Street Lit: Is That All Black Authors Can Write? My response to Nortina Mariella’s Essay.

street lit

I stumbled across Nortina Mariella’s essay a few days ago. After having read it three times I have every reason to believe that the author doesn’t understand how the publishing industry works. She has the impression that the so-called THUG/HOOD/STREET LIT are the only books that contemporary African-American authors are writing. The truth is that the reason why she saw these books on bookshelves in the African American section was that the companies that publish those books pay stores to place them in those sections.

While I was on my way to publishing my first novel, I had a chance to converse with Jerry Simmons, the former VP of Time-Warner Books. He explained to me that a publisher’s client is a bookstore and not the consumer. When you walk into a Barnes and Noble or any other bookstore and you see a book pyramid or your favorite book in a particular spot, it’s because the publisher paid the bookstore for those areas.

One must think of shelf and floor space like real estate. The more visible the location, the more expensive it’ll cost the publisher. The author of this article falsely accused African-American authors of only writing this kind of literature. A reason why she may not have seen other kinds of books written by AA authors in the AA section was that their publishers may not expect to make any profits in those neighborhoods. By the same token, it just further demonstrates how publishers have a lot of control over what consumers can access.

Rather than accuse Black authors of not writing the books that she wants to read, she could have easily gone online and researched the ones she wanted. She then had the option of either ordering it online, or going to a real bookstore, or placing a special order.

If she were shopping for books up here in Montreal, most of these Street Lit titles she wrote about wouldn’t necessarily be the only books found in the AA section. Almost six years ago when I discovered Eric, I searched for his books in the front among the Bestsellers. I was told that I could find his books in the AA section–in the BACK of the store. Riddle me this. Why is it that a Black NYT bestselling author is placed in a less visible location at the BACK of the bookstore rather than at the front among other White NYT bestselling authors? And this was 2008 Montreal, Quebec, not 1950 Selma, Alabama–if you catch my drift. And here’s the best part, an acquaintance of mine attended Eric’s book signing when he came to town. According to her, the audience was predominantly White. You’ll never see Alex Cross in the AA section, even though the series has a strong AA platform.

I didn’t feel comfortable with that book placement so I didn’t give the store my money–but keep in mind that I didn’t know how the publishing industry worked until later. I went to my public library where there are only two sections–A Children’s and an Adult section–with subdivisions for French and English books. I found all of Eric’s books under D in the adult section, where they are up to this day, just a few rows away from mine.

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