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seun
07-17-2007, 12:42 PM
A book has arrived here at work today. On the cover, the author is described as 'America's #1 best selling black author'.

I can look at this as a basic fact as in the author is black and is a best-selling author, but the problem is why is the author's race important? I wouldn't expect an author to be described as a 'best-selling white author' or any other race for that matter. So is it just a marketing angle or something else?

Bartholomew
07-17-2007, 01:07 PM
It probably isn't true, either. If you listen to the radio a lot, you'll notice that every single station is #1. And they're being honest, sort of. It's a manipulation of statistics.

That said, I do not purchase the works of living racists. If someone is billing himself by his race, first and foremost, that's a huge red flag for me.

zahra
07-17-2007, 02:09 PM
A book has arrived here at work today. On the cover, the author is described as 'America's #1 best selling black author'.

I can look at this as a basic fact as in the author is black and is a best-selling author, but the problem is why is the author's race important? I wouldn't expect an author to be described as a 'best-selling white author' or any other race for that matter. So is it just a marketing angle or something else?

Marketing. Pique the interest/curiosity of those black readers who might not otherwise pick it up for that initial glance. Whether they want to buy it after that, at least they'd have considered it. Also, if it's a book set in a black community, the cover might be flagging that.

I wouldn't see anything too sinister in it.

RLSMiller
07-17-2007, 02:13 PM
As others have said, it's just an interest point. In the UK, black authors, particularly males, are quite a rarity in commercial fiction. If a publisher can use this to their advantage, why not?

seun
07-17-2007, 02:28 PM
Fair points but shouldn't a book sell on the story and characters rather than the author's race?

Dave.C.Robinson
07-17-2007, 02:32 PM
It bugs me. I can understand how it can help sales to a particular demographic, but the only way to eliminate racism is to ignore race. Anyone who puts race forward is helping prevent the elimination of racism.

scarletpeaches
07-17-2007, 02:52 PM
Can you imagine the uproar if JK Rowling was marketed as the #1 White author? Or Barbara Taylor Bradford? Or Danielle Steel?

Racism works both ways.

I wouldn't even pick up a book by an author who was marketed according to race. I don't care about the colour of your skin. I care about your talent as a writer.

Mike Gayle seems to do okay without resorting to these tactics.

The Lady
07-17-2007, 03:07 PM
I agree. The author picture, if it is included, is of zero importance in choosing to buy the book or not, so I'm afraid anyone screaming about their race on the front cover has lost me before they even begin.

seun
07-17-2007, 03:09 PM
I don't care about the colour of your skin. I care about your talent as a writer.

Exactly. A writer might have certain appeal but that doesn't mean they should be marketed as simply black or any colour. They should be marketed as a writer.

Enraptured
07-17-2007, 03:09 PM
It bugs me when things are marketed by race. Just like it bugs me when all the books by black authors are put into the African American section. I don't care about the author's race, I care about the book.

That said, I doubt it was the author's decision to put that on the book. So if the book looked good I wouldn't let the weird marketing stop me from buying it.

Birol
07-17-2007, 03:31 PM
The marketing wouldn't be the author's decision and shouldn't be held against the book.

Denzel Washington won an Oscar -- not his first -- a few years back. Afterwards, he was backstage being interviewed by reporters and one of the reporters asked him if he looked forward to the day when the headlines and the article said an actor had won the Oscar rather whether than distinguishing a black actor had won. Denzel, in classy Denzel Washington-style, pointed out to the man that he was a reporter and he could make that happen when he went back and wrote his own article of the night's events.

It'll be nice when race truly does not matter, but someone with the power to do so must take that first step.

scarletpeaches
07-17-2007, 03:34 PM
Denzel. :LilLove:

zahra
07-17-2007, 04:50 PM
It bugs me. I can understand how it can help sales to a particular demographic, but the only way to eliminate racism is to ignore race. Anyone who puts race forward is helping prevent the elimination of racism.
Hmm, the trouble with that is, most black people don't get up and look in the mirror and go, 'Hey! Black! Remember that today!', any more than white people get up, look in the mirror, etc...it's the reception you get in your day-to-day that tends to remind you. ;) That being the case, I don't think there's anything wrong with black people pointing up their ethnicity when they are in a field where they are not traditionally seen as 'comers'. Especially if they can be an inspiration to young people, whose role models can notoriously otherwise be a bit dubious.

OK, if we're going to go the 'comparison' route: JK Rowling could not have been publicized as a 'white author' - white authors are not a minority group in England. That she was a 'young-single-mother-on-benefits author', however, was quite widely discussed and gained her additional publicity, which can't have hurt sales...because women of this class are not regarded as productive members of society. Should we not talk about her (then) economic class, even if it inspires others in a similar situation and gives a black eye to people who sneer at 'welfare mothers'?

Joss Stone was widely publicized as a 'white soul singer', but no-one calls Rhianna a 'black soul singer'. Sure I don't need to spell out why.

It is a shame that black authors are still seen as something of a curiosity. They don't seem so to me - I can name three or four without even thinking hard - but there you go.:)

scarletpeaches
07-17-2007, 04:53 PM
...JK Rowling could not have been publicized as a 'white author' - white authors are not a minority group in England...

Or even in Scotland, which is where she lives.

zahra
07-17-2007, 05:05 PM
Or even in Scotland, which is where she lives.
Oops, my bad. In fact, my bloody awful, I do apologise.:flag:

Bubastes
07-17-2007, 05:06 PM
The marketing wouldn't be the author's decision and shouldn't be held against the book.


My thoughts exactly. Has anyone asked Ray (maestrowork) for his input on this topic? I'd like to see what he thinks and what his experience has been from the Asian POV.

Celia Cyanide
07-17-2007, 05:33 PM
I agree. The author picture, if it is included, is of zero importance in choosing to buy the book or not, so I'm afraid anyone screaming about their race on the front cover has lost me before they even begin.

