THE FATE (sorry), THE STATE OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN FICTION – Rickey Teems II
So what can prevent African-American fiction from falling over the edge of the creative
cliff and plummeting to its death? Well, despite their control and power, it won’t be the major publishing companies. It won’t be the bias laden media. Honestly, it won’t even be the authors! In an industry built for and centering on readers, it will be the readers who have the ability to save AA fiction from extinction, with their not so secret weapon − the power of consumption!
Here are five simple steps for readers to remember in 2013 if they want to prevent one of the biggest crashes since Evil Knievel’s parents took off his training wheels.
1) The power of consumption only works if you actually consume. I know any one of us can fall on hard times at any given second, and if you’re going through that now, may God bless you and by all means share away if reading is one of your outlets of stress relief. BUT everybody ain’t down on their luck. Some people are just, well, I can’t even say cheap; because they will easily go blow a couple hundred on new sneakers or a handbag, but expect an author to give them a free copy of a $0.99 eBook! So in 2013 I’m asking everyone to keep in mind that Ebook readers are free on iPads, tablets, smartphones, computers, etc. and there are numerous titles that range as low as Free to $5. I’m not trying to tell anyone how to spend their money, but eating out one less day during the week could literally add upwards of 25 new titles to your book collection. Remember, no author ever made the NY Times Best Sellers list by giving books away for free.
2) LEAVE A REVIEW! People always complain, why come we don’t see more black authors on the NY Times Best Sellers list? Why come they don’t make more black movies? Well, quite simply, it’s because only a minority of readers take the time to leave reviews and let the world know how great African – American fiction is. As authors we get it. You don’t owe us anything. The fact that you bought our books and read it is more than we can ask for. And we overly appreciate book clubs honoring us with a book of the month selection and discussing it amongst themselves. But if you want to see more AA titles being considered for movies, TV shows, awards, best sellers lists, there have to be reviews to let the world (and powers that be) know we have great material and great supporters who stand by it. You don’t have to leave a doctoral thesis review, it doesn’t have to be time consuming or analytical, you don’t have to compete with more professional or seasoned reviewers. It can be as simple as 5 words,“I really liked this book,” and then rate it on a scale of 1-5. It can literally take less time than sending a tweet or posting a FB message. Reviews matter more than you can imagine. Not only for Hollywood types that may consider adapting it to film, but for people on the other side of the country who may be considering it. Please review and encourage all of your book club members, friends, and family to leave reviews as well.
3) TALK ABOUT IT! Many AA authors may be too embarrassed to admit it, but I’ll let you know the real. We don’t have big promotion machines behind us like our counterparts from other walks of life. Even many of popular authors that are signed to major labels are largely responsible for their own promotion and marketing. But authors don’t want to talk about that because they don’t want to come across as unprofessional or needy. Well, I’m here to break the mold, WE NEED YOU TO TALK ABOUT OUR BOOKS!
You may have never considered it, but can you imagine how frustrating it is for an author to watch FB and Twitter avalanche with comments on shows like, The Real Unmarried Wives of Buckhead, or Basketball Groupies and Baby Mamas, while only a handful of die hard readers and supporters mention the best of AA literature regularly. To each their own, but we are literally glorifying the ratchetness that we don’t want others to judge us by, and neglecting the arts that show we are just as intelligent, creative, and supportive as any other group. Do you know that 60%+ of Hollywood movies are based on novels?
There just never AA novels because no one is talking about them (or reviewing) on a large enough scale to get the attention of producers and directors. So when you see authors posting on FB or Twitter, working hard at book signings, I promise it isn’t to annoy you, it’s because no one else is going to do it for them, and they may just have the next academy award winning movie on their pages, and all it would take is for you and few others to help spread the word. It’s no coincidence that movies like Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Grey were put on the big screen so fast. They had major buzz via sales, reviews, and people discussing them everywhere online. Help spread the word about AA fiction and we can achieve that too.
4) Make Authors accountable. I know we don’t want to come across as hating or unappreciative of the time someone put into writing and publishing a book, but in some cases ,they should have taken a little more time to do it right! As I mentioned before, no author should be exempt from basic grammar and writing rules. We live in an age where there is more information available at our fingertips, than all of history combined across the globe! One word – Google!
If authors are serious about making this a craft ,then they should be just as serious about reading and learning about it, so they can do it the right way. You can’t build unless you have a solid foundation. If someone writes a great book, but it is filled with spelling and grammatical errors, then that should be a 4, not a 5, because 5 is saying the book was perfect, when in fact it needed some fine tuning. I guarantee you that author sees how their book could have been a five star read had they invested a little more in editing, they will do their homework next time. But far too often a mistake heavy book gets 5 stars because it was a great story, and the author never realizes a need to learn the right way to do things.
This may be one of the biggest pitfalls for AA fiction for multiple reasons. 1) It sends the message that it’s okay to half step. 2) Aspiring authors see it and think the bar is much lower than it really is, so they don’t do their necessary research and work. 3) It promotes illiteracy. 4) Other audiences pick up the book after seeing all the 5 star ratings, and aren’t as sympathetic to the poor editorial quality, which means gaining a stigma, which means reduced credibility and opportunities. Remember, there are tactful ways you can speak with authors in private about areas of improvement, without crushing their hope or ambitions. If they are serious about writing, they will appreciate it, and so will an aspiring editor when they get new opportunities!
5) Show up! With the closing of more and more AA bookstores, literary events, book club meetings, and author signings are among the only venues you can now physically support African-American works. Again, not to call anybody out, but if we can camp outside for days for limited edition Jordans, if we can be up at 4am for Black Friday sales, if we can show up and show out for Madea, how much more important should it be to show up and support literacy, which is arguably the cornerstone for individual and community success. These events are diverse, give the opportunity to meet the authors up close and ask questions, and can have kids corners. Speaking of kids, did you know north of 80% of African-American juveniles with arrest records are also illiterate.
Coincidence? Actually the 1st thing on this list is promoting and encouraging reading to kids. And not just throwing books in their lap for punishment, but making it a staple in family life. But I won’t preach on that. Just remember, when you hear people complaining or criticizing the state of the black community, ask them how much they supported or promoted the last literary event in their city.
6) Buy all Rickey Teems II books! Just joking. Not really. LOL. But since I have your attention, I would like to make a request. Try new genres of reading. How are we ever supposed to have an African-American Da Vinci Code or Star Wars if we don’t encourage imagination in writing? Let’s have successful genres of AA mystery, political, sci-fi, etc. You can still have your favorite authors and genres, but doesn’t mean those are the only ones you can read.
So will African-American fiction die? The bad news, trends suggest that it will. The good news, trends are dictated by the people, so the people ultimately control its fate. Are there enough dedicated readers and supporters to not only sustain, but to help AA fiction grow? Are enough parents putting an emphasis on literacy for future generations to keep it thriving? I look outside my window longingly, hoping the answer is, yes. I’m hoping a switch is suddenly flipped and people realize that reality shows and most of the music on the radio is actually decreasing our collective IQ, and we will shed the hypnosis and flock to libraries, book stores, and literary events like they had flat screen TVs on sale!
Yes, I pray for that miraculous day when good books are discussed as much as other meaningful topics like celebrity fashion. If not, Barnes and Nobles may move us from the back by the bathrooms, back the storage closet! Just know, it’s been a great ride AA fiction, and regardless of what happens, I thankeveryone who has kept you alive this long!