Weekend Reads #106: On the Assumption That White Means Universal

There is an assumption in publishing (and in Hollywood, actually) that books by Black authors aren’t universal, that they won’t appeal to a wide (White) audience. I recently read two articles that touch on this topic (one on LitHub and another on Tor.com) and they reminded me of a blog post by notable sci-fi author N.K. Jemisin that I read a couple years ago on why she doesn’t want her books to be placed in the African American section of bookstores and libraries. I reread Jemisin’s blog post this morning and although it was published a decade ago, back in March 2010, it still applies today.

These days, the African American section of bookstores I visit contain sociology books and history books that pertain to Black experiences in America. No longer (it seems) is that section an amalgamation of books by Black authors no matter the genre or whether or not they are fiction or nonfiction; no longer (it seems) is it a place where all books written by Black authors are dumped. But despite this improvement, publishing still has a problem with how it promotes books by Black authors.

To me, it’s recently, within the past year or so, that publishing increased its promotion of books by Black authors somewhat. I may be wrong on the timeframe, but up until then, whenever I saw a recently published novel by a Black author, they were often pushed toward Black audiences only, unlike books by White authors that were promoted to everyone, regardless of race, because of their “wide” appeal.

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“Lord of Publishing” by Sterling Lord

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.
Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

I forgot how I discovered this book (it may have been on Publishing Perspectives but I’m not sure). My dream is to one day, very soon, work in the book publishing industry. You can imagine my excitement when I happened upon this memoir by Sterling Lord, who has worked as an agent in the publishing industry for more than 60 years. He is now 92 years old and still works as an agent at Sterling Lord Literistic. He has represented some of the greats in literature like Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, and Jimmy Breslin. He has played competitive tennis nearly all his life and has attributed some of his success to the qualities that he developed as a tennis player.

Sterling Lord is from a small town in Iowa. After graduating from college, he entered the army and was flown to France where he worked for the army’s newspaper. He soon developed a paper of his own which he operated with a friend until it folded. Soon he married a French woman, flew back to the States, and decided to start his own literary agency. He didn’t know much about book publishing when he started his agency but he learned as he went along.

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“Is an MBA ‘value added’? Ask the grads” — Publishing Trends

Here’s an article that I found helpful on Publishing Trends.

I am now at a time in my life where I’m trying to figure out which way to go. Should I drop everything and run off to grad school to get a master’s degree? I really want one. Or should I stay at my job and continue to work to strengthen my skills and broaden my knowledge of the publishing industry?

It’s hard to study and work at the same time, especially when all the great classes are usually during my work hours (I find that very annoying). But this gave me a bit of clarity. Really, at this time it doesn’t make sense to quit my job to enroll full-time. As stated in the article, I might be unable to get a job when I’m done, which is something I’ve observed amongst my friends and acquaintances.

“An MBA helps open doors up, and is often preferred, but it’s not an automatic ‘in’ anymore,” said Steven Sandonato, vice president for strategy and business development at Time Home Entertainment Inc.

From the article I’ve garnered that I need to question my “motivation” for going back to school. According to those interviewed, if it’s simply to receive a higher salary, then it’s pointless; but if it’s to gain a better understanding of certain aspects of the industry, or to totally change my career path, then sure, it’s a good idea.