Getting published is a real be-yatch! Hear about my ups, downs and a few random rants in between.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Race, Race Go Away

Race, race go away come again...never!

If I had one wish, it would be that the playing field was level and that race never played a part in how anyone made a decision.

Forget Cinderella or Snow White - that wish, right there, that's the real fairy tale. Because it's not an exxageration to say that in my lifetime, I'll never see that wish come true.

As a YA writer, the issue of segregated shelving of books does not apply to me, directly. All YA books are put in the YA section no matter the race of the author or protagonist.

A young person will either want to read my book or not. Race will not play a part in it.

So how come the issue splinters into so many pieces when it comes to adult fiction?

The question African American Book section: Yes or No? is the perfect example of how the same facts can be viewed differently dependent upon from whose POV.

* Some stores have an African American section
* Books in that section are put there if they are written by and/or are about black people
* Few non-black readers purchase books from this section
* If a black author writes sci-fi, horror, paranormal, chick lit etc...their chances of duplicating the success of a white peer are slim since their audience is more narrow out the gate

Those are the facts. So what's the answer - African American Section: Yes or No?

Still unsure?

Okay, here are some opinions not easily supported or refuted by stats:

** Segregated shelving of African American books is the easiest way to ensure African American authors find their audience or rather their audience finds them.

** An author's audience is whoever happens to be attracted to/like's that book.

** Readers are not given enough credit in this issue. 1) They will adapt, no matter what. 2) Avid readers will do their homework to find books that suit their needs/desires.

** If generic shelving can be done in YA, it can be done for adult fiction.

Ahh...except, ummm...there really aren't a significant number of YA books by and about African Americans. So maybe that last thing isn't fair to say.

Okay, once more, African American book section: Yes or No?

It's okay if you don't know how to answer.

It's a tricky social question that comes down to dollars and sense. Or is it an economical question disguised as a social issue?

Depends on who you talk to.

I've talked before about the duality, the multiple personality disorder that comes from being a person of color in a nation where the issue of race never dies.

If I say No to the AA section - then proponents of it may feel that I'm being anti-black fiction. Uhhh, I'm not.

The fact that some (many?) black authors have become wealthy marketing solely to black readers is a good thing. Without the AA section, a different story would be told.

If I say Yes - then I'm supporting what some black authors feel is a racist, lazy marketing technique.

Well-established black authors who want their books marketed more broadly feel pigeon-holed by the AA section. Not to mention, a broader audience equals more sales and more money. No one - and I mean no one - ever says, "Oh no thanks, I'm making enough now. Pooh on my potential to gain hundreds of thousands more readers. God forbid millions."

Ay, yi, yi!

Speaking from the heart - and if that gets me in trouble, it won't be the first time, probably not the last - I'm glad that YA books are shelved in one section.

I want the opportunity for my book to touch any reader that allows my book to touch them.

Still, I believe the African American section has its merit. Few new black authors would get their day in the sun or at least would find it challenging to get that day, if it were harder for their audience to find them.

I don't think the answer is an easy Keep it vs. Eliminate it.

It merits discussion, maybe some tweaking and some hard numbers wouldn't hurt.

Surely there's a way for a publisher to see how well an author's book sells in stores like Borders (which has an AA section) vs. Barnes & Noble (which doesn't).

So, maybe the AA section be exclusively for new authors?

Once an author has found a readership, why not place them in the general fiction section where not only their loyal readers can find them but others, as well?

My biggest issue with the AA section is how it's defined. I'm against placing an author's book there simply because they are African American.

If race plays a signifcant part in a book, it belongs there. But, then how come James Pattersons' Alex Cross series - a black detective - is not shelved in the AA section?

Is it because Patterson is white? Or because Alex's race doesn't matter to the story?

If it's the latter, then wouldn't that same theory apply to nearly every book in the AA section?

Why, why, why does race matter?

Because, at the end of the day, publishing is a business. The "low hanging fruit" theory of marketing is common sense for any business. And the African American section is definitely LHF marketing.

So, at the risk of sounding like Howie Mandel (minus the 24 lovely dopplegangers behind me), African American section: Yes or No?


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