An Analysis on the Imperative Marketing Theories for African-American Authors in the Genres of Fiction/Fantasy: Indie Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

For Writers

Definition and Overview

Marketing Plans refer to the strategies for market of a product (in this case, a novel) to their core demographic. The goal is to not only maximize the awareness of the product’s existence, but to persuade consumers to purchase the product. In the case of this case study, research will look at the strategies applied to African-American authors, and how the strategies have succeeded in the past ten-to-twenty years, or what specifically caused failures for authors not in the sells, but in reaching the maximum audience possible.

 

Whether an author is self-publishing their novel or going through traditional publishers, a marketing plan is almost more important than the novel itself.

 

However, an important factor one should consider before diving into marketing strategies at all is the marketing strategy of the Publisher. It’s pivotal to consider which Publishing path an author wants to take early, because this step will not only decide available resources for the author, but the variables of control and hierarchy of agreement between the author must anticipate before action. A self-published author will have less middle men to weed through, but less resources and more financial liability, whereas a traditionally published author might have more resources given to them, but little to no self-control over the novel’s plan. Success for one novel in a single path can mean failure in another.

 

But, before we can establish the Publishing paths an author must consider, it’s necessary to consider what is Success and Failure for an author?

 

Success v. Failures

 

For Authors, success has a wide range of definitions and characteristics. Some authors pursue a monetary growth as an estimation of pivotal success within their field. Other measure their success through: accolades, cult following, critical acclaim or the parameters of academic criticism. However, an author’s work can have all of these things, but be considered a failure if a variety of variables are positioned into a negative connotation, such as a book receiving wide sales in the first six months and then yielding wide returns following as a result of bad press or public reaction. Thus, measuring success for authors and their works is truly dependent on individual criticism of what qualifies “success” for an author. For the purpose of this study, we will allow readers to critique a sense of success by their own criteria, but the study will analyze success based on the success of the marketing strategy to appeal to the core demographics overall. Specifically, we analyze traditional publishing and Indie publishing (digital) meeting the criteria with minimum cost from the author professionally and financially.

 

However, while success is subject to opinion, failure is a bit more emboldened. For Traditional Publishers, failures are established when an author’s work is “pulled” or discontinued within the first two years of publication. This is largely a concern of Returns and how many of them are executed. A majority of books are discontinued within the first two years and whole series are often terminated with no ending. Further, as the contractual rights of the series belongs to a publisher until the publisher goes out of business, there is little to no hope of taking the series to a new publisher unless a contract specifically stipulates this. For this reason, some writers prefer the fluency of an independent career.

 

Need-To-Know: Traditional Publishers

 

According to Judith Applebaum, there is a clear dichotomy between the kinds of Traditional Publishers: small and large. The difference is in the expectations between not only approach, but theory. Large Publishers target audiences interested in a general prose — voices that suitable for larger audience sizes; thus, the marketing is in the branding. Large Publishers tend to infer prestige due to the recognition of their names and will likely pay larger in advances, yet offer little to no promotion lest your author’s platform (the visibility of the author) is sizeable, like a Celebrity or influencer (Youtubers have been known to be successful with their platforms). There is an impersonal stigma associated with these publications, and there is some truth to this approach. Many authors are expected to be the driving force behind their own marketing strategies, leaning against their platforms or enhancing it to the best of their abilities.

 

Smaller Publications are known to put out little product yearly. However, the more personal touch of these publications are more attractive to some readers. Further, smaller publications are notorious for applying literature to “niche” as in releasing materials that will cater more to a specific flavor of audience. New and emerging writers are suggested to begin with Smaller Publications due to the tendency to bolster the “self” of the author within the involvement of the publishing process. And yet, this is not to suggest that Smaller Publications are a stepping stone or less critical of the manuscript they accept. In truth, a Smaller Pub might be just as fickle of the Manuscripts they will publish (though, they are known to offer lower advance rates, if any at all, and prioritize a longer net worth over the course of the novel’s performance). Smaller Pubs and Larger Pubs should only be chosen in accordance to how much faith they have in an author’s work. Thus, we find ourselves within discussion of a fairly new topic that completely inverts this established truth:

 

Co-publishing is a topic of discussion between the publishers of some houses where the author and publisher share the costs of release and often the author will yield higher shares of the book itself. This could be an option for writers who seek success outside of financial gratification immediately (advances) or believe their stories will yield low returns. However, this strategy has been criticized as any publication expected to do well for the sake of an author should believe in the work enough to not expect a larger upfront contribution. For authors, it’s the story that’s being sold and not the vanity of distribution. This is often referred to as “Hybrid Publishing” as well. While it is considered an aspect of “indie publishing” or Independent Publishing, it is still largely the same marketing impact as traditional publishing and thus, will be considered the same category.

