Monday, August 13, 2007

Romance Rules!


So you want to write the great American novel--a visceral piece embodying the hope and struggle of the common man? Screw that! The name of the game is love and hurt and the games the sexes play on each other, baby! From Publishers Weekly, here's a survey from one leg of the concentrated Soulful Expressions tour of Wal-Marts in Indiana and the Chicago 'burbs. As we all know, Wal-Mart, supposedly the symbol of American patriotism, single handedly destroyed the Main Street USA and its independent shops that the corporation's right wing officers and directors (and captive politicians) idolize for we masses, and has been the subject of an Oscar nominated- documentary on how it screws its workers and, of course, cheapens the community, increases traffic and pollution, floods the market with cheap-ass slave labor produced goods from overseas...but let's be practical here. You can sell goo-gobs of books in there!!! Hence, a slice of the itinerary:

By Lynn Andriani -- Publishers Weekly, 8/10/2007 7:04:00 AM
Chicago radio personality Bonnie DeShong stands at the front of a tour bus and speaks in a loud voice: "We gonna go to Wal-Mart! We gonna kick butt! We gonna sell books! Y’all excited?" A cheer erupts from the passengers and we’re on our way.
It’s day one of the Soulful Expressions bus tour, a four-day book publicity event organized by Levy Home Entertainment. Between Thursday and Sunday, 19 African-American authors will visit 12 Wal-Mart stores between Indianapolis and Chicago. They’ll sign their works, meet readers and attempt to sell some 6,000 books.
First stop: Wal-Mart Store #3529 - Lawrence, Indiana - 10 a.m.. Pam Nelson, Levy’s director of advertising and sales promotions, sends the authors off the bus and toward the massive superstore with the mantra "A signed book is a sold book." And she’s right; a crowd has already gathered inside the store, eager to shake hands with their favorite authors and have them autograph their books. At a U-shaped formation of tables, situated between the clothing department and the "portrait studio," the 19 authors charm customers. Most of the customers are women, though one husband and wife leave the area with their shopping cart piled high with paperbacks and the free tote bag Levy throws in--which all the authors have signed, too. The husband says these signed books make great gifts for his wife’s sisters.
Back on the bus, the women--and one lucky man, Keysha’s Drama author Earl Sewell--chat about where they’re from. Some are reading each other’s books, though one is heavily engrossed in HP7. The bus rolls through the August heat, past housing developments and churches. We stop for lunch at Tossed, and the waitress brings out complimentary desserts for three authors whose books she loves.
Second stop: Wal-Mart Store #1557 - Fishers, Indiana - 2 p.m.. There are fewer customers at the book signing area of this store, but that doesn’t deter the authors. They’re up out of their seats, walking over to customers and introducing themselves. Of course, they want to sell their own books. But for Weapons of Mass Seduction author Lori Bryant-Woolridge, it’s more than an individual effort: "It’s a great opportunity, not just for us, but for the entire classification of African-American literature. And it’s fun." Some of the authors know each other, but many are meeting for the first time.Third stop: Wal-Mart Store #1728 - Anderson, Indiana - 4:15 p.m.. This stop is supposed to be a "stock signing," so there are no chairs set up for the authors to meet and greet patrons. But a crowd has gathered nonetheless. It’s a little chaotic, as a large group gathers around the one small table piled with books, but no one seems to mind. We leave the store after a half hour, and step into the sweltering air outside. Nappily Married author Trisha R. Thomas isn’t dogged by the heat or the day’s grueling pace: "It’s such an honor to be on the tour. I’m so glad St. Martin’s sent me."
Fourth stop: Wal-Mart Store #1518 - Indianapolis, Indiana - 6 p.m.. We’re not even inside the store, and a customer rushes up to author Beverly Jenkins, clutching a battered paperback edition of a Jenkins book that’s at least 10 years old, Indigo. She's a diehard fan and had to be the first person at this store to meet longtime author Jenkins. We’re a half hour early to this store, but the book signing area is already crowded. A local radio station has set up speakers next to the book displays, and the mood is festive and relaxed as the authors and customers mingle. In an hour, many authors sell out their inventory--which is at least 40 books each.
Around 7:15 p.m., the authors and readers hug goodbye. One woman tells In Bed With Her Boss author Brenda Jackson, "Y’all keep writin’!" and Jackson answers with, "Y’all keep buyin’!" After a group shot, all 19 authors stumble onto the bus, exhausted. Bonnie, who has taken on the role of cheerleader/bus mom, assumes her position at the front of the bus. "Soul Expressions! One down, a whole lot more to go!"

