Category Archives: writers

Black Writers Dominate the 2017 Pulitzer Prizes

Tyehimba Jess, Hilton Als, Colson Whityehead and LYnn Nottage. Black writers winners of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize

Back in January of this year, I took the time to try to figure out how many Black writers have won Pulitzer Prizes in the six “Letters and Drama” categories; Biography/Autobiography, Fiction, General Non-Fiction, History, Poetry, and Drama.  The results were spectacularly dismal.

The award was first bestowed in 1917.  The first award was not given to a Black person until 1950! Gwendolyn Brooks was the first to win for her book of poetry Annie Allen.  Almost another three decades would go by before another Black writer, James Alan McPherson would win for his novel, Elbow Room in 1978.

As far as I can tell, no Black writer has ever won for General Non-fiction. Only one writer Ta-Nehisi Coates was ever nominated in the category, for the spectacularly successful, Between the World and Me.

Up until 2016, only 19 Black writers have won Pulitzer Prizes during the first century the award was given.  However this year, three Black writers have won half of the awards in given in the Letters and Drama categories.  Given the history of the award, it is like lightning striking not twice but three times.

In fact, novelist and critic Hilton Als won the Award for Criticism.  I did not research the history of the other 18 categories for which Pulitzer Prizes are awarded.  The other categories deal mostly with journalism and reporting; I suspect that would be an interesting and revealing exercise to review those categories too.

I’d be the first to argue that the Black community does not need the validation of Pulitzer Prize Board to substantiate our work.  Indeed, given the history of the award, it is not expected either.  However, there have been substantive changes in the awards in recent years.  This is the first time three Black writers have won in these categories in a single year. Of the total 22 awards given to Black writers, almost half were given in the last 10 years.  This is a positive trend.

So while we do not need the award to know our writing deserves merit, it is, of course, welcomed when our literary merit is acknowledged and celebrated by the broader community.   In additional to the $10,000 monetary award, these writers will enjoy even greater success with better book advances and more lucrative speaking gigs.  This is America and awards like the Pulitzer help authors achieve financial success—a benefit denied so many talented Black writers.

AALBC.com congratulates all the winners of Pulitzer Prizes in the Letters and Drama categories:

Fiction
Colson Whitehead for his novel Underground Railroad

“For a distinctive work that melds performance art with the deeper art of poetry to explore collective memory and challenge contemporary notions of race and identity.”

Poetry
Tyehimba Jess for his book Olio

“For a smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America.”

Drama
Lynn Nottage for her play Sweat

“For a nuanced yet powerful drama that reminds audiences of the stacked deck still facing workers searching for the American dream.”

 

2015 Year End Thank You!

Coming in the New Year

newbookscreenshotThe biggest news for the new year is our website upgrade. We are redesigning AALBC.com from scratch, and we have the benefit of 18 years of content and experience, to bring you a world class website, celebrating Black culture through literature.

Without getting too technical, we are developing a customized CMS, which will allow us to present information about books and authors in a way that no other website can. Our new website is, mobile first, faster, more easily navigated, and less cluttered.

We now offer more flexible book buying options, including links to publishers (as with Just Us Books) and other independent booksellers, to bring you the best deals while offering publishers better opportunities to profit from their books. In some cases, as with the Go On Girl! Book Club’s reading list, commissions from book sales are donated to charity.

Speaking about book clubs, we are greatly increasing our coverage of book clubs, not only to help book clubs attract new members and share ideas without other clubs, but to help readers discover the great reads book clubs have researched and uncovered.

This is just the beginning; we still have a lot content to migrate and have not settled on a layout for our homepage, but you can review our progress, in real time, on our development website aalbc.org.

Our upgrade is a massive project, which we plan to complete in the spring 2016. Your ongoing support is crucial to the success of this effort, indeed to the survival of AALBC.com. Here are 5 things you can do to help:

  1. Share our content.
  2. Purchase your eNewsletter subscription.
  3. Buy books through our website.
  4. Share your thoughts in the comments on each page and join our discussion forums
  5. Keep reading!

The Power List & Huria Search Will Be Decommissioned

Decommissioned websitesHuria Search’s goal was to support and showcase independent Black owned content producers and book websites by making them more discoverable. The spirit of Huria Search will continue on AALBC.com. We have already migrated most of Huria Search’s content to AALBC.com, including our information on Black Bloggers, Black Newspapers, Black Magazines, Black Bookstores, Black Book Websites, with more to come.

The Power List was a collaborative effort to fill the void, left by Essence Magazine and Blackboard, for a bestsellers list covering African American literature. However, AALBC.com’s best selling books list, with our newly increased focus will be a suitable alternative next year. The new website design has made it possible to add a children’s bestselling books list and we will be able to produce a new list every month.