So you would refuse to read a book because you saw that was on the cover? Doesn't that contradict the whole, "a book should be judged on its content" thing?

seun
07-17-2007, 05:35 PM
Oops, my bad. In fact, my bloody awful, I do apologise.:flag:

Don't piss Nichola off. She'll set Braveheart on you.

maestrowork
07-17-2007, 05:40 PM
A book has arrived here at work today. On the cover, the author is described as 'America's #1 best selling black author'.

I can look at this as a basic fact as in the author is black and is a best-selling author, but the problem is why is the author's race important? I wouldn't expect an author to be described as a 'best-selling white author' or any other race for that matter. So is it just a marketing angle or something else?

If they're targeting the African-American market, it can be an important attribute. It is about marketing. They want a special demo to notice the book -- in a sea of books. With Asian writers, we don't have to advertise that because usually our last names would indicate that we're Asians. I know my publisher wants to target my book to the Asian-American market, whether I think "race" shouldn't matter at all.

I would be very careful not to label this as racism. It's no more racist than saying "Hanukah is a Jewish holiday."

It's an utopia that race truly doesn't matter, but we are not living in that utopia yet. For as long as you're in the minority, you have to do something to set yourself apart. So for a black writer to survive, he needs to know his market and his publisher would target that market however they can.

zahra
07-17-2007, 05:41 PM
Don't piss Nichola off. She'll set Braveheart on you.
Excuse me, my historical hero is Saladin. He could have Braveheart as a side-dish with olives.

Celia Cyanide
07-17-2007, 05:43 PM
Fair points but shouldn't a book sell on the story and characters rather than the author's race?

If you look at the way most books are marketed, they sell for many different reasons. You would hope that all published books have a good story and characters, or they would not have been published in the first place, but it isn't necessarily why they will sell.

Look at the statement: 'America's #1 best selling black author' So you wonder, why does it matter that the author is black? Well, I also wonder, why does it matter that the author is 'American's #1 best selling...'? Am I supposed to want to buy it, just because a whole lot of people I don't know already bought it? But that is a selling point for some people.

Books are marketed for being controversial, or "based on a true story." When they make a movie based on a book, a new edition of the book is often released with the star on the cover. It's all about what gets people's attention, and has very little to do with why people really like books.

larocca
07-17-2007, 05:46 PM
I'm North Carolina's #1 best selling Shakespeare-reading Eminem-quoting Spanish-speaking Chinese-speaking white redneck author in Thailand. Woo-hoo!

maestrowork
07-17-2007, 05:51 PM
Well, I also wonder, why does it matter that the author is 'American's #1 best selling...'? Am I supposed to want to buy it, just because a whole lot of people I don't know already bought it? But that is a selling point for some people.

Exactly. I mean, hey, if I think "triple-amputee" or "baldness" would sell more books, I would have marketed it:

"America's #1 best selling triple-amputee bald author."

It's all about selling books. We can talking about race improvement in civil right classes.

The Lady
07-17-2007, 05:51 PM
So you would refuse to read a book because you saw that was on the cover? Doesn't that contradict the whole, "a book should be judged on its content" thing?


I was going to add a whole load more to my comment but I didn't bother. Seems I should have. Racism has got to be resisted wherever it pops up. Commenting on your race on the cover of a book tells me something about a writer. That "something" does not make me particularly confident about their evolution as a human being and what they as a writer have to impart. It is also in my opinion something that should not be on the cover of a book. You will notice that author blurbs are not political manifestos, such as "Celia Cyanide is anti porn, pro gun and thinks cannabis should be legalized." That statement about the author is political. I dislike it a lot.

JK Rowling did not put on her-book cover that she was single mother. A reporter did that. If a reporter had made a big deal about "blah" being black or whatever, it wouldn't put me off the book at all.

Currently, I have a strong bias against authors who put in their bios that they worked in a circus. I'm not sure why, maybe it strikes me as trying too hard to sound "quirky" and "interesting". Maybe that's part of why this whole "number one black author" annoys me so much.

seun
07-17-2007, 05:54 PM
I would be very careful not to label this as racism. It's no more racist than saying "Hanukah is a Jewish holiday."

Don't get the wrong idea; I'm not labelling this as racism. I just don't think it's fair to the writer or a potential reader to 'sell' the book based on the author's race. Like I say, I wouldn't expect any writer to be sold on their race.

seun
07-17-2007, 05:56 PM
Excuse me, my historical hero is Saladin. He could have Braveheart as a side-dish with olives.

Highlander could have him.

larocca
07-17-2007, 05:57 PM
You will notice that author blurbs are not political manifestos, such as "Celia Cyanide is anti porn, pro gun and thinks cannabis should be legalized."

Really? Do you have her phone number?

Oh, wait. You said cannibis. I thought you said cannibalism. Never mind.

Jamesaritchie
07-17-2007, 06:22 PM
A book has arrived here at work today. On the cover, the author is described as 'America's #1 best selling black author'.

I can look at this as a basic fact as in the author is black and is a best-selling author, but the problem is why is the author's race important? I wouldn't expect an author to be described as a 'best-selling white author' or any other race for that matter. So is it just a marketing angle or something else?

It's probably true, book figures aren't taken the same way as radio station figures. It's all about marketing, and it works.

No, you don't expect to see a book described as being by the bestselling white author. But you would if white writers were a minorty of bestselling writers, rather than the huge majority.

Books should sell based on story and quality, and they do. But there's nothing at all wrong with emphasizing something like race in order to make sure an important market group knows about and buys one of their own.

I don't know your race, but I suspect you aren't black, or you'd know why such marketing is important. We all have our own groups, our own cliques, our own culture, etc., and it's nice to see one of our own do well, and to have this pointed out. Especially when it's not an everyday occurrence.

seun
07-17-2007, 06:49 PM
Books should sell based on story and quality, and they do. But there's nothing at all wrong with emphasizing something like race in order to make sure an important market group knows about and buys one of their own.

