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aruna
11-06-2015, 09:04 PM
Yesterday I got a mail from my editor, in which I was offered a two-book contract. However, the mail left a bitter taste. Originally, this was to be a contract for the two follow up books after The Secret Life of Winnie Cox -- it's supposed to be a trilogy. However, my editor says that sales of Winnie, and the book before that, The Small Fortune of Dorothea X, have not been nearly as good as for my first B+okouture book, Of Marriageable Age. They ascribe this to the fact that the last two books have a Guyana background, whereas Of Marriageable Age has mostly an Indian background, and readers are more familiar with India than Guyana or the West Indies. So, instead of two more Winnie books, they want one Winnie book and one India book.

This is exactly what my first publisher, HarperCollins, said (except that they wanted NO Guyana books), and that's actually the reason why I left them. I grew up in Guyana and that's where the substance of my stories is rooted. I need to write Guyana books; I need to finish my Winnie trilogy! And I will!


However, the numbers don't lie; sales are not as good as we all hoped. I was so happy that B+okouture chose to publish books that HarperCollins rejected, and it was brave of them to put black people on the cover. Most publishers are very wary of that... but could it be that they are right? Was it the black people on the cover, or the black people in the blurb, that put readers off these two books? Or just the weird furrin location? I wish I knew.

The second book, The Small Fortune of Dorothea Q, has a black girl on the cover. The new book has a white girl holding a black man's hand. The cover with the white girl has more sales at this point ot time than the cover with the black-girl -- in spite of the fact that the black girl cover had a famous British author tweeting a recommendation, and a famous American author Facebooking a recommendation. The white-girl cover has had no such recommendations -- and yet is is selling better. So -- proof that black people on covers don't sell?


Fact is, the books were marketed to mainstream, aka white, readers and it seems the covers and blurbs didn't hit the spot, sales wise.
I didn't believe it, but the numbers speak for themselves; after the good sales of Of Marriageable Age I should have expected more, not less, sales.

Don't worry, they aren't giving up on me and still wants to build me as an author, and I will get the third Winnie book published one way or the other. What do you think? I mean, it's early days yet (just one month in) but do you think the publisher is on the right track? I'd like to have some views on this, and I deliberately posted here and not in the PoC forum. It's a mainstream discussion.

WriterBN
11-06-2015, 09:26 PM
It's disappointing to hear, but I'm not entirely surprised. Come to think of it, I'm surprised that even books about Indian characters sell :)

I've been trying to target my books to Indian expats, with limited success, but I don't have the marketing muscle of a big publisher. Just curious, why are they targeting a white audience--is it their default approach?

aruna
11-06-2015, 09:28 PM
Now now, don't jinx it!

EMaree
11-06-2015, 09:31 PM
This is incredibly disappointing. Really appreciate your candidness, Aruna, and I'm glad your publisher are still supporting you and communicating honestly with you. They sound like good people, and yeah, they rock for putting black people clearly on your covers and in your blurb.

Jamesaritchie
11-06-2015, 11:07 PM
I think it depends on the genre you're writing in, and who your intended audience is. Books about out of the way furriners and odd places sell pretty darned well in some genres, and win awards. They sell not at all well in other genres.

I do suspect Guyana books would work better in Guyana. There's nothing wrong with this. You can give readers a fork, even if it's a beautiful fork, when they really want a spoon. You might, though, take the usual route and give them a spoon that was made in Guyana. This is more than a fair compromise.

aruna
11-06-2015, 11:17 PM
They do sell well in Guyana. Print copies are stocked in the one and only bookshop there. That's fine, and I'm glad.
But they are good books, comparable (as stories) with several books that sell in the UK and US. They are not niche stories, but tell universal tales. There's no reason on earth why someone not from Guyana wouldn't enjoy them. Guyana has a very small population. If we just aimed for Guyana sales my publisher would never have bothered at all.

aruna
11-06-2015, 11:20 PM
Also, they are not exactly selling badly -- over 2000 in one month, in Kindle sales, almost exclusively in US and UK. The latest book is number 2 in one category in the US, right next to the current Booker prizewinner, and number 1 in the same category in the UK . That's not bad at all. It is all relative... relative to the first book, OMA.

jjdebenedictis
11-07-2015, 12:22 AM
I'm uncomfortable with the click-bait title for this thread, especially given the OP wrote a much more nuanced and thoughtful assessment of the situation in her post. As she stated there, it is hard to know why one book is less-successful than another, because books aren't widgets. Maybe the second book is less successful than the first because it had a black girl on the cover, or maybe the second book generated less word-of-mouth because it wasn't enthusing readers like the first one did. We can't know, because one data point is evidence, but not proof.

