Racism In Publishing? Author Bettye Griffin Has Her Say...
Bettye's latest book, Nothing But Trouble
When did you first get published?
What genre do you write in?
Two: Romance and mainstream women’s fiction.
What race/colour are the majority of your characters?
How is your work marketed?
As African-American fiction or romance. Sometimes, to my great annoyance, as “street lit.”
Where are your books generally shelved?
Unfortunately, many stores put all black books together. Even within romance sections, the books by black authors are often placed separately from the other books.
I have also seen some of my mainstream fiction shelved with romance, which is incorrect. In this case I reshelve my books in the general fiction section.
Where would you prefer your books to be shelved?
Alphabetically by author. If romances are kept separate from general fiction, still alphabetically by author. And I do appreciate special placement on end displays, front tables, etc., when a book is new!
Have you been subjected to direct/indirect racism from editors, publishers etc in your publishing career.
An agent once turned me down, saying my project was too reminiscent of Waiting To Exhale. I asked her if I’d written a legal thriller if she would have turned me down because it was too reminiscent of The Firm, or if that pigeonholing is strictly for black authors. Needless to say, she didn’t respond. I signed with someone else.
How do you feel about Oprah Winfrey’s book club- Do you think she could do more to promote AA authors?
It’s not up to me to criticize someone’s personal taste. I don’t write the kind of gloomy book Oprah seems to like. However, when in the movie The Best Man a characters mentions his first book, a commercial novel, “was chosen by Oprah for her book club,” this struck me as highly implausible . . . even for Hollywood.
Do you believe that publishers are more ambivalent when it comes to marketing AA books?
I don’t believe there’s any ambivalence involved; I think the decision has already been made not to do any marketing unless it’s a Big, Big Name.
Which race groups would you say bought the majority of your books?
I do believe the majority are black, although people with European-sounding names have written to me, and white women and men also have bought my books at signings.
What do you think needs to change in order for more white people to read African American books?
They need to be the minority. The majority usually is at an advantage in multiple facets of life.
Have you ever been snubbed by white readers/white authors during a signing?
No, I can’t say I have.
Have you ever been overlooked by an editor in favour of a white author?
Not to my knowledge.
Have you ever been asked to tone down, or increase the ethnicity within your books?
No. And I hope I never am. It won’t be pretty.
sorry, I had to chuckle at that
Are you familiar with Millennia Black’s lawsuit against Penguin?
If so, what do you think her chances of winning are?
I’m no fortune teller, but I hope she wins.
How do you think her victory will affect the way AA authors are treated within the industry?
To white publishers and editors, there’s writers and there’s black writers. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon, no matter what happens.
What are your thoughts on niche marketing? What do you think the limitations are if any?
I have no problem with being marketed in, say, Essence magazine. I do like it better when I see an ad for a book by Francis Ray and by (insert name of white author who writes for same publisher here) in RT Bookclub magazine. Word of mouth is, of course, priceless.
Have you been personally involved in trying to bring about changes within the publishing industry, with regards to how African American authors are treated? If so can you tell me about your efforts?
No, I haven’t.
Do you think this will still be a controversial subject in five years time, or do you think major changes would have been made by then?
I wouldn’t expect any changes in five years, no.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
If you want to learn more about Bettye, and her books, you can access her website here.
Coming up next, Seressia Glass.