Monday, October 01, 2012

The "Autopsy" Series - Coroner's Report

My findings aren't scientific. Hell, they aren't even findings so much as they're a realization from my own experience as an author of a series of Brown books.

I wrote the Del Rio Bay books back in 2006. From 2007 - 2009 the books graced the shelves. I remember being frustrated at how few stores I saw the books in. I'd have writer friends from all over the nation report DRB sightings at their local stores. I was always uplifted when I'd get one. But in my own home state of Maryland, I rarely found the books. And I did my fair share of book fairs, library visits and conferences - so let me be clear - I hit the road and internet promoting these books. So much so, it killed my creative mojo a little. To stump so much for the books and then hear from readers that they couldn't find the damned things

Still, my eye has always been on the health of the industry overall - not just on how well my books sold. It was the reason I co-founded, The Brown Bookshelf.  So what's the verdict?

I find the industry is still not quite clear what to do when it comes to marketing Brown books. On one hand, they want to fill the void. On the other, the racial aspect frightens people into analysis paralysis. The marketing of the books are either over thought or over simplified.

Back in 2007 Dafina, Kimani-Tru, Jump at the Sun, Amistad and Lee and Low were at the forefront of putting these books on the shelves. Where are they now?

Dafina was Kensington's African American imprint. At the time there was no effort to keep the YA line separate and there should have been. They've figured that out now so, K-Teen was born. The line features a wide variety of books, which  means the focus on Brown books has taken a backseat. Good strategy for Kensington...jury's still out on if it's a good move for their Brown books.

Kimani-Tru had the most promise in the arena. They were putting out a good number of very diverse books each year and the Kimani-Tru label on the spine signaled it was a YA book (great branding technique). So I'm sad to see that it seems to have been absorbed into Kimani-Press (primarily adult fiction by and for African Americans). From a marketing perspective, that's a step backward. I believe they're still producing YA but nowhere near 2007 levels.

Jump at the Sun published more "traditional" books featuring Brown characters i.e. historical fiction and stories revolved around urban protags. I always hoped they'd go outside of that specialty and embrace more diverse contemporary stories and some popular fiction. They didn't and from what I can tell, they're no longer around.

Amistad remains in the game and continues to produce high-end literary books. A plus, of course. But leaves little room for any Brown book outside of the literary niche.

Lee and Low produces a wide variety of children's book, targeting Brown readers. It's Tu Books imprint focuses specifically on sci-fi, mystery and fantasy books featuring diverse characters. It fills a much-needed void, for sure. They remain a key character in the Brown books game. The key being they've stuck to the original strategy - producing Brown books but marketing beyond that readership.

I think Brown books are spread far and wide across the industry. So they're still out there. That means the effort itself is far from dead.  However, there remains an underlying struggle to get these books noticed. But I stand by the solutions I've proposed throughout the series.They're a more simple fix than you'd expect.

  • Let the YA authors write YA
  • A book is a book is a book. No matter the race or ethnic background of a character, 99.9% of books are about the journey of the character. The marketing needs to revolve around that journey, period.
  •  Use the formula: First, it's a book. Second, it's a YA book. Third, it falls into some sort of genre. Last, it's a book featuring a brown character.


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