If you look at the publishing industry as a whole, then you have a body of evidence that helps average out the differences between books. And it may show that white audiences don't buy books about non-white characters, or it may show that a whole bunch of un-examined biases among publishing professionals has created a self-perpetuating system that under-values books that are not about mainstream white people. Again, we can't really tell the difference between those two cases without studying the data extremely carefully and perhaps running a few controlled tests.

To me, it doesn't seem like sound logic to say that books about furriners from weird India are going to be better liked than books about furriners from weird Guyana. I wonder if that's more an excuse made by publishing professionals who want to sound like they understand what happened than a fact determined by concrete evidence. This is exactly the sort of situation where un-examined biases could be a factor in what gets said.

The only way to really tell the difference is to do a controlled test: Release the same book with different covers under otherwise similar circumstances and then track the individual sales. And even then, you might only be tracking what audiences have been trained to look for by a publishing industry that has offered them, for decades, a very narrow portrayal of their favourite types of books.

aruna
11-07-2015, 01:43 AM
Just want to say this: India is not considered "weird" in the publishing world. India is or was extremely popular ... in fact, a few years ago India as background was what all publishers were thirsting for. Sales were the foundation of this bias. that's why I was supposed to write more and more India.
As for the rest: it's what publishers believe. It's what I was told again and again. They seemed to have some secret knowledge, and that was the bane of my writing life. And what publishers believe, is how they'll make their decisions regarding contracts, publicity, etc. I didn't accept it, and still don't. Yes, my thread title is cynical. I think the assessment is shallow, and I aim to prove it. I think highly of readers, and I fully intend to coax them into more furrin reading.

WriterBN
11-07-2015, 09:59 PM
Just want to say this: India is not considered "weird" in the publishing world. India is or was extremely popular ... in fact, a few years ago India as background was what all publishers were thirsting for. Sales were the foundation of this bias. that's why I was supposed to write more and more India.

As you said, it depends on the publisher. I have a family member who wrote (what I consider to be) an excellent Indian novel. His agent liked it enough to submit it to a couple of Big Five publishers, including some Indian imprints, but she was told that Indian novels aren't sellable anymore.

Brutal Mustang
11-07-2015, 10:15 PM
Aruna, I suspect this is a lot more complex than 'having characters from Guyana'. There are so many variables in a book. The plot/characters are undoubtedly factoring into your sales in a big way. In this case, this may be a story near and dear to your heart, but not so much to a broad stroke of readers.

As an artist, this happens to me all the time. I swear, if I pour my blood, sweat, and tears into a sculpture, it sells low. If I slap it together to make a quick buck, it sells high. Such is creative life.

EMaree
11-08-2015, 04:51 AM
Aruna's literally being *told* by publishing pros that the Guyana setting is the issue, though. If plot/character was also a contributing factor, surely a savvy editor would have suggested a plot/character focussed revision instead of saying the setting makes it unsellable?

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to believe there's more to this than publishers being weird about books with non-Western settings. But Aruna is only receiving feedback about the setting. She can't know if there are other factors involved unless told, and there's no way for a trade published author to run any kind of control tests on the audience.

It's not easy or comfortable to think the Guyana setting might be this much of an issue, but it's what two entirely different publishers have said quite plainly.

jjdebenedictis
11-08-2015, 06:30 AM
It's not easy or comfortable to think the Guyana setting might be this much of an issue, but it's what two entirely different publishers have said quite plainly.There's the thing, however. How do they know? Did they quiz readers who didn't buy the book about why they didn't? Of course not; how would you even track such readers down? I really doubt they did any controlled study to try to figure out what really happened.

They have a guess, and their guess could be a repetition of biased beliefs, or a correct assessment of the situation . No one knows -- including the people saying it's true.

Brutal Mustang
11-08-2015, 08:32 AM
Aruna's literally being *told* by publishing pros that the Guyana setting is the issue, though. If plot/character was also a contributing factor, surely a savvy editor would have suggested a plot/character focussed revision instead of saying the setting makes it unsellable?