 

Overall, Traditional Publishing is varied not only by the kind of publication accepted, but is uniformly different from Independent Publishers because the author cannot decide a variety of factors considered in the marketing of the novel. Authors do not decide release dates for the novel, nor do the decide the cover art. They also have zero control over “brick-and-mortar” sales of the work, meaning they cannot decide who will sell their material and to what demographic?

 

Further, because Traditional Publishing cannot guarantee critical successes even in the form outlined in this study, the only thing guaranteed within the control of the author or the publisher is the respect and experience of Traditional Publishing. If a book contains little expectation for success, a Publisher can release a book during a “dead” month for income and perform mediocre amounts of editing and/or delay a release.

 

One alternate strategy of contention is the concept of “catch-and-kill”, or purchasing a product for the sole purpose of neglecting it, reflecting the major trouble with Traditional Publishing: the interests of a publisher might not always reflect the interests of the author.

 

In any case, all Traditional Publishers should offer a version of the following:

 

Need-To-Know: Independent Publishers

 

Otherwise known as Self-Publishing, or Indie Publishing, these Publishers provide an absolute control over every step and detail of the works and marketing strategy. The author is in-charge of everything from the line editors, the designers, the marketing plan, etc. There is nothing the author does not touch. However, one crucial issue with Self-Publishing’s dynamics is that it’s dependent on constant hustle and grind from the Author. Without the wider acclaim or advertising of a Publishing house, success is a matter of more variables than just the few considered for Traditional platforms.

 

For instance, how does one yield massive royalties for an independent market without a budget? The answer is you can’t. Thus, an author necessarily becomes their own Publishing start-up. Thus, if your Publishing business that has nothing to do with the author business you’ve just launched isn’t successful, your business as an author will not be neither.

 

Further, with the onset of Digital publishing, indie authors have had to deal with the stigma of Amazon/Kindle publishing. Antoine Bandele, author of the Kishi (Tales of Eshowon), has had issue getting his novel onto the shelves of Indie bookstores due to the fact Amazon/Kindle puts independent bookstores out of business. However, much financial success can be reaped by digital releases like those offered by Kindle bookstores. For instance, Quan Millz, a prolific Urban Fiction/Romance writer mentioned in interview the financial success of Indie books can read up to $140,000 a year. This concept was explained at large by Indie authors

 

Black Authors compose 71% of the Indie novels released in 2017.

 

What Publishers Think

In a 2018 interview by Diane Patrick for Publisher Weekly, several African-American editors, market strategists and agents were asked what they looked for when consulting what books to publish and back, they answered with an overwhelming focus on not only current trends, but focuses on contradictory attention towards demographics:

 

“Johns: Even as a person of color, I cannot assume I know the full span of the black/minority experience. I read a lot, from books to magazines. I pay attention to viewership of programs, blockbusters, new media platforms, and more examples that seem to be creating and shaping culture for ethnic audiences. Who’s winning awards? What social justice issues are shaping conversations and the next years ahead? It helps inform not only what’s on trend, but maybe even an overlooked area that could benefit from exposure.

Coleman: Another crucial part of my job entails critically reading Beacon’s books to suss out target audiences and what they may want from the books. In other words, this is about getting into their heads. From there, I come up with proposed marketing activities to reach these readers.

Stewart: Our main mission statement is to make comics for everyone—and that really means everyone. You can’t have that goal if you aren’t open to reading and learning about stories outside of your own, or outside of what you’re used to. In my opinion, knowledge about a variety of marginalized creators, in addition to those who have been working for years, is what makes you a well-rounded editor.

Funches: Lion Forge has the luxury of having a very diverse range of staff and freelancers who can speak authentically and passionately directly to marginalized groups without pandering or creating heavy-handed marketing campaigns that feel disingenuous. For us, it’s not an agenda but simply who we are.

Ladelle: My job will always involve engaging diverse readership, because it’s why I came into publishing in the first place. It’s downright depressing to look at your list of titles you have to market and not see one person who looks like you. It sends the message that your story isn’t valid or deserving. So I had to be strategic in finding a job that I felt had a list of authors who came from diverse backgrounds, in order to work and engage with diverse authors and content, which was what I was able to find in the YA department at HarperCollins.

