No matter what you dream to become when you grow up, we all have an end goal. We do what we do with the hope and intent that one day, our hard work will pay off and we’ll receive the best and highest accolades possible. Ask most singers what they want, and it’s most likely a Grammy. Aside from being a Hollywood A-lister, movie actors/actresses are aiming for the ultimate prize- the Oscar. And for authors, the majority of our goal is to see our name in lights (well, in print) on the NYT Bestseller’s list. If you’ve been lucky enough to land yourself a book deal with a traditional publisher, you just might get there one day. But for indie authors, this is a dream that few of us manage to see come true, and this is especially true for African-American authors.
I recently saw a post on Facebook that stated that ‘although there are many talented AA authors who deserve to be on the NYT Bestsellers list, very few of us are actually there.’ The person who posted this wanted insight as to why we thought this is. My immediate thought was this- most indie authors do not have traditional publishing deals, which is why we’re self-publishers in the first place. Most traditional publishing houses won’t even glance at your book query if you don’t have a literary agent and those- like everything else needed to make it to the top- costs quite a few coins that many of us don’t have. Most indie authors don’t have the luxury of quitting our nine-to-five jobs and staying home to write full time. IDK about you, but if I tried this, my kids and I would be sleeping in my car. I have to work and write when I can. I’m a struggling, single mom, which means I can’t afford an agent, which means my book won’t make it into the hands of the powers that be who can secure me a spot on the NYT list any time soon.
Secondly, to make it onto the NYT Bestsellers list, you have to have a certain number of book sales, nationally. While Amazon and Createspace has made it a blessing (and an even bigger curse) to publish our books through them for very little money, exclusively selling your books on Amazon will not garner you enough sales to make it onto this list- not unless you somehow manage to get the attention of millions of people around the world. We need to sell books in book stores, retail stores, as well as online, but without a traditional book deal, we’re limited as to where our books are available for purchase, which is the main factor working against us. Selling 500 books in a week on Amazon is great; but you need to sell ten times that amount of books in a weeks time to make the NYT list.
Another deciding factor is that the big time publishers who aren’t African-American, seem to think that only a certain genre of books are worthy of being on the NYT list. And unfortunately, many indie Urban authors/books don’t make the cut. Sure, you have Urban authors who are NYT Bestsellers, but they have traditional book publishing deals, which mean their books are available on many more platforms around the world than just Amazon. When it comes to who execs think deserves to be on this list, it’s no different than how it is during Oscar Award season. Every year, African-American actors/actresses are snubbed at these awards, no matter how great their movie and acting was. I once read that the panel of people who judge and make the decision as to who wins are mainly old, white males. There’s very little diversity when it comes to the list of movies in the running to win an Oscar. Who can forget the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag that trended on Twitter last year? Just like the Oscar panel of judges- who either feel Black movies aren’t relatable to white audiences or simply aren’t good enough to win this prestigious award- the same happens with literary execs who feel that Black authors- specifically Urban authors- and the books they write aren’t relatable to the public. When I started my literary career, I had no idea how to categorize my books when it came to publishing them. I placed my first few books under the Urban category, simply because I’m an AA author. I know better now, but back then I didn’t. To many execs and readers, the moment they see Urban, they’ve made up their minds that they’re not interested, which really isn’t fair to the author. Just because a book is listed as Urban, doesn’t mean the content of the book is all about what has become synonymous with Urban Fiction these days.The genre of your book can unfortunately be a deciding factor against you.
Another thing to consider- book covers and titles. We can say ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ until we’re blue in the face; but the fact of the matter is- people do it anyway. I, myself, have taken one look at certain covers/titles and thought, “Nope…next.” I know some authors write what we know. We choose certain genres because it’s relatable. Urban authors, for example, write ‘hood romances’ and books containing drugs and gangs either because it fascinates them or because they’ve lived it, their family and friends have lived it, so they know that life and they write it. And contrary to what literary exes think, there is a growing trend and audience for this genre. However, many of the book covers reflect what the content of the book is about- which means there are guns, drugs, thugs, titles with bitches and whores in them- all displayed on the front of the book. To certain people, it’s these things that cause them to immediately decide to keep scrolling right on past your book- simply because of the cover. It’s not likely that you’ll be able to walk into Barnes & Noble, for instance, and find many books with these things on the front of them. We are certainly all entitled to write and read what we want. I’ve heard many Urban authors say they write this genre because ‘it sells.’ But is it selling to the people who have the opportunity and connections to take you from being an Amazon Bestselling author to a NYT Bestselling author? Because there is a huge difference between the two. If it’s not your goal or intent to go any further than the Amazon Top 100 list, then you probably don’t care what people think of your title/cover; but to make it to the top, be mindful of the content that’s on your book covers. Just like people eat with their eyes first, we read with our eyes first….wait, we read with our eyes anyway. It sounded a lot better in my head. Anyway, you get my drift- sometimes those titles and book covers carry more weight than you realize.
** Disclaimer: I’m certainly no expert on what it takes to make it to the NYT Bestsellers list- if I were, I’d be there myself. Maybe one day…but I did think that Facebook post was an interesting topic and this was my two cents on the matter**