Black Books Do Sell!
NICHE. IT'S a word I became all too familiar with during my time as the entertainment editor for The Voice.
Working for a black British publication, you quickly come to understand that ‘black’ and ‘niche’ often go hand in hand.
Whether it was toy retailers failing to stock black dolls or major book publishers being reluctant to publish black-interest titles, the justifi cation of these acts was often the same. Namely: Black-focused products ‘don’t sell.’ Why? Because the black British community is a ‘niche market’, which essentially means, we’re often not seen as a profi table market for major businesses.
Remember when our families had to go to cash and carries to buy our ackee, green banana or hard dough bread? Those wholesale stores were our food supply lifeline, until some of the major supermarkets decided black folks were profitable enough to be given a dedicated ‘ethnic’ section in their stores.
But even then, those sections were (and in some cases, still are) quite limited. Why? Because, in the grand scheme of British business, we’re often still considered a ‘niche market’. This was an issue I toyed with when I began penning my first children’s book, Riley Can Be Anything.
Long before the book came to life with illustrations, I knew my story would feature a little black boy named Riley as the main character.
As such, I fell prey to the concern that my book might not do well. Would a major publisher want to get behind a children’s book from an unknown, fi rsttime author – particularly when said book featured a black boy as its main character?
Would mainstream media outlets and major book organisations be reluctant to give their support to a title that – as they might see it – was targeted towards a ‘niche market’? As it turns out, none of that mattered.
After my book was rejected by a number of literary agents – whose job, among other things, is to pitch an author’s work to a publisher – I decided I was going to go my author journey alone. I say alone, but it was with my husband’s encouragement and assistance that it was decided we would release Riley Can Be Anything ourselves.
After the book was illustrated, the subsequent production, promotion and everything in between was handled by our team of two. My husband and I read a lot, we talked to many insiders, we attended seminars; we fully immersed ourselves in the literary world, in order to learn our new business. And it proved fruitful.
The book achieved wonderful exposure, scoring coverage with print media, online outlets, radio and even TV. And not just in the UK. Riley Can Be Anything also made waves among audiences in America and the Caribbean. I was invited to deliver readings at schools and festivals; I received letters from teachers, who shared the positive impact the book had had on their students; and one mum even sent me a picture of her son, who had dressed up as Riley for World Book Day.
Additionally, I was fortunate enough to enlist the support of a host of personalities, including actors Charles Venn and Danny John-Jules; UK soul star Omar; and celebrity chef Levi Roots.
As Riley Can Be Anything continued to go from strength to strength, it became evident that much of the support the book was receiving was from – you guessed it – my very own ‘niche’ community. Black parents, journalists, bloggers, teachers, celebrities and more had helped to elevate my story – thereby aiding the book’s success and helping to dispel the myth that black books ‘don’t sell’.
Whilst on my own author journey, I also make it my mission to champion fellow independently published black children’s authors wherever possible, and it has been a joy to see so many of my peers flourish within the publishing industry. All of these authors have diverse stories to tell, and these stories matter – and they do sell.