Sunday, November 2, 2014

Marketing a Non-White Protagonist


It's guest post time, everyone. With all of the talk about how badly we need diverse books, this seems appropriate to post by author R.A. White.

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If you were to look at my book covers, you would probably assume that I'm African American and proud of it. But you'd be wrong. If I was African American I would be proud, but I'm as European American as they come, save for a few ounces of Cherokee blood. Since I'm not black, you might assume that I married a tall dark and handsome type, or at least that I'm in love with one, but you'd be wrong about that, too. My husband us under five foot seven inches, as white and freckled as any Irishman, and barely weighs more than I do, though I thank God that we carry our weight in different places.

I do have a small dark and handsome man in my life, my adopted son, but his skin tone really has nothing to do with the reason why I started writing books about a dark skinned girl. Why did I do it? Honestly, not for any of the reasons why I continue to do it. I was naïve. It never occurred to me that having a black lead could dramatically reduce my book sales, and I needed to have nations that looked very different from each other physically. I thought about a few options, and decided to give my heroine dark skin instead of pointy ears or scales. I had no idea what I was getting into.

Problem #1: It wasn't until I shared my cover design with friends and family that I began to see how this was going. I received an email that said, and I quote, "I don't think people will want to buy a book with a picture of a black girl on it." This got me all kinds of mad, but when I vented to some other friends (people of color) I was told that I should take the criticism seriously. They said people would assume it was African American literature, even though the cover is pretty clearly fantasy, and that most people wouldn't pick it up. My response: If you don't like my cover, you probably won't like my book. The book is about understanding and reconciliation, after all. If people aren't open minded enough to read a book with a woman of color on the cover, they're probably not going to get the rest of the book. I decided that people need to get comfortable with seeing the world (fantasy though it is) through the eyes of a person who doesn't look like them. People of color do it all the time, so why can't white people? Actually I've found that many do, and I love them for it, but it really is a problem that I would like to help solve. So I found myself with a bit of a quest, even though I didn't start out that way.

Problem #2: How does one market a book like Kergulen? After some marketing education I realized that I need to define my target audience and focus on them. That sounds simple enough, but realistically my book doesn't appeal to the mainstream fantasy audience, so I can't expect to get anywhere in a venue catering to white fantasy fans. I decided that my best bet was to find groups of people who were looking for stories about non-white protagonists, since that seems to be the primary defining characteristic of my books. But I'm white. I can't help believing (and I've seen evidence of this) that a lot of non-white people aren't interested in reading a book like mine when it was written by a white person. And the funny thing is I totally understand that. In the beginning it never occurred to me that I would be marketing to a particular demographic, or I might have done things very differently. I might have created a persona or changed the color of my heroine, but now that I'm here, I don't think I would change it. It's terrible for book sales, but I've learned so much about life as a minority from following interracial/diverse groups on goodreads and facebook, and I've had opportunity to interview several people about their experiences on my blog. I think all of it is helping me become more understanding and an all around better person.

Problem #3: It seems that most interracial/diverse groups are primarily interested in romance and/or erotica. My first book has almost zero romance in it, and most of what there is falls more into the 'romantic tension' category. People WANT them to get together because there's a connection. My second book has more, but it's still a supporting theme, not the point of the story. The third book will be similar to the second, although I admit I've been working on doing more with the romantic aspects just because I've learned how important it is to people. I won't ever get into erotica, even if I do joke about writing it on the side to make some money.

All that to say I don't have a big market in white groups, black groups, or most interracial reads groups. The people who read my books seem to really like them, but it's hard to get people to take a chance.

So what do I do? Mostly I keep writing and hope to be discovered some day, but while I'm doing that I've decided to try and make some guest posts on blogs that might have interested readers. I don't expect to be the next Veronica Roth, but I would be SO excited to be well-known enough that people of all skin tones would be familiar with my books, and maybe they'd read them, and maybe they'd gain a little perspective. Maybe they'd learn to see the world a little differently.

To learn more about me, the handsomest little guy ever to live, and my books, visit rawhitebooksandmore.weebly.com
My blog: http://rawhitebooksandmore.weebly.com

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