquini was in response to her "Godwin's Law" shpeil. :0)

M. G. Tarquini said...

Um...Bestselling Author? My name is M.G. Some people know me as Mindy. Ms. Tarquini is likewise acceptable.

I can't think of any other way to take the words you quoted. I think they come from your heart. I think you put them up there because you are anonymous. I think when you are no longer anonymous, people will remember them. I think I'll stop talking about this now, before I say something rude.

Has it occurred to you, that polite letters sent to Borders and Barnes and Noble may have the same effect as the saber rattling and shield polishing?

Again, best wishes in your pursuit, whatever it is. May not too many people get trampled under in the process.

Bestselling Author, Pontif. said...

Tarquini.....What happened to Godwin's Law? About not being interested in a supposed "pissing contest".

"So a man thinketh, so is he."

Or in this case so a Tarquini thinketh.

protein wisdom said...

No trackbacks, so I'll just leave the link to my response here.

I took a slightly different tack and discussed this controversy in the context of a literature course I taught a few years ago on the formation of identity that included both Beloved and Portnoy's Complaint.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Yanno, BS author...I'm getting a little tired of you dissing my friend M.G.

You started this pissing contest, and when people start to give you back your own words, you have to resort to changing posts and calling them out of their name.

She politely asked you to call her M.G. or Mindy and you chose to be rude.

So now I'll answer you, and no one can call me racist, cause my black face is sitting right up here, unlike yours.

I suspect the problem here is an attempt to get your latest book out of the AA section and into the main stream like Toni Morrison.

I'll tell you what, write like Toni Morrison and it will get there on its own.

You came out into the world under black imprints, you are a member of every black writers organization there is, you've made a bunch of money...and you've had no qualms being in the AA section up to now.

Now you want to change the rules. Stop all the damn whining and come out of the closet and change them.

If there were a plethera of other black AA section writers who were banding together to make some kind of a stand. It would have merit.

All I see you doing is stirring up a bunch of white authors (sorry guys but most of you are) to do your dirty work for you, and their falling for it. I know the blame game...it's as old as I am.

No more sympathy until you show your face!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe this bullshit is even mentioned in the same breath as the Holocaust.

This topic is a joke.

Alison Kent said...

I'll tell you what, write like Toni Morrison and it will get there on its own.

Thank you, Bonnie.

JA Konrath said...

I can't believe this bullshit is even mentioned in the same breath as the Holocaust.

This topic is a joke.


No one is comparing bookshelf real estate to genocide.

The allegory is that you shouldn;t ignore issues that don't directly affect you, because someday they might.

I'll tell you what, write like Toni Morrison and it will get there on its own.

Which is why every bestselling book is brilliant, and why every book that sells poorly is crab that deserves to fail?

In a perfect world, maybe. This world ain't perfect.

Marketing, advertising, promotion, distribution, print run, and pre-publication buzz are a lot more important than talent when it comes to sales.

So is shelf space.

Books need labels. The labels are there to reach certain demographics. Mystery, romance, thriller, horror, sci-fi, biography, history, self-help, children's, YA, music, sports, etc.

But do you want to be labeled based on your skin instead of your prose?

Libraries don't have African American sections. Fiction is fiction (or am I wrong? Let's hear from some librarians.)

Peace Be With You said...

How sad that this has devolved into a personality clash. Whether someone writes well enough to leave the AA book section isn't really the point. And anonymity doesn’t give people a license to disrespect their peers. Overall, repaying evil for evil, or in this case, bad comment for bad comment just muddies the issue and stirs up wrath. This is such an intelligent discussion and everyone has made excellent points. That’s if you can read past the vitriol.

Can we please step back and focus on issues and not personalities? We're all adults here, after all.

A book should be defined by its contents, not by the author's race. There is plenty of bad fiction adorning the non-AA section shelves, and let's face it, quality is subjective.

Let’s focus on the fact that African American authors are being marginalized and segregated and this practice is affecting them in two ways. Money and readers. Isn't it every writer's dream to be read by as many people as possible? People from all walks of life? All colors, races and creeds? We're all human beings with the same hopes, dreams, and desires. We all bleed. We all cry. We all dream. We are all writers.

Books should be categorized by topic and content. Just as people shouldn't be seated according to skin color. There's no debate in this. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.’

All books should be judged accordingly. Books. Not authors. Please people, think about the central point and forget about who was rude or who 'doesn't get it.' There's an old saying my mom used to repeat to me always. "The truth is lost in an argument." Let it not be so here.

Bestselling Author, Pontif. said...

Neither JA nor I, or any advocate of the issue, ever drew a comparison to genocide. Intelligent people took the illustration in JA's post for what it was intended to communicate. They also know why the folks that rebuke frivilous and phantom comparisons, in the absence of such parallels, have their caustic reasons for doing so.

Please people, think about the central point and forget about who was rude or who 'doesn't get it.' There's an old saying my mom used to repeat to me always. "The truth is lost in an argument." Let it not be so here.

Well said, Peace. Well said.

On that note, I just want to thank JA again for joining the discussion and opening it up on his blog. Thank you very much. See you around.

lyfe said...

I have mixed feelings of the separation of books based upon the color of ones skin. I'm an aspiring African American writer and I know getting our work out there with the same market publicity is hard. I found in several of the Barnes and Nobles and Walmart in my area don't carry books written by African American authors due to the market demand of the area, but I'm so disappointed that the option for us to purchase books written by African American writers aren't available unless you place a request or go online.

It would be nice to have all books integrated on one shelf and dismiss the notion of the authors skin color, but then again its all based upon personal preference.

For the African American writers I know of write solely upon personal experiences or things the African American culture can relate to in the written words. I am drawn to what I can relate to in my own culture but I also read books beyond the skin of the writer.

I personally wished there wasn't any race barrier on the bookshelves but reality is as it is unless something changes. One can make a difference but multivoices can definitely make a drastic change even on the bookshelves.

Nicole Givens Kurtz said...

As a writer I'd like to weigh in on this conversation. I write science fiction and I know that I'd hate to have my novels shelved in the African American section.

It is very similar to the comments Morgan Freeman made about Black History Month. It seems extremely naive to pigeonhole an author's works based upon the color of their skin.

It seems that publishers would want MORE sales. By placing the novels, or non fiction works in sections of bookstores that are often visited by the most customers, you can receive more exposure and in turn, more sales. Just marketing African American authors towards African Americans is indeed limiting for both the publisher and the author.

Separate but equal didn't work under Jim Crow's south. It definitately won't work here in the new century of publishing.

I've written a blog several months ago about rather publishing is biased. It's titled, "The Race Card-Is It Electronic?"

Check it out here. Feel free to post your comments there as well.