Writing Op: Books for Black Teens

Publisher’s Weekly has a great article from December 8th about the need for more books geared towards the black teen/YA market.

Publishers have noted that black teens will read if they have something that interests them, and that black teens have money and like to buy stuff.  (Kinda like how they discovered 20 or so years ago that black adults read and will buy books if there’s content they like.)  But there’s some good info in the article that’s worth a look. Some highlights:

Wilson notes that series revolving around high school drama do well, compared to stand-alone titles. She cites the success of Scholastic’s Bluford High and Dafina’s Drama High series as evidence. Dafina began its young adult publishing program with the Drama High series by L. Divine and has since signed the author to a 14-book deal, with plans to publish her until 2011. Dafina is also looking to start a multicultural YA imprint.

Pocket Books … decided to enter the teen inspiration market after noticing that the genre was underserved. The Simon & Schuster imprint reached out to its authors who write inspirational novels for adults—ReShonda Tate Billingsley, Jacquelin Thomas and Victoria Christopher Murray—to invite them to write for a younger audience.

Scholastic and Kimani Tru are also markets for YA books.  Series centered around high school seems to be the most popular, though they all say they’re looking for new diverse voices and a variety of settings, even historical.

If this year you’re a black author looking to diversify your writing portfolio, you may want to think about the black YA market.  And if you have a child in that age range, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to try being co-authors.  You can build your relationship with your children and make money at the same time.  Sounds like a win-win to me.

Winter Wonder Write

Like most of publishing, I’m taking a vacation until January.  Well, that’s not really true.  I’m stll heading into the day job (actually worked there today) but I’m putting the blog on vacation.

What I will be doing is something I’m calling Winter Wonder Write.  I worked today so that I could have the Friday after Christmas off, giving me a four-day weekend.  Then I’m burning my last vacation on January 2nd, giving me another four-day weekend.  Both these weekends will be dedicated to writing.

It doesn’t matter that what I’m working on isn’t under contract (actually one of them, a novella, is.)  This is a present to myself, to work on something that I want to work on, something fun, something that stretches me as a writer.  Hopefully, it blossoms into something that can sell.

Sure, the economy is dire.  I don’t know that I’ll be able to sell anything.  But I didn’t know that when I first started out either.  And here’s the thing: publisher’s don’t make money if they ain’t got nothin’ to sell.  That means to me, publishers are still going to buy books, and they’re probably looking for new (to them) authors to bring in.  I figure the time’s good for me to make a move.  To do that, I’ve got to have a story or two ready to go.

I don’t participate in NaNoWriMo because I’m usually working on something contracted with its own deadline and I can’t start something new.  And that sort of pressure and competition just stymies me creatively.  But with the holidays falling the way they are, and my not-quite-a-resolution to be more productive and sell more in 2009, the conditions are ripe for take the step.

So join me, won’t you?  Let’s have a Winter Wonder Write for these two weeks that traditional publishing is closed.  Let’s work on stuff we’ve always wanted to try our hand at, characters that have been calling out, ideas that have ratled around just waitin for an opportunity.  The opportunity is here.

I’ll be back the first Tuesday of 2009 with a teaser from my first erotic futuristic short, Independence Day, featuring in Volume One of the upcoming Coming Together: At Last anthology.

Best Wishes to you and yours for the rest of the year and in the New Year to come!

Gay Romances Coming to Romance Section

Just saw in a Publisher’s Weekly email that Running Press is entering the historical romance market with gay romances written by straight women.  The first titles will be out in April 2009, and they not only plan to have them shelved in romance, and not erotica, they also plan to do outreach and advertising in Romantic Times magazine and local RWA chapters.

The idea for the line came from Running president Jon Anderson and is based on what he sees as the growing interest in M/M stories reflected in the success of such projects as Brokeback Mountain and the television series Brothers and Sisters….Running v-p and associate publisher Craig Herman said the series will be positioned as a subgenre within romance and while the books will be “erotic, they will not be hardcover explicit,” Noting that the books will be shelved in the romance section rather than the erotica section, Running said the book will be “created to mirror romance novels, not gay erotica.”

2009 should be very interesting indeed.  Gay romances actually being shelved in the romance section.  What will they think of next–black romances in the romance section?

Sign of the Times, pt 2

Holy crap again!

Simon and Schuster just laid off 35 people today.  That’s after Random House’s news, Thomas Nelson also cutting staff of 50+, and the Houghton Mifflin thing.

