Adam Ash

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Friday, January 14, 2005

The Revolution in African-American Publishing

Went to a panel discussion on African-American publishing last night organized by the Women's National Book Association.

Publishing vet Earl Cox said there was a revolution in African-American publishing, from which everyone could learn. Self-publishing is a big thing in this market, where many of the new urban novelists start by selling their books on the streets. They can move 40,000 books a year. And they get to keep all the money.

Agent Manie Barron remarked: "They keep their car on the street, and their books in their garage. They have to recoup not only their money, but also their space." He counted fifteen book vendors on a three-block stretch on 125th Street in Harlem. He once saw a group of women and children gathered around a book-seller in the middle of nowhere, who said he was an ex-convict who had written a book about prison life; he was selling his book to these women who were going to visit inmates. Talk about targeting your market.

Novelist Leslie Banks ( started in the romance genre. On a suggestion from her agent, she began a vampire series that's now translated into Russian. She said she divides herself 50/50 between marketer and writer; sometimes 80/20. The writer has to take charge of marketing.

It was all very inspiring. In the end, Karen Thomas, the founding editor of Dafina Books at Kensington Publishing, reminded us that "it all starts with a good book." Her example: The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to his White Mother by James McBride.


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