 

Clark: By virtue of the types of books I publish, I engage with an ethnic readership. I don’t know that I’m always an expert, but my authors are.” (Patrick, 2018).

 

Many of the observations on marketing for a bit of literature at these publications is strategic consider a diverse audience for the material, engaging the readership. While many consider voices that come from a diverse background, they appeal the story to a larger demographic at large. It is implied that these titles are sold based on themes, rather than purely the “African-American interest” group that has become sensationalized to mean “Black only,” as seen when dissecting media trends for African-American films and tv shows that have been marketed over the last 20 years.

 

Further, we also see editors like Clark invoking the same principles as Maggie Langrick, but diluting the approach through the lens of ethnicity as an element of publication, relying on the author’s knowledge of the material to sell the novel to the target audience. One editor in particular, Zakia Henderson-Brown, seemed to suggest a similar point of view:


Brown: If it’s a black author, we want to make sure we research media that speak to that audience. Going after the same traditional media is lazy. Part of my job is to dissect a book to make sure that we are targeting the readers that will pick up and buy that book. (Patrick, 2018)

 

The key point in Brown’s strategy is to lean on the demographic as an entity that the author should possibly understand. In this, guess work is a given, but all marketing is a guess work.

 

 

Marketing Strategies: Print

According to the Pocket Guide to Publishing by John Koehler and Joe Coccaro, Print publishing marketing strategies are primarily attempts to decrease the amount of returns within publishing. Despite the fact most authors want to be in brick and mortar bookstores, bigger chains are far more aggressive in their sales tactics but increase in the amount of returns that they execute within a given space of time and receive their money back entirely from the return if done within the proper time frame. They take on minimum risk while the publisher takes on maximum with this exchange. For Black authors, it becomes important to release during dates where the Print will perform best and stores can maximize on seasonal purchases. For Black writers, stories like Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf and Angie Thomas’ On the Come Up were released during Black History Month. However, hese novels did not receive equal treatments within set ups. Angie Thomas’ book was largely featured on the New Releases sections of Barnes and Noble while Marlon James’ novel was placed strategically on its own board separate from the New Releases despite Marlon James’ novel having a one week release age. This marketing strategy seemed to be a result of Marlon James’ novel expense when juxtaposed to Angie Thomas’. Further, Marlon James’ novel stands as a best seller, meaning there is less demand to exhaust the novel’s returns than for Angie Thomas’ novel. However, this marketing strategy is highly troublesome, as during a season where their stories — one coming off the hype of the Hate U Give’s film debut, a story created by Angie Thomas — there is a involuntary competition between novels to out pace one another in terms of “success” (strictly in low returns, in the case of print performance). Rather than positioning Angie Thomas’ release around the release of the Hate U Give the marketing was to invoke the exclusive attention of audiences during a time they deem the market will be focusing on Black writers. Marlon James’ strategy may seem to have invoked similar acclaim, however it was also positioned during a time where advertising for Game of Thrones would be highest, an excellent ploy as Black Leopard, Red Wolf has been compared to an “African Game of Thrones”.

 

This is likely what helped Black Leopard, Red Wolf yield higher pre-orders which pushed Marlon James’ novel onto three different best seller lists, which in itself is a powerful marketing tag-line that cannot be ignored. This implied vanity is marketing in itself. Unfortunately, Indie novels cannot invoke similar strength and often book returns bring great harm not only to books and to publishing companies. This is twice so for African-American Independent authors (see also: “Need-to-Know: Independent Publishers”, Antoine Bandele). Indie authors cannot lean on the vanity of a traditional publication or the press tactics and knowledge of a Publisher to ensure faithful effort from brick and mortar or massive bookstores to yield high sales and low returns. In fact, depending on the method of self-publication, a writer may not be capable of getting an independent bookstore to purchase books at all.

 

Marketing Strategies: Digital

However, Koehler and Coccaro do have much to say about online booksellers for Independent Publishers. Most online sales count for 90 percent of print sales with very few returns. This is largely because digital marketing being far more lucrative and simpler to execute than in-person sales of books and literature. Social Media Marketing reveals a healthy percentage of consumers prefer a quick-and-easy method of purchase, and thanks to the culture established by Amazon,  readers are prepared to order books that they’ve been recently sold upon before leaving the comforts of secluded environment. Further, online and digital consumers are more willing to experiment with interests, such as emerging authors and writers. This is established by the overall marketing tactics of Urban Fiction.

