Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Writing Black, Writing Christian: Sitting on the Bench in Your Own Genre

Am I becoming a Dave Long disciple this month or what?

Anyway...He has an itch over there again. But this time it concerns us[black folk] in particular. And think its about time African American Christian Fiction authors, editors, publishers, agents, chime into the discussion. Afterall I'm not an author, yet. And I don't want to blow my chances before I get started. But if things don't change then maybe I need to become an inhouse marketing contrator (hint, hint):)

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: The Other "Other": "I have no firm statistics, but I don't think it's shocking to anybody to say that our books don't reflect that diversity. This becomes a chicken-egg debate. Our readership is primarily white so that will mean the characters they most often choose to read about and identify with will also be white. Or, our writers are primarily white, so the characters they most often write about are also white, thus appealing to a white audience."
-Dave Long

Since this is my blog I'll throw in three cents on the subject and open up the floor for the rest of you guys...

From watching the NYT's bestseller list this year, three books that sat on the top twenty list for months this year were written by African American Authors about church life. They were ABA books with church settings.

Since I write for a few major black christian magazines and speak with many black Christian book clubs I have found that those three books were on their reading list. Why? They don't know the difference between CBA and ABA. And if you think about how blacks are supported in both markets is there a difference?

Because I have to blunt, it wouldn't be right if I wasn't--Stick a church or a man in a robe on a bookcover and black christians will buy it. Because black Christian books are in demand. Check the Gallup polls or Burna Studies, most Blacks say they live a Christian lifestyle.

Yet, Black Christian books are rarely displayed at Lifeway or Faith. But Carl Weber's the Preacher's Son(non ABA) is in every Walmart, in the top three black mags(Ebony, Jet & Essence,) at beauty shops and barber shops.

Christian publishing houses haven't done a great job marketing Christian fiction written by African American Authors. So Christians thirsting for a good read pick those books and become dismayed. Because they begin to believe that Christian fiction is no better than secular. All the meanwhile, black Christian fiction authors still struggle with getting their books to their market. They can't compete with Carl Weber or Kimberly Roby, because their own publisher doesn't have the wherewithall or care to take them beyond midlist.

Fact: Blacks do read. And they will pay whatever for a good novel. That is why black self-published authors are the best sellers in black bookstores. Regardless of how poorly written and how high the price. Blacks will take anything at this point. (Correction[Thanks Lashaunda]: Blacks will buy christian inspired books that are available to them. If there were better books to choose from, then they would gobble them up.)

Now can I can please get back to my WIP?

Writing to see what the end's gon' be,
don't forget I'm booking for July's thirdthursdays


LaShaunda said...

Hi Dee,

I have to disagree with what you say “Blacks will take anything at this point”

Mainly because as the editor of Shades of Romance Magazine I hear so many complaints about what is being offered. The readers are feeling as if they are being taken for granted. Put out any mess and we’ll buy it because you’re black. NOT

As for Christian Fiction, there aren’t many Black Christian Fiction writers, so we don’t have many to choose from. However I do believe its because the publishers aren’t receiving anything worthy of publication. If you write for this market you need to know the rules. Many don’t, they think what can pass in a secular book can also go in a Christian book.

Reason you don’t see a lot of the new books in the bookstores, because they might not have the CBA approval. You could have one word in your book that knocks you off the list. Many writers don’t know this and if their dealing with a publisher who isn’t CBA approved they might not ever know it.

Its hard to break into this field, but if you do your research you can get in.

As for diversity, I believe we write what we know. Many people only know people of their race. If they interact with other races, its mainly at work. Sometimes they might have a friend or two, but its rare.

I attended a co-workers wedding a few years ago. I was the only Black person there. At my own wedding, it was more diverse because I had friends from work and friends I grew up with. Since my life is diverse I feel comfortable writing diversity into my books.

I’ve been reading since I was four. The color of the author has never been an issue. It has always been about the book. My favorite author who inspired me to write was Laura Ingalls Wilder. A little pioneer girl. Reading her books, made me dream of her life. Did I dream I was a white girl, living as a pioneer. No. I was LaShaunda the pioneer.

We have always had a race issue in this country. I’m sure we’ll always will, but I honestly believe reading is the only thing that’s not about race. Its something we all can share and enjoy. A good book is a good book.

Are you a shoe person?

Dee said...

Thanks, for your comment. And I'm not a shoe person, but a Hello Kitty purse person:)

As for Christian Fiction, there aren’t many Black Christian Fiction writers, so we don’t have many to choose from. However I do believe its because the publishers aren’t receiving anything worthy of publication.

Loaded response...I like.

In the past two years I have begun to meet a nice number of black christian fiction writers. But what I have found as a book buyer and a reviewer is that many of these books don't have shelf space at the CBA stores. I spoke to my bookstore owner friends about it and they say distributors are too high to support them. Or they go to Sams Club and purchase the books. And we know Walmart only carries about ten black novels a store, maybe one or two over that. So where are all the Moody, New Spirit,Steeple Hill, Heartsong, WalkWorthy,Warner...books written by blacks? At the warehouse...

Second. I think what Dave is saying and I hope he like you can correct me on this one is that traditional publishers(Bethany House, WestBow) see their market as white people and less as latino or black or Asian[Camy:)]

Third. I love Laura, too. Did you like the remake the did on ABC?