The freeing up of resources, previously dedicated to the Power List and Huria Search, will allow me to focus more intently on improving AALBC.com.

A Very Special Thanks to These AALBC.com Supporters

news-troyWhen one compiles a list like this, important people are invariably left off. To you I truly apologize. However I feel compelled to acknowledge a few people and institutions, who in 2015 lifted me spiritually, financially or through deed. Without your support AALBC.com would simply be impossible. In no particular order:

Dr. Elizabeth Nunez, Christopher D. Burns, Akashic Books, Kimberla Lawson Roby, SmileyBooks, Wade and Cheryl Hudson, The Center for Black Literature, Dr. David Colvin, Good2Go Publishing, Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, Robin Johnson, Connie Divers Bradley, Victoria Christopher Murray, Sherrie Young, Mike Cherichetti, Fertari Netsuziy, W. Paul Coates, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Lynda Johnson, Pamela Samuels Young, Gwen Richardson, Charisse Carney-Nunes, Queens Public Library, Baruch College, Kam Williams, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Carol Taylor, HICKSON, Google, Martha Kennerson, M. D. Williams, Robert Fleming, Rita Williams-Garcia, Tony & Yvonne Rose, Ramunda & Derrick Young, Jamie Blatman, Kalamu ya Salaam, HICKSON, Mike D’nero, Bernard Timberlake II, Cordenia Paige, HARRY BROWN, my “Bookends NYC” crew, anyone else I failed to recognize.

Finally to my wife and daughters who bear, involuntarily, the struggle I have taken on without complaint and with love. They support my effort, of celebrating Black culture through literature, simply because it is my dream.

I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year!

Peace & Love,
Troy Johnson
AALBC.com Founder and Webmaster

news-black-pack-party-2013

AALBC.com Co-Hosts the Annual Black Pack Party Which will be Held in Chicago in 2016

 

Serious Problems With Facebook Promotion

Writers, if you are using Facebook to promote your work—especially paid promotion— invest 30 minutes of your time to watch these two videos, and read the article.  It will probably change the way you think about Facebook and save you some time, energy, and money.

 

AALBC.com’s Last 3 Million Visitors

As a content publisher, marketing is part of the job.  As an independent publisher, with limited resources, it is critical I use my resources wisely.  My website’s analytics is an important tool for me. Below is a Google Analytics report which shows the source of AALBC.com’s last 3 million visitors.   last-3000000-visitors

Organic Search Brings AALBC.com 75% of Our Visitors

Ranking high on Google and Bing’s search engine results contributed to bringing AALBC.com more than 75% of our last 3 million visitors.

Creating high quality content, results in higher rankings in search engine results¹. The creation of high quality content is perfectly aligned with AALBC.com’s goal.  No writer or content producer could reasonably argue against a system where the creation of higher quality content results in more visitors.  Visitors, of course, are a primary driver of revenue for a website.

Direct Traffic is Not Too Shabby Either at 13%

The source of our direct traffic is trickier to nail down precisely, but it does result from visitors who come to AALBC.com, by clicking a link on my emailed newsletter, through a bookmarked page, typing an AALBC.com page directly into the browser, and any instance where referral data is not passed².

With all the hype surrounding social media, and Facebook in particular, many writers are ignoring time tested marketing techniques, like a solid mailing list.  Our mailing list has just under 11,000 subscribers, and 100% of them have opened an email within the last 6 months (we actively remove subscribers who haven’t).  Open rates for a typical mailing is at least 20%. This means every mailing will be opened by at least 2,000 readers.  In addition, many of our subscribers are generous enough to be paid subscribers. We also send a mailing, once a month, that is sponsored.  Not only is our eNewsletter an effective way to reach our audience, it is a revenue generator.

Approximately 90% of our traffic is generated directly and through organic search.  The remaining 10% comes from other websites including social media.

Facebook Brings AALBC.com 1% of Our Visitors

It is interesting to note that Wikipedia and Rottentomatoes (RT, a film review aggregator website) sends us just about as many visitors as Facebook.

Publishers have the ability to post links back to their websites on related Wikipedia articles. In general this practice is considered “promotion” and is purportedly against Wikipedia’s guidelines.  Despite that, I’ve followed the lead of major corporations and posted links back to related AALBC.com content.  As the report shows the tactic works as well as engaging on Facebook, but with a fraction of the effort.

Side Bar: I actually stopped posting on Wikipedia over a year ago; the last straw was a battle I had with one of Wikipedia’s editors who seemed hell bent on promoting Zane’s tax liabilities and marginalizing her numerous achievements.

I post interesting AALBC.com content on Facebook almost every day (I’ve shared this article on Facebook too). Again, Wikipedia, where I have not posted a thing in over a year and is free, drives as much traffic as Facebook where I post almost every day and have paid for promotion.

