My doves, as you see everything is happening – as usual – bass ackwards. Although considering the state of ALBTALBS, this is entirely normal? Anyway I had this grandiose idea of celebrating the Smithsonian Heritage Months at A Little Bit Tart, A Little Bit Sweet in 2014. But I didn’t want to really publicize it until it happened. Because it was my idea and I’m sick of people appropriating my shit. Anyway.
I believe I’ll be filling in posts and there will be all sorts of grandiose introductions, but not today. Because you know what? K. M. Jackson is awesome enough on her own, and needs no introduction. 😉 So let’s welcome her as she helps us celebrate Black History Month!
Also, I don’t have a closing, because this is a fabulous post and I think Ms. Jackson asks all the important questions, so let’s not end it with my inane chatter. I do really hope you’ll share your thoughts!
People are people
Though I’m still a newly published author, having my first book, Through the Lens published in 2012, I’ve been at this writing game for more years now than I care to acknowledge. Those dreams of making anyone’s “Talented 20’s or Thrilling 30 something’s” lists are now long gone and I’m more than happy to make it to anyone’s TBR pile. When I left fashion and settled into establishing writing as my career it was with the naïve notion of being some sort of everywoman’s writer. One that wasn’t pigeon-holed into the category of African-American Writer alone. Sure I am a writer and yes, I’m African-American and proud of it. The problem is and was that I could not get my head around the concept of my work being defined by my race.
How could that be when I was writing romance that just so happened to have African-American characters (and not exclusively mind you)? As I looked to my overflowing shelves of long loved fiction none of the books I had there were defined by the color of the writer. Why was it only the books by black writers that were separated and labeled as other? There is no tag for Caucasian Romance and of course there should not be. So I just wrote. I wrote my stories as they came to me and my characters as they spoke to me letting them tell the truth of the situation they were in. And in the naiveté of my creative haze I fancied myself as some sort of Helen Fielding/Jennifer Weiner/Terry McMillan/Jackie Collins hybrid. Spinning tales that would make people laugh, and cry and hopefully see a little bit of themselves in. What did I know?
My first rude awaking came with obtaining an agent early in my career who took on a book of mine, which I came to learn would be categorized as an interracial romance about a paralegal who falls in love with the head partner’s son. I remember going to my first face to face meeting with my new agent, so thrilled to be stepping into this new chapter in my life, poised pen in hand ready to take notes on my work, only to have my heart plummet when he said he thought my writing was great, but he knew he’d have a hard time selling it since my characters weren’t black enough and couldn’t I make them “blacker”. *Cue record skip and rapid eye blink here*
Make them blacker? My characters were all from New York all they did was wear black. Oh but no. That was not what he wanted. He wanted something that could easily jump out when the first page was read. Something that said this character is black and make no mistake the author of this book is black too so there you have it–a double whammy. So what? Would sprinkling in Ebonics make this guy happy? Let him know right where to pitch it and if it gets a deal let the publisher know right where to shelve it. I left feeling so disheartened and wondering if I’d ever get published writing the way I write, just listening to the complex characters in my head no matter their ethnicity.
Well, I got rid of that agent and I kept writing. My way. And in a good old slap in the face to my hard headedness I kept getting lots of close but no cigar rejections. Now I’m not so big in this hard head to think those rejections were not all warranted. Sure in my ten plus years of getting rejections I’ve had a lot of work to do to get my writing up to publishable standards and still have tons to improve on. But since then I’ve published a trilogy with Crimson Romance, with my last book in my creative hearts series, Threads of Desire, just out this month, plus I’ve become a newly self-published author with my book Bounce.
Looking back at those close but no cigar rejections of the past I’ve had to wonder; the “not the right fit at this time”, “love your voice but this one just did not speak to me” and then the best, “but please do send me your next work”. What was behind all of this? Was it just the work (ok some of that old stuff was a hot mess, so probably, yes) or was something else also at play? Again, maybe there just wasn’t a place on the shelf for my stories…
The silver living in this for authors of color like me is self-publishing. Many are doing very well. Unfortunately we are still not noticed by main stream publishing but we are noticed by our readers who search the list and the categories, looking for a book that is a story about people and relationships, but one that speaks to the truly multi-cultural world we live in today. Do I hope mainstream publishing will stop looking at my work by where it can be placed on the shelf—yes. But in the meantime I’m going to continue to write and push to reach my readers.
This brings me nearly to the end of my rambling and raises a series of questions for the group: Is there something wrong with the system of segregation that still exists in publishing? And does this system further take the end rewards for the author and the reader out of balance?
Oh and a sidebar question: (as I love them): Why for so many is it still a concerted effort to read books by authors of color when for many years it has not been an effort for readers of color to embrace books by writers of all races? (Personally, I think this goes back to the question of mainstream availability).
And finally, will we ever get to the point in publishing where fiction writers are judged by their books first and not by the color of their authors? Luckily, though older, I’m still at heart that wide-eyed, hopeful, closet optimist who fell for novel writing hard, and I do think we will get to the point where all these questions will be moot. We’re in 2014 and love is love as people are people and good stories are just that, good stories.
Great. I really like the questions at the end. I think you come off well and it brings up some excellent points with the publishing industry. It makes you wonder how publishers are still getting away with this. And also, now that it’s harder to ‘shelve’ things on the internet in ways the publishing houses may have thought appropriate, will these boundaries in fiction finally disappear? Or will publishing houses, Amazon, etc… find a way to reinstate them?
K.M. Jackson’s Bio: A native New Yorker, K.M. Jackson spent ten years designing for various fashion houses before pursuing her dream of being a writer. She currently lives in a suburb of New York with her husband, twins, and a precocious terrier named Jack that keeps her on her toes.