Category Archives: Culture

How is African American Literature Doing?

For those in the business of Black books here in America, this is a common question; “How is African American Literature Doing?”  Some find the question difficult to answer.  I don’t, because the answer is simple; African American Literature doing very well!

National Book Award Medals2017, 2016, and 2015 were terrific years for African American books.  The National Book Awards and The Pulitzer Prize honored more African American writers than any three year period before—and 2017 isn’t over yet.

Despite the lack of coverage by mainstream media, the Institutions that have historically honored African American writers have not let up; the Carter G. Woodson Award, Coretta Scott King Award, Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Phillis Wheatley Book Award, NAACP Image Award, and Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence are a few of the more popular awards that recognize great Black literature.

Some of the largest and most active book clubs do a tremendous job recognizing Black literary talent that might otherwise go unnoticed.  For example, for over a quarter of a century, the Go on Girl! book club has chosen excellent books for their reading list which is enjoyed by the hundreds of readers that make up their national book club. Even smaller clubs have a meaningful impact on helping to promote and raise awareness of Black writers.

Relatively newer entities like the African Americans on the Move Book Club and the African American Literary Awards Show are having a keen impact on Black Books by increasing the level of excitement surrounding Black books with their national award shows which recognize not just Black books, but publishing professionals as well.

Yahdon Israel’s #literaryswag and Glory Edim’s Well-Read Black Girl (#WRBGchat) are just of couple of folks introducing a younger crop of readers to Black books using social media as a primary tool.

There are scores of independent bookstores and online booksellers who continue to do the work of connecting readers with the books they will enjoy.

I have just introduced a new section on AALBC.com which highlights The Most Critically Acclaimed Books. This section of the site aggregates all of the books published that have earned multiple honors.  The books are listed across all genres, by year, and represent the best of the best.

The screen shot below shows below an example of one of the most critically acclaimed books of 2015, Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Among many accolades, Between The World And Me won a 2015 National Book Award, won an NAACP Image Award, was a finalist for a 2016 Pulitzer Prize, is a 7 time AALBC.com bestselling book, and was selected for 2 prominent Book Club’s reading lists, making it one of the most of the most acclaimed books published in the 21st century.

Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I hope readers are able to use this growing list of books to discover some terrific reads they may have missed.

Of course, with the near monopoly of Amazon and the lack of platforms who highlight African American literature, the business of Black book’s is struggling, but the literature itself is doing quite well.

It is reasonable to argue that African American literature would be doing even better if the businesses that supported the literature were thriving.  Indeed, this is an argument that I make on a daily basis.  Good, potentially great, writers aren’t being published.  The excellent books which are are being published are failing to reach their audience.

With more and stronger independent booksellers, readers would have less difficulty discovering the great reads.  With more and stronger periodicals and websites writing critical reviews of African American books, readers would have less difficulty separating the wheat from the chaff.

To compound matters, the booksellers and publications that survive and want to support Black literature are not utilized or supported sufficiently to be as effective as they can be.

As a result, it is not unusual for an avid reader to say, “there are simply not enough good books being published.”  Again, this speaks not to a dearth quality literature, but inefficiencies in the Black book ecosystem.

It is AALBC.com’s mission to celebrate Black literature and to address the weaknesses in the black book ecosystem.  Will you help me?


Learn what motivated this article.

2 Ways Google is Killing Online Booksellers & How You Can Help

(1) Google Uses its Dominance in Search to Hijack Traffic from Websites

Google does this by placing content, it has collected from other websites, ahead of their search engine results, to sell its own products and services.  Google engages in this practice in a wide variety of areas from restaurant ratings to travel directions.

However, Google has had a particularly devastating impact on online booksellers—Google has literally embedded its own online bookstore prominently in their search engine results.  Rather than directing visitors to other websites, which should be the purpose of a search engine, Google is abusing their virtual monopoly in search by standing in bookseller’s virtual doorways and grabbing visitors before they can enter.

I’ve been tracking, and participating in, online book sales for 20 years.  My niche is Black literature and the impact on this group of sites has been particularly devastating.

Despite websites being less expensive and easier to create than ever before, there are far fewer websites dedicated to black literature today than there were 10 years ago. Those that remain are struggling to grow because they are unable to attract enough visitors to generate the revenue needed to maintain their websites.

The video below demonstrates how Google does this:

 

(2) Google’s Virtual Monopoly in Search Allows Them to Control Which Sites are Visited

I would argue that Google’s search engine is one of the the most significant developments on the web.  In fact, I use Google’s search engine on this site, because it is an excellent service (Google is discontinuing this service in 2018).

Unfortunately, Google does make mistakes, and these mistakes and be very costly if not catastrophic for the affected business.  Consider the following graph from Semrush’s website, which shows their estimate of this site’s traffic.

Graph of AALBC.com Traffic hit

While Semrush’s data is not prefect, they estimate a site’s traffic based upon how frequently it shows up in Google’s search results (big data stuff), they did correctly identify a significant drop in traffic to AALBC.com, back in 2011.  The drop in traffic was a direct result in a reduction of traffic from organic search from Google.

Now Google never provided, or even made themselves available for, an explanation of this dramatic, overnight, drop in traffic from search.  Many, less sophisticated, web site owners never knew what hit them. The drop in our traffic was apparently the result of a change in the code Google used to rank websites. Affected businesses were left to speculate on the specific underlying reasons for their site being penalized in search engine results.

