Marginalization or Marketing?
WARNING: This post contains opinion and controversial subject matter.
I wasn’t there, but apparently at the last RWA conference, Pocket’s spokesperson said (and I paraphrase) they funnel their black authors into a black line. (And Latinos to a similar line.)
From the RWA update: During the Spotlight on Pocket at the 2015 RWA Conference, an attendee asked Executive Editor Lauren McKenna, “Are you working at all on diversifying your author list?” When McKenna requested clarification, the attendee observed that it seemed most of Pocket’s authors were white. McKenna then responded:
“Right now, we [Pocket] don’t have an African-American line. Our sister imprint—because we are all Simon & Schuster—we are just two different imprints that we spoke about today within Simon & Schuster.
Read the rest Here: Update on RWA2015 Spotlight on Pocket Books.
Now, I always feel we should cut speakers some slack. After all, I wouldn’t want to be held accountable for every word I said when I was up in front of an huge audience, nervous as heck and answering questions I hadn’t prepared for.
But in this case, I think we should.
The RWA called their statement “objectionable,” “insulting and unacceptable.”
Eventually, Simon and Schuster threw their exec under a bus and wrote this in reply: Open Letter to the RWA from Pocket
It’s corporate speak for we’re great guys. I know, I worked in corporate communications most of my career. I’ve written stuff like this.
But here’s the thing. They never answered the question. She answered a different question, instead.
Before we get to that, we need to define our terms. As an author of books containing gay main characters, I’ve often been called “a gay author,” but I’m not actually gay.
Mysterical is a YA. I’m sure no teenager.
So where do you publish my books?
What if a black person writes a book with a white main character. Which line should publish that?
And if her next book features a black main character, does it get moved elsewhere? Does she take a new pen name?
Studies of sales show that books sell better when they’re separated out. That black fiction sells better when it’s located with black non-fiction than when it’s located with other fiction. Same with gay books. (I’ve read these studies but can’t link to them right now.) But, depending on your perspective, this can be considered “ghettoizing.” As an author, I want more sales. If I were gay or black, how would I feel then? Conflicted, probably. Let me know in the comments.
It’s easier with online book vendors—you can tag your books by several different categories: So using Lost Boys 2.0 as an example, it’s a gay, action-adventure, romance, African-American. It’s other things, too, like paranormal, urban fantasy. Has a couple of graphic sex scenes… etc. But sadly, I can only use 3 or 4 tags on each book. I’m sure that will change in time. (I’m looking at you, Amazon.)
But where would you shelve it in a book store? To traditional publishers, that’s still exceedingly important: Where would I shelve it that it will sell best?
So I think the question S&S’s exec actually answered wasn’t the one asked. Instead, it was this: Why are books featuring black characters published by a separate line?
The answer is: because it’s better for sales.
But the question she was actually asked was: [Why are] “most of Pocket’s authors were white?”
And that’s the important question. So Pocket… First, is it true and second, why is that?
Is it really because all your black authors are writing black main characters? Really?
And if that’s the case, is it affecting your acquisitions? Sorry, person of color, you’ve written a book with a white main character and we don’t know what to do with you, so no deal.
I dunno. I said at the outset this was an opinion piece, but really, the only opinion I have is we need more information before drawing conclusions.
In the interest of full disclosure, my Reaper books, featuring white main character, are published by Pocket Star, Pocket’s “digital-first” line. And I’m white.
So… your thoughts?