Please buy books for Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa.

Random House shakeup

From Publisher’s Weekly:

The Random House Publishing Group, under the leadership of President and Publisher Gina Centrello, will expand to include the imprints of the Bantam Dell Publishing Group, including The Dial Press, along with Doubleday’s Spiegel & Grau.

The Knopf Publishing Group, led by Chairman Sonny Mehta, will expand to include the Doubleday and Nan A. Talese imprints from the Doubleday Publishing Group.

The Crown Publishing Group, under the direction of President and Publisher Jenny Frost, will expand to include the other imprints from the Doubleday Publishing Group—Broadway, Doubleday Business, Doubleday Religion and WaterBrook Multnomah.

Despite the realignment, which has two seniors stepping down, it looks like Bantam Dell, Ballantine, and RH will keep their separate editing staff in place.  So that’s good news for those who were sending out manuscripts!

Arabesque Books Donates $15K

How cool is this?

MEMPHIS, Tenn., Nov 19, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ — Arabesque, an imprint of Kimani Press of Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd., donated $15,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital(R) in conjunction with its fall book series, Novels of Love & Hope. The donation was presented recently at a reception for the book series, which raises awareness of St. Jude, one of the world’s premier pediatric cancer research centers. Book series authors Sandra Kitt and Gwynne Forster attended to autograph copies of their books and meet fans and St. Jude families.
Through artfully woven stories featuring African-American characters, Kitt’s For All We Know and Forster’s What Matters Most provide insight into the struggles experienced by children battling pediatric HIV and sickle cell disease. Readers are challenged to “read and donate” to St. Jude by logging on to www.novelsofhope.org.
Together with gifted authors Kitt and Forster, Arabesque is proud to support St. Jude. “Our readers have responded positively to the fictional stories these talented authors have penned and accepted the challenge ‘to get reading and donate,'” said Linda Gill, general manager of Arabesque Books. “We look forward to continuing this message as we continue to promote the Novels of Love & Hope series.”

Sign of the Times

Holy Crap.

Houghton Miflin Harcourt told its editors to stop buying books.

You read that right. According to Publisher’s Weekly, HMH has put a temporary hold on acquisitions across the the board.

Josef Blumenfeld, v-p of communications for HMH, confirmed that the publisher has “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts” across its trade and reference divisions. The directive was given verbally to a handful of executives and, according to Blumenfeld, is “not a permanent change.”

Unbelievable. And like the article says, it really makes you wonder: What’s next?

Bad Romance! No Sale for You!

From Publisher’s Weekly (or, as I call it, the W-T-F department):

The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) has blasted a new Indiana law that requires bookstores to register with the government if they sell what is considered “sexually explicit materials.” The new law, H.B. 1042, was signed by Governor Mitch Daniels on March 13, and calls for any bookseller that sells sexually explicit materials to register with the Secretary of State and provide a statement detailing the types of books to be sold. The Secretary of State must then identify those stores to local government officials and zoning boards. “Sexually explicit material” is defined as any product that is “harmful to minors” under existing law. There is a $250 registration fee. Failure to register is a misdemeanor.

Given the current heat level of everything but inspirational romance, even the local drugstore will have to register on the sex offender bookseller list.  (After all, it isn’t fair for the Borders to have to register and not Bob’s Drugstore.)  Or perhaps the store buyer will offer a questionnaire to publisher reps and distributors asking if a title has teh sex in it and having them sign a declaration stating that it doesn’t so that it could be sold.

Hhm,  maybe this will finally get all those clinches off the covers.

Fair Use in Fiction

You know, with all the hullabaloo with Savage Gate, there’s been a lot of bandying about of the term “fair use.” You can check out fair use and copyright by visiting the site of the US Copyright Office. But here’s a good explanation from the US Copyright Office’s website:

The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”

See how I attributed the quote that I used for this non-commercial use of information? That’s an example of fair use. I used someone else’s words with attribution. You should also note that there’s no mention of “in a work of fiction” in the quote. Or anywhere else that I could find on the copyright site.

I know, that’s a lot of eye-glazing content to try to understand. But what I’ve gleaned from various sources is that fair use requires some sort of acknowledgment or attribution of the work used. Example, Vanilla Ice got into a lot of trouble for sampling Queen’s Under Pressure in his song Ice, Ice Baby.