I don't know your race, but I suspect you aren't black, or you'd know why such marketing is important. We all have our own groups, our own cliques, our own culture, etc., and it's nice to see one of our own do well, and to have this pointed out. Especially when it's not an everyday occurrence.

Surely 'buying one of their own' and 'it's nice to see one of our own do well' just create a feeling of separation? As a white writer, I wouldn't my stuff to be aimed purely at white people.

Claudia Gray
07-17-2007, 07:00 PM
Readers don't buy books based on race, I believe. However, they DO buy books based on authentic/meaningful perspectives, and sometimes race/gender/background can be a part of that. Writers certainly sell themselves on their perspectives -- how much agonizing do we do in our query letters about what to say about ourselves, about what counts and makes us stand out? If you are, say, Terry McMillan, and you want to sell a book called Waiting to Exhale, you are going to say that you're an upscale, urban black woman living in the American Southwest who is bringing a fresh setting and perspective to humorous women's fiction. And your publisher is going to say it too.

Celia Cyanide
07-17-2007, 07:06 PM
As a white writer, I wouldn't my stuff to be aimed purely at white people.

Identifying an author as a black author is not aiming the work purely at black people.

maestrowork
07-17-2007, 07:17 PM
Don't get the wrong idea; I'm not labelling this as racism. I just don't think it's fair to the writer or a potential reader to 'sell' the book based on the author's race. Like I say, I wouldn't expect any writer to be sold on their race.

It's because most writers in the North America, for example, are white. Most of their reading public are white. They assume a writer whose name is "William Smith" is white. They don't have to sell their race.

But when you're a minority, it's a bit different, from their perspective. If the fact that Amy Tan is Chinese brings more Chinese and Asians to buy her book -- who in the right mind wouldn't do that? The thing is, when you're a minority and in an industry where minorities are not particular successful (do a survey and see how many books are published each year by a minority as opposed to Caucasians...), it is an "empowerment" thing to see "Hey, a black/Asian/Latino author made it."

I mean, let's say, if you see a book by William Smith, how many will automatically assume he's white? I think it's interesting. Let's have a show of hands.

Bubastes
07-17-2007, 07:23 PM
It's because most writers in the North America, for example, are white. Most of their reading public are white. They assume a writer whose name is "William Smith" is white. They don't have to sell their race.

But when you're a minority, it's a bit different, from their perspective. If the fact that Amy Tan is Chinese brings more Chinese and Asians to buy her book -- who in the right mind wouldn't do that? The thing is, when you're a minority and in an industry where minorities are not particular successful (do a survey and see how many books are published each year by a minority...), it is an "empowerment" thing to see "Hey, a black/Asian author made it."

I mean, let's say, if you see a book by William Smith, how many will automatically assume he's white? I think it's interesting. Let's have a show of hands.

Good point. Another example I think of is Tess Gerritsen. People assume she's white because of her name. Cathy Yardley is another.

I remember one blog entry where Tess Gerritsen mentioned doing what she called a "race check" when she attended a RWA conference (back when she was writing romances). Out of 1000 writers in the room, she was one of 4 Asians.

maestrowork
07-17-2007, 07:27 PM
I know a comedian named Amy Anderson. She told me people are ALWAYS surprised when she comes out on stage. People expect her to be white. In fact, she is Korean (she was adopted). And then the reserve is true -- people expect her to tell Asian jokes (a la Margaret Cho). She's as American as you can get.

Funny about our preconceptions.

seun
07-17-2007, 07:34 PM
Identifying an author as a black author is not aiming the work purely at black people.

But in this case, identifying the author as black is obviously a marketing ploy.

maestrowork
07-17-2007, 07:36 PM
But in this case, identifying the author as black is obviously a marketing ploy.

Probably. Or they may just want to say, "don't assume that William Smith is white." On the other hand, it's really not wrong to mention race in marketing. Now, if you say "America's #1 Best Selling White Author" people will laugh. On the other hand, if you say "China's #1 Best Selling Caucasian Author" it's probably a good thing.

Celia Cyanide
07-17-2007, 07:55 PM
But in this case, identifying the author as black is obviously a marketing ploy.

It could be, but is it so different from any other marketing ploy?

It is a marketing ploy to say, "America's #1 Best Selling Author." It's saying, "buy this book because other people did," and it has nothing to do with the quality of the book.

Jamesaritchie
07-17-2007, 08:00 PM
Surely 'buying one of their own' and 'it's nice to see one of our own do well' just create a feeling of separation? As a white writer, I wouldn't my stuff to be aimed purely at white people.

Saying a book is written by the bestselling black writer out there doesn't mean you're aiming it strictly at blacks. There's no separation here. It's inclusive marketing, not exclusive, unless you wouldn't buy the book because the writer is black.

It's no more than covering all the bases, and making sure an important market group knows a book they might want is out there.

And such marketing is also aimed at whites. Right or wrong, wouldn't you expect a book that has a black protagonist to be a bit more dead on and realistic if written by a black writer?

I'd be more willing to buy such a book on the theory of writer expertise alone, just as I'm more likely to buy a science fiction book written by someone with a science background, or a police procedural written by a career homicide detective.

maestrowork
07-17-2007, 08:02 PM
Exactly. Identifying the minority status of the author may help with certain demographics. However, if someone says, "Oh, it's a black author; I'm not reading it" then maybe then we should examine racial issues.

Celia Cyanide
07-17-2007, 08:21 PM
Exactly. Identifying the minority status of the author may help with certain demographics. However, if someone says, "Oh, it's a black author; I'm not reading it" then maybe then we should examine racial issues.

Exactly. That person is the one with the problem. It's just as you said above, maestro, the fact that the author is black may not matter to you, but it isn't wrong to mention it. It could be something as simple as this: "well, we can't truthfully say America's #1 selling author, but we can truthfully America's #1 best selling black author."

Claudia Gray
07-17-2007, 08:26 PM
But in this case, identifying the author as black is obviously a marketing ploy.


