Beyond FEEBLE: Book Publishing’s Pigeon-Hole Mentality
As a debut novelist in 2008, Carleen heard from many readers who enjoyed the fact that while she and her characters were black, her story Orange Mint and Honey transcended race. The relationships, the impact of alcohol abuse, the personal histories and their interweavings as well as the struggles to put the past to rest and achieve new levels of mutual and self-understanding and forgiveness…all this occurred outside racial constraints and resonated with a wide variety of readers. Despite such feedback—and the selection of Orange Mint and Honey as a Target Breakout Book—in bookstores Carleen and her novel were relegated to the black books section. Terrific for readers who seek out writers of color, not so terrific for those seeking new books by a variety of writers. And definitely not so great for an author trying to make an industry-wide name for herself.
In response, Carleen produced a terrific tongue-in-cheek video welcoming white readers to the black books section; established National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month; and launched her second blog, White Readers Meet Black Authors. Still, her newest novel, Children of the Waters (which features characters of white and mixed-race backgrounds) has been relegated to the black books section. That’s just not right.
A writer of vampire fiction, Mario Acevedo also happens to be a Latino writer. Despite his books’ determinedly un-Hispanic titles (including The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, a local favorite), some were originally published by a Latino publisher and—you guessed it—filed in the Latino section. Due to his determination to write accessible, fun, and now widely popular works of vampire fiction, his books were ultimately reclassified as urban fantasy and are now enjoyed by a much wider audience. (Check out his great “lego” trailer for just a glimpse of Mario’s unique creative vision!)
Not that there’s anything wrong with attracting Latino or black readers, of course. Bill Henderson noted he had no qualms about attracting gay readers when his first novel was published by a publisher of gay books because it featured a character who happened to be homosexual. Unfortunately, though, that meant Bill’s subsequent works would be considered potential material for the gay books section despite the fact he did not continue to write gay fiction. His next two books (read Augusta Locke and be amazed) instead established him as a writer of stunning character studies and landscapes that happened to be set in the West. How to categorize him now? Who knows. The point is, should that matter?
When I attended this salon I was in the middle of researching e-books for this piece on The Know Something Project site. And I couldn’t help but hope (and mention to Carleen at the end of the evening) that e-publishing will ultimately result in the demise of limited categorizations of published works. Search on-line for books by author and you’ll find all his or her titles; search by subject matter and you’ll find a slew of selections; search by a general keyword and you’ll find even more. Who cares at that point in what section of a bricks-and-mortar bookstore a particular work is filed—or if that book is even carried by a certain store? If you want to buy a print copy, you’ve already done your research and know what to ask for (or order for later pickup or delivery) when you walk in a store or go on a store’s site. If you prefer the immediacy of ordering an electronic copy, click away. Either way, you’re no longer relegated to an inefficient organizational system determined by the publishing industry’s antiquated marketing strategies—and neither are your favorite authors.