 

Quan Millz, a prolific urban fiction author, is a completely fabricated entity known for putting out materials essentially less than genre fiction or smut. However, he has among the largest catalogs of African-American novels on Kindle publishing and the corporation behind Quan Millz is explicitly powering the sales of his novel by social media marketing. The novel’s raunchy nature and shock is mass released and produced to his audience, allowing purchase by impulse alone, and allowing the viral nature of his platform to carry the sales. Explicitly, Quan Millz does not give attention to the quality of work that he is putting you, and is more concerned with the fact that the material is available for release at all: three novels minimum for a series at 25,000 words each book for anywhere between 3.99 to 7.99 a novel, not including the likeliness that Kindle readers will go through the Catalogue and binge all other series in the Millz Catalogue, purchasing maybe 10 different series along with anything else being released by Millz in the future. Thus, there are minimum returns. Further, all print copies of Millz’s novels are made-to-order, dramatically lowering the amount of returns necessary for release. Due to the marketing strategy of social media being minimum at best, Quan Millz is constantly generating his own resources to increase his marketing effectiveness. This process is so lucrative that Quan Millz’s author is quoted as projecting annual income somewhere near $140,000 a year annually. While some other Urban Fiction authors utilize press releases and physical marketing ploys for their work — it’s the effectiveness of these strategies on social media that yields the best results for Black authors, particularly when applied to furthering niche markets within the African-American social demographics.

 

In Traditional Publishing, Authors often send reviews to blogs and other influencers who possess a demographic that matches their goal demos and either have the promise of review, or simply the offer to do so for the reviewer and the heartfelt thanks if they’re willing. This method of publication has both its pros and its cons, largely being that there is no guarantee that a review will compel purchase — whether the review is positive or negative. For African-American authors, this option is further skewed as a majority of book reviewers skewed to “Diversity” are specific to Young Adult fiction — as those who primarily access these markets are millennials.

 

However, one method Traditional Black authors like Tomi Adeyemi and L. L. McKinney have employed is launching their Author Platforms onto social media accounts like Twitter or Instagram. They engage with readers, trends and even enhance the community overall rather than merely existing for the purpose of branding. One important alternative to this is realizing the wider market of Facebook and applying it, such as Quan Millz has. The flaw with this is that these markets typically require authors to have an established platform BEFORE the release or even the book deal. When looking at Ryan Douglas, a writer releasing a YA social thriller Jake in the Box with Putnam at Penguin Teen, he’s done exclusively all of the promotions on his social media (@ryandouglassw) to his following of 2,586 (February 14th, 2019) so far for a book sleighted for a 2020 released. Further, he continues his day job in retail and has spoken little on an advance. Jake in the Box’s Goodreads account sleights 6 ratings and 11 reviews total.One good and healthier alternative suggested is apply advances or marketing budgets (if one receives one at all, as it is rare for an author to be given a marketing budget) to reach out to influencers for the opportunity to project their marketing campaigns, leaning on pre-established platforms to reach out to niche audiences.

 

African-American Author Stats

Figure 1.1: Successful African-American Authors Who Released Titles Between 2018-2019 in Traditional Publishing within Fiction/Fantasy (Digital Units only)

 

AUTHOR TITLE PRIMARY STRATEGY AMAZON

RATING

GOODREADS

RATING

Price RELEASE DATE
Marlon James Black Leopard,

Red Wolf

Reviews/ Author Platform

“African Game of Thrones”

3.1 (24 ratings) 3.81 (634 ratings) 17.99 2/05/2018
N.K. Jemisin How Long Till Black Future Month Social Media/Author Platform/Good Reads 4.5 (48 ratings) 4.41 (1641 ratings) $13.99 11/27/2018
Tomi Adeyemi Children of Blood and Bone Social Media/

“The Black Harry Potter”

4.5 (1,820 ratings) 4.2 (68,437 ratings) $18.99 3/06/2018
P. Djeli Clark The Black God’s Drums Reviews/Author Platform/Social Media 4.7 (90 ratings) 4.12 (1,274) ratings) $3.99 8/21/2018
L. L. McKinney A Blade So Black Social Media/Reviews 4.1 (56 ratings) 3.59 (1,490 ratings) $9.99 9/25/2018

SOURCES: AMAZON, TWITTER,  GOODREADS

 

Figure 1.2: Successful African-American Authors Who Released Titles Between 2018-2019 in Independent Release within Fiction/Fantasy (Digital Units only)

 

