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 Tayari Jones on July 21, 2010 at 4:07pm
"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."

Does shine=sell?

I do think that only readers can change other readers' habits, but this really hurt my heart to read. It's really disturbing that a black writer has to sort of roll out her white credentials to her appeal to market her book. This really made me feel sad. I know the tone is sort of tongue-in-cheek, but it reminded me of the early slave narrative when authors have to have a white person to vouch for them.

I would like to just say that I do feel very loved and supported by the readers that I have. They are not all black women, but many are. They take excellent care of me. When I seem blue on my blog, they may send presents to my work address, that they found on line. I want better numbers for business readers, but I do feel satisfied with the connection that I have with my existing readers. They mean a lot to me and I am so grateful for what they contribute to my life. They make my books-- and me-- shine and shine and shine.

The reason I am adding this, although it is off-topic, is that it is easy for black writers to accidentally marginalize the black women readers that have been there since day one and will be there until the end.
Comment by Tania Zaverta Chance on July 21, 2010 at 4:04pm
Interesting post...
The first thing you may want to consider doing is referring to yourself as a Black author. For example, I am an author - who happens to be Black. In my opinion, there are "Black Authors" who purposely write about the Black experience, historical Black facts, Black culture, African-American contemporary issues- this is their chosen purpose for writing; they are "Black Authors" by niche. I understand racial lines in different industries (to include books) and am not discounting quantitative facts, but perhaps those lines are unintentionally drawn thicker with this appeal??? Think about the description and marketing of your book so that it will more naturally appeal to wider audiences: What venues are you advertising in, is there a racial predominance in those venues? How are you describing your book, are you focusing on the racial differences between the women as a significant phenomenon of the work? Are you referring to yourself as a "Black Author" in interviews and (other) write ups? My book, SHEgo, bears no significance around race - the main character could be any one of us and is described so that one can understand her person, yet imagine her in any form the mind crafts. I've been shown a lot of love by She Writes members (to include Black, White, and the rainbow alike). I feel the sisterhood of support this site provides. I trust all my She Writes sister will buy and refer SHEgo because the description sounded interesting and the loved it when they read, so they passed the title along to their friends. Let us not pretend that each and every one of us is not different from the other, but let's not perseverate on it either. Trust in the merit of your work my sister, don't make pleas from fears that others may not have a part in and alienate them, thereby possibly isolating yourself from the love of these members. Let's all continue to support one another- that's what She Writes has been about for me. Best of luck to you in selling lots of books! :0) Sincerely, Tania Zaverta Chance , (just) Author. Check out SHEgo at:
Comment by Sin McKnight on July 21, 2010 at 3:32pm
Reading your story, I couln't help but think how similar our lives are, Lori. I'm from Jamaica and my grandmother was caucasion( I didn't know that because in Jamaica, race is irrelevant). My best friends were indian, caucasion and latino's but were were all marry into each others family so there's no need for racism, think of coming to the US where most people expected you to date within your race or where regular conversations was an eye-opening. It was awful for a while until I realize that I didn't have to shoose. That the two wonderful women of the two different races who created me were phenomenal women and I am proud of both of them and the strength, courage, patience and tenacity they both bestowed. I am glad I was born in Jamaica because it allowed me to never see color. Our motto, out of many, one people and my wonderful son has adopted the same principle. I will certainly pass your title on to my friends and will pick up a copy. Thanks for the inspiration. Also, I'm looking for romance writers for a new genre so if you are interested, tell your friends and drop me a line.
Comment by Alle C. Hall on July 21, 2010 at 1:17pm
Hello, Lori,

I am a White person, though I tend to think of myself as white. I am all over this one. I have two kids, also white and also Jews. Through their pre-school community, we have a very open, dialogue-oriented approach to race (as to gender and gender issues, economic class, ability or able-ness, however you choose to say it, and religion/faith). I am proud to say I have not made any attempt to raise my children "race-neutral.'" We want them look at race as a critical part of everyone's experience, to look at differences with out placing value on them.

The sentence that caught my eye was "I love White people." One of the things our project has discovered (through 'Nurture Shock') is that it is important for white children to hear their parents say, "I like brown people."

I have been itching to get my hands on this topic in a broader way. If you are amenable, I think I may have found my way in. Can we talk?

I would love to read your book to see if it is a good one for me to submit for review. (You can check out page page or my blog to see where I publish.) If not, or perhaps even better, let's talk about some sort of profile piece.

Thank you for opening this discussion to white people.

Alle C. Hall

PS. to Britni, below: I feel the same way in regards to writing about surviving childhood trauma.
Comment by Britni Danielle on July 21, 2010 at 12:20pm
It's sad that this is what book promotion has come to for black writers. It actually pains me, especially as an aspiring novelist, that I have to think about luring white folks to like my work. I hope they (and everybody else) like my work because they find it interesting.

GOOD Luck! I'm sure your book is amazing and i CAN'T wait to read it!

Comment by GloriaFeldt on July 21, 2010 at 12:12pm
I appreciate your willingness to ask and will be delighted to help buzz. Also since you touch on women and their power relationships and my book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power is a nonfiction look at women and power, I would love love love to have a guest post from you for my Heartfeldt blog, which I would then promote on social media. If interested, message me at
Comment by Bonnie L Cochran-Painter on July 21, 2010 at 12:07pm
I will read your book and if I like (which it sounds like I will) I will gladly refer it to all of my white friends. I understand and it's sad that you had to have that conversation :(
Comment by Virginia DeBerry & Donna Grant on July 21, 2010 at 11:40am
We feel you. We support you. We applaud you. We too have many, many white friends and a number of white readers who don't see color in our books, but rather story...story they can relate to about characters living lives they understand. Sigh. All we can do is keep writing what we write---and talking about this dirty little subject out loud.
Comment by Amy Wise on July 21, 2010 at 9:51am
My life, my life! Awkward race converstion is what I live on a daily basis. It's still crazy to me but it's life. I write about this very fact at I am also starting a book based on just that! So I get you, I know exactly what you are saying, and I will be happy to be your "white friend!" =) I just finished reading "The Help" and loved it. I would love to read your book as well! I will pass the word to my "white friends" book clubs, my white Mother who works in a book store and many more! Ha ha, I am laughing as I keep writing "white." It's so silly even though it's reality! Good luck and I look forward to reading!


Amy.....Your new "white friend" =)


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