The publishing pros could be way off the mark here. Or tip-toeing.

Victor Douglas
11-08-2015, 08:49 AM
Fashions come, fashions go. A few years ago India was hot (mostly because Bollywood became popular). I'm sure it still sells. Africa isn't hot. Nothing really popular has come from there (yet). It's really no more complex than that.

aruna
11-08-2015, 04:50 PM
but she was told that Indian novels aren't sellable anymore.

---yes, anymore is a point. But it used to be. Publishers watch the market, and they think they know what's sellable ... I'm not sure they're always right. But for sure, India is more sellable than Guyana!


Aruna, I suspect this is a lot more complex than 'having characters from Guyana'. There are so many variables in a book. The plot/characters are undoubtedly factoring into your sales in a big way. In this case, this may be a story near and dear to your heart, but not so much to a broad stroke of readers.


OK, this might sound horribly vain, but it's not just near and dear to my heart. One thing I really am good at, is plot and characters. I'm not so good at other things, but I can do those. I have been told, not only by my HarperCollins editor, but by at least two agents, the manuscript-assessment person who first got me a deal, and, now, by my new publisher that Guyana is the problem. HC offered me a contract for an unwritten novel. Just: no Guyana setting.


Aruna's literally being *told* by publishing pros that the Guyana setting is the issue, though. If plot/character was also a contributing factor, surely a savvy editor would have suggested a plot/character focussed revision instead of saying the setting makes it unsellable?


.
My publisher and editor loved the plot and characters this time around. We worked hard together to get it exactly right.


There's the thing, however. How do they know? Did they quiz readers who didn't buy the book about why they didn't? Of course not; how would you even track such readers down? I really doubt they did any controlled study to try to figure out what really happened.

They have a guess, and their guess could be a repetition of biased beliefs, or a correct assessment of the situation . No one knows -- including the people saying it's true.

This. They don't know. It's guesswork, assumptions. I do think there may be a little trepidation on the part of readers, but I think, with a little persuasion, they might cross the line. I have a lot of belief in readers!



Africa isn't hot. Nothing really popular has come from there (yet). It's really no more complex than that.

I'm not so sure about that -- what with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie winning the Bailey of Baileys, and several other Africa books I've seen around, I think Africa is fairly hot -- especially Nigeria.

Brutal Mustang
11-08-2015, 07:52 PM
OK, this might sound horribly vain, but it's not just near and dear to my heart. One thing I really am good at, is plot and characters. I'm not so good at other things, but I can do those. I have been told, not only by my HarperCollins editor, but by at least two agents, the manuscript-assessment person who first got me a deal, and, now, by my new publisher that Guyana is the problem. HC offered me a contract for an unwritten novel. Just: no Guyana setting.

See, as a reader, I find the Guyana setting fascinating, and I would buy your book in a heartbeat if I weren't so penniless today.

aruna
11-08-2015, 08:16 PM
See, as a reader, I find the Guyana setting fascinating, and I would buy your book in a heartbeat if I weren't so penniless today.

How can I resist??? A free digital copy for you, and anyone else on this thread who wants one. Just pm me with your email and say if you want prefer mobi or epub. My good deed for the day!

brainstorm77
11-08-2015, 09:46 PM
I have bought all your books except for your latest which I do plan on buying in the future. I was interested...

juniper
11-08-2015, 11:34 PM
Africa isn't hot. Nothing really popular has come from there (yet). It's really no more complex than that.

I would disagree with this - Alexander McCall Smith's series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, seems as if it's been really popular. 15 books worth of popular. It's set in Botswana, southern Africa.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_No._1_Ladies%27_Detective_Agency

Zaffiro
11-09-2015, 03:17 AM
Personally, I'd much rather read a book set in Guyana than a book set in India. For one thing, I've never read a book set in Guyana, so I'm instantly interested.

However. The cover of the two clasped hands would put me off - because it makes the book look like it's purely about the issue of a relationship being interracial. Like, it gives me the impression that the heart of the book isn't the setting, or the characters, or the relationship itself, but simply the fact that it's interracial. I happily read books that have interracial relationships in them, or at the heart of them, but I don't enjoy books that are focused around an issue rather than around the characters - and while that's not how you describe your book, that's how the cover reads to me. I'd be much more likely to pick up your other book, the one whose cover has a black girl's face, because I would assume it's about her as a character.

