|Who will be the next Ralph Ellison?|
A writer wakes up each morning, or at the end of the day, and begins crafting narratives. This is what writer’s do. Traditionally, a writer would complete a manucript and purchase Writer’s Market, or some other publication and begin looking for agents. I did this before and during graduate school. In graduate school I was told by my professors that I had what it took to become a “writer”. What I failed to understand is that although they had christened me and given me all of the motivation I needed, my writing program failed to explain the realities involved in writing. They specifically failed to explain to me that a Black man writing is unlike any other person creating narratives.
The publishing industry used to be veiled in secrecy. A group of old White men decided the fate of a manuscript: slush pile or publication. Today, self publishing is as accessible as television stations to viewers. Basically anyone with a bit of savvy and computer literacy can put out a publication. I have had the “honor” of being signed by an agent, and having books “sold” under the premise that I rewrite. My problem was I didn’t understand publishing and my MFA program did not explain to me that the writer makes concessions. I didn’t want to change anything in the story. The editing I was okay with, but changing what happened with a character? Out of the question. Needless to say, my writing career with an agent, went south very fast and I did what most people do today, I self published.
Self-publishing is beautiful. It provides anyone with the chance to create a writing career. Many self-published authors have moved on to successful traditional careers, where the agent submits their work, and a publishing company prints and releases the book. Self publishing works and has generated new companies, technologies and opportunities. It has also generated so much information that like the internet the problem becomes where and how do you find information? It has also created the situation where there are so many “bad” books being produced, that sell because of persistence, “good” books get lost in the shuffle. While traditional publishing does not guarantee a “great” book, it does tend to make the best effort at producing books that have the potential to be great. Self Publishing has this capacity as well, but due to a lack of professional editing, randomly designed book covers and a rush to publish, many stories with potential fail to reach that potential.
What does being a Black male writer have to do with this? While writers create and should not have to consider audience or where they will be marketed, the simple fact is all writers are faced with the problem of how they will be promoted and who they will be promoted amongst. There is also the inherent “fact” that people who look alike, tend to shop and buy from who they look like in literature. Most Black writer’s create for Black people. Even if they don’t create for Black people, they are placed in the Black literature section and marketed to Black people. Most Black men, realizing that Black men don’t read as much as women, write like Black women. They cater to this audience because in order to sell books, well, they have to. The problem then becomes, if you are a Black male writer, and you write a book that does not utilize a particular set of rules: overindulgence in sex, no good men, superwoman, then that book fails to gain a following. The Black Male Writer is a role that is difficult to take on because finding an audience is difficult.
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