outreach

I’m impressed by the strategy of a blog called White Readers Meet Black Authors by Carleen Brice. The idea of the blog is given by its title, to encourage White readers to explore books (mostly fiction) written by Black writers, with an emphasis on what are sometimes called “mid list” writers, not the folks on the bestseller lists.  The problem the blog addresses is the segregation of books into sections of what are now called  “brick and mortar” book stores, an issue I hadn’t really thought much about until recently.* Any given book can be in only one section. It’s either romance or sci fi, but not both. People trying to sell books to publishers have to tell them what bookstore section to put them in: this is a major structural part of how the business works.

African American readers like to be able to find books by African Americans that feature African American characters. So having a special “African American” section helps to sell books to African Americans. But at the same time, having one’s book in the “African American” section hurts sales to Whites. So the site is trying for outreach, profiling books and authors who write in a variety of genres, including science fiction, adventure, mystery, fantasy, “chick lit,” romance. I’ve gotten brave myself and tried a few new authors, including Brice’s own Orange Mint and Honey, which I enjoyed quite a bit.

Sociologically, the only way to integrate is to cross boundaries. The usual assumption is that the role of Whites is to welcome minorities into “our” spaces. There’s lots of research that shows that most White people are uncomfortable moving into a space dominated by other groups. I’m just impressed by a strategy of friendly outreach trying to overcome that discomfort, and feel like it is an effort I want to support.

*On-line bookstores don’t have this constraint, and the significance of that is another issue.

Author: olderwoman

I'm a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. It isn't hard to figure out my real name if you want to, but I keep it out of this blog because I don't want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I'd be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn't either!), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I've been involved with.

2 thoughts on “outreach”

  1. Nice post.

    Galley Cat on Media Bistro has been featuring an author of color every week for awhile as well.

    African American writers (and not just them, LGBT writers, etc.) have been dealing with this tension since the creation of identity themed spaces in the chain stores. In the deal these writers aren’t only losing out on a general readership, but these sections are almost always towards the back of the store, and chain bookstore retail space largely works from front-to-back with regards to sales expectations and desirability (publishers entering co-op payments to have their books on front tables and endcaps, etc.).

    With regards to white people welcoming minorities into “our” spaces, this still happens. If you look through the African American Interests (or what have you) section it’s largely dominated by books from independent black publishers. Black authors can have their books placed in the “literary” section and frequently do, but that’s largely because they’ve been consecrated through the major (and non-incidentally) mostly white and exclusively white owned publishing houses. Places like Riverhead (a division of Penguin), Spiegel & Grau (a division of Doublday founded by two former editors from Riverhead)and Amistad (a division of HarperCollins) focus on young, non-white authors and have the capital and reputation to get their authors into the general interest “literary” section, but not so much for the black independents or black owned houses.

    You see the same thing at Book Expo America where on the main floor there are a couple authors of color having their books pushed (“a few tokens to keep the whole system from stinking too much” as one white, independent “literary” house editor-in-chief phrased it — my work is in this area)while the independent black presses are squeezed off in the back by the after-market remainder book sellers.

    The only thing I’d quibble with is your characterization of authors or agents telling publishers what section their book will go in. Some author sheets might include a recommendation there, but for mid-list authors its exclusively the other way around, and for top-list authors there’s rarely that much confusion. Steve Harvey’s book, which is honestly pretty representative of the “all hits are flukes” maxim (although that’s harder to see after he got his Oprah-bump and became a bestseller) would be a pretty interesting case-study.

    Like

  2. This seems like a wonderful idea. Stumbling across a short blog post on a book really lowers the cost of exploring a genre that people might not otherwise take the time to check out. Kudos to Carleen Brice for her innovative entrepreneurship!

    Like

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