The fact is, publishers don't know what factor causes a book to do well or badly. They can try and figure it out, but until they track down every single reader who bought one of your books but not the other and ask them why, they're basically guessing. Maybe it had absolutely nothing to do with race: one of the plot elements from your new book just hooked more readers. (For example, it looks like your earlier one is a family saga. A lot of people just aren't drawn to those.) If publishers knew for certain what worked, every single book published would be a bestseller.

Victor Douglas
11-09-2015, 03:26 AM
Sorry, I'm not being dismissive, but the fact is that one or two popular authors or titles do not make something "hot". Hot is when everyone is aware of it and wants it. IMHO, the real problem here isnt you, your work, or the fanbase, it's the publishers who wont look at something unless it's trending. Maybe you need to find an a new publisher for your Guyana based works.

BTW- I would love to read you book, but as I never partake of digital books I have no idea what format my laptop might use.

MaryMumsy
11-09-2015, 03:33 AM
Irrespective of nothing, and maybe Aruna is just too polite to mention it: Guyana is not in Africa. It is on the Atlantic hump of South America, next to Venezuela.

MM

Victor Douglas
11-09-2015, 03:36 AM
You're right. As the one who made that mistake, I humbly apologize.

MaryMumsy
11-09-2015, 06:03 AM
You're right. As the one who made that mistake, I humbly apologize.

You are not the first, and I'm sure will not be the last, to make the mistake. :D

MM

Helix
11-09-2015, 06:21 AM
Sorry, I'm not being dismissive, but the fact is that one or two popular authors or titles do not make something "hot". Hot is when everyone is aware of it and wants it. IMHO, the real problem here isnt you, your work, or the fanbase, it's the publishers who wont look at something unless it's trending. Maybe you need to find an a new publisher for your Guyana based works.

BTW- I would love to read you book, but as I never partake of digital books I have no idea what format my laptop might use.

Not wishing to contain the geographically-awry derail*, novels set in Africa have been very popular for a long time -- from Conrad to Courtenay to Coetzee, from Paton to Lessing to Smith.

*but I'm going to

frimble3
11-09-2015, 06:55 AM
I suspect that might be part of the problem, not that readers won't read about furriners in weird places, but that when the 'weird place' is hard to identify, readers are unsure of what they're getting into. This isn't Fantasy, where people expect weird places and look forward to them. On the other hand, if you're the only person writing women's stories set in Guyana, you could have the niche to yourself. Give your publisher the India setting they want for one book, and every time you're interviewed, mention your Guyana books as well.
Then, when they do your second 'Winnie' story, people won't feel so unfamiliar with the setting.

Albedo
11-09-2015, 07:01 AM
Irrespective of nothing, and maybe Aruna is just too polite to mention it: Guyana is not in Africa. It is on the Atlantic hump of South America, next to Venezuela.

MM


You're right. As the one who made that mistake, I humbly apologize.

TBF, whilst Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname (formerly also Guiana) are in S America, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guniea and Ghana are in Africa.

aruna
11-09-2015, 08:54 AM
You are not the first, and I'm sure will not be the last, to make the mistake. :D

MM
:) I'm so used to it, I don't even bother correcting people any more! Usually, it's Ghana they mix it up with. It's a bit of an anomaly. Geograohically in S. America but politically, economically, culturally, linguistically, it belongs to the Caribbean.


I suspect that might be part of the problem, not that readers won't read about furriners in weird places, but that when the 'weird place' is hard to identify, readers are unsure of what they're getting into.

That's it exactly. They don't even know where it is! I think that's why in the blurb, the publisher wrote South America and not Guyana. I found an old India story in my files that I had started and never finished. It's 60000 pages long! I'm going to see if I can save that.


Personally, I'd much rather read a book set in Guyana than a book set in India. For one thing, I've never read a book set in Guyana, so I'm instantly interested.

However. The cover of the two clasped hands would put me off - because it makes the book look like it's purely about the issue of a relationship being interracial. Like, it gives me the impression that the heart of the book isn't the setting, or the characters, or the relationship itself, but simply the fact that it's interracial.

.
I agree with you... and it is indeed about more than an interracial relationship.

