So, what is the way forward for authors of color whom big publishing is no longer an option? Digital publishing has been the most popular choice for authors. Its egalitarian nature, along with the ubiquity of the technology has put it in the reach of any author. Mashable.com reports that eBook sales will reach almost $10 billion by 2016, this while, according to per industry heavyweight Publishers Weekly, print numbers decline. These developments happen as the numbers of Americans with eReaders has doubled since July of 2011, according to eBookReader.com.
The past November, Latino Raul Ramos y Sanchez digitally published Pancho Land, the third book in his Class H trilogy, after America Libre and House Divided, though Kindle. He sees it as a way keep his audience and build on it. It’s another incarnation, he says, a “second life.”
Other authors forsaken by big publishing have found refuge with small independent publishers. Bernice L. McFadden, who describes parting with big publishing as “the best thing that could have happened to me” has flourished at Brooklyn indie publisher Akashic. She has received numerous accolades and accomplished much since Akashic published Glorious in 2010. Gathering of Waters and a reissue of her 2001 novel The Warmest December followed. “Publishing with Akashic Books is a collaborative experience.”
Elizabeth Nunez has also found a home at Akashic, which published Anna In Between and Boundaries. Akashic, she says, consciously builds an audience for their authors by placing them in festivals, on panels, and in as many venues as possible. On November 15 of 2012, Nunez received the National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS) Lifetime Literary Award for her significant contribution to Trinidad and Tobago literature, on the occasion of her country’s fiftieth anniversary of independence.
Like Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant and the hundreds of authors representing themselves as something else on LinkedIn, others have opted out. Connie Briscoe has gone that route, walking away from what she calls “the writing scene.” When asked if she feels that she’s made the right decision, she says, “I know that I made the right decision for myself at this time. That isn’t to say that I’ll never return to publishing. I very well may someday. In fact I’m sure I’ll write something at some point, whether fiction or nonfiction, book length or something shorter. Writing is in my blood. It comes naturally to me and I have no doubt that something will happen and I’ll get the urge to put it to paper–or to a computer monitor as the case may be.”
For now, she is happy with the mark that she’s left on the publishing industry and the literary world. “I think that I and others blew the door wide open for black authors. It had been cracked open by the literary giants who were too good for the industry to ignore. We all know who they were–Baldwin, Hurston, Morrison, Walker to name a few. Then a dozen or so more of us, led mainly by Terry McMillan, kicked it wide open. A lot of books and authors have come through since then, some of them maybe more desirable than others. But at least the door is open.”
This examination of the state of big publishing and its relationship to authors of color yields more questions than answers. Some authors who work hard at making a presence succeed; others fail for reasons unknown. The works of authors is consistently niche marketed to smaller segments of the population, yet the authors themselves are faulted for so-called anemic sales. Editors insist that there needs to be more of them of color within their ranks, yet they are only one part of an entire board engaged in the acquisitions process. Despite having impressive platforms for reaching audiences, some authors still lose their publishing deals. Authors of color grapple with all of the above and more when asking what the state of the relationship between them and big publishing. In the parlance that those on Facebook use to describe confounding relationships, it’s complicated…