Friday, July 24, 2009

I may never get rich, but...

The odds of me getting rich off my writing are, hmm...about the same as me hitting the lottery. No wait. A little better than those odds because I actually do write books. I don't play the lottery. You get the picture.

Few authors write to get rich. And I'm no different. I'm right with the fact that I'm not gonna make J.K. Rowling paper. But I'm not okay with the ongoing falsity that is this belief 1) Black teens don't read and 2) only a teen of color would read a book about a protagonist of color.

I'm so not okay with it that it's been hard for me to keep my mouth shut about it. And since my middle name is diplomacy, allow me to diplomatically rant against the notion altogether!

Yesterday, Justine Larbalestier spoke out about the cover for her latest novel, Liar. The book's protag is a Black teenager who wears her hair short and natural. The U.S. cover of LIAR features a white teenager with long, brunette hair. Yes, it's a very WTF-moment.

Justine articulated her feelings about the cover, well. The cover isn't what this rant is about.

It's about the larger issue at hand, the belief that a cover with a brown face dooms a book to no-sales land.

Pardon me if I'm totally offended by that notion since I have three books with brown faces on them. Or do my books get a pass because one of those covers happens to also have a white face on them. *rolls eyes*

Here are a few facts (as I see them!):

* YA books by white authors sell better, whether they're about a person of color or not. This isn't because these books are better written, it's because they're marketed to the "mainstream" audience and in relative comparison to - ugh, I'll have to say it "black" books get more marketing push, period.

* YA books by authors of color don't sell as many because they're often niche marketed. LIAR may be causing a stir, but it's also the front cover of the publisher's catalog. Add that and the stir into the pot and tell me what bookstore isn't going to carry it? Any "black" YA book not by Walter Dean Myers or Sharon Flake would love that treatment. Talk good or bad about us, but dammit just talk about us!

One thing that Justine said that nailed all of this home: "Perhaps the whole “black books don’t sell” thing is a self-fulfilling prophecy?" It's starting to feel like it is.

L. Divine's Drama High series are some of the most popular "black" teen lit books out there. The success of her books is not an anamoly. But if enough people say it is, then it will be.

My books aren't pushing Drama High numbers. But then again, half the time readers can't find my books in the store. I know, because I get more emails from people saying "I can't find your book" than I do "I love your book." And I get lots of "I love your books" emails, thank you, very much.

I always direct those email senders to request the book. But let's face it - as a buyer you've already done the one thing advertisers hope you'll do: get to the store and buy it. Having to request it is a real downer. I love reading as much as the next guy, but just how much work do I, the reader, have to do?

Point is, my series has readers. Coe Booth's Kendra has readers. Sherri L. Smith's Fly Girl has readers. Tanita Davis's A La Carte has readers. Varian Johnson's My Life As a Rhombus has readers. Derrick Barnes' The Making of Dr. Truelove has readers. Deborah Gregory's Catwalk has readers. Dana Davidson's Played has readers. And every book on the Brown Bookshelf Teen Lit page has readers.

And I bet some of them are even white readers. *mock awe and surprise*

When I hear the statement "black books don't sell," I know it's false. Usually, when I hear something I know is false, I'm able to discount the statement as silly, ignorant or just plain, wrong. But, this time, we discount these false cries at our own risk. Because as I said, saying it may make it so.

If publishers believe brown books don't sell they'll decrease acquisition of them. Already, these books don't get the marketing push of their mainstream counterparts. Already brown books are piegon-holed and relegated to our cultural lanes. You would have thought the success of Troy CLE's novel, Marvelous World , would have increased the number of fantasy books with brown characters...but not so far.

If the notion that brown books don't sell continues we'll find ourselves back at square one - portrayals of brown characters as the historical fiction and street lit hero.

No. No. And no. We must continue to push toward having depictions of brown characters broadened.

Apparently sales aren't enough, at least if those sales aren't within a certain range. As long as there is a sales goal, publishers can use the generic "they won't sell" statement.

Readers, refuse to be ignored. Write to the publisher of the books I've mentioned or any other brown book you've read and enjoyed and let them know:

I'm a reader. I loved this book. Don't leave me out of the count!

Readers of my series, send your letters here:

Kensington Publishing Corp.
c/o Paula Chase's Books
119 West 40th Street
New York, New York

Be heard. Be counted. Let the industry know, if brown books don't sell it's a total surprise to you!

Friday, July 03, 2009

The 1:30 Factor

Like most everyone else in the world I'm a Michael Jackson fan. Not one of those conflicted ones who angst over how I should feel about the plastic surgeries and the allegations. I'm a fan, period. Of his music, of his ability to entertain, of what he's done to the musical landscape over the last forty years. And the greatest compliment I can pay to Michael is to say, he sure could tear up the last minute and thirty seconds of a song.

When someone takes that last minute and thirty seconds of the track and gets so lost in the song, he or she takes you with him, that - to me, is the mark of a great artist.

Back in the day, when songs were longer than today's three minute average, artists truly worked audiences into a frenzy. That last minute and a half was the climax, the time to turn it on thick - get some panties thrown on the stage or lure the crazies on stage, make security work for their paychecks. It was that minute thirty zone when the spirit hit the artist and they started going off.

I think a lot, if not all, of the Motown artists from the 60's had the ability to rip it the last minute thirty. But since then only some artists still manage to do so consistently.

Stevie Wonder is one of them. He sings the hell out of the last minute and thirty of his songs. It's when he starts getting "happy" jumps out of his seat, shouts the words like the audience has suddenly gone deaf, gets that head shaking, his fingers stabbing at the piano like the keys are burning his finger tips. It's where his songs cross the line from meaningful lyric to spirited jibber jabber. My favorite part!

Michael Jackson was the same way. The last minute and thirty of many of his songs was when he'd start that crazy talk "you can't, you got, you have." Not one complete sentence because he's just in the groove and the emotion is more tangible than the lyric!

Minute thirty is when the heart of the song begins beating. If it's a dance song, it's when the artists forgets he's performing. Instead he's living the dance. If it's a ballad, it's when the tears spring, the begging becomes real.

It's the emotional core of the song.

I wish more artists, today, understood the art of the last minute and thirty seconds of their music. Too many keep the same tone and cadence from start to finish. It's too practiced. What changed in the music industry that artist stopped getting off on their music in the studio? Does it really take a stage and audience for their own music to touch their souls?

If so, that damn sure explains some of the industry's issues.

I'm a music fan. So if a song makes me move or sing or touches something in me, I like it. Still, there's only one contemporary artist that has the 1:30 factor: Ne-Yo.

Forget that he writes his own music (something he shares in common with Wonder and Jackson), young brother rips through the last minute and thirty like an old school soul singer. Sometimes, when I listen to "Do You" I rewind the last minute and thirty over and over, lost in his groove.

See if you do the same...

"Dirty Diana" Video

"Do You" Video