WHAT? Something on a book jacket is intended to promote MARKETING? Like, to actually sell the book? I have never heard anything so bizarre or outrageous!

Birol
07-17-2007, 08:26 PM
They assume a writer whose name is "William Smith" is white.

Even though his legal name is really Willard, William Smith makes me think of Will Smith (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000226/), the black actor and singer. I'm probably a freak, though.

Jamesaritchie
07-17-2007, 08:56 PM
Exactly. Identifying the minority status of the author may help with certain demographics. However, if someone says, "Oh, it's a black author; I'm not reading it" then maybe then we should examine racial issues.

That's my take on it.

maestrowork
07-17-2007, 09:29 PM
Let me just go on to say that, when my publisher and the book stores wanted to market my book as an Asian-American novel, I felt rather uncomfortable. I made sure race wasn't important in my story, and I didn't feel that race is important at all. Unlike novels such as The Namesake, Joy Luck Club, or The Kite Runner, the story isn't about being Asian-American, and the book has characters of all races, cultural backgrounds, etc. but they weren't important. At least that's how I see my world.

However, I did realize when marketing was concerned, calling it an Asian-American novel has a ring to it, and it may attract certain people who would otherwise not notice the book among the sea of new novels. So, as a business person, I totally understood the reasoning behind it and agreed.

Novelhistorian
07-17-2007, 09:57 PM
I don't know. It still sounds like pandering to me. I wonder what it would have looked like had the publisher gone to a more subtle approach, referring on the cover to "a story about an African-American family," or some such thing. Or say that the author also wrote the best-selling novel(s) X, Y, Z, and give the title(s). The cover art, too, would give a clue.

All that seems a little different from saying, "Guess what? He's black and he's a best-selling author!"

Celia Cyanide
07-17-2007, 10:03 PM
Let me just go on to say that, when my publisher and the book stores wanted to market my book as an Asian-American novel, I felt rather uncomfortable. I made sure race wasn't important in my story, and I didn't feel that race is important at all. Unlike novels such as The Namesake, Joy Luck Club, or The Kite Runner, the story isn't about being Asian-American, and the book has characters of all races, cultural backgrounds, etc. but they weren't important. At least that's how I see my world.

However, I did realize when marketing was concerned, calling it an Asian-American novel has a ring to it, and it may attract certain people who would otherwise not notice the book among the sea of new novels. So, as a business person, I totally understood the reasoning behind it and agreed.

And I guess I see that as a positive thing. Just because you're not writing about being Asian-American, does that mean your publisher should not mention that you are an Asian-American author? Some Asian-Americans may write The Joy Luck Club, and some may write what you wrote.

maestrowork
07-17-2007, 10:04 PM
Marketing and advertising is "pandering." What else do you think it is? LOL.

maestrowork
07-17-2007, 10:06 PM
I don't know. It still sounds like pandering to me. I wonder what it would have looked like had the publisher gone to a more subtle approach, referring on the cover to "a story about an African-American family," or some such thing. Or say that the author also wrote the best-selling novel(s) X, Y, Z, and give the title(s). The cover art, too, would give a clue.


How so? You're assuming that because a black writer writes the book, it is about African-Americans or the cover art will have some kind of African-Americans on it?

That, of course, is not necessarily true.

maestrowork
07-17-2007, 10:10 PM
And I guess I see that as a positive thing. Just because you're not writing about being Asian-American, does that mean your publisher should not mention that you are an Asian-American author? Some Asian-Americans may write The Joy Luck Club, and some may write what you wrote.

I try to bridge that gap. It does kind of bother me when people assume that an Asian author must have written a book about Asian cultures, heritage, or being immigrants, etc. I think those are legit topics, and certainly there are a lot of such stories to be told, but there is SO MUCH more writers of all races can write about. We don't have to be pigeon-holed into certain genres.

PattiTheWicked
07-17-2007, 10:13 PM
But in this case, identifying the author as black is obviously a marketing ploy.

true, but that doesn't make it bad, or racist.

When you publish a book, you want it to appeal to as many people as possible. Telling something about the author, whether it's that they're black, Jewish, a paraplegic, a lesbian, or a middle-class soccer mom invites one more demographic group into the mix. It's an inclusive label.

Celia Cyanide
07-17-2007, 10:14 PM
I try to bridge that gap. It does kind of bother me when people assume that an Asian author must have written a book about Asian cultures, heritage, or being immigrants, etc. I think those are legit topics, and certainly there are a lot of such stories to be told, but there is SO MUCH more writers of all races can write about. We don't have to be pigeon-holed into certain genres.

Yes, exactly. It's hard to explain, but I think it's good for people to know that there are all different kinds of people writing all different kinds of things. Otherwise, it would seem that we wouldn't even know Asian-American authors existed unless they wrote about being Asian-American.

Sassee
07-17-2007, 10:22 PM
If it doesn't sound appealing, I won't read it. If it sounds interesting, it'll be with me in the checkout line. I don't even pay attention to the author recommendations on a book, much less something like race, so to me it's just extra lettering that takes up part of the cover.

I do see how it might work to the author's advantage (see J.K. Rowling's reason for using initials instead of her full name). It draws more attention to the novel for sure... I mean, look, there's a 2 page discussion about it on these forums! Do I agree with the marketing method? Not really. I'd rather have the book speak for itself, rather than relying on something as petty as race to promote itself. But I definitely see the reasoning/logic behind the publisher's decision.

Claudia Gray
07-17-2007, 10:27 PM
Honestly, I don't see any difference between this and the "Local Authors" section many bookstores have. Those authors may be writing about the local area, or they may not; however, bookstore browsers may wonder if they have something in common with the author and give the book another look because of that. Then the book gets a chance to sell itself. It's pretty much the same thing here.

maestrowork
07-17-2007, 10:29 PM
Not really. I'd rather have the book speak for itself, rather than relying on something as petty as race to promote itself. But I definitely see the reasoning/logic behind the publisher's decision.

