Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Writers Who Look Like Me

I usually don't write posts about being an African American fantasy writer. When people choose a book, most don't care about the author's race. Most don't notice the character's skin color. That's how it should be. I don't register a person's skin color unless it's pointed out to me. I also don't bring up my race because I don't want to be pigeonholed as an African American writer.

However, every now and then, I have these moments where I remember there aren't many mainstream fantasy authors who look like me. It's disheartening. What's even worse, those who get that devoted fan base across all races are rarely black. Actually, I can only think of one who's still releasing books, N.K Jemisin.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post, A Little Push, with a collection of inspirational quotes from authors. As I was collecting my quotes, I realized the only African American writer I had was Maya Angelou. Just for fun, I wanted to include a quote from another black author-preferably one who was currently writing.

It was unnecessarily hard.

I scrolled through Goodreads looking at the quotes on writing. I came across Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, but I wanted more recent authors. I got to about the 10th page of the results before I gave up. I turned to Google. That didn't help. I'm a trained researcher. It's a bit disconcerting when I can't find information. In the end, I got tired of looking. I hadn't planned on spending that much time on something so simple.

It was a bit surprising and depressing that I couldn't find any inspirational writing quotes by black authors who were currently getting published.

It got me thinking about BEA. I had an amazing time there. I met some of my favorite authors. Thinking back, I didn't come across any, any, black fantasy authors. My mom, who runs my publisher Aubey LLC, found BEA depressing. She questioned whether we should continue exhibiting there. As far as I can tell, there weren't any black owned publishers and only a handful of black authors.
Stuff like this sometimes makes me feel like I'm in the wrong industry. It makes me feel like an outsider. There must be a reason I don't come across more mainstream African American fantasy authors. I don't want to Google African American fantasy authors. I don't want to have to purposefully search out authors like myself. Why can't I come across them by browsing the fantasy section at a bookstore or through Goodreads and Amazon? Why aren't we more mainstream? As far as I can tell, there are no African American dark fantasy authors. Talk about feeling lonely.

I try not to think about stuff like this. It leave me feeling like my books won't be even mildly successful because I have the wrong skin color. Think about it, how many black speculative fiction authors have reached name recognition status? How many do you come across while casually browsing? When you read articles or sit on a panel about fantasy genre, who's on the panel, what authors do the articles usually mention?

I own a ton of fantasy print and ebooks. None of which are written by black people. Like I said before, I'm not going out of my way to find fantasy books by authors like me. I shouldn't have to. I don't have time for that. I don't like books categorized by race so I'm not visiting the African American Lit section at the bookstore and I'm not searching for "Black Fiction" on Amazon. I'm not looking for Afrocentric books. I just want to know it's possible for someone like me to sell books.
I don't believe publishers are ignoring black fantasy author nor do I believe that there aren't many African Americans writing fantasy. So what's the problem? I've been trying to understand this for years.

So as always, I went to Google.
Why aren't there black teen fiction books? 
If Tolkien were black

Didn't find a lot of information. From what I understand, there's a problem with categorization. Books written by African Americans are under Black Fiction or African American Literature. Doesn't matter if it's fantasy or horror. This greatly limits the amount of eyeballs that book receives. This impacts sales, which probably leads most authors to stop writing or to release books less often.

Funny enough, this is encouraging. Since I can mostly control my books' metadata, I can make sure my race isn't a factor. This is one of the advantages of not being in a bookstore.
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