At work today, I was hit with an unusual comment about my person. One of my co-workers jokingly called me the “Whitest Black person” he’d ever met. I suppose he was prompted to say this off-base thing about me because I easily knew that Dwight Yoakum is a country singer but yet couldn’t help him recall the name of the established rapper, T-Pain.
He kept saying, “You know…T–T–Something –.” I said, “Iced-T? T-Rex? Golf-Tee?” Nooo, he groaned, seemingly annoyed at my blank expression…At that point, another colleague passed the two of us and said, “You mean, T-Pain?”
My goodness!!! Did I feel momentarily detached from African-American brethren, or what? I mean, I’ve heard the name T-Pain before. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hum a few bars of anything he’s ever produced. Does not knowing the name of a rapper make me not Black enough? Does knowing the name of a country singer, make me more akin to being White? I think not. Neither genre of music fills any space on my iPod. Ebony and Ivory [singing]…Nope, I don’t have that song loaded either…
That work conversation led me to think about my writing. In which genre do I write? I get that question a lot. I say, “I’m writing a few books.” People next ask me, “What kind of stuff do you write? Science Fiction? Mystery?” I say, “I write fiction and non-fiction,” and let it go at that. But when I thought about it more deeply, I was a bit concerned–. Will my being an African-American female writer automatically place my books in the cloistered and generally-avoided African-American section of the bookstore?
There continues to be a lot of on-line discussion and debate about the doomed categorization of African-American authors. The problem is: Publishers reportedly aren’t anxious to publish books by Black authors, citing the books don’t make money. White people tend to ignore the African American section of the bookstore, and the ethnic money maker that’s hot now is the Urban genre. For the most part, Urban fiction involves pimps, hookers and drug dealers. Whereas the African American genre deals with life, love, pain, adversity and triumph. I suppose I write the latter–just like all other authors.
So now I’m thinking…Have I made an egregious mistake by even showing my hand to allof you? Now that I’ve allowed you to know that I’m Black, will you still read my work? Of course you will!!!
And let me tell you my game plan and the reasons I believe my books will succeed in the marketplace regardless:
- It is indeed possible for fictional characters and their traits to transcend color, ethnicity, and race. Yes, we must describe them….I know. But concentrate on what makes your characters human. In doing so, readers will identify with your stories in total. Race will not be the main driving factor. In my Writers’ Group for instance, the folks read one of my excerpts and had to ask me if the female doctor character was White or Black. Did it matter, I asked them?
- Professional writers should tackle a variety of genres to guarantee maximum exposure of their work. I’m working on adult fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, screen plays, and “ethnic” well as “mainstream” pieces, because there are a myriad of stories to tell about life. We all mingle, co-exist, and thrive off each other. We’re all connected as a people so why shouldn’t we write about all types of people?
- Writers must know how to brand and market themselves and their work. If this isn’t your area of expertise or you’re stuck in the last century–, get help now! And do some of these things, at a minimum: Secure your domain name. I bought www.pamela-hart.com and www.pamelahart.info just because. I’ll need them one day I’m sure–. Can you believe www.pamelahart.com was already taken?!!! Imagine my dismay when I discovered that! In addition, learn your way around social media. Get a website! Blog! Tweet! I’m working on my overall media strategy at the same time I’m working to finish my books—. You need to build an audience before you launch!
- Be relentless. It’s tough to write and it’s tough getting published for sure. I know there will come a time when I may need to go back and read my own blog posts and tweets for inspiration. The bottom line is, persistence will bring you improved writing and increased published success. If writing is your passion and gift, do not give up. Never ever give up.