To use someone’s work without acknowledgment of some sort is plagiarism. Without the attribution or acknowledgment, the “fair user” is by default claiming the work as his own. This isn’t necessarily copyright infringement, especially if it’s something that is too old to be protected and is now in the public domain. Check out plagiarism.org’s list of different types of plagiarism.

EXAMPLE:

Say I’m working on a historical romance in which my hero is a free man of color working the Underground Railroad and my heroine is a runaway slave who killed her master’s son. To get my story right, I need to do research into the Underground Railroad, slavery, and runaway slaves. In my research I uncover a first-person account by Frederick Douglass on the Internet. Can’t get much more sourced than that.

So as I’m reading this narrative, the words just touch me. Especially this part:

“I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin. I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I remember any thing. It was the first of a long series of such outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass.”

Reading this, I realize it’s a powerful motivation for my heroine to not only kill her master, but to escape afterward. The words are powerful and give the reader a blunt picture of the realities of slavery. So I decide to use them.

My hero asks, “What made you kill him?”

“It was too much,” she replied, her voice thin. “I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. ”

She knotted her hands together. “The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin.”

Tears burned her eyes, tears of righteous anger. “I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I remember any thing. It was the first of a long series of such outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. ” She stopped, swallowed. “It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. With my very soul at stake.”

And my chapter continues. At no point in the story do I mention that Frederick Douglass wrote this in his autobiography either by inserting a footnote, an author’s note, or a bibliography at the end of my novel. I have taken Douglass’ words and put them in my heroine’s mouth as if they were my own creation.

People, this is plagiarism.

EDITED TO ADD: In the just about out Vegas Bites Back, my hero is a werewolf who met Frederick Douglass. At one point the heroine notices the copious stacks of books in the hero’s bedroom and asks him about them. He replies, “Frederick Douglass said, ‘Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.’ I took his words to heart.”

That’s how you attribute something you use word-for-word.

Is plagiarism illegal? Not necessarily. Douglass’ autobiography is of course more than a century old, and as such is in the public domain. Any student or scholar could quote parts of Douglass’ narrative in a research paper or other critique with no worry as long as they acknowledge the source. That’s fair use. Taking the narrative and creating a story about escaped slave Delilah Mae Reddick is plagiarism.

Not illegal, but definitely unethical. I’ve besically allowed people to think my book is composed of my words. My name’s the only one on it, after all. Fraud? Perhaps. Wrong? Abso-freakin’-lutely.

Perhaps there should be an Author’s Code of Ethics.

Alice Walker's archives going to Emory

Local gal (she’s from GA) does good.  From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

From journals and notebooks of poetry written when she was growing up in Eatonton, Ga., to drafts of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker saved every scrap along her journey to becoming one of the leading literary figures of the 20th Century.

Her literary and personal archive contains many letters from such friends as Toni Morrison, Gloria Steinem, Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey, as well as a remarkable volume — “Poems of a Childhood Poetess” — that she composed when she was 15.

By the end of this week, her entire archive — all 122 boxes — is expected to arrive at its new, permanent home at Emory University. Emory announced Tuesday it had acquired Walker’s archive for an undisclosed sum.

The acquisition is a “major addition to Emory’s collection,” which will help students and scholars learn more about Walker’s commitment to social activism, literary and personal growth and spirituality, said provost Earl Lewis.

At Emory’s Manuscript, Archive and Rare Book Library, Walker’s papers will join those of author Salman Rushdie, the late British poet laureate Ted Hughes and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney as well as significant collections related to Harlem Renaissance novelists and poets Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson.

Walker is the author of eight novels, four major poetry collections and many works of nonfiction. She became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1983 for “The Color Purple,” which was adapted into a critically acclaimed 1985 movie as well as a musical that had its world premiere at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre in 2004 and made its Broadway debut a year later.

“I can imagine in years to come that my papers and memorabilia, my journals and letters, will find themselves always in the company of people who care about many of the things I do: culture, community, spirituality, scholarship and the blessings of ancestors who want each of us to find joy and happiness in this life, by doing the very best we can to be worthy of it,” Walker said in a statement.

Walker said Emory’s relationship with the Dalai Lama also played a part in her decision. The Tibetan spiritual leader joined the university’s faculty in October as a presidential distinguished professor and plans to periodically visit Emory to give talks to students.

Emory is “a place where my archive can rest with joy in the company it keeps,” Walker said.