Marketing concepts exist because they work, at least in the past. As you said, JK Rowling used a gender non-specific pen name for a reason. Racial minorities sometimes use a more race nondescript name -- actors do that all the time to disguise their national origins. Writers sometimes do that as well. "John Smith" instead of "Isola Dukovsky."

It doesn't mean time isn't changing, albeit slowly. Publishers, stores, and buyers will keep categorizing things for as long as it still makes sense to them.

Lady Esther
07-17-2007, 11:41 PM
Let me just go on to say that, when my publisher and the book stores wanted to market my book as an Asian-American novel, I felt rather uncomfortable. I made sure race wasn't important in my story, and I didn't feel that race is important at all. Unlike novels such as The Namesake, Joy Luck Club, or The Kite Runner, the story isn't about being Asian-American, and the book has characters of all races, cultural backgrounds, etc. but they weren't important. At least that's how I see my world.

However, I did realize when marketing was concerned, calling it an Asian-American novel has a ring to it, and it may attract certain people who would otherwise not notice the book among the sea of new novels. So, as a business person, I totally understood the reasoning behind it and agreed.

For me, I wouldn't be comfortable having 'African-American' on the front of my novel because it's not about African-Americans. I created the races in my book, and if an African-American was drawn to my book, then they would assume it's about an African-American, no?

If my book is not about race, then I don't see the point of putting my race on the cover.

But if a black author is writing about slavery in America, in the 1840's, I see nothing wrong with putting "#1 Best Selling Black Author" on the cover.

Sassee
07-18-2007, 05:50 AM
Found an article to go along with this discussion:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4155/is_20070103/ai_n17090468

maestrowork
07-18-2007, 05:56 AM
Moreover, she asks, how many white readers will browse through a book when the front cover depicts black characters and the author is black?

That is some internalized racism in there.

Anthony Ravenscroft
07-18-2007, 07:11 AM
I get the impression that, for some people, racism is Baaaad, but selling a book on the basis of gender or age is totally okay, & even ethnicity as long as nobody mentions it specifically but the author's name is featured in big letters.

I guess that maybe, so that we can all be free to be equal, there ought to be a law that only allows books to be published by a serial number ("the new best-selling book by 27-5785326052!!!!") or one chosen from a list of preapproved inoffensive neutral pseudonyms.

Public presentations -- readings, interviews, etc. -- should only be conducted as though the author was an endangered Mob informant, with disguises & voice-changers.

seun
07-18-2007, 12:16 PM
WHAT? Something on a book jacket is intended to promote MARKETING? Like, to actually sell the book? I have never heard anything so bizarre or outrageous!

Nothing wrong with marketing (obviously) but I have more respect for a book that's sold on how good it is, not because of the writer's race.

Sophia
07-18-2007, 01:16 PM
For me, I wouldn't be comfortable having 'African-American' on the front of my novel because it's not about African-Americans. I created the races in my book, and if an African-American was drawn to my book, then they would assume it's about an African-American, no?

If my book is not about race, then I don't see the point of putting my race on the cover.

But if a black author is writing about slavery in America, in the 1840's, I see nothing wrong with putting "#1 Best Selling Black Author" on the cover.

The "#1 Best Selling Black Author" quote would definitely get me to pick up the book. Especially if it included a photo of the author and they were in their 40s/50s or older, as it would suggest to me that they had lived through times of great changes for African-Americans. Together, these things would make me want to read what this author had to say -- and at no point would I assume that their story had anything to do with being African-American. I'd assume it was science fiction (or whatever genre aisle I saw the book in) and specifying the race of the characters would never occur to me. I'm not bashing your opinion given above - just giving another viewpoint. I'm Asian (as in from the Indian sub-continent). As a marketing ploy, it would work on me to pick up the book and read a page.

Inky
07-18-2007, 01:32 PM
This may have already been said, and if so, my apologies--I'm in the middle of packing & moving to another country. No, not a pun.

Marketing is cut throat. I've found awesome sounding agents, especially for first time authors, only to discover they prefer black authors--and yes, it's in writing.

Now, if an agent said 'white's only'....need I even complete this sentence?

But it's the same for female/male authors. Here's where I become a hypocrite...then burn myself at the stake, because I hate hypocrites.
I usually tend to shy away from any kind of romance written by a man. Why? It just seems weird to me. I'd like to change this about myself--hint hint Schaeffer (sp?)--and hope I wouldn't be any more critical than if the book were written by a woman.

The point?

Many authors have used their initials so that their book sells in a genre normally reserved for one sex. Fantasy and Sci/Fi happens to be ruled by males, so most females (not so much now, but in the past) had to use their initials; thus, men would buy their books and absorb the story, not be critical or shy away (uh hem, like me) simply because it was written by the oposite sex.
Now, I'd have to Google it to make sure, but you know that series: Flowers In The Attic? The author uses initials. I assumed, for years, it was a female author. Dunno why, stereotying the type of story maybe?
I could have sworn, a few years ago, I'd heard somewhere that it was actually a male author. Wow! Was I ever OFF!

Like I said, it's about marketing. Yeah, I think it should be an open book--jeeze, really didn't mean for that pun to happen--but, unfortunately, we're all discriminating in one way or another.

k

Bubastes
07-18-2007, 04:29 PM
I also recall seeing somewhere that women tend to read books by both female and male authors, but men tend to only read books written by males.

Jamesaritchie
07-18-2007, 05:00 PM
Now, I'd have to Google it to make sure, but you know that series: Flowers In The Attic? The author uses initials. I assumed, for years, it was a female author. Dunno why, stereotying the type of story maybe?
I could have sworn, a few years ago, I'd heard somewhere that it was actually a male author. Wow! Was I ever OFF!



k

It was a female writer, and this was never a secret. She died, and the family hired a man to continue the series.

aruna
07-18-2007, 05:10 PM
Racism works both ways.