Norman D Gutter
11-09-2015, 07:07 PM
Not sure what to respond with here. I have heard for years, from editors, agents, and other writers, that the U.S. market is simply less interested in foreign settings compared to domestic settings. That's not likely to change. I don't know much about the U.K. market, but would suspect they would be more open to foreign settings. Yes, a few books in foreign settings sell well in the U.S., and it sounds like people in this thread are more open to foreign settings than the book-buying population at large.

So it's the age-old dilemma: write what you want, or write to the market—or to the market as perceived by editors and agents, who are your initial market in trade publishing. I considered that before writing my novel set in China, but went ahead with it any way. It will make me go slowly on writing a planned novel set in St. Lucia, home of my maternal ancestors.

Hoping it works out for you,
NDG

Victor Douglas
11-09-2015, 09:24 PM
What makes this even more humiliating is that I've actually been to Ghana! If anyone should know the difference...

aruna
11-11-2015, 07:29 PM
Update: now that I have proposed rewriting a previously published India novel of mine, they are now hinting that to get me "the sales I deserve" it would be nice if I could write that book first, or preferably two India books, and it's a pity I'm already 20000 words into my new Guyana novel.
I get them, I really do. They want to make a ton of money. And they think it's all Guyana's fault I'm not.

KTC
11-11-2015, 07:40 PM
Come to Canada. We love our foreign settings. Smaller market, but it's filled with diversity.

http://www.cbc.ca/books/2014/10/guyana.html

aruna
11-11-2015, 08:14 PM
Actually, my books do sell pretty well in Canada. It's the only country where I ever got into the Top 100 in Kindle. And there are many Guyanese there, many friends; I have so many invitations to visit! I can't believe I've never been. Also, I have a great review of the book from a Guyanese Literature professor at York University. He sent me it and said I could find a place for it. I have no idea who to offer it to. He's a well known reviewer. I will come to Canada one day. My son once told me that Vancouver would be a great place to live and I should retire there. The only thing I have against it is the cold! I need the tropics like I need air.

It's really hard for me to decide what to do now. I'm actually almost 30000 words in. Abandon it, and go for the more commercial one? Or to stick to my guns and finish it?

KTC
11-11-2015, 08:38 PM
Actually, my books do sell pretty well in Canada. It's the only country where I ever got into the Top 100 in Kindle. And there are many Guyanese there, many friends; I have so many invitations to visit! I can't believe I've never been. Also, I have a great review of the book from a Guyanese Literature professor at York University. He sent me it and said I could find a place for it. I have no idea who to offer it to. He's a well known reviewer. I will come to Canada one day. My son once told me that Vancouver would be a great place to live and I should retire there. The only thing I have against it is the cold! I need the tropics like I need air.

It's really hard for me to decide what to do now. I'm actually almost 30000 words in. Abandon it, and go for the more commercial one? Or to stick to my guns and finish it?
My partner came to Canada from Guyana in 1975. He's Chinese descent but was third generation Guyanese on his mother's side.

I have always loved the diversity of Canadian fiction. There's room for every voice. The awards lists are frequently extremely diverse. I love reading foreign settings...it's why I live for travel...the books here represent the world.

I am stubborn and, at times, my own worst enemy. I would finish it. But I would finish it with a plan. Finish it and try to find a home for it elsewhere while writing the one they want.

And Vancouver is beautiful. You still have the cold, but it's not as bad as most of the country. I was last on the west coast in February of 14. There was NO snow...it was beautiful springtime in Victoria. But, yeah...I'd pick the tropics over anywhere else...I just got back from Cuba and I'm missing the warmth already. (-:

aruna
11-11-2015, 08:44 PM
...or self publish. I will probably leave it and do the India one. But with a plan. In fact a plan is brewing already...

Is Vancouver colder than Germany? It seems to me that no sooner summer arrives, than it's gone again.

I had no idea your partner was Guyanese. There are many Chinese who settled there in colonial days. And now the Chinese are coming to take over the country!

KTC
11-11-2015, 08:54 PM
...or self publish. I will probably leave it and do the India one. But with a plan. In fact a plan is brewing already...

Is Vancouver colder than Germany? It seems to me that no sooner summer arrives, than it's gone again.

I had no idea your partner was Guyanese. There are many Chinese who settled there in colonial days. And now the Chinese are coming to take over the country!

