Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Purposely Said

Book Readers

At a young age I struggled to learn my value within a world that devalued me simply because of the color of my skin. Temporary limitations placed on what was considered my ‘deficiency’ created a determination within that was dangerous for people of color. I determined that I would not spend my money on substandard products; nor would I unnecessarily seed into entities that did not meet my needs.

So what does this have to do with book readers? More than you might imagine.

Burger King’s™ slogan and practice of allowing the patron to, ‘Have It Your Way’ did much to pull customers through its doors. Rather than embracing the, ‘This is what we have, take it or leave it’ mentality, they understood the power of choice. By giving their customers the option of choice it conveyed that they valued and appreciated their needs. It also showed that they understood what it took to remain competitive and have satisfied, returning customers.

Unlike the fast-food industry, publishers have yet to show that same type of consideration for its readers.

In the face of this nation’s economic woes, the struggles of the publishing industry cannot totally be blamed on Wall Street. The majority of book income comes from the pockets of J. Q. Public. Yet, for all the proclamations voiced by readers, their requests have been ignored on many fronts. It is this type of disregard for the consumer that is a major contributor to the lack of admiration and financial demise of a once-thriving and esteemed profession.

The results of such callous disregard (and economics), has turned the once-compliant buyer into a less compromising and budget-conscience shopper. When it comes to the African-American book reader the view of publishing houses and bookstore practices becomes much dimmer.

In order to give voice to the African-American reader (albeit only within my tiny sphere of influence) I decided to conduct a survey. Of fifty readers surveyed, the following are the most consistent responses to my queries.

As the reader, what is it YOU look for in terms of:

What is being pushed by publishing houses

Most are disappointed that the more marketed African-American books are usually drama-filled

Best-selling status is not a priority when considering a purchase

Read company promotions, but do not base their purchases upon recommended items

Purchase more books according to word-of-mouth

Variety of books that speak to your culture/heritage

Disappointed in lack of variety in the majority of storylines

Would prefer books with history focusing on something other than slavery

Would enjoy books that speak to maturing readers, i.e., forty to fifty year olds.

Prefer more multi-cultural books

Would prefer more variety in African-American authors to choose from

Availability of your preferred books in stores

Minimal in-store availability to current books written by African-American authors

Placement of books of African-American authors

1. Most being in obscure corners of the bookstore
2. Books rarely available before or after a book signing.
3. African-American Christian fiction rarely in ‘Christian’ bookstores own/operated by persons of non-color
4. Lack of availability of lesser-known authors on shelves
5. African-American Christian fiction books virtually unseen on shelves of stores owned by those of non-color

*The number one complaint among those polled is the necessity of having to order current African-American titles because they are rarely available in the store.

Availability of your preferred book online

Can usually find preferred book online

Like the option of online discounts

Availability of your preferred books in libraries

Can usually find on shelves

Some libraries are a bit behind, but are usually willing to order

What is your preferred method of purchasing books
· Online
· Directly from the author
· Discount stores

Your personal view as it pertains to this subject as a whole

Would prefer a broader variety of books in stores

Not so much pushing of drama-packed African-American books in bookstores

More multi-cultural offerings

More book series

More Internet promotions with offers of book(s) for sale directly from the author during blog/online tours

More opportunity to purchase from author’s site

Titles placed in general fiction and African-American section of bookstores

Much more consideration from bookstores for its customers

It has been said that knowledge is power. I will add to that, this—your dollars are power. The following is an excerpt from the article ‘Are Mainstream Ad Agencies Undervaluing the Black Consumer’?

“Today, Sharp notes that the industry’s neglect of the value of the black consumer dollar is an issue of benign neglect. Black spending is enormous, particularly when you study the consumption indices. I’ve worked in agencies for years, and often it is a matter of not being on someone’s radar.” He adds that the situation is complicated by the fact that the majority of African-Americans are concentrated in the South and Southeast, and in urban areas and in certain neighborhoods in the United States. “There are millions of whites whose primary sources of information about African-Americans are what they gain from the media. This means that many whites have little or no firsthand knowledge of, or experience with, black people.”

