Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Mad, Black Writer Speaks Out!

Steps up to mike, removes mike, taps mike…

Testing one, two, three…

Can the people in the back hear me?

"Okay, here I go..

So this thing that I’m about to talk about has been weighing quite heavily on my heart, mind and spirit for a sometime now.

I want to school some of you out there about what it’s like out here for us “mid-list” authors. Mid-list basically means an author that sells “ok” – but not so much so that they’re spending anytime at all on the popular, recognizable bestsellers lists like: The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and so on…

The lucky "Mid-List" authors have jobs or careers outside of their writing profession. I say “lucky” because those folk aren’t financially dependent on the sale of their books. So basically, the monthly expenses they incur to keep a roof over their heads, gas in the car and food in their bellies are taken care of by that weekly, bi-weekly or monthly paycheck.

Then there are authors like myself, who are totally dependant on the number of books we sell.

Now here’s the thing: No matter how many books we sell – we authors (with publishing houses) do not get paid weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. We only get paid TWICE a year. And some of you maybe surprised to learn that if you pay $25 or $30 for a hardcover or $15.00 for a paperback – WE DO NOT GET ALL OF THAT MONEY. We receive a very small percentage of the cover price. And when I say small – I mean maybe 7% --

So you do the math…

Now, I’ve said all of that to say what has really been eating me:

Some folks and by folks I mean organizations…solicit authors to come to address their groups and expect authors to give of their time and talent for monies equivalent in my mind to a pack of gum and a metro-card.

They rationalize this ridiculousness with: Of course we’ll offer your books for sale at the event.

Well, that’s nice – but uhm, there’s no guarantee that audience members will actually purchase books. I mean they’ve already plunked down between $30 and $75 for the lunch/dinner of pressed chicken, over cooked vegetables, baked potato and the dry to the bone, Sock-It-To-Ya cake offered for dessert.

They listened to the author speak, got their questions answered about how to go about finding an agent/publisher, gleaned some knowledge about the publishing industry, got to shake the authors hand and even took a picture with the author....and after all of that, they didn't even buy a book.

You get what I'm saying?

Now I know these are difficult financial times, people are thinking long and hard about paying an extra cent for anything… Well, not anything….

People complain about a $25 sticker price for a book, but will spend three and four times that for a concert ticket. In fact, let me just go on ahead and say that I am downright jealous of entertainers who have multiple streams of income!

Imagine the singer who writes a book and then licenses his or her name to a perfume, jeans, shoes and then goes on to star in a movie….

Those same folk who snubbed paying $25 for MY book – will buy the singers CD, new book, pay to see said singer in concert, purchase the perfume, jeans, shoes and then take the ENTIRE FAMILY to see the movie….

I can’t count that high…but I’m sure you can. So, please do the math…

If I was pulling in money from four or five different sources – yeah, I could give plenty of time away – but I don’t, so therefore I can’t..

Now this part is for MY COMMUNITY. So white people – if you want to skip over this, go right ahead.

My people, my people… why don’t you support us writers in the same way you do other entertainers? Need I remind you of the slave codes that prevented us from being taught to READ AND WRITE?

I do? Okay, here are THREE:

"Any person or persons who attempt to teach any free person of color, or slave, to spell, read, or write, shall, upon conviction thereof by indictment, be fined in a sum not less than two hundred and fifty dollars, nor more than five hundred dollars."

“Any free person of color who shall write for any slave a pass or free paper, on conviction thereof, shall receive for every such offense, thirty-nine lashes on the bare back, and leave the state of Alabama within thirty days thereafter..."

"Any slave who shall write for any other slave, any pass or free
paper, upon conviction, shall receive, on his or her back, one
hundred lashes for the first offence, and seven hundred lashes for every offence thereafter..."

We BLACK writers are the keepers of our past, chroniclers of the present – all of this for you and future generations and this is how you treat us???


Maybe I have to come at you this way:

You know how much you earn. You may not be happy with it – but that’s not relevant here. If your boss came to you tomorrow and said we’re going to have to cut your salary by 90% and your responsibilities will remain the same, what would be your response? I suspect you’d feel insulted and pissed off.

This is how we authors feel each and every time we are offered a pack of gum and a metro-card in exchange for our time, talent and energy.

Think about this – a lot of times the money I earn from speaking engagement is the only thing standing between the lights staying on or the lights being turned off. The only thing standing between forcing me to choose between food and sanitary products.....putting the pen down forever and disappearing for good…

Celebrate your authors, don’t insult them…"

Drops mike….strolls away…….

  • Bernice L. McFadden

    suga said...

    Thank you for this.

    I'm pretty sure many readers are unaware of how much money authors (don't) make.

    Victoria Christopher Murray said...

    My mother was shocked when I told her that I don't get paid for most speaking events. My expenses are paid but she found it unimaginable that someone would sell tickets and not pay me. I still laugh about this - my mother does not.....

    q. said...

    I am not an Author, but I am close with the one that wrote this blog. I want to Thank You for finally stepping up and saying something. This was very brave of you, and this needed to be said.


    Tracy said...

    Very well said and very much needed to be said.

    Kenyettawrites said...

    *clapping hands among the standing ovation*

    Barbara Albin said...

    Until a few years ago when I discovered you, Bernice, Carleen, Virginia DeBerry, Donna Grant,Kwei Quartey, etc. I had no I idea of what (excuse my French) "hell" you authors go through. Yes, I knew it wasn't great, I had heard stories, but what a loss if we didn't have your stories to read and those stories from all the authors I have not mentioned here. I have read many independent (not on the NY Times Best Seller list, etc) this last 3 years. I have to say, this may have been some of the best reading of my life. I read many wonderful books in high school and college and after. Then I would have to say for the next 40 years most of my reading has been average, with maybe once a year a really great novel, fiction or non-fiction. Those are the ones I have kept. Now I have the pleasure of reading wonderful books everyday, I can't even keep up, and I am reading authors from all over the world, although I will say, my main base is American authors and that would include many African American authors. I hope that you keep writing, by the way I know you are a writer, but I prefer to call you an author, as I am so impressed when someone is published and more than once. Hugs to you for all your effort.

    Aaron Bebo said...

    I've been pitching this exact same thing. But it seems to be a curb in the AA literature community.

    Gayle Gardner Lin said...

    I agree with Barbara. Until I found your books, I had no idea what I was missing. It was then I started looking specifically for books by black authors and my list gets longer and longer.

    I think you're brave to come right out and say what must be said.

    FourShadough Publishing said...

    Well said and right on point! I agree with the gum and metrocard true

    MBrown said...

    Bernice, I have read three of your books to date: Sugar, Glorious, and now Gathering of Waters. I have been unemployed for nearly a year and a half, so the cost of your book is a bit out of reach for me. If there are no contraints, and if you haven't done so already, could you make e-versions of all your books? A friend said she bought Glorious for a buck at a Dollar store. I'm just saying if you put less costly ebook versions on Amazon, LuLu, Google, Barnes and Nobles, etc., that might make a difference. Of course it would probably help to have some bloggers on the case. Also, maybe you could do a petition on about the very thing you mentioned. You are a beautiful writer. Money should be raining down on you. I mean nearly everyone has a computer. All it takes to download a PDF version, is the Acrobat Reader. Take care Bernice. Wishing you all the best the world has to offer and then some.

    Ronnie said...

    Wow, this opens my eyes to what it's like as an author. Good to konw. Helps me to want to support more black authors too. I am an aspiring author as well.

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