I wouldn't even pick up a book by an author who was marketed according to race. I don't care about the colour of your skin. I care about your talent as a writer.



But this isn't targeted at you. It's targeted primarily at black readers, who want to read books about themselves.

You might say that racism works both ways but there was an imbalance for a very long time and so the pendulum is swinging the other way.

When I was a child I never read ONE SINGLE book that had a black child or black characters. I must have been in my late teens before I read a book that had a main character who looked just a little like me.

Now, just imagine what it would be like if every single book you read while growing up had black skin and kinky hair, and there wasn't one single white character. (or, if there was, that character was in a menial position.) And that went on till you were almost adult. Wouldn't you have a thirst to read other books, go out of your way to find those other books, rejoice when at last a few books with white characters with an experience similar to your own appeared on the shelves, and, maybe, made a point of buying those books by those authors, so that there were more of them?

I bet you would.
That's how blacks feel.
OK, so things have changed and there ARE more books by and about blacks on the shelves now. But it's going to be some time yet till blacks are comfortable with the balance.

Inky
07-18-2007, 05:20 PM
The flipside of this argument, and this coming from my black husband, is that, many are tired of the: 'oh, and he's/she's black', because, regardless the reason, it makes everyone pause.

Unfortunately, I'm torn. I see both sides of the coin, for better and for worse.

Celia Cyanide
07-18-2007, 05:30 PM
Nothing wrong with marketing (obviously) but I have more respect for a book that's sold on how good it is, not because of the writer's race.

But why do you single out race? Why does "black author" bother you any more than "America's #1 Best Selling"? Neither one of those has anything to do with how good the book is.

I don't really see how a book can sell solely on how good it is, since people don't know how good it is until after they've read it. There has to be something there to attract people's attention. It may seem silly to you, but it works, and it isn't a reason to have any less respect for the book. It certainly is not a sign that the book isn't good.

ETA: Yes, VC Andrews was a woman when she lived. She died of breast cancer after writing about 6 books, and left behind several outlines for stories. Andrew Niederman ghostwrote her books based on her outlines, including the Flowers In The Attic prequel.

Inky
07-18-2007, 05:45 PM
But why do you single out race? Why does "black author" bother you any more than "America's #1 Best Selling"? Neither one of those has anything to do with how good the book is.

I don't really see how a book can sell solely on how good it is, since people don't know how good it is until after they've read it. There has to be something there to attract people's attention. It may seem silly to you, but it works, and it isn't a reason to have any less respect for the book. It certainly is not a sign that the book isn't good.

ETA: Yes, VC Andrews was a woman when she lived. She died of breast cancer after writing about 6 books, and left behind several outlines for stories. Andrew Niederman ghostwrote her books based on her outlines, including the Flowers In The Attic prequel.
Hey, thanks, naughty kitty Ms. Cyanide. I KNEW that I'd heard something about it being a male author, but still could swear there was some blurb about the reason behind the original author using initials was so both genders would be attracted to her books. Of course, we're talking over a decade ago.
I'm a fool for asking, but I keep seeing this 'ETA'....I'm not abbreviation savvy...what does this mean?
I agree with many of your points. I hate that #1 madness. Danielle Steele (sp?) is #1, and I can't STAND her books...so that #1 madness is useless for me. But marketing is just a fancy word for pimping.

RLSMiller
07-18-2007, 05:49 PM
Hey, thanks, naughty kitty Ms. Cyanide. I KNEW that I'd heard something about it being a male author, but still could swear there was some blurb about the reason behind the original author using initials was so both genders would be attracted to her books. Of course, we're talking over a decade ago.
I'm a fool for asking, but I keep seeing this 'ETA'....I'm not abbreviation savvy...what does this mean?
I agree with many of your points. I hate that #1 madness. Danielle Steele (sp?) is #1, and I can't STAND her books...so that #1 madness is useless for me. But marketing is just a fancy word for pimping.

Estimated time of arrival? :Huh:

But seriously, in this context I think it means "Edited to Add."

Inky
07-18-2007, 05:53 PM
Um, has anyone read Miller's signature line?

seun
07-18-2007, 06:05 PM
But why do you single out race? Why does "black author" bother you any more than "America's #1 Best Selling"? Neither one of those has anything to do with how good the book is.

I don't really see how a book can sell solely on how good it is, since people don't know how good it is until after they've read it. There has to be something there to attract people's attention.

I'm singling out race because that's how this book has been marketed. If it was just 'America's best selling writer', the book would be sold along the lines of:

'This book is really popular, loads of people have read it so it must be good.'

But to sell it by saying 'This book is written by a black man so you should read it' is wrong in my very humble opinion. The writer being black has nothing to do with his writing ability or talent.

Celia Cyanide
07-18-2007, 06:22 PM
Hey, thanks, naughty kitty Ms. Cyanide. I KNEW that I'd heard something about it being a male author, but still could swear there was some blurb about the reason behind the original author using initials was so both genders would be attracted to her books. Of course, we're talking over a decade ago.

That I really don't know. I remember when the books were first popular, and I do remember knowing that it was a women, and her name was Virginia. It's hard to say why she used the initials, because so little is known about her. It is unclear whether Virginia was her first or middle name. In fact, no one seems to agree on exactly what books she wrote, or when she died. I love to hate VC Andrews.

aruna
07-18-2007, 06:44 PM
But to sell it by saying 'This book is written by a black man so you should read it' is wrong in my very humble opinion. The writer being black has nothing to do with his writing ability or talent.


...but it might have something to do with the "black experience", and if you don't think such a thing exists then you really are living in a self-created utopia, and are probably white!