13 comments:

Chicama Vineyard said...

Now I am torn! Darn you! I am an ardent fan of the genre and I recognize two of the authors in the article you presented. My neighbor recognized Earl Sewell's name and loves his books.

But I also despise Wal-Mart and everything it stands for. The "low" prices are a facade ad I have family members who have a decent wage and benefits ONLY as a result of community action and that documentary (there was one on PBS-Frontline) as well. I'm glad I live in a traditional section of Mobile and not the suburbs. I can talk to a pharmacist, a grocer, a butcher, a shoe store and the like who know me and no it's not really that much more expensive than Wal-Mart. I buy my books at independent shops as well, including a black bookstore up in Birmingham of which I am sure the owners are cringing when they see stories like this!

lance williams, sr said...

I get into this with my wife all the time whenever we are in the bookstore. She says "You men don't read!" I fire back, "That's better than you women reading mess like this." Then I apologize and go buy a Maxim and Sporting News! Seriously, man, keep doing what you're doing. We got your back.

Anonymous said...

My only problem with this tour is that some pulp authors are lying to themselves and thinking what they are writing is literature on par with Morrison and Ellison. Claney doesn't compare himself to Hemingway.

My question: What's keeping authors of suspense, thrillers, mysteries or literary fiction from launching groups tours like this? You don't have to go to Wal-Mart or Target but you can hit difference bookstores. It doesn't have to be 19 authors but 3 or 4 with different points of views who have a panel discussion about their work and current issues.

I can't lie. I would pay good money to see a panel debate between you or Nick Chiles and Nicky Turner or Teri Woods.

Lisa said...

I can't answer for the author but I bet the answer is in the material. Folks coming to WalMart are likely more in tune with a tour highly pubbed on African American stations on romance and "love, lust and lies," rather than books on a detective solving a kidnapping, or Chicago in the 25th Century or non fiction. I think the promoters (publishers here or not?) realize that and probably won't put a tour like that together even for stores other than WalMart or Target unless it was Harlen Cobin, James Patterson and Nora Roberts! The only thing I've seen comparable and that I have enjoyed are tours of poets, but I think there is a built in audience for that, which is like comic book or game fans (but you don't see them on tour because their audience--like my younger brother--isn't into coming out and fawning over someone hahaha).

I think the fans of this genre are more likely to shop at a mega store en mass and be more responsive to mass author tours of paperbacks. Check it out--I'm not making a snobby statement because though I don't like some of WalMart's practices, I go there all the time because I am a single mom and it beats paying a lot more elsewhere!!! It is mostly African American women, some single (and fretting that) and wives who crave easy escapism for a cheap price. Therefore, I don't think another type of tour would really work, even though most of these other authors are not snobs and the ones I know of , even literary writers, indeed crave to get their work into more hands. While no one wants to be some sort of street vendor (with white authors, artists, musicians seemingly never having to do that), they would all love to do an organized tour. However many folks just don't want the books you described. I would wager you'd get more men to a panel like you described, Anonymous, but few in absolute numbers. Like the author says, Romance rules!

Anonymous said...

This a Harlequin Romance tour, right? Man, my mom used to load up that in the old A & P and read them before my pops got home from work! If you want good books, go to a library or find literature. If you want to just read shit at the cookout or splash party, go to Wal Mart. I don't understand why everyone is sweating this.

I'll agree with this other sister though and say when I've been in there most folks buying mysteries, biography, etc. are white, and they don't seem to care if the writer is there signing or not.

eisa said...

I've done a few events to discuss literature and issues like the ones Chris raises in his blogs, including the emergence of Urban Fiction, with authors Martha Southgate and Bridgett Davis.

At our event at McNally Robinson in Manhattan, about 20 people came, mostly folk who know us and wanted to support. We did another at Brownstone Books, a Black-owned community store in Brooklyn. It was moderated by Dr Brenda Greene of Medgar Evers College and taped for the college television station, which airs locally in NYC on cable. It also included Tara Roberts, who edited "What Your Mama Never Told You: True Stories of Sex and Love." I thought that event would bring more folk. About three showed up.

We literary authors are out there, in the hood, trying to reach our people and empower Black businesswomen like the sister who owns Brownstone.

