THE FATE (sorry), THE STATE OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN FICTION
African-American fiction is dead! - PART 2
I walk in faith, not Amazon downloads. But from an industry perspective, you have to take trends into account. And arguably, the biggest trends in AA fiction are Street Lit, Erotica, and Christian Fiction. Hustlas, hoes, and Hallelujah! Man, why does that sound like most hoods I know!
Anyway, I don’t have a problem with any of these genres, what I have a problem with is the perception of many to most new authors entering them. Let’s be real. Becoming an author is not what it used to be. Gone are the days of going to college as an English major, minoring in Creative Writing, and then obtaining a Masters in Shakespearean dialect before taking some crap job at a newspaper to hone your writing skills. And thank God that has changed, or I wouldn’t be here.
But what has also changed undeniably is a general understanding and respect for the craft. And even that’s fine. I’m not here to cast judgment that everyone needs a passionate longing to display their God given writing talent to the world. But some folks are here because 1) they think they are a lot better than they really are and 2) they think it’s a legitimate contingency plan to winning the lottery. Strictly in it for a pay day, and that is fine. But what isn’t fine, is when you have a limited number of readers, and an even more limited availability of original and creative content. At some point, the supply far exceeds the demand. There are so many cheap to free reads on Amazon right now that even the best reader couldn’t get through all of them even if they didn’t have a job or a life! So what will be reader’s motivation to buy books if there are tons of free ones, and there isn’t any real variety anyway?
In an ideal world, 10,000 Authors would mean 10,000 unique voices, but unfortunately, that just isn’t the case in the big 3 genres of AA fiction. And that isn’t my opinion, that's what the readers will tell you if you listen. In some cases, you don’t even have to listen. The chiseled, shirtless male, the bikini or scantily clad female, the police tape, the guns, the church, the religiously suggestive titles, in this day and age, you really can judge a book by its cover. If you couldn’t, the cliché synopsis is a dead giveaway. Take for example one distribution website (I’ll be using anonymity with websites,authors, and books so it doesn’t convey a personal attack) I sampled in what they claimed were their best selling books. 4 of the top 7 were fiction, and with descriptions like, ““In the middle of the drug game,” “life behind bars, “19 year old prostitute,” and “convenience store and bank robberies,” in their synopsis, I’m sure you can tell what Big 3 genre these fit. And it’s not just Street Lit and the drug kingpin that never gets arrested, the stripper smart enough to become a millionaire, or the female mercenary. It’s the erotica with no viable plot that would almost read like a porn script, if porn actually used scripts. It’s the Christian fiction with the Pastor NoGood sleeping with Sistah Duwrong. It’s the same old same old same old same. Why? Because authors that are only in it for the money are going to migrate to where they perceive the money to be. Again, which is fine. I’m not the regulatory control on who can write or read what.
But 2 questions – 1) Outside of those established in the big 3, or those up-n-comers who do have a fresh voice, how many variations ofthe same plot are we expecting the minute minority of readers to support? 2) What happens when copy cat authors with the poor editing mentioned above, begin to increase in numbers and potentially become the majority?
The answer to both questions is really the same. AA Fiction will lose credibility. Readers will become disheartened and support will waiver. It will never end, but it will diminish significantly. Even authors will become disenfranchised. Over the last two years I have never seen so many disgruntled authors who were once considered amongst the elite of AA fiction, because of the rapidly changing atmosphere of literature at large, let alone AA fiction. I think it was only a few weeks ago that Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant announced their semi-retirement largely due to the cultural shifts.
Seriously, AA fiction is only a blip on the literary radar at large, so when the majority of that blip are no longer the best representation because of poor editing and typical plots, who can say whether the powers that be let it remain at all. Even indie publishers can be controlled to a degree, if you really understand distribution. What if Amazon were to pull the plug on indie AA authors because of pressure from larger publishing companies who want that money to go to signed authors? That’ll never happen, Rickey! Really? Then how come there is little variety and few to no indie music artists on the radio?
Does it seem like I have written a lot? I have. To recap, I said African-American fiction is going to die because 1) distribution outlets are drying up 2) it is losing touch with professional standards and 3) it lacks the creativity and originality that any art form needs to survive. At least those are top 3 reasons. I won’t even go into how eBook prices are going to be so competitive most authors will throw in the towel by round 2 when they don’t see immediate dividends. Or how readers and book clubs will become so inundated with new author promotions, they will eventually close their doors to everybody new, or have a reading wish list that spans years! In which case they would still have to close their doors to most everybody else.
BUT, fear not! Destiny can be changed and there is still timeto prove me absolutely wrong. Below are some simple guidelines that can and will help resuscitate AA Fiction back to the thriving force it was during periods like the Harlem Renaissance. Plus, you’ve read this far, what’s another paragraph or two.