I don't see this as any different than the fact that I love novels about the Indian experience, written by Indian authors. Usually you can tell the author is Indian by the name, but if not, I want to know that the book IS about Indians/Hindus, because there are so few of them.

maestrowork
07-18-2007, 06:46 PM
People buy books for whatever reasons, and "it's popular with everyone" is only one of those reasons. Sex, race, culture, personal backgrounds, awards, famous authors' blurbs, goodlooking author's photo with shirt off, half-naked women on the cover.... you name it. The marketing department would do whatever they can to target their markets. Calling an author "black" because, well, he is black, is the least of their concerns.

aruna
07-18-2007, 06:52 PM
I don't see this as any different than the fact that I love novels about the Indian experience, written by Indian authors. Usually you can tell the author is Indian by the name, but if not, I want to know that the book IS about Indians/Hindus, because there are so few of them.

Although, as Ray said earlier, an Indian does not automatically mean that the book is set in India or about Indians. Vikram Seth's novel An Equal Music, for instance, has nothing to do with being Indian, but as I am deliberately on the hunt for such books I was a little disappointed. "Black" is a genre as much as "Indian". Seen that way, Number 1 Bestselling Black Author is no more racist than ...Bestselling Fantasy or Bestselling Crime or Bestselling Romance author.

Celia Cyanide
07-18-2007, 07:09 PM
I'm singling out race because that's how this book has been marketed. If it was just 'America's best selling writer', the book would be sold along the lines of:

'This book is really popular, loads of people have read it so it must be good.'

But to sell it by saying 'This book is written by a black man so you should read it' is wrong in my very humble opinion. The writer being black has nothing to do with his writing ability or talent.

'This book is really popular, loads of people have read it, so it must be good' just doesn't logically follow.

How many copies a book has sold does not really reflect writing ability or talent, either. But it is a reason why someone might notice a book and pick it up and buy it.

Also, I don't think "America's #1 Best Selling Black Author" automatically translates to, "This book is written by a black man so you should read it." I think that "America's #1 Best Selling Black Author" just sounds much better than "America's #54 best selling author" or whatever # he is.

WriterInChains
07-18-2007, 07:25 PM
The marketing wouldn't be the author's decision and shouldn't be held against the book.

Denzel Washington won an Oscar -- not his first -- a few years back. Afterwards, he was backstage being interviewed by reporters and one of the reporters asked him if he looked forward to the day when the headlines and the article said an actor had won the Oscar rather whether than distinguishing a black actor had won. Denzel, in classy Denzel Washington-style, pointed out to the man that he was a reporter and he could make that happen when he went back and wrote his own article of the night's events.

It'll be nice when race truly does not matter, but someone with the power to do so must take that first step.

I love this story, I hadn't heard it before (or forgot it). Thanks for posting it. :)

Don't we all have that power? Every action (or lack thereof) has meaning, whether we choose to realize it or not. JMO

C.bronco
07-18-2007, 07:30 PM
My bad- I thought this thread had something to do with NASCAR. LOL

Sarashay
07-18-2007, 07:39 PM
"Black" is a genre as much as "Indian". Seen that way, Number 1 Bestselling Black Author is no more racist than ...Bestselling Fantasy or Bestselling Crime or Bestselling Romance author.

Exactly. I worked at a bookstore for a few years and there was a whole section devoted to African-American authors. One could go for days pondering the implications of that fact, but there it stands.

It is interesting to observe how touchy 'majority' people can be about being excluded from 'minority' circles, considering that said circles formed because of exclusion from 'majority' circles for, well, centuries when you think about it.

zahra
07-18-2007, 11:18 PM
Exactly. I worked at a bookstore for a few years and there was a whole section devoted to African-American authors. One could go for days pondering the implications of that fact, but there it stands.

It is interesting to observe how touchy 'majority' people can be about being excluded from 'minority' circles, considering that said circles formed because of exclusion from 'majority' circles for, well, centuries when you think about it.
Oh, dear me, yes.

It's like people who go screaming about 'political correctness', as though PC has not been in force for hundreds of years - come on, have people in any society ever been allowed to say exactly what they thought, felt or wanted without censure (or censorship)? That only happened in one-way traffic from master to subordinate, gosh, wonder why. It's only when the rules started to extend to the side of minorities that it's been deemed as some new and terrible menace.

Plus which, there's no armed guard patrolling 'special' sections of the bookstore, is there, making sure white people don't go in there, so it's not really 'excluding' anyone. Gay, kids, YA, black - if I think there's something in there to interest me, whether or not I'm part of that 'group', I'm over there, mate.

seun
07-18-2007, 11:54 PM
Just to clarify - I'm not being PC and I never said I saw the issue as racist. I simply think it's wrong to market a book with the writer's race as a 'hook'. I'm obviously in the minority which is OK. (Sob, sob...) People who know the industry a lot better than I do have explained the logic and while I don't agree, I can accept the other side of this.

Celia Cyanide
07-19-2007, 12:04 AM
Just to clarify - I'm not being PC and I never said I saw the issue as racist. I simply think it's wrong to market a book with the writer's race as a 'hook'. I'm obviously in the minority which is OK. (Sob, sob...) People who know the industry a lot better than I do have explained the logic and while I don't agree, I can accept the other side of this.

I'm just not clear on 1) why you think it's wrong or 2) why you think that simply mentioning the author's race was supposed to be a 'hook.' There could have been any number of reasons why it was mentioned. It doesn't mean, necessarily, that the author or publisher want people to buy the book because he is black.

maestrowork
07-19-2007, 12:50 AM
I think I understand what Seun was talking about, even though I don't think it's a problem: that one's race shouldn't even matter, least of all to "sell a book." One's race, sex, or <name your arbitrary attributes> shouldn't have any bearing on whether the book is good or not, or whether someone should buy it or not. Should I try to figure out if "Leslie Smith" is a man or a woman, black or white or Asian or Latino or Native American, or if he/she is married or Jewish or .... I think what Seun is saying is that none of that really has much to do with the book, and shouldn't even become a decision factor. Let people decide by looking at the cover, reading the blurbs or the first chapter, or a trade review... His argument is that if Leslie Smith is not going to declare "America's #1 Female White Christian Middle-Age Widowed Single Mother Author" then why should someone care if the author is black or not?

