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The State of Blacks in Publishing a 2001 Perspective

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Please check out the article "New York Publishing's Black Pack" which originally appeared in Black Issues Book Review Magazine on May 1, 2001. the article describes a gathering of Black publishing industry professionals, at a small dive bar, in the East Village of New York City.

The gathering has come to be known as the "Original the Black Pack Party": http://aalbc.it/bbporigin

It is an article that has some very telling quotes about the state of Blacks in publishing over a decade ago:

"We are over the hump in many ways in regard to publishing black books. Our most pressing concern was that the mostly white publishers would think that the upsurge in black book interest was a passing trend. That obviously isn't the case."

"So while on one hand it's vital for us, as publishing professionals, to break into as many of the old boy's clubs as we can," continues Jackson, "it's also important that we nurture and work with each other, especially since there are still so few of us."

In my opinion, things may be even worse today...

For the past 6 years I with the help of other like minded folks have continued hosting annual Black Pack Parties. It is always a well attended event a lot of love and commraderie is shared. My concern lately has been over how much of the socializing actually turns into meaningful action. Are there any more Black folks in publishing than there were 10 years ago? Are the proffesionals in place actually working together to support each other and nurture new profesionals?

I'm interested in reading what others might have to say about the state of the industry more than a decade later. I know folks are concerned about their career, and may not be willing to express freely, so if you want to post here and do not want your identity shared email your comments to me troy@aalbc.com and I'll post on your behalf and promise to keep your comments confidential.

Black Pack Party Photo Shoot 2011, Harlem, NY

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Honestly, I think that there is a new renaissance going on within the black literary community. More authors are going mainstream and branching out to different genres. Books only about sex and stereotypes are being beaten out by new authors with a more creative subject matter like Micheal Baisden, James McBride, and J.Pizarro-Cruz

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Markbookworm, welcome to the discussion baords!

Markbooworm there are indeed more books being published than ever before -- especially by Black folks. However I would say that the renaissance has already taken place and what we are seeing is a decline. More books being published but smaller average sales per author. Declining advances, fewer boostores, fewers book websites, fewer literary magazines, less book coverage in newspapers and magaiznes than 5 years ago.

But my main point, is what is happenning in the halls of the large publishing houses like Random House, Hachette, Simon & Shuster, relative to Black folks. It looks like we simply have fewer Black folks working, than when the orginal Black Pack party was held 10 years ago. I don't have data but I know there are less Black editors than there were 5 years ago.

About the authors you mentioned: Baisden is popular, and does positive things for the community, but I would not categorize his work as "creative". Besides hasin't he been writing the essentially the same book since he first published almost 20 years ago? McBride, while abundantly talented artistically, has only written 1 novel, not excactly reflective of a trend or an influence on one (all due respect to both authors, both of whom have sold a lot of book on AALBC.com). I'm unfamiliar with J.Pizarro-Cruz.

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This is definitely an interesting topic. I wonder if more blacks are self-publishing as a way to get their foot in the door because the big houses are being so selective? Seems like they are going for big names, or "celebrities" with a following (Baisden) -- and I get it, it's a business; they want to be sure they make money off the venture. But it does limit the offerings to the masses. I was fortunate to find a small (white) press that was interested in publishing my book, and I'm grateful to them. But I certainly got my share of rejections from agents (black and white). I didn’t find too many small black presses out there. It doesn't seem there are too many opportunities for black writers to be published by black publishing houses. Thoughts?

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Welcome Melanie, and thanks for sharing your input. While folks are reading this topic I wish more would weigh in. Congrats on the small press publishing your work.

I submit that the insatiable drive for ever increasing profits has contributed to the decline of publishing. Of course as Black people, we bear the brunt of the negative impact. Publishing is not the only causality, music, TV, film, is all suffering for similiar reasons.

Back to books and Blacks folks: A business can operate, thrive even without persuing only profit. The reason the smaller press published yor book, I suspect, is that they were concerned with more than simply turning a dollar. They have a mission besides money.

Melanie, perhas you can tell us what it is about yout work and the publisher that made them descide to publish your work?

I know Kensington Publishing operates a little differently than Simon and Schuster. I know Akashic press selects authors in a different fashion than Hachette Book Group. Sure the differences cut across the board, but the differences are so much more stark for Black authors.

As an excerise, I'll ask folks to find 10 Black authors published by Akashic Books, then compare them to 10 Black authors published by Hachette Book group compare the authors and let me know what you think.

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