Why Indie Authors likely won’t see our names on the NYT Bestsellers list

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**

 

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Why so much animosity among Urban Authors?

competeWhen I made the decision to self-publish my first book two years ago, I was well aware that I would be one among thousands of other African-American authors, who all write the same genre(s) that I do, and that I would have to put forth a lot of effort to build a fan base and get people to notice me. At the same time, I never came into this to be in competition with anybody. I’ve never been a hater..I can congratulate other authors on their success and still shine at the same time. But it seems that not all African-American authors feel this way.

Since becoming an author, of course I network, follow, and have become associates with other authors on social media, mainly Facebook. But it seems that every day, several times a day, all I see is one author/publisher/editor/promoter or anybody associated with anything literary, hating on the next person…trash-talking each other, as writing and publishing books is a competition rather than a business. At least five times a day, I read subliminal diss posts from countless authors, publishers, or whatever saying how their way of writing /publishing is the best and only way that’s right to publish, edit, or write a novel, and if you aren’t doing it their way or get on their team (publishing company) you won’t be successful as an author and you will fail. The irony in that is that while they are quick to try to call out another author/publisher.editor on what they perceive them to be doing wrong, their own posts and/or books aren’t much better, and are often riddled with mistakes: incorrect grammar, misspelled/misused words, etc. I might catch a lot of heat for this post, but this is my opinion, which I’m entitled to have; and as I’ve always heard: If the shoe fits…

I hear so many AA authors complain all the time that there aren’t enough of ‘US’ on the top Bestsellers Lists (USA Today, New York Times, etc.)…that those accolades typically go to white authors and/or AA authors who have been in the game for many years. While I do think the literary business can be extremely biased towards AA authors, sometimes we don’t see that we’re creating our own problems. Instead of focusing on their own books/writing, too many – and I hate to say it- Urban authors/publishers/editors are spending more time trying to out-do the next person than they spend writing the best books they possibly can…doing all the hard, necessary work that it takes to make it on the New York Times Bestsellers list, for example. I’m willing to bet that the authors (white, black, or whatever) who do grace these bestsellers lists aren’t spending their time on Facebook trash-talking and posting subliminal disses at other authors. Instead, they are focusing on their own work…their own journey and aren’t concerned with what the next author is doing (or not doing) right; not feeling the need to call another author out on how much time they spend (or don’t spend) writing, or complaining about what resources they use to help them along the way, or worrying about who’s graphics designer is the best (when all the book covers look exactly the same anyway) And the reason why I specifically noted Urban authors is because they are the only one’s I see arguing and talking about each other on a daily basis. I read many different genres and follow authors of all races, and I don’t see this happening anywhere but in the Urban Fiction genre. It’s irritating and it’s distracting and just plain stupid.

I am too busy focusing on ME and MY career to be concerned with the next author’s business. Again, I wish everybody much success in their literary journey’s, but I don’t hardly have the time to sit around all day, nitpicking and focusing on everybody else’s mistakes and feeling the need to call them out on it on Facebook, so everybody else can jump on and co-sign (hate) on them..especially if it doesn’t involve me or my bank account. Why concern yourself with the next person’s business? What about the next author, publisher, or whatever’s work makes you so angry if they don’t write, edit, or publish the way you feel they should? Unless you’re invested in them, and your monthly royalties depends on what the next author does, you’re wasting time worrying about the wrong things. The way I see it, there is room at the table for everybody to sit and eat. We can accomplish so much more together than we can apart.And not only is all the bickering and feeling the need to call everybody else out on what you think they’re doing wrong petty and silly, it’s extremely unprofessional. If I were a literary agent interested in your work, potential author wanting to sign with your company, or reader looking for new authors to fall in love with, I would never choose to spend my time or money on authors who spend more time on Facebook arguing and beefing with other authors than they do writing/publishing their own books. Nobody’s journey to the top will be the same as yours, nor should it be. As long as you’re doing what it takes to get there, that should be all you worry about. If it’s not constructive criticism meant to help, rather than criticize (and most of what I see on Facebook isn’t) it’s just mean and unnecessary.  That’s just a little something to think about.

 

Walmart’s African-American Book section really irks me

Even though I’ve owned a Kindle for a while and haven’t bought

blackbooks
This is the entire AA section at my local Walmart. This section is split in half from top to bottom with books by white authors.

very many paperback books since I read on it, I still can’t resist walking over to the book section every time I’m in Wal-mart…which is every other day. A part of me is hoping to one day see one of my own books on the shelf, but maybe one day. In the mean time, I still enjoy perusing the books and titles of my fellow authors. For the last few months though, I’ve noticed something unnerving about the book section in the Wal-mart here in Nashville, Ar- the already small African-American section just keeps getting smaller. A few months ago, I noticed that half the section was filled with country-western type books by white authors. I thought maybe people had bought almost all of the books by Black authors and the employees might have just placed those books there for a while, until more AA books came in. However, I just left from there, and it’s the same way. The AA section has dwindled to three or four rows and the country-western genre books have taken over the remainder of the section.

Now, I’m an indie author, and I have a long way to go before my books are on the book shelves anywhere, but I am an avid reader, and I know there are way too many books written by very talented AA authors that could fill the very small section that we’re allowed in Walmart. Although I’m not surprised , it’s a shame our books are segregated anyway; but what pisses me off is that section isn’t even filled to capacity with “our” books. Out of that entire long wall of books, we’ve been given a fourth of it, and we’re being shut out of our own spot. I don’t know how it is in all Walmart’s, but here in Nashville, they seem to think that Black people don’t read. Either that, or they just don’t care. It’s to the point that I’m really ready to go to management and ask them why “our” section has to be shared with white authors and their books. I actually don’t mind the fact that AA books are sectioned off, because it saves me the time of trying to weed through all the other books while trying to find ours. But dammit, the selection could and should be a whole lot better. Pretty soon, our little square section will be gone, altogether.Walmart, I’m calling you out to do better. Black people read, too. Can we get some books that are for us, by us on those shelves? Please & thank you kindly.