Black Indie Authors are the Plumb Line for the Black Experience
Many of you may know that this past August I finally became a published author. When I finally decided to pursue my dream of being a writer 3 years ago, my intention was to be traditionally published. That goal changed and I will tell you why. But first, let me explain what “Indie” authors and self-published authors are.
The term “Indie” stands for independent. This means that the author is not published by traditional publishing companies like Penguin/Random House or Simon and Schuster.
Independently and self-published are also used interchangeably, which can make things confusing. An author can be published by an independent publishing house and thus is called independently published, or they can publish their own book and thus are called self-published.
The term Indie author is the umbrella under which both of these categories are house.
Okay, now that the definitions are done let me tell you why I chose to self-publish.
When I shopped around my novel, Blood Land, I got a lot of rejections which is par for the course. It hurt a little, as any rejection does, but it didn’t stop me. Then one day I had an agent request my manuscript and I was cautiously excited.
I emailed her the manuscript and about two weeks later she wrote me back. I was so angry with her response I deleted the email (I regret I did this). But what she said made me decide to self-publish. Paraphrasing her words, she said that a story about a Black couple buying a former plantation wasn’t realistic because Black people don’t have the means to do that.
This is so wrong for so many reasons. First, books of fiction are just that, fiction. Anything is possible. However, she chose to define what is possible for Black characters.
Second, this agent — a white woman — has determined what is and is not possible for a Black couple in real life.
Third, she attempted to tell me that my story wasn’t valid.
This is why I self-published. No one has the right to tell me that my story is valid. I know my story is valid and I know there are people out there who want to read it. And guess what? It has gotten five-star reviews from both Black and white people alike.
I have a podcast that shares the works of Black Indie authors. It has exposed me to so many amazing and talented writers who I may never have come across if I only read traditionally published authors.
Seventy-one percent of Black fiction is sold by Black independently and self-published authors.
Did you know that SEVENTY-ONE percent of Black fiction is sold by Black independently published and self-published authors? That means that if you only read books published by the big five publishers (who I call the gatekeepers), then you are missing out on soooo much.
When you read a book by a Black Indie author, you are fighting against the underrepresentation of Black people in literature. Yes, there has been a push for “diversity” in books. However, it is only being done because it is what is politically acceptable now. Also, only certain stories with a certain type of feel are being allowed through the gates. Anything that is “too Black” or a voice that “isn’t clear” (again, read: too Black) most times isn’t traditionally published.
Reading books by Black Indie authors are also not influenced by the “white gaze” (to borrow a term from the late Toni Morrison). This relates to the previous point. If stories are accepted by one of the big five publishing houses, the nuances of the book may be changed so as to not make white readers uncomfortable.
There are certain themes that traditional publishers are comfortable with that attempt to box the Black American experience into categories that deal with struggle or violence perpetrated against us. While those are experiences of Black Americans to be sure, they are not the ONLY experiences.
The Black American experience is not monolithic.
This leads me to the third point. When you read Black Indie authors you are engaging with literature that is beyond the narrative of Black struggle.
The Black experience in America is not monolithic. It isn’t just trauma and struggle. It is romance, and mystery, and young adult, and dystopian, and epic fantasy. In fact, Black authors in this last category have their own name for this genre: Sword and Soul. I talked about that in my last post. You can read about it here.
The bottom line is our stories matter… ALL of them. It is not only important for Black readers who need to see themselves in stories as something other than a trope, but it is important for readers who aren’t Black because reading about more than our struggle and trauma will help them to gain a broader understanding of who Black people are. Understanding leads to empathy, and empathy can lead to conversations that can begin to dismantle racism, one brick at a time.
So, if you have a Black Indie author friend, support them by buying and reading their book. Talk about it on social media. Buy it as a gift for your book-loving friends and family.
Don’t know any? Check out my podcast episode page here. There are 42 authors listed there. You don’t have to listen to the episodes (although that would be nice) but you can get their names and buy their books on Amazon!
Black stories matter, folks. ALL of them.