If I add Facebook mobile, Facebook made up just 1.3% of my overall traffic (40K of 3M+ visitors). Of course it is better to have those visitors than not, right?  Well that depends on the effort it takes to get those visitors, and what those visitors do when they visit AALBC.com.

Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic Reach³

Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic Reach

One major problem with Facebook is that the quality of your content is of little significance. Facebook controls who sees your content. Search engines control who sees your content too, but search engines are motivated, and rewarded, by giving visitors quality search results.  Facebook, on the other hand, is motivated by maximizing their revenue and engagement on their website.

I have watched AALBC.com’s Facebook page “likes” quadruple over the last couple of years, while organic (free) post engagement has dropped substantially.  This is Facebook’s way to create an incentive for marketers to pay for post promotion.  I have experimented with paying for post promotion, but I have yet to reach the level of engagement I enjoyed organically, a few years ago, with far fewer fans.

facebook-boosted-post

AALBC.com Last (and Final) Promoted Post Statistics

Despite having more than 20,000 fans and almost 5,000 friends, I reach less than 300 people organically with a typical post.  If I spend $7, I can increase this to 2,000.  But still, this is less than 10% of my fan base and I have to pay to reach them.

Keep in mind this is an audience that I built through my efforts of actively engaging with people on Facebook.

Again, I used to achieve this level of reach without having to pay for it. But those days are over as Facebook has made it clear that organic reach is a thing of the past³ .

And of course all of this assumes you can trust the data the information being provided to you from Facebook.  As the videos above assert there is a lot of click fraud occurring on Facebook.  Are the 2,310 people I paid to see my ad real?  Are the 19 who clicked the link real?  If you ask me, I’d say, “no.”

Take a look at a report (below) which shows the “people” who clicked on my Facebook advertisement. The ad ran for 7 days, from October 1 to October 7, 2015. You will see that the Avg. Session Duration is 00:00:00—this means that none of the visitors to the site looked at a second page, they all left immediately4.session-refferal

Sadly, there is no shortage of social media marketing “experts” who promise to help you maximize the effectiveness your advertising campaigns on Facebook.

Few of us are sophisticated enough to evaluate the effectiveness of these experts or the effectiveness of a Facebook advertising, particularly when the data supplied by Facebook is suspect.  Indeed, many social media marketers would claim, “We got you 2,310 views for only $7.” When in reality, what I got, in this case, was ripped off.

Someone looking at this report may notice that all of the Facebook referrals came from mobile users (m.faceboo.com/) and claim, well Troy your website, AALBC.com, is not optimized for mobile displays.  That is true, but the page I was advertising is optimized for mobile displays.  In fact the link is to a newly redesigned version of AALBC.com which will be officially rolled out in early 2016.

For writers and other content producers managing their own websites, with limited resources, adding the additional effort of maintaining a Facebook page comes at the expense of maintaining and publishing content on your own website.  A compromise that few of us can really afford to make.  That $7, I wasted with Facebook, could have gone toward paying a writer for content that a reader visiting my website would enjoy, and that another website link to.

Why would I continue to take precious resources away from the production of quality content on AALBC.com, which is responsible for 90% of our visitors, and generates revenue, and redirect those resources to Facebook, who we have to pay, to bring of 1% of our visitors, many of whom are probably fraudulent?

On top of that, by promoting posts (a form of advertising on Facebook), I’m literally paying Facebook to provide them with free content.  Continuing to do this defies all reason and logic, so I have stopped.

As mentioned in the first video above, the YouTube social network pays content producers for publishing videos on their platform.  This is the way it is supposed to work. Facebook should be paying us for publishing content on their websites.

Independent Websites Send More Visitors to AALBC.com Than All of Social Media

otherwebsites-linking-to-aalbcIf you were able to scan further down the list of the sources of AALBC.com last 3 million visitors, you would to see the impact of other websites.  If all of the visitors, from hundreds of others sites, that link to AALBC.com were added together they easily exceed all of social media referrals—not just Facebook!  Here is a google search showing other sites with links to AALBC.com, excluding Facebook and Twitter.

Individually, none of these sites (see a short sample listing on the right) are sending as much traffic to AALBC.com, as Facebook, but collectively they send much more—and therein lies our potential.  We just need to recognize the power we have and use it.

Often, the only effort on my part, to get another website to link to AALBC.com, is to publish content that the website’s owner feels is valuable enough to link to.  AALBC.com links to thousands of other websites; rarely do we publish a document that does not link to another website.  Sites linking to each other naturally (organically) is the true nature of the World Wide Web.

Another strategy get referral traffic from other websites is to engage on their discussion forums or comment on their articles.  To be clear, I’m not saying spam the comments section of websites with unrelated promotional material. What I am saying is look for articles related to what you may have written and comment in a meaningful or helpful way. A properly curated and managed site, welcomes this type of interaction.