This lack of transparency from Google has fostered a industry of people touting services to help you understand and improve (or game) your site’s search engine rankings.

This has also fostered a level of paranoia, which has led to an unwillingness of websites to link to each other for fear they could hurt their own site’s ranking in search. This behavior actually puts more power into Google’s hands, as websites are no longer a good way to discover other sites.  AALBC.com has never stopped linking to other good sites. Part of the value the site our site provides is helping visitors discover other websites they will enjoy.

From my experience, the best way to address Google’s search engine rankings is to follow all of Google’s recommendations and guidelines.  No matter how you feel about it, if you want your site to rank on the only search engine that matters, you must follow Google’s rules.

AALBC.com’s traffic has completely recovered 2011. 2017 is on track to be a record year for page views. Visitor quality is also better; visitors look at more pages and stay on the site longer.

AALBC.com is a higher quality site because of my adherence to Google’s mandates, but I invest a significant portion of my time addressing “Google Issues.”  This time and energy comes at the expense of creating valuable content for the site.

The environment created by Google also discourages the creation of new sites because it is not enough to produce quality content, you must also be well versed in Google search engine optimization.

Google Makes the World Wide Web a Less Rich Place

Because of these practices and more, Google makes the World Wide Web a much less rich place.  We are rapidly reaching a point where only the most massive corporate sites have a chance at survival.

Google has argued that they are trying to create the best possible experience for their visitors. In reality, what they have done is help make the web less accommodating to diversity and creativity, by making it an environment hostile to independence and where only the wealthiest companies have a chance to maintain a profitable platform.

Many who would have operated their own website, just 5 years ago, are now using Facebook as their primary web presence, because they believe their chances for discovery and survival are better on Facebook. As a result, visitors need a Facebook account to engage with this content. Once on Facebook visitors are treated to the same cookie cutter style and presentation. This situation contributes to concentrating of wealth into the hands of a few massive corporations. The rich get richer and wealth inequality continues to rises…

What Can You Do?

Support independent bookseller websites by;

  • Visiting their websites (here are more than 50);
  • Purchasing the products they sell;
  • Sharing their content by utilizing word of mouth, social media, anyway that makes sense;
  • Linking to bookseller websites from your website or blog;
  • Engaging with their content by leaving comments and participating in their discussion forums; and
  • Buying advertising on their platforms if available;

Sure, buying from an indie bookseller, might cost you a bit more on the price and you may need to wait a little longer to receive the product, but will we be better if the only place we can buy a book is from Google and Amazon?

Join our conversation about the importance of independent booksellers (both online and physical stores).

Support Independent websites, including this one, especially if you want them to thrive rather than merely survive.

Troy Johnson: Literary Activist of the Year 2017

Troy Johnson Literary Activist of the Year 2017

On June 10, 2017, I had the fortune of being honored with the Literary Activist of the Year Award, which was presented to me during a terrific ceremony at the EpiRiverside Center in Austell, Georgia.  The awards ceremony was hosted by AAMBC (African Americans on the Move Book Club). Fellow nominees, in the Literary Activist category, included Malaika AderoCurtis Bunn, Jeff Friday, and Lasheera Lee.

It really was a wonderful ceremony. There was entertainment, including live musical performances, spoken word, and even comedy. Poet, Nikki Giovanni honored with the Maya Angelou Lifetime Achievement Award.  Writer Teri Woods was also honored for her impact in Urban Fiction.

Most of my time is spent behind a screen tapping away at a keyboard. It is not glamorous work and 95% of it takes place behind the scenes in isolation.  It is neither glamorous or very lucrative, so I truly appreciate the times when my effort is recognized as important and worthy of celebration.

My hat goes off to Tamika Newhouse, founder of the AAMBC Literary Awards, for doing more than her part to celebrate Black writers and the professionals who support them.

Poet Nikki Giovanni and AALBC.com Founder Troy Johnson

with Poet Nikki Giovanni

with fellow Nominee, Malaika Adero

The Complete List of Winners

Literary Activist
Winner: Troy Johnson

Book Club of the Year
Winner: 556 Book Chicks

Publisher of the Year
Winner: St. Martins Press

Male Author of the Year
Winner: Marc Lamont Hill

Female Author of the Year
Winner: Mercy B.

Non- Fiction/Self Help Book of the Year
Winner: Around the Way Girl by Tarajee P. Henson and Denene Millner

Angie Martinez My Voice: A Memoir by Angie Martinez
Winner: I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayai

Magazine of the Year
Winner: Essence

Breakout Author of the Year
Winner: Dedra Allen

Independent Digital Publisher of the Year
Winner: Shan Presents

Street Lit Writer of the Year
Winner: K’wan

Urban Book of the Year
Winner: The Perfect Find by Tia Williams

Romance Author of the Year
Winner: Mercy B.

Screenwriter of the Year
Winner: Armani Martin

Reader’s Choice Award
Winner: Mz. Lady P.

eBook of the Year
Winner: St. Pierre Boyz: All is Fair in Love and War by Mesha Mesh and Mz. Lady P.

Christian Fiction Author of the Year
Winner: Kimberla Lawson Roby

Editor of the Year
Winner: Vanessa K. De Luca

Vanguard of Urban Media
Winner: Blavity

Motion Picture of the Year
Winner: Secrets

Blogger of the Year
And the winner Christina S. Brown “Love Brown Sugar”