Monday, May 4, 2009

The African American Fiction Section...Separate But Equal?


The African American Fiction Section...Separate But Equal?

 
There's been a lot of talking recently in cyberspace about the placement of African American fiction books in bookstores. For some black authors, they feel that the African American section in bookstores is too limiting. They would rather be placed in the general fiction section to attract a broader audience. Others would like their books in both sections. This is a hot button issue among authors and book industry professionals alike.

Before I became a reviewer, I used to actively buy books from Borders because they have an African American Fiction or African American Literature section. As a consumer, this section was perfect because I could find the book that I came in there for and also see what other books in this section are available. Sometimes I would even purchase another book or two in addition to the one I came in there to get because it was easily accessible.

Writing a book is a creative process, but authors need to remember that selling the book is a business. The publishing houses and the bookstores are in the business of selling books. In order to make the most profit, they do whatever they need to do to make sure that books has the best opportunity to sell. The AA fiction/lit section is not meant to segregate authors but to give them the best placement opportunity to sell the maximum amount of books. The African American fiction market is becoming more and more competitive with at least 50 books being released on a monthly basis. With numbers like this, you have to be even more creative in order to sell your books. I don't have the exact stats on the amount of general fiction that is released on a yearly basis but I'm sure it's in the thousands. An AA book in the general fiction section would most likely be lost in the shuffle.

Some authors feel that just placing their books in the general fiction section will help expose them to a wider audience. In my opinion, doing this is not going to draw non-black readers to your book. Unless your book is tied to a national or worldwide current event, other audiences aren't going to miraculously be interested in your book. Of course the exception to all of this is if your book winds up on Oprah, which is highly unlikely. If African American fiction authors want to appeal to a wider range of readers, then they need to go out and seek opportunities to do this...on their own. If you think that your book can appeal to everybody, then you need to go out there and prove it to the publishing companies and the bookstores.


Radiah

9 comments:

Carleen Brice said...

Just a question: Do you believe that because the author or characters are black nonblack readers will not be interested? I'd hate to think that's true, but it might very well be.

I agree with you on many points--I believe bookstores & publishers are doing what they know to do to sell books. However, it does feel strange as an author to be told to go prove that a general audience will read your work, when other minority writers, seem to be treated as universal writers and don't have to prove that their work is universal.

T-Black said...

It's a double edge sword! I think your right in that having an African American section helps people who want to buy our books have easy access to them. The part about non-AA readers deciding to pick up the book is a little misleading. Here is an example. A movie that is AA like let's say Boyz N DA Hood comes out. It is marketed to African Americans but when it goes to video white america loves it. Would the same non-black viewers that rented it or ordered it on-demand go see Boyz N Da Hood in the movies? I don't think so. It's the same with books. White fiction readers are not going to stroll into the African American isle in a bookstore but if they were in the general fiction isle and saw a book that caught there attention I think they might give it a shot! I think using the term urban fiction or erotic fiction etc...would make white readers more comfortable going into that isle. I go in the general fiction isle but I wouldn't go into an isle labeled anglo-saxon fiction!

Tina said...

As a reader, I enjoyed the AA section because it never fails that when I go to the store I can't remember anybodies names or titles. Having them all in one place allows me a better opportnity to find what I'm looking for and in most cases something I didn't even know that I was missing.

Nakea said...

This topic has come up on a few forums and i've exhausted myself lol. As a reader I do appreciate having a section that has the books i primarily pick up for general reading. The same as a romance reader or sci fi reader does. On the business side ,I think alot of emphasis is put on Af Am part since it speaks of race however the section is not there to disrespect anyone, just simply a way to target market to a particular consumer that the publisher has advised in advance. I've stated before that bookstores are there to sell books. If a publisher has a choice to place books in general fiction and get a 500 book order or have a book placed in a specialized section and get an order for 5000 which do you think they would choose? The more books purchased the more widely available across the country they can be. The theory of selling more books if placed in a general fiction section is just that theory. Who has proof? As long as their are photos displaying Af Am models or Af Am authors photos are placed on books a reader of another still may not pick up the book. So then what? I think authors should concentrate on marketing to all audiences if they want the book to have crossover appeal and the readers will know the title and authors name and can go where they want to shop. I realized in my everyday business that the large chains that carry Af Am titles the ones that have Af Am sections order way more titles and quantity then the ones that don't. What's next are black book stores the next target? Will whites or other races say that these stores are racist because they are only carrying Af Am books.

Urban Reviews said...

@Carleen:

To answer your question, I believe a lot of non-black readers won't be interested in a book if the characters or if the author is black. The reason why I say this is because there's no reason for them to step outside of their comfort zone to read AA books since there are so many non-black authors for them to choose from. What would make them all of a sudden change their reading habits that much? I think there may be a misconception that there is a large audience of non black readers that are wanting to read AA fiction. I just don't see that happening.

Other minority writers have been treated as universal writers because there haven't been that big of a surge in other minority writers like there has been for AA writers. There wasn't a whole lot for AA readers to choose from as far as AA fiction I'd say around 15years ago. Back then, I could count on one hand how many AA fiction authors there were. But when Terry McMillian came out with Waiting To Exhale and her other books that followed, that's when the publishing industry finally noticed that there was a real market out there for AA fiction. As soon as they found out that black people really do read and purchase books, they did whatever they could to milk this for as much as they can. It's the nature of the beast. You can either embrace the beast or you can not embrace it and step out on your own to appeal to the non black audience.

Poetic Genesis said...

I was confronted with this issue about a year ago when I went into a bookstore and found there was no AA section. I was conflicted...right there...in the middle of the store. I thought I'd be happy, as a reader, that the books were among other books. But I was also upset that I couldn't easily find AA books. And to be totally honest, I left the store with two non-AA books.

I believe I like the convenience of having our own place. Especially since I went there to purchase our books and left with none.

Carleen Brice said...

Lots of black folks thought white America would never vote for a black man in large numbers. Look what happened there. I'm trying to keep hope alive. :)

Nakea said...

Carleen, I get your point about voting but we weren't allowed to vote because of race the bookstore issue is not about that I can guarantee you. Quite honestly only 1 major chain has the section in all stores or close to all. The rest don't so that shows right there that we're taking it seriously not them. Authors who want their books to have universal appeal should market universally and see where the numbers fall. Other races will find the book if they want it.

Anonymous said...

Hmm I agree and disagree. I think they should be available in both sections. I think within African American literature there are many genres but most people instantly associate African American with this new age "urban" sex and drug "street life" trend that has run to the fore front in recent years. Lots of black authors are dismissed by blacks As well as whites because of this. on the other hand without any press or as you state association with a major event its better to be associated with something than nothing at all.....