There are websites however that don’t recognize our collective strength and actively avoid linking to other websites. Once I ran into a problem with Ebony Magazine, posting in their comments, and got my feeling hurt 😉  But websites that react the way Ebony are exceptions and definitely not the rule.

AALBC.com has operated a discussion forum for over 15 years. Authors are encouraged to post information about their books  and engage with readers. However, author have turned to my Facebook page instead of using my website.  I’m seriously considering removing the Facebook page as it is cannibalizing visitors to AALBC.com.

Posting information about one’s books on related Facebook pages or another user’s wall is a strategy many use.  This has resulted in many groups degenerating into a places where writers make “drive by posts,” sharing content from their own pages without even visiting the groups that they are posting to.

Even if many people engage with your content on Facebook, this serves to highlight Facebook’s site, not yours.  A very small fraction of people will actually leave Facebook—and why should they if you are constantly posting on Facebook.

Unfortunately, a Facebook page is becoming the ONLY web presence for many writers and even businesses—they don’t maintain a website at all.  Even a simple website is far more feature rich than a Facebook page can be.  If we factored in Facebook’s invasion of our privacy, selling our personal data, and controlling access to updates; the choice between a Facebook page and a website should be a no-brainer.

If this trend continues the world wide web will be a far less rich place as folks migrate from maintaining websites to creating Facebook pages. Profits generated on the web will be concentrated at the top, greatly reducing the potential for independent websites to grow and for new ones to get started.

For a content producer having a Facebook page as your only web presence is a mistake. Because you are limiting your audience, not just to Facebook users, but to the Facebook users (real or otherwise) you pay Facebook to show it to.

Many writers will tell readers to “follow me on Facebook” and fail to mention their own website, or blog.  Some writers even put the Facebook logo on their business card and marketing material.  Even AALBC.com has Facebook icons on virtually every page.  We give no other entity, save Twitter, as much free promotion as we give Facebook.

All of this attention paid to Facebook reduces attention paid to websites.  In fact many excellent writers, have just given up blogging, or their blogs languish in obscurity, because they not getting enough visitors to make it worth the effort to maintain.  Engaging more aggressively on Facebook, to increase blog readership, is not helping.

The Facebook Game is Rigged

Some might suggest that if you are only getting 1% of your traffic from Facebook, then you must be doing something wrong.  Well you are not.  The game is simply rigged against you as I hope my reports, these videos, and perhaps your personal experience has demonstrated.

Now if Facebook was sending AALBC.com thousands of visitors, who spent time on the website, this article would not have been written.  If there were countless stories of bloggers, magazines, newspapers and writers who realized tremendous success and an increase of readership through their efforts on Facebook, this article would not be necessary.

Instead what I’m experiencing, witnessing and learning in my research is a very different story. It is also a story that is not being told, especially in the Black community.

There is Hope

AALBC.com’s time, energy and money will continue to be directed to two primary activities moving forward;

  1. Producing Quality Content
    I first started AALBC.com exactly 18 years ago today (October 10, 1997).  Providing a platform to connecting readers with books about Black culture is what attracts people to this website. Our planned website upgrade will allow us to share information on books in a way that no other website is currently doing.
  2. Advocating, Sharing , and Collaborating with Other Independent Websites
    Spread the word about websites you enjoy.  Figure out ways to collaborate with other websites.  Post comments in the comments section of those websites. If we don’t have an network of strong, independent websites working together, none of us will survive, and our only option will be a Facebook page (or a page on whatever platform has the most power at the time).Despite all the caution described about Facebook, we can, for now at least, make Facebook work for us, rather than the other way around, without spending a penny, by simply sharing content on the platform.

If you found this message helpful (or not), please comment below and share it with others.

Notes:

¹ Of course this is a simplification.  There are other strategies one can employ to rank higher in organic search engine results, without producing high quality content.  Search engines are engaged in a constant effort to defeat those that “game” the system, to rank higher in search results, with lower quality content.  Search engines don’t always get it right, but it is a very difficult task.

² I really should take advantage of tagging URLs.  This will help me identify of the “Direct” traffic in my analytics reports. In fact, I’m also contemplating paying writers by the traffic they help generate to the website, through the use of tracked URLs.

³ In 2012, Facebook famously restricted organic reach of content published from brand pages to about 16 percent. In December 2013, another round of changes reduced it even more.  By February 2014, according to a Social@Ogilvy analysis of more than 100 brand pages, organic reach hovered at 6 percent, a decline of 49 percent from peak levels in October. (All of the detailed data, analysis and practical recommendations are in their white paper.)

An earlier version of this article indicated that the time spend on the site was zero seconds. Google says that they assign a value of 0 seconds to all visitors who only visit one page because they had no way of determining how long the visit lasted unless the visitor goes to a second page.