Both his parents are ethnically Chinese, but his mother was third gen Guyanese. His father moved from China, married his mother and they had 7 kids together (he's the youngest). Then they moved to Canada for better education opportunities for the kids once his siblings were close to university age.

That sounds like a good plan. When you're passionate about a story, it's better to stay with it...even if you have to put it on hold.

KTC
11-11-2015, 08:56 PM
I don't know if Vancouver is colder than Germany. My guess is NO. I think that Vancouver is milder.

aruna
11-11-2015, 09:23 PM
Speaking of -- an old, old friend from Guyana -- we were teens together -- just contacted me on Facebook. She lives in Canada. One more reason to visit! I also have another Guyanese friend who lives in Vancouver -- we were very close buddies back then, and now on FB we are buddies again.

jjdebenedictis
11-11-2015, 09:59 PM
Is Vancouver colder than Germany? It seems to me that no sooner summer arrives, than it's gone again.Does your part of Germany get snow? If so, then it's colder than Vancouver, which gets snow only about every second year, lasting only for a few days. Winter temperatures usually hover around the 10C mark.

aruna
11-11-2015, 10:06 PM
We used to get pretty heavy snow every winter. The last few winters have been mild, however. I've been dreading winter because I have a long commute by road to work, and I work all through winter, but the last two years I've been at his job there was only ONE day when snow was a problem. Even then I made it to work. I remember some really heavy winters in the past, shovelling pathways every day, having to keep the woodburning stove going, etc.

Laer Carroll
11-16-2015, 04:05 AM
A lot of people enjoy stories in an strange place, far more than those who shrink from such stories. Foreign means strange, mysterious, fascinating to them.

Most likely the problem is that a main character is black. Some people are unconscious racists, or racist in tiny ways, without being KKK-type obvious haters. These avoiders of stories with black people may even be vocally and (they think) sincerely anti-racist.

kuwisdelu
11-16-2015, 04:13 AM
A lot of people enjoy stories in an strange place, far more than those who shrink from such stories. Foreign means strange, mysterious, fascinating to them.

Is that really true?

Consider how many fantasy settings are inspired by the same familiar European medieval tropes.

Everything that's strange in popular fiction is extremely familiar.

Laer Carroll
11-16-2015, 04:26 AM
...many fantasy settings are inspired by the same familiar European medieval tropes.

Very true. But then those settings are not really strange, are they? They're simply comfortingly familiar.

I for one would love to read a story set in the settings the OP mentioned.

Pegster
12-03-2015, 03:59 AM
The second book, The Small Fortune of Dorothea Q, has a black girl on the cover. The new book has a white girl holding a black man's hand. The cover with the white girl has more sales at this point ot time than the cover with the black-girl -- in spite of the fact that the black girl cover had a famous British author tweeting a recommendation, and a famous American author Facebooking a recommendation. The white-girl cover has had no such recommendations -- and yet is is selling better. So -- proof that black people on covers don't sell?

Life is full of contradictions. Dunno about the furrin' angle (thought this was a pet discussion for a bit there), because I find new places alla the McCall Smith No.1 Ladies Detective Agency to be good reads. Yet I do notice the lack of real black African women on the covers. I think maybe there were stylized images on one of the books, but I forget. Anyway, I've always been hesitant to pick up a book with a black person on the cover. Took me years to read Justice and Her Brothers for that reason, and those books were awesome. Now all of you foaming at the PC mouth over what a rassist thing to write, I'll say that growing up an oreo has had that effect on me. A Black American raised at a time when television was actually interesting, but mostly populated by successful white characters, will have the sub-conscious notion that white culture is "real" (substitute progressive, mainstream, the best, as you see fit). This idea is reinforced by the black characters of the time tending to be either criminals, flunkies, red-shirts, or out-numbered. Add a sprinkling of socio-economic cues and parental expectations, and you wind up judging a book by its cover and saving some excellent reads for last when you just can't find anything else on the library shelf. Not sayin' it's good, but it ain't evil, either. More knee-jerk, or something. Would that make me change the cover? It would depend on how badly I needed to make that car payment. Would I feel dishonest by not representing my black main character on the cover? Truly that depends on writer/novel. I'm kinda proud of my crunchy chocolaty shell and creamy lickable center, but that's not always what my writing's about.

alphabetsoup1973
12-06-2015, 03:18 AM
There's a really big literary fiction book coming out that is set partially in Guyana next year. I think it got a seven figure advance or something.