I can understand that point of view. I also understand why "race" could be a marketing factor. To me, it really becomes a publisher's decision. Some would be happy just to be shelved in the "African-American Fiction" section -- it's clear enough. Some may want to actually be more "in your face" about it.

Also, it does sound better to say "America's #1 Black Author" than "America's #103 Author." So I think part of it has to do with claiming that "#1" title.

Celia Cyanide
07-19-2007, 01:06 AM
I think I understand what Seun was talking about, even though I don't think it's a problem: that one's race shouldn't even matter, least of all to "sell a book." One's race, sex, or <name your arbitrary attributes> shouldn't have any bearing on whether the book is good or not,

I can understand that. An author's race has nothing to do with whether a book is good or not. So it might not make sense to say, "buy this because the author is black." But nor does saying, "buy this because other people did," "buy this because it's based on a true story," or "buy this because it got made into a new movie with Cameron Diaz." If the issue here was that marketing tactics that do not focus on the quality of the writing are silly, then I could understand. But I don't see how this one is any more "wrong" than anything else.

veinglory
07-19-2007, 02:15 AM
I am not sure why race shouldn't 'matter'. It does exist and things that exist do matter in some way--being a factor doesn't immediately make the whole thing racist. I have bought books because they were by New Zealanders. Presumably you could make me more likely to buy a book by putting KIWI AUTHOR on the cover. Does that make me a bad person?

Plenty of books are implicitly labelled 'white author' by, for example, being shelved anywhere but in the African American authors section. It's just less visible when majority qualities are used in marketing--ensuring minorties get kicked once by being excluded and kicked again while they are down for being racist when they try and turn being marginalised into an asset.

maestrowork
07-19-2007, 05:42 AM
I can understand that. An author's race has nothing to do with whether a book is good or not. So it might not make sense to say, "buy this because the author is black." But nor does saying, "buy this because other people did," "buy this because it's based on a true story," or "buy this because it got made into a new movie with Cameron Diaz." If the issue here was that marketing tactics that do not focus on the quality of the writing are silly, then I could understand. But I don't see how this one is any more "wrong" than anything else.

Well, yes and no. There're some correlations (at least from the point of perspective) that some of these attributes relate to the quality (albeit subjective) of the book -- you may not agree with them, but they do indirectly imply certain level of quality:

- many people have bought and read it and liked it
- if it has won any awards
- if Stephen Spielberg is making a movie of it
- if Oprah recommended it

There are attributes that really have no correlations at all:
- the author's race
- the author's sex
- the author's mother's maiden name
- it's based on a true story
- it was translated from German
- Oprah has it on her bookshelf
etc.

seun
07-19-2007, 12:19 PM
I'm just not clear on 1) why you think it's wrong or 2) why you think that simply mentioning the author's race was supposed to be a 'hook.' There could have been any number of reasons why it was mentioned. It doesn't mean, necessarily, that the author or publisher want people to buy the book because he is black.

I think we're coming at this from different angles. My idea is if the publisher said: 'America's best selling author' then that would be a selling hook (the idea being lots of people like the reader so hopefully the person looking at the cover would as well).

So to my mind, using the author's race is also a selling hook - one I don't agree with as it has nothing to do with an author's talent.

seun
07-19-2007, 12:21 PM
Well, yes and no. There're some correlations (at least from the point of perspective) that some of these attributes relate to the quality (albeit subjective) of the book -- you may not agree with them, but they do indirectly imply certain level of quality:

- many people have bought and read it and liked it
- if it has won any awards
- if Stephen Spielberg is making a movie of it
- if Oprah recommended it

There are attributes that really have no correlations at all:
- the author's race
- the author's sex
- the author's mother's maiden name
- it's based on a true story
- it was translated from German
- Oprah has it on her bookshelf
etc.

Ray has nailed what I was struggling to say.

RickN
07-20-2007, 01:04 AM
I'm just not clear on...why you think that simply mentioning the author's race was supposed to be a 'hook.' There could have been any number of reasons why it was mentioned. It doesn't mean, necessarily, that the author or publisher want people to buy the book because he is black.


But, of course it's a hook. Everything on the outside of the book is a hook. The cover art, descriptive paragraph on the back, quotes from other people, author photo -- everything -- is designed by the publisher to get you to do one thing: pick up the book and take a look.

Since different people buy books for different reasons a publisher puts as many things as possible that can attract them. You may not care about race (or sex or what other people think about the author or subject matter) as a reason to buy a book -- but other people do. And publishers know this.

Celia Cyanide
07-20-2007, 01:20 AM
But, of course it's a hook. Everything on the outside of the book is a hook. The cover art, descriptive paragraph on the back, quotes from other people, author photo -- everything -- is designed by the publisher to get you to do one thing: pick up the book and take a look.

Obviously "America's #1 black author" is a hook, but I don't agree that necessarily translates to him being black is a hook. It very well could be that #1 just sounds much better than whatever number he really is.



Well, yes and no. There're some correlations (at least from the point of perspective) that some of these attributes relate to the quality (albeit subjective) of the book -- you may not agree with them, but they do indirectly imply certain level of quality:

- many people have bought and read it and liked it
- if it has won any awards
- if Stephen Spielberg is making a movie of it
- if Oprah recommended it

There are attributes that really have no correlations at all:
- the author's race
- the author's sex
- the author's mother's maiden name
- it's based on a true story
- it was translated from German
- Oprah has it on her bookshelf
etc.


I have a friend who is always interested in books based on true stories, and another friend who will read any book being made into a movie starring Emma Thompson. Nothing to do with quality writing, but not everyone reads for the same reasons I do.

maestrowork
07-20-2007, 01:26 AM
I have a friend who is always interested in books based on true stories, and another friend who will read any book being made into a movie starring Emma Thompson. Nothing to do with quality writing, but not everyone reads for the same reasons I do.

I think we agree already that people read things for various reasons. I'm just offering an explanation on the "quality" argument -- so you do agree that it has nothing to with quality, then.