Countdown to Publication: Wanted: White Ambassadors to Help Me Cross Over

Hi SheWriters,

Let me just start out by saying, I love White people. Many of my closest friends are White. I have a favorite auntie who is White and my Uncle Harry is White too. And people, even my husband is White. Actually, he’s Spanish, but if you saw him walking down the street, you’d definitely peg him for a White guy. So, believe me when I say, I love White people.

But I’m still in a bind. I am in the unique position of being a Black author who is about to launch her first novel and I want White (and Asian, and Hispanic, etc) women to read it. Many of you here at SheWrites, who happen to be White, have already expressed interest in Substitute Me, and in fact, some of you have already pre-ordered it on Amazon. And I truly thank you for that, but in the grand scheme of things, that isn’t enough.

If this whole discussion is already making you feel uncomfortable and kind of dirty, I apologize. I hate it too. I hate that I have to categorize my friends by skin color as I plan the promotional campaign for my book. But I’m going to do it anyway because I’m a realist. Despite the fact that my diverse, inner-circle of friends reads across the rainbow, the rest of the world doesn’t work like that apparently. Readers tend to stick to what they know. And if my book ends up in the African-American section of the bookstore or library, the majority of non-Black America isn’t browsing there, unless somebody tells them to. That’s where my special White friends would come in.

Since I’m sure many of you listened in to the SheWrites radio discussion on ‘seg-book-gation’ with Carleen Brice and maybe read the follow-up article posted the day after, then you know that Black authors are most often only marketed to Black people. Even when I try to understand this practice I can’t, so I’m not going to bother rehashing the asinine thinking behind it. Instead, I’d like to explain where I’m coming from.

Substitute Me is the story of two women whose lives are drastically changed by their meeting. Kate Carter is a White woman who hires Zora Anderson, a Black woman, to be her nanny. Once Zora begins working for the Carters, life will never be the same. The story is set in contemporary Brooklyn, and examines issues of modern-day motherhood that I believe all women can relate to. The story is told in alternating chapters from Zora’s perspective and then Kate’s perspective. It’s neither a Black story nor a White story, but rather, it is a woman’s story.

Of course it’s not the book for everyone, but I’d say women who enjoy Jodi Picoult or Jacqueline Mitchard novels might like it. And for anyone who found themselves completely engaged with the subject matter of Kathryn Stockett’s, The Help or Ayelet Waldman’s, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Substitute Me will probably be right up their alley. Suffice it to say, I want the book to be a bestseller, but more importantly, I just want a lot of women to read it and discuss it and pass it on to their friends and say, “you’ve got to read this book.” I want this book to start conversations and perhaps even push us all a little bit to change our thinking. My writing mantra has always been, “I write to change the world.”

And the sad fact is, I can’t change anything without some White friends. It is a statistical impossibility that Substitute Me will have a chance to shine, if only my Black friends spread the word. Even my editor at Atria knows that. When I was creating my list of writer friends to blurb the book, she implored me to find a White author/friend. “It doesn’t even matter what genre she writes in,” she told me. “Just make sure she’s White.” Are you surprised that my White author/friend’s quote made the front cover of the book?

So, I need a bunch of White friends, to tell their White friends (Facebook friends count too) and all of the other White people they know about my book. Just to give it a chance. Maybe suggest it for their book club. Ask their local library and bookstores to stock it. And then maybe, just maybe, it will have a chance at being a success. And please be clear. I'm not trying to drum up any White man's guilt here. I don't want anyone to feel like they need to support a Black author because it's the right thing to do, like paying your taxes on time. Basically it comes down to the fact that since we still live in a segregated society when it comes to book buying, I just need ambassadors to introduce my work -- not shove it down people's throats -- to the other side.

Okay. I’m done. Awkward race conversation is over. I’m thinking my next book is going to feature a romance between a Latina doctor and an Iraqi translator living in Budapest. Then we won’t have to have these Black -White book discussions. Or will we?