I'm chiming in late here. I think, as other have said, that there are probably several reasons for sales being different. Having said that, I do think that white people, generally speaking, have problems dealing with POC characters. I say that as a white person and a former literature professor, and a mother of white children who tries to teach her kids to understand what it might be like for other people to read books that have characters that, by in large, feature characters that are chiefly colored in one skin tone, and that skin tone is different from their own.

This came up because my son is reading Percy Jackson and evidently there is a character depicted as white in a book and in the movie adaptation he is black. I explained a few reasons why this might be to my son. You literally have to force people who are white to look at these things. It is not something they can see without help most of the time. I think many of them are uncomfortable with it, and this might keep them from buying a book. The open minded ones, of course, would be interested. But as we know, not everyone is open-minded. And that is not even taking into account the ones who are not only open-minded, but who are flat-out racist but don't admit it.

This is just my take on things. As far as why India might be more salable . . . that I don't know, unless there is a higher reading population among the East Indian American public? I would imagine white Americans are just as bad about East Indians as they are about African Americans.

aruna
12-06-2015, 01:05 PM
[QUOTE]There's a really big literary fiction book coming out that is set partially in Guyana next year. I think it got a seven figure advance or something.

Interesting. I'd love to know more.

I'm chiming in late here. I think, as other have said, that there are probably several reasons for sales being different. Having said that, I do think that white people, generally speaking, have problems dealing with POC characters. I say that as a white person and a former literature professor, and a mother of white children who tries to teach her kids to understand what it might be like for other people to read books that have characters that, by in large, feature characters that are chiefly colored in one skin tone, and that skin tone is different from their own.


This came up because my son is reading Percy Jackson and evidently there is a character depicted as white in a book and in the movie adaptation he is black. I explained a few reasons why this might be to my son. You literally have to force people who are white to look at these things. It is not something they can see without help most of the time. I think many of them are uncomfortable with it, and this might keep them from buying a book. The open minded ones, of course, would be interested. But as we know, not everyone is open-minded. And that is not even taking into account the ones who are not only open-minded, but who are flat-out racist but don't admit it.


When white people don't get it and complain about black people whining, I sometimes ask them to imagine if all the books available, all the books they read while growing up, had exclusively black or brown characters, with the only white characters ever appearing in minor roles. Just imagine it, as a white person. Wouldn't it feel weird? Wouldn't you want, as a white person in a mostly white society, want a BIT of diversity? Would that be whining?


As far as why India might be more salable . . . that I don't know, unless there is a higher reading population among the East Indian American public? I would imagine white Americans are just as bad about East Indians as they are about African Americans. We're talking more about UK readers here. The UK has a long and colourful history with India. India was "the jewel in the crown". The British have this romantic idea about India, opulence, maharajahs, princesses on elephants, and all that -- and OTOH, misery, oppression, women in purdah, arranged marriage etc -- it all sounds very exotic and apparently readers are drawn to the "exotic". Not to mention, in more reacent years, spirituality, yoga, etc. Just about every book I read recently set in India and written by non_Indians has some kind of "guru" in it. Usually a lot of imagined nonsense.

aruna
12-06-2015, 01:10 PM
@alphabetsoup: I googled the big literary novel thing and found this article (http://www.wsj.com/articles/betting-big-on-literary-newcomers-1447880214). Could it be that you mistook Guyana for Ghana? Not to worry if so, as many people do.


Tara Singh Carlson, a senior editor at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, said it was “terrifying” when she placed her first-ever million-dollar bid for a book last spring. “It made me want to throw up,” Ms. Carlson said. The book was “Homegoing,” a debut novel by 26-year-old Yaa Gyasi, who was born in Ghana and raised in Alabama. It traces the descendants of two half-sisters born in 18th-century Ghana, covering seven generations and more than 250 years of history—including the Jim Crow era, the Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance.

I only ask because I kind of feel I would have heard of it. News spreads incredibly fast on the Guyana Grapevine and this would be BIG news.