Cheri Paris Edwards said...

Hi Dee,

I know you are quite busy, but can you post this response for me? I read Dave's spot and yours and wasn't sure where it should go. A little 'wordy' as usual, but what can I say?


;-) Cheri

My first novel, published by Walk Worthy/Warner entitled, Plenty Good Room, is not a ‘literary’ work, or traditional romance; nor is it mystery, or any other sub-section of the African-American Christian Fiction genre. So of course I find it frustrating that books are separated by genres and sub-genres (or whatever they’re called). Also in PGR though many characters are African-American, the issues and interactions they encounter are human ones and whites have read the book and said they’ve enjoyed it. My publisher, Walk Worthy has given me great promotional support through Tricom to publicize the book, but it is a challenge to break into new ground and so we are trying innovative strategies to attract readers regardless of color. I think it is important that we read across genres, since one way we learn about others is through meeting characters while reading about their experiences in books. I believe that because we are Christians writing through and about the Spirit, many times in our reading, we may find that inwardly we are more the same than different. The first books that I loved were Anne of Green Gables stories. Now that I think about it, even as a young person I was attracted to stories about outsiders and those who were orphaned or felt alone and my own writings certainly reflect that. I loved their stories and it didn’t matter to me that these characters were white. Walk Worthy and other publishers are producing quality Christian fiction written by African-Americans. While genres do serve a purpose they may also serve as a barrier that keeps some readers away. I think the truth is that if AA Christian books begin to sell better 'across genres' they will be more visible in white stores. It is my hope that readers will begin to free themselves from these self-imposed restraints since as writers I believe we strive to write books that entertain, touch the hearts, and move the Spirits of all types of ‘human’ folk, not just those who look like us.

Dee said...

well, thanks, Chris.

and you know. I spoke to a christian publisher on the phone for about an hour yesterday. She enlightened me on the market and put things in a better perspective for me, particulary on the part of this silent subgenre-african american christian fiction.

And you know(notice I say this twice:)) You know...i agree with you to an extent. I'm from south georgia and although wally world is the place to be down there most of us go to the local christian bookstore for everything. And here in Atlanta(where I live) when i walk into Faith or Lifeway I see about half of the walkabouts are black. And I see them walk out empty handed like I do. One time I went in Lifeway and they had at the checkout counter these cute prayer activity books for kids with a black girl praying on the cover. I bought one for Selah. A couple of other women that went in there bought others. I called my friends and they wanted them for the children, too. So I went back and bought. some more. And that's my dilemma. Althout my WIP might not fit in CBA anyway, it seems so strange to me that it's not reaching its market like it could.
So, i will leave this issue alone and get back to what I really should be doing-- Praising the Lord through Literature. Thanks, Chris.

Chris Well said...

Hi, Dee -
I was actually going to post a comment, but I do not have an account with blogspot ...

So here are my two cents (such as they are):

Writing Black, Writing Christian: Sitting on the Bench in Your Own Genre

If the sales of black Christian music gives us any indicator (traditional gospel, urban gospel, whatever you choose to call it), somewhere between 90-percent and 100-percent of "black Christian
music" is purchased outside
the CBA retail marketplace. Kirk Franklin, Blind Boys of Alabama, you name it -- they may sell a million and one records, but only one of those records sold in a Family Christian or a Lifeway, and the other million sold in a Wal-Mart or a "mom & pop" independent store or even in a -- gasp! -- SECULAR record store.

(This is also true of many of the so-called "crossover" artists, such as Sixpence None the Richer, Switchfoot or P.O.D. Even though they may take up shelf space at a CBA store, they do not actually sell-through.)
I apologize if this sounds flippant, but I don't know that you WANT to get your product into the CBA stores. Because most of your readers don't ever shop there.

I don't mean that as an ethnic statement, either; the CBA market actually only appeals to a very narrow sliver of the total Christian audience. Studies have long proven that there are more Christians who do NOT shop in a Christian stores than there are who do.

(And the CBA just continues to erode away every year. My publisher told me they do some 60-percent of their business outside the CBA.)

If you get your book into other outlets -- Barnes & Noble, Borders, or even go straight to the churches -- I think your book will find its audience.
Like I said, Dee, my two cents.


- Chris

Angie said...

I know this discussion took place a year ago, but I just found out about it when I did a google search. I read...voraciously. I read white authors, black authors, whoever can write a good book. I, myself, am black, but I grew up reading white authors because there were hardly any black fiction authors back in the seventies and eighties.

Anyway, I have seen black books published with "traditionally white" publishing houses. Back in February 2005, I read an African American christian fiction romance book entitled First Mates by Cecelia Dowdy. It was one of four titles released by Harlquin's Steeple Hill Love Inspired line. I saw it at most bookstores that carried romance novels.

However, during my days of reading Christian fiction, I've noticed that most Christian bookstores fail to carry Harlequin's Christian titles(under the Steeple Hill imprint.)

I was told that they usually don't carry the titles since Harlequin is a secular publisher and they don't want to support that venue.

So, perhaps, if the African American book is published under an imprint/publisher that the bookstore fails to support, then it won't be in the stores.


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