Friday, March 26, 2010

on race and book marketing

I don't know Alaya Johnson, but one of my best friends thinks she's great, and Emma has read her forthcoming novel, Moonshine, and thinks it's great. So I tend to notice when she does something like write about her experiences in Guest Post: Alaya Johnson: “What My Dad Said” | Justine Larbalestier. What her dad said was “White people are going to be way less likely to pick up a book with a cover featuring a brown person. That’s just the way the world works.” That's certainly the conventional wisdom; my first two books back in the '80s had brown-skinned lead characters who aren't on the covers.

J. L. Bell has an interesting follow-up in Oz and Ends: Shelving and Marketing in the Dark:
Johnson perceives this as Borders’s choice, but it looks to me like the decision started with her publisher, Agate Publishing. It issued Racing the Dark through Bolden Books, “Agate’s imprint dedicated to publishing both fiction and nonfiction dealing with the African-American experience.” Though it’s unclear whether the “islander” heroine of the book has any connection to “the African-American experience” except as a reflection of one African-American author’s imagination.

Of course, the hardcover was a Bolden book as well. But Agate is now emphasizing Johnson’s ethnic identity more than before.