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Comment by Joanne C. Hillhouse on July 26, 2013 at 8:43pm

I read this as a humorous approach to a serious topic. As a black female writer (author of Oh Gad!) from the Caribbean who believes in the power of art to cross over all kinds of barriers but who sees and experiences the unnecessary barriers that keep art from crossing over, I get what she's saying. Often I find that when people outside of my core demographic read my books (which are distinctively Caribbean and character-driven) they're surprised by how relatable and accessible they are...universal is a word readers have used...but how many would bump into Oh Gad! in the women's fiction or romance or family drama section of their bookstore (as opposed to black or urban fiction); not as much as I'd like despite my best efforts. And double that with me being so far outside the mainstream (i.e. in the Caribbean Sea). So, I don't think  the post was meant as a slight to her core audience so much as a provocative way of creating buzz for her book and a satirical indictment of an industry that limits a book's potential reach by assuming only certain types (or races) of people will be interested in it. It's an uncomfortable conversation (issues of race often are) but a necessary one, I think.

Comment by Adela Crandell Durkee on June 27, 2012 at 6:15am

I need some black people to interview for my blogs.  I moved from my very eclectic neighborhood to gain some wide-open space.  Now everything is vanilla.  I'll read your book.  Would you agree to an interview.

Comment by Sarah Paul on June 26, 2012 at 9:08pm

Best to you, Lori! Would you like to trade product reviews at Amazon or other online bookstores with a dozen white girls? come on over to our Mutual Product Review Group and start trading! One of your white friends, Sarah 

Comment by Sherrice Thomas on August 3, 2010 at 6:37pm
This dialogue is getting better every day. I would love it if someone could share how a self published author could overcome what Katherine Harms is proposing. She brings up a valid point and I would love to hear your ideas around that dilemma.
Comment by Kamy Wicoff on August 3, 2010 at 7:06am
Yes, Bernice, we must have these conversations, and I can promise you we will keep on having them on She Writes.
Comment by Bernice L. McFadden on August 3, 2010 at 6:52am
I'm late to this conversation - but here goes: It's sad that we authors who happen to be black have to have these "awkward" conversations - but the reality is that we HAVE TO HAVE THESE AWKWARD CONVERSATIONS. They are necessary to inform and enlighten those of us reading and writing on the otherside of the color-line. It is my hope that one day very soon we will not have to have these "awkward" conversations...
Comment by Kristi Holmes Espineira on July 27, 2010 at 3:25pm
Staying away from any controversy here, because that's how I roll, just wanted to say that I enjoyed "Kinky Gazpacho" -- as a white woman married to a man who is a Spaniard by heritage but raised in Venezuela, I thought so many of your observations on race and Spain were fascinating. And I will gladly read your novel and get the word out to my many book-loving friends of various races/ethnicities/sexual orientations! I run a book club, and have a new blog about writing and books, so I'd be happy to help get the word out.
Comment by Evelyn N. Alfred on July 27, 2010 at 2:20am
Comment by Katherine Harms on July 26, 2010 at 10:14am
I have uncovered a real problem with your book. Maybe it is because it is in pre-release status. I cannot preview your book on Amazon. I can't decide if even I want to read it without being able to look inside. I usually buy the Kindle version of books, and I can't order a sample there, either. I can't very well talk up a book I cannot read. Help me out here.
Comment by Sezin Koehler on July 26, 2010 at 3:43am
Dear Jenne,

Who has the right to criticise? In an open forum (or society, for that matter) that extols free speech then every single individual has a right to whatever opinion they may hold and they have a right to voice that opinion.

With that in mind, how have I "interfered" with the author's free speech? She has commented several times below as well as written the blog which we are all discussing. I have done nothing to block her from either of these things.

If anyone is being interfered with it is actually me, since comments about my thoughts on this forum are now spilling over onto my personal She Writes page encouraging me to not speak my mind about what I find problematic here. As a woman of color and a social scientist I have a great deal invested in the themes the author has noted and I have an equal right to express my thoughts without being harassed.

My next question is, are you expecting that a blog post will only have positive responses? If that is the case then She Writes should make that very clear in their comments policy that anything that questions the method or words of an author must be reserved for private discussion with the person.

I am of the school that dialogue is key. Dialogue does not mean that everyone chimes in agreeing. Dialogue is a back and forth in which we are able to discuss our varied perspectives in the hopes of learning something from people who agree, but also from people who don't.

It bears clarifying that we have not been critical of Lori herself, we have merely challenged her methods. There is a marked distinction between the two.




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