AUTHOR TITLE PRIMARY STRATEGY AMAZON

RATING

GOODREADS

RATING

Price RELEASE DATE
Natavia Beasts Unleashed Social Media/ Kindle Unlimited 5.0 (131 ratings) 4.91 (249 ratings) 7.99 1/20/2019
Neicy P. Alphas & Angels: the Royal Pack of Louisiana Social Media 5.0 (35 ratings) 4.75 (69 ratings) $0.99 2/03/2019
Edwina Fort Redemption: Earth’s Cry Social Media 5.0 (38 ratings) 4.92 (72 ratings) $3.99 3/06/2018
Antoine Bandele The Kishi (Tales of Esowon Book 1) Social Media: Live streams/Youtube/Kickstarter 4.6 (33 ratings) 4.19 (47 ratings) $4.99 1/28/2018

SOURCE(S): AMAZON, TWITTER, GOODREADS, KICKSTARTER

 

References

 

African-Amercan literature sold predominantly by indie authors. (2017, January 21). Retrieved from https://teleread.org/2017/01/21/african-amercan-literature-sold-predominately-by-indie-authors/

 

Appelbaum, J. (1989). How to get happily published. New York, NY, U.S.A.: Penguin Books.

 

Fabris, M. (2008, May 01). Focusing your message for the African American market. Retrieved from https://www.targetmarketingmag.com/article/focusing-your-message-african-american-market-98162/all/

 

Haugen, D. M., & Musser, S. (2012). Are books becoming extinct? Detroit: Greenhaven Press.

 

Ho, J. (2016, August 09). Diversity In Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers – Marketing Matters, Too. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/08/09/483875698/diversity-in-book-publishing-isnt-just-about-writers-marketing-matters-too

 

Langrick, M. (2015, May 16). What’s Your Book Marketing Plan? 6 Crucial Steps to Include. Retrieved from https://thewritelife.com/book-marketing-plan-steps/

 

The Next Black Publishing Generation Speaks. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/78668-the-next-black-publishing-generation-speaks.html

 

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#ONYASHELF: CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE BY TOMI ADEYEMI ‘REVIEW’

Articles, Music

By: Steven Underwood

TL;DR: Snow-haired black girl, Zélie Adebola, comes from a race of magical and oppressed race in a world without magic known as Maji. Hated for their violent power and spiritual culture, Zélie embarks on a quest to return the power to her people alongside the timid, yet progressive daughter of the very king who slaughtered their people – and most importantly, her Maji mother – Amami. If only the heir to the crown of Orisha, Inan, shared his sister’s views, rather than a coveted secret.

“Safe?”

Yemi meets my eye with a hatred that impales me like a sword. Though her mouth never opens, her voice rings in my skull.

“Safe ended a long time ago.”

***

The Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is one of the last examples of why the novel cannot be doomed at such a pivotal stage in the decolonization of Culture. Just as we excavate the shrines of closeted racists, misogynists, sexual predators and bigots from our Art, there leaves open space and room for us to erect new geniuses of the craft. This is not their playground anymore. This will never be their playground ever again. Take from that what you will people who expect us to feel bad for forcing our way through the door and eliminating the mediocre or dry.

With that said, Tomi Adeyemi showcases the brilliance of a story driven by the necessary spirit of characterization. Starting with her protagonist, Zélie, an arrogant and fiery force of revolution and fight, we witness the unfiltered anger that comes with those oppressed. Rather than depicting the narrative of noble forgiveness and the superior power of peace, the author manifests a character who cannot and will not forgive or love an oppressor who wishes her harm that is included in the narratives of specific groups penned by people with an extremely obvious bias in laying the stakes within forgiveness.

This characterization forces out a story that is fresh and exciting because of how simplistic the view is: that you can be all-consumed with anger, and still not be wrong for refusing to relinquish it. Zelie’s fire is by far the most exciting part of the story. Equally, Adeyemi creates a supporting cast of complicated heroes and anti-villains whom emphasize the very real fears of fighting against a society that benefits you, and only seeks to benefit you (Amami): of the realities of resistance and the double-sided nature to those who seek to raise equality only when they themselves are put at risk for oppression (Inan).

Despite a elementary magic system embrightened by a prose and cultural significance that shames the simplistic and forwardly lackluster nature of Harry Potter, the world-building incites feelings of wonder and dream, and even a sadness that even in a world as spectacular as that illustrated by Adeyemi, we still witness the atrocities and pains we find so common in our every day life.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in a decolonized approach to conventional Fantasy or interested in Speculative Fiction.

8.5/10

-1 for Generic Magic System

-.5 for Convoluted Ending