Monday, November 07, 2005

Race and SF part 2 of??: Publishing (a.k.a. The Numbers Don't Lie)

In the comments for part 1 of my continuing discussion of this topic, Tiel mentioned the publishing companies and their reluctance to publish science fiction by non white writers. I feel that I should probably expand on this a little bit. Now, it just to happens that the volume of published science fiction by black writers is small enough for one person(me, in this case) to be aware of the vast majority of it. I noticed a very interesting trend that I mentioned on Steven Barnes' blog a while back and I figured I'd bring up here too.

Of the major SF publishing houses, exactly four have, to my knowledge, ever published something by a black author. They are

Charles Saunders

Del Rey
Minister Faust

Steven Barnes

Warner Aspect
Steven Barnes
Nalo Hopkinson
Walter Mosely
Octavia Butler
Levar Burton
The Dark Matter Anthologies

In other words, one SF publisher has published more black writers than all the other publishers combined. And this is without me stacking the deck and listing each of the writers in the two Dark Matter Anthologies by name (I might have to if Pam wants her name on the list). Also worth considering, DAW published the last Imaro book in 1985, which means they haven't published a black writer in 20 years.

Possible other reasons for this discrepancy besides race? You tell me.

Over on Steven Barnes' blog, he mentioned a while back that one of the most influential publishers in SF for a really long time was on record as stating that it was impossible for black people to create an advanced civilization. My guess, he wasn't the only one who thought that.

On the other hand, it is also impossible to discuss publishing without discussing the readers. Steve Barnes also mentioned that it is considered a publishing reality that a book with a black face on the cover will not sell as well as a book with a white face on the cover.

I'm guessing its a confluence of the fact that
(a) less time and money are spent promoting books by black writers because the publisher simply doesn't expect then to succeed anyway

(b) they get little, if any, shelf space at bookstores for the same reason

(c) Black faces/writers simply do not appeal to the majority white SF readership for reasons they aren't comfortable thinking about

For instance, I wonder what would have happened to Anansi Boys if the cover had been a picture of, say, Lenny Henry as Fat Charlie. My guess, it would still have sold well on the basis of the fact that Neil Gaiman is a celebrated white writer, but the picture would have found its way into conversations somehow.

No offence intended to Neil Gaiman at all, but the fact still remains that non-white characters created by white writers find acceptance to a greater degree than they do when written by non-white writers (also known in certain circles as the 'Spawn' effect)

I might end up talking about race and comic books (very similar dynamic and audience) since SB brought up the Tintin and Asterix comics

1 comment:

James Nelson said...

Curious that no one has commented on this topic, but it contains a lot of meat. The underlining question of Black representation in art being more acceptable to the mainstream when authored by non-blacks crosses the spectrum of movies, literature, comics, and even non artistic fields such as history. I always used to wonder that if the movie "The Color Purple" was done by anyone but Steven Spielberg would as many non-black ppl have taken the time to go see it?
I remember the critic Gene Siskel making a comment about a film, which can be attributed to books as well, "It showed me people that I've never known before". I found that comment fascinating, and it gave me a clue as to why Black films and books don't do well. One of the problems here in America, is that the mainstream erroneously believe that they know everything there is to know about Black people. Secondly they presume that our stories are not universal, but rather specific to us. We don't represent to them, the mystic of the orient, or the exotic cultures of say India, or Bali. Americans love aliens, be they cyborgs, pointy eared, green/blue skinned, or covered in fur, but they aren't that inclined toward Black ppl, the nearest literal equivalent of that science fiction staple in reality. And SF readers are a part of the mainstream. I used to attend conventions on a regular basis, and friends would always ask why more Blacks didn't attend. I would reply, "I've been coming to this con, for XXX years, and people still treat me like I wandered in here by mistake even though I've got an armload of Asimov books, and wearing a Federation T-shirt." The bigger question in my mind is why more Blacks don't write more SF, either for existing shows, or wholly new stories. I know that Blacks do read SF, and they do watch it. Unfortunately publishers seem to be redlining us at present in the bookstores. I've noticed that other than manga the second fastest growing section in bookstores seem to be Black books, although almost entirely comprised of romance novels.