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Black Books

On the surface book-selling seems sleepy. But just recall O.J. Simpson’s recent tome which cost publishing titan Judith Regan her job at Harpers Collins and suddenly it’s a blood-sport. Ethical questions aside, his book would have…err…killed the competition. O.J. is Black, but his book wasn’t considered a “Black” book. It could have been. Race has clearly been the driver of his seemingly never-ending story.

On the surface book-selling seems sleepy. But just recall O.J. Simpson’s recent tome which cost publishing titan Judith Regan her job at Harpers Collins and suddenly it’s a blood-sport. Ethical questions aside, his book would have…err…killed the competition.

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O.J. is Black, but his book wasn’t considered a “Black” book. It could have been. Race has clearly been the driver of his seemingly never-ending story.

On a brighter note most Black books have nothing to do with murder. Director Spike Lee’s wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, teamed with Crystal McCrary Anthony to pen the big seller “Gotham Diaries” where mayhem was replaced with million dollar real estate deals and a bully with a bon vivant.

The increasingly wired world hasn’t knocked off the printed page just yet. Business is booming for Black authors. And who’s the big Black author driving the market? Malaika Adero, senior editor at Atria Books (Simon and Schuster) says, “I don’t think there is one biggest Black author. Among the most commercial today are Zane, Eric Jerome Dickey, T.D. Jakes, and Maya Angelou.”

In music, we know Hip Hop is Pop, meaning the genre has crossed-over in terms of consumption. My former partner, music guru and, of course, mogul, Russell Simmons, often explained that a song could not be the number one song if only Blacks bought it. There simply are not enough black people to take a song to the top of the charts. His artists crossed over as all races fueled Hip Hop’s success.

That idea of “cross-over success” prompted a different perspective from Adero, “Crossover is a meaningless term to me and doesn’t really apply to the way the market for art and culture behaves these days. A book either has broad or niche appeal, hopefully both. Either way we market books in individual ways to as many groups of readers as possible.” I guess race matters, but maybe not so much in books.

Want a good book. On the top of Malaika’s list is “The Story of the Cannibal Woman” by Maryse Conde, translated from the French by Richard Philcox. You could also check in with Oprah, but she doesn’t just sell Black books, however you will at least add to her bottom line. And there’s a long list of up-and-comers and seasoned pros who you can find at Malaika Adero’s annual festival.

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John N. Pasmore • New York, NY • mailto:johnpasmore@gmail.comwww.nextthingsnext.com