Embracing Publishing Trends (Fyi, Afropolitans—Now is Your Moment)

The publishing industry is a fickle thing.  The lawyer side of me likes to think that the creative world isn’t so market-driven, but it’s not quite so.  Of course the best thing I (or any other writer) can do is write the stories in my heart; however, it would be a mistake to pretend like trends don’t exist in the publishing world.  Vampires can be a trend.  So can black fiction (I’m not saying that’s appropriate, but I think it’s true).

Here’s the problem with publishing trends: a book comes out that is extremely popular (e.g., Twilight or Waiting to Exhale or the DaVinci Code or whatever the first Chick Lit book was).  Publishers get excited and order millions of other books in that genre (quality is secondary).  People buy these novels expecting to pick up another Waiting to Exhale or Something Borrowed but instead they get something that just sucks.  Again and again and again.  Finally, they decide the whole genre sucks.  Or publishers decide the whole genre no longer sells.  When really, the problem was that the publishers chose far too many sh*t*y books to begin with.  Then someone comes along with a story about a vampire, woman looking for love, or a symbologist that’s actually GOOD and they don’t stand a chance.  Or at least, the process is harder than it should be given the quality of their work. A vicious cycle.

So yeah, there are some problems in the way the publishing industry works.  But trends aren’t going away.  I accept that.  In fact, I embrace it.  The key for budding authors like myself may be to become aware of the trends and then try to jump in when we can.  My novel teacher said it’s a good time to write if you’re a minority—yes!  Want to write about China?  Probably a good move.  Personally, I’ve noticed that now seems to be the moment of the Afropolitan.  I’m talking about Africans educated in U.S. or Europe writing about their experiences.  This year alone you have Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo and those are just the few that I’ve come across in mainstream magazines like Glamour and Vogue (what you thought I was reading the NYT? Actually, they’re in there too).  So if you are an Afropolitan—fyi, now is your moment.

I’m not an Afropolitan, but I’m going to go ahead and say it’s my moment too.  Or, better yet—maybe I can START a trend.  My book will be so successful, publishers will buy millions more just like it!  The only problem is, I don’t know what my genre is.  Women’s contemporary fiction? But half of it is male POV.  African American fiction?  But my whole thing is that I’m trying to write for a wide audience.  When I figure it out, you’ll be the first to know!

Have you noticed any other publishing trends?  What do you think?


This Woman is Everywhere: Taiye Selasi

taiye selasiThere is a name I have come across several times in the past couple of weeks.  Taiye Selasi.  She first caught my attention when I caught a glimpse of her on Melissa Harris Perry’s show.  She started talking about how she had to breakup with her ex-boyfriend because the relationship was actually hindering her ability to finish her novel. She had fallen “absolutely in love with absolutely the wrong person.” I was like, Taiye!  You should read my book!  It’s not published yet or even written—but you’re my target audience! The segment ended and I turned back to whatever I was doing.

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/46979745/vp/51114570#51114570  <– MHP interview

A couple of days later, I was looking at my blog stats and discovered someone had landed on illegalwriting by googling “Taiye Selasi NPR.”  I was like, what?  It turns out Ebony had already told me I need to know about this girl, and I had blogged about it (and forgot about it!) Sad, but true.  Finally last weekend, I found myself reading about her in Vogue.  At that point,  I was like—who is this woman, and how did she find such a great publicist?

My friends, Taiye Selasi is a Yale grad and author of the book “Ghana Must Go.”  I’m thinking part of the reason her first novel is getting SO much attention is that she’s buddies with Toni Morrison, who endorsed her writing.  I’m sure I’ll end up purchasing this book at some point, but I honestly have mixed feelings about the endorsement.  On the one hand, it’s Toni Morrison. We can all probably be confident that Taiye is a brilliant writer, and I’m sure the connection helped get her book published in 15 COUNTRIES.  On the other hand, Toni Morrison, it is my belief, writes to be studied.  I think even more so than to be enjoyed.  So it makes me wonder—what kind of book is Taiye’s?  I’d like to know because honestly, I’m trying to relax when I read novels—not work!

It turns out I could have asked Taiye myself last Friday at her book signing here in D.C.  If only I had decided to look into this a few days earlier!! New York peeps, she’s coming your way next week (details here).  If you’ve read “Ghana Must Go” please let me know how it is.  Holllerr.

Ebony Says I Should Know 7 More Young Black Writers

Yesterday I came across an article in Ebony entitled, “7 Young Black Writers You Should Know” written by a multimedia storyteller named Patrice Peck.  I hadn’t heard of any of them (which actually doesn’t mean much), but I thank you, Ebony, for introducing me to them now.  Now, if I run into one of them on the street (hey, it’s a small young black writer world), this article will make me better prepared to strike up an intellectually stimulating conversation…and pub my blog. No lawyers made the list, but that’s for next year, obvi. 🙂  Below are blurbs about my three faves (not pictured above, but that’s what Ebony had!).  Lata!

Rembert Browne

Like many of his twenty-something year-old peers, Rembert Browne started a blog, 500 Days Asunder, in 2011 to document his daily musings and to put his “creative juices” to practice. His exhilarating honesty coupled with his tangy wit and introspective rumination made for some of the best, most unique blog posts published in a while. Included in his most popular posts are “5 Black Comedians: A Study,” “Top 10 Diddy Moments. Ever,” and “Me vs. Drake.”  While most people, young or old, might have balled up into a dark, deep hole after being fired from their first job within nine months, or withdrawing from graduate school with eight months left, Browne wrote a kick ass, inspirational farewell blog post titled “About That Life” before reassessing his next moves. The Dartmouth alum was soon after promoted from freelancer to staff writer at Grantland, where he puts his distinct spin on culture and sports.

Taiye Selasi

When Toni Morrison sets a deadline for you, you meet it. And that is exactly what Taiye Selasi did, according to an NPR interview. After meeting Morrison through the author’s niece, Selasi ended up having dinner at Morrison’s home and then her son’s home. It was during that second meeting that the Pulitzer Prize winner gave Selasi an ultimatum. “She said, ‘Listen, I’m going to give you a year. If you don’t have something for me by then, I don’t know what to say.” A year later, Selasi produced the short story, “The Sex Lives of African Girls,” which was published in the heralded literary journal Granta in 2011 and featured in Best American Short Stories of 2012. Born in London and raised in Massachusetts, Selasi unpacked intricate notions of identity in her 2005 seminal essay titled, “Bye-Bye, Babar (Or: What is an Afropolitan?”) Ghana Must Go, her highly-anticipated debut novel, will be released in March.

Uzoamaka  Maduka

Otherwise known as Max, Uzoamaka Maduka’s name has been plastered all over  major New York City publications. More attention has been given to her  socialite-like charisma than her literary journal, The American Reader.  Nonetheless, the Nigerian-American Princeton graduate has been on a steadfast  mission to revitalize the American literary magazine. “So many of the voices in  fiction that are out there are deeply neurotic white male stories…I kind of  felt like, I really don’t want to sit still for this,” Maduka told The New  York Times. “Literature, from women of any race and men of any race,  besides white, would always be pigeonholed as, ‘Now I’m going to tell you my  Nigerian story,’ and it was so tiring.” Two issues of The American  Reader were published in 2012 to mostly tentative reviews, but Maduka has  already shifted her focus to this calendar year with aims of landing a second  investor and scouting potential writers.