Pebbles Flintstone said...

I love Lori and Trisha and hope the tour goes well.
But answer me this: why should someone have to defend themselves for NOT liking Wal Mart?! If you have small children it might be okay. But unless you are looking for a room fan why go? I think what C. Chambers said about the documentary is intersting. Many people go to Wal Mart for the same reaosn they get jobs there: because they have no choice. Thus like the first commenter I am torn over this tour. It's pretty "blue collar" eh?

bitch said...

WalMart is a moot point for me - there just isn't one around me... and I am aware of how problematic WalMart is on many levels... And as with most things that impact the middle of the country and non-urban communities I am reticent to criticize...

problematic as Walmart is the idea that there is a way to popularize and to create ready access for a authors to meet readers is terrific... I am all for anything that gets people reading - romance, thrillers, whatever...

I am spoiled because I live in an urban area with loads of independent bookstores and terrific black bookstores... but without a doubt if I didn't have access to authors through those venues, I would go wherever I needed to in order to meet writers I love...

Liz said...

I've helped organize anti-Walmart rallies out here in LA so I'm not without bias when I say that Walmart's the devil. And yes, romance does sell but so do prostitutes. I don't think I'd be able to roll on a Walmart tour bus like that. I'd feel like I was selling my soul for some loot.

I often think that black authors are allowing themselves to be manipulated in the same way that rappers are. Write about some hoochie mess instead of other things. I have yet to meet more than two other black person out here in LA who've read, for example, "The Known World". But I've met a TON of white folks who've read it. So frustrating and I know that when I finally finish my book and get published and all, I will be dealing with this mess for real.

Anonymous said...

I'm too "chickenshit" (in Chambers' nomenclature) to reveal my name but I am an Afro-American male author who does very well and thus I'm able to shed the "hater" epithet like water on a mallard. With the disclaimer thusly dispensed, I am sad to say it has been my experience that many bookclubs and bookclub buyers are not college educated or graduate level folk. Many are indeed working women with chidren and are "blue collar." Jesus called them the salt of the earth, but even Jesus called upon folk to broaden their horizons. Just because an audience isn't well healed doesn't mean you indulge this as a writer. The writer's job indeed holy edict is to challenge. Entertainment is the apparatus but you aren't a real writer unless you are challenging folk. That doesn't mean challenging them with university level vocabulary words. It means new ideas, themes, worlds. My books sell in Wal-Mart as well as small black bookstores. That, too, is just a retail vehicle. I think the danger here--what Chambers is trying to say in a satirical way (unless I am giving him too much credit!)--is that Wal-Mart is also a philosophy, a state of mind, and that we have now played into that.

I hope to retire before things get any worse, but I, too have bills to pay...

Anonymous said...

More haters and sidditity n--- complaining because they can't adapt to a new way. You can buy MY books at Wal-Mart, K-Mart ANYMART and then you can see me in Hollywood!!!

Anonymous said...

I was one of the authors on this tour and not only am I exhausted from the intensity of the tour but exhausted by the player-hating that has been going on since I've been home.

First of all, this was NOT a romance author tour. Many genres from romance to young adult to Christian to women's fiction to street lit to suspense and memoirs were represented. Yes, there were quite a few romance writers on the tour, but it makes sense because Wal-Mart has been stocking their titles for years. They had fans coming out for days. But we weren't all well-known authors. Many people were learning about some of us for the first time, which was the entire purpose of this tour,a tour organized by an African-American woman, by the way. Our mission, as stated to us by Levy, was to begin the process of opening up the minds and shelves of Wal-Mart to the 19 authors on the tour AND hopefully many other African-American writers to come. The big picture wasn't just about the 19 of us but the community of African-American authors at large.

Levy Entertainment plans to do this tour again, thanks to the success of our tour. It will be interesting to see how many of you authors turn down your chance to have your books in every Wal-Mart in the country.

You know, the tour was fabulous in large part because we all were very supportive of each other, selling each others books, cheering each other on. It's a shame that the same feelings of support didn't carry on once we hit home.

Pebbles Flintstone said...

The marketing issue is very simple and it goes back to the days of the minstrel show. White producers say black people only want simple, stupid romances and sex. They find black writers who just want to publish and that's a noble calling so there is their pool of willing pawns. In a sense then it is they who ae dictating our tastes. Perhaps it is their revenge for introducing hip hop to their kids?