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Zane Sparks Debate about African-American Sections in Bookstores

GalleyCat contributor Jeff Rivera interviewed erotica author Zane for mediabistro.com’s So What Do You Do? feature today.

In the interview, Zane (pictured, via) tackled a tough question: “What are your thoughts on bookstores shelving books in the African-American section instead of alongside other fiction works?”

Zane replied: “They sell better. That’s been documented. There’s no question about that. When someone goes into a bookstore and they’re looking for African-American books, they’re going to look for the African-American section. If they dig mystery books, they’re going to look at the mystery section. I’ve done my research and seen the figures; I’ve met with the owners and heads of bookstore chains. I used to sit in a Borders bookstore, bring my manuscript submissions with me to read, and for hours on the weekends I’d watch how people selected books, what caught their attention, what made some people look at books more, and what they actually took to the register.”

What do you think? Should bookstores include separate African-American literature sections?

Several members of the industry have given their reactions to Zane’s interview including book developer Anita Diggs (former senior editor at Random House), novelist Bernice McFadden, erotica author Noire and Walk with Me documentary filmmaker Tanisha Christie (former publicity manager at Grand Central Publishing).

Anita Diggs: “I always felt that the books deserved double shelving. In other words, if a mystery book is by an African-American author, there should be copies in the mystery section as well as on the shelves reserved for works by black authors. However, this issue is about to become moot with the rise of e-books. I doubt that the folks at Amazon (for the Kindle) or B&N (for Nook) will spend a great deal of time on it.”

Bernice McFadden: “I think the African-American [AA] Book section has been a help and a hinderance to AA authors. Personally, I want to be read by people from all backgrounds. White people and others  avoid the AA book section like the plague. They believe that the stories housed in that section were written exclusively for black people. They believe that there is nothing in our stories that they will be able to relate too – which of course is untrue.”

Noire: “I agree with Zane. I’ve heard the arguments for and against the segregating of African-American books, and I’m for it. Very few people actually purchase books outside of their chosen genre, and it’s more important to place our books in an area where our proven target audiences actually shop. People basically know what they’re looking for when they walk into a bookstore, and we have to make it easy for them to find it.”

Tanisha Christie: “Tough question. And I’m not sure there is a good answer. Zane is correct. From marketing perspective, more consumers will go to the Afam-Am section to find Afam-Am/Black books but where does Zadie Smith go? Or Nalo Hopkinson? Or Edwidge Danticat? Putting them in the Afam-Am section, isn’t correct. Now, I admit. I’m not the average consumer, I believe that African-American are those that share a collective history of slavery on United States soil and while there are other Black-skinned (for lack of a better term) people living in the United States, that historical legacy is important. Now, this doesn’t imply that today Black-skinned people don’t share daily, social, cultural experiences but how one self-identifies is relevant. So, in many ways it does make sense socio-political-cultural perspective to get rid of the section. HOWEVER, stores have been moving those books into genre but then we get into problems, right?…Urban Fiction, really what does ‘urban’ mean? I understand, the reasoning how the publishing industry has defined “Urban” but Nelson DeMille sets The Lion in New York City, so shouldn’t that be considered Urban Fiction?

So does that mean we should split the sections into Commercial Fiction and Literary Fiction? I can hear authors screaming now.

So best case scenario: there IS the push toward a Multi-cultural section in books stores to try to solve this problem, which is probably the ‘safest’ place to put authors of color but this comes with a price, that Zane speaks of, authors might get lost and Terri Woods will get shelved near Alice Walker.”

Zane also shared her thoughts on current views towards erotica fiction, the controversies her books have incited, adding the title of “publisher” (working with Simon & Schuster’s Atria imprint) to her resume and an author’s duty to market themselves: “As an author, I believe that I should be the one publicizing myself. A lot of authors believe that all they have to do is write a book — that’s foolishness.”

Read the full interview with Zane on mediabistro.com.

Editor’s Note: This post was updated to correct a misspelling.

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