As a reader and consumer, YOU have the power of choice. You can choose to voice your concerns backed by the giving or withholding of your power—the almighty dollar. There are a variety of avenues to pursue to satisfy your reading palate. The choice is totally yours.

Until next time, remember—Purposely Said words can destroy or create a life. Linda!

Dr. Linda Beed is an educator, speaker, children’s minister and author of Business Unusual. She co-moderators BWChristianLit, maintains its sister online blog and is the founder of the Damascus Road Authors, review editor for KDGospel Media Magazine and contributor to Victorious Voice Magazine.

You can find her on the web at:

lindabeed.com / MySpace / On Assignment Reviews / BWChristianLit


Ty said...

Purposely said indeed, Linda.

I have never understood why all AA books have to have "drama. Conflict does not always equal over the top drama.

Also, there are so many more life experiences that can be poured into a storyline. While there are no original ideas, I do crave more multicultural books that are freshly spun and stretch the imagination.

I look forward to seeing what others have to say. I also hope publishers, readers and writers get the opportunity to read and study your survey results. Great article! I will spread the word.

Maurice Gray said...

Well said Linda! African-American readers are NOT one size fits all, and we need to see that in our reading material. Case in point- there is a new bookstore in Delaware. I went to their web site to check out an event they're having soon, and the first thing I saw was the cover image for Memoirs of A B- - - -. When I check out a bookstore's shelves or a web site, the last thing I want to see is a scantily clad sister lying invitingly on a bed with the B word in huge letters right near her. Granted they don't have many books yet and there is the cover image for a local Christian author I know, but the B-word book image is larger and more prominent. Clearly the store owner knows what he thinks will sell.

We have a lot of work to do, and I pray that publishers and bookstore owners alike read your article and take it to heart.

Valerie said...

As usual Ms Linda you've given us much food for thought and to digest. Thanks for reminding us that as readers and consumers we do have a voice and its ok to use it!

Blessings to you always Sis!

Rhonda McKnight said...

Thanks for sharing the results of your survey, Linda. I have to admit, I love books that are heavy on the conflict and micro-tension. I'm not sure what people mean when they say "drama". I suppose it could be what I call conflict. If it is then I'm one of the junkies who's adding to the sales on the bestseller list. But this can be said for the types of television shows I watch as well. It's just the way I want my entertainment. I'd be interested to know what the drama-filled books are. I largely read AA Christian Fiction and mainstream suspense and mysteries written by whomever - white, black, Latino authors. Well written stories in either of these genres tend to have enough juice to keep me turning the pages.

Sharon Shaye Gray said...

You have such a wealth of knowledge. Thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

Ty, I believe that there are many who share your opinion. Beyond that I know that there are authors out there wishing to publish such stories, but are prevented from doing so for a variety of reasons.

Thanks for dropping by.


Anonymous said...

Hi Maurice I feel you with both hands on this one.

When it comes to advertising to the AA sector, the mindset seems to be that we naturally gravitate to decadence. To a larger degree than I like to admit, we have helped to perpetuate the myth by using these types of venues as a way of 'paying our dues'.


Anonymous said...

Yes Ms. Val we do have choices. It may be a struggle for us initially, but I believe in the long run it will be well worth the effort.

Thanks for stopping by lady.


Anonymous said...

Rhonda everyone is entitled to their own choices. Unfortunately the publishing industry has traditionally minimized the option of choice when it comes to stories from AA authors.

In terms of the definition of drama, I believe it will vary from person to person. For the sake of this conversation, drama is defined as content that tends to dwell more on the ‘juice’ than a feasible storyline, and/or ‘juice’ inappropriately used for the genre in which the book is promoted.

As always I appreciate your comments and support.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by Shaye. Always good to hear from you.


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