Ravioli
12-06-2015, 01:41 PM
That is sh!t to hear. Sorry. You'd think we've moved past this. I know there's a reputation and financial aspect to keep in mind, but I urge you to push your book. Just backing down because nobody wants to see black people books, changes nothing. I think it's a Japanese phrase, to say "to widen someone's arsehole" as in, opening up their tiny mind. Widen that hole. You have the book to do so. Make it a combatant in a revolution, not a victim of discrimination :Soapbox:

aruna
12-06-2015, 02:54 PM
I wrote them a very long letter and told them my story. Told them how it was exactly because HarperCollins didn't want to publish Guyana books that I left them and wandered in the desert of non-publication for ten years. Told them how I chose them over a digital offer from HarperCollins because I believed they WOULD publish my Guyana books. And told them I was sorry they were disappointed in the book's performance but I thought maybe they had missed a trick or two in marketing. For instance, October was Black History Month. The book was published on October 1st. Perfect! I'm sure many of the mainstream media would have been delighted to hear about a black historical novel just out in October. Why wasn't it pushed as a Black History Month novel? For instance.

I got a very nice reply in which they agreed to publish both books in the trilogy as well as one India book, and said they weren't at all disappointed and stood by me as a writer. So I stood my ground and move forward with confidence. All is not yet lost!

Latina Bunny
12-06-2015, 03:05 PM
Good on you, Aruna! :D

I wish you the best of luck moving forward. :)

WriterBN
12-06-2015, 08:43 PM
I got a very nice reply in which they agreed to publish both books in the trilogy as well as one India book, and said they weren't at all disappointed and stood by me as a writer. So I stood my ground and move forward with confidence. All is not yet lost!

I'm beginning to like your publisher more, after your updated experience and a strong recommendation from another of their authors. If I ever get my novel done, I'll have to try submitting.

autumnleaf
12-07-2015, 03:35 AM
[Deleted last post by accident, stupid phone]
Another possible marketing angle is the slavery issue, which seems to be popular these days in film (12 Years a Slave, Belle) and novels (The Long Song, The Invention of Wings).

Jamesaritchie
12-08-2015, 05:41 PM
I
m glad the publisher decided to do this, but it's entirely possible that readers just don't like your book, or the way you wrote it. This is how it works most of the time. There are too many books with the same subject matter that have done extremely well to think readers automatically reject such things.

It most often better to concentrate on the next book, rather than obsessing about the old one. You can't make readers like everything, or anything, and there's no reason they should like any given thing. What something means to the writer has nothing at all with what it means to readers. Readers read what they enjoy reading Period. This is how it is, and how it should be. You can either give readers what they want, hopefully by finding something to write that is also something you want, or you can write books that don't sell well because they only reflect what you want.

aruna
12-08-2015, 08:21 PM
James, I am by no means obsessing about this one book. Whatever gave you that impression. And where did I say I want to make readers like this one?



I'm already 48000 words into the next one. I am happy with the reception of readers to date -- most who have read it seem to like it.


The feedback to date has been all positive.


James, I'm the one who wrote book after book for ten years, eight in all, one after the other, with never a publisher in sight, waiting for the right publisher to turn up.
Do you not think that I've learnt not to obsess in that time? To let go of one book and write the next?

It's not me who is concerned, it's the publisher. That is what this thread is about: my publisher getting impatient and possibly disappointed (though they now say they aren't). Not me. I'm the one who is telling THEM it's OK and not to expect the gigantic sales they are getting with their other books, and to have more faith in readers and not to second-guess what they'll like and what they won't like.


There are too many books with the same subject matter that have done extremely well to think readers automatically reject such things.

Actually, there are very, very few books on the same subject matter, much less ones that have done "extraordinarily well". Which ones are you thinking of? I'd like to hear some examples. I can't really think of any TBH.

EMaree
12-09-2015, 03:02 AM
Aruna, I'm really really happy your publisher decided to support your books. They sound like a very classy group!

Sammie
12-22-2015, 08:59 PM
As many have pointed out there are a number of factors as to why your book didn't sell as well as both you and your publisher expected it to be. For me though, personally speaking, I love diverse characters especially when they set in places that vary from mainstream settings. The thing is you never know with readers what makes them pick the book up or not. But every book has its fans so don't worry!!

Also your publisher sounds so mature and, as another user stated, classy! So happy they continued supporting you ;)

Keep writing, keep going and may success always find you ;)