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Troy's Rants

Author Martha Southgate Reflects on the State of African American Fiction

This article was brought to my attention by author Eisa Ulen (

Author Martha Southgate ( muses about the state of African American Fiction

“I am a 46-year-old writer of “literary” fiction. I’ve had three novels published — the first for young people, the last two for adults. All have won minor prizes, been respectfully reviewed and sold modestly. I’ve been awarded a few fairly competitive fellowships and grants. The business is full of fiction writers like me. With one difference: I’m black, born and raised in the United States. At the parties and conferences I attend, and in the book reviews I read, I rarely encounter other African-American “literary” writers, particularly in my age bracket. There just don’t seem to be that many of us out there, and that’s something I’ve come to wonder about a great deal. And so I got on the phone with some editors and African-American writers to talk about it.”

Read the rest of this article at:

Adero, who I know and respect, in the article bemoans;

“Literary African-American writers have difficulty getting publicity. The retailers then don’t order great quantities of the books. Readers don’t know what books are available and therefore don’t ask for them. It’s a vicious cycle.”

I agree with Adero, in fact authors, unless they are a celebrities, have difficulty gaining publicity. However, in my mind, the solution is simple: If you want to bring attention to your novel, focus more on effective advertising instead of trying to acquire “free” publicity.

It is A LOT harder to acquire meaningful and sustained publicity for a book, than it is to purchase advertising. I’m not saying (yet) that a publicist is not needed, but after tons of conversations with authors; the overwhelming majority relate that they, themselves, have been more effective at securing mentions in the media than their publicists.

I know part of the problem is the authors expectations; but rarely do I hear about an author singing the praises of a publicist. This the way I discover good books, in rank order:

  1. Reviewer raves about a book
  2. Someone, whose opinion I respect, recommends the book (really the same as #1)
  3. Book makes a bestseller’s list (not always reliable, but it is better than “randomly” selecting from everything that is available)
  4. I discover the book on my own (rarely)

Relatively unknown literary authors should considering advertising their own books, and engaging in a little self promotion if order to increase sales. Now Martha’s book The Fall of Rome (reviewed by Thumper here: could sell even more copies today, five years after publication, if more people knew about it. It is an excellent book.

Assuming people like author’s work, once the reputation builds, the only advertising they need is to let reader know the next book is out. Everyone else has to build a reputation buy writing a good book and be willing to spend a little money and energy to let people know you are out there.

Photo founder Troy Johnson and author Martha Southgate at the National Book Club Confernece in Atlanta, 2006.


Troy D. Johnson is the President, founder and webmaster of, LLC (The African American Literature Book Club). Launched in March of 1998, has grown to become the largest and most frequently visited website dedicated to books and films by and about people of African descent.