May 20, 2008


This post serves as my literary contribution for this week – one of my favorite subjects – books.

I had a conversation with another writer about how many books a person reads in one year and how that plays into an author’s book sales, but also, how the large number of books is affecting the reading habits of the average reader. Are readers overwhelmed or are readers elated by the vast number of choices?

Last February, there was an article in Publisher’s Weekly called Word-of-Mouth Top Book Buying Decision, which basically stated that among African American readers, 33% buy between 5-10 books per year, and generally decide which books to buy based upon word of mouth. This was a survey that tracked book-buying habits which was conducted by GMI, Global Market Insite. It stated that 52% of those studied indicated that the last book they read was not written by an African American author.

So who’s buying books written by African American authors? Should books be written to attract a certain race, or just written about characters who are part of the human race? I know that when I first read contemporary books with characters who looked like me and had issues similar to mine, I was able to connect to the story easier because the way-of-life was similar to mine. Not to say that reading about characters in other countries, fantasy type book, sci-fi books, etc., do not appeal to me. I enjoy a wide range of genres. But reading books I could relate to encouraged me to write. I prefer to write relationship type books that explore love and family and careers and real-life, broken folks who encounter every day situations, whether the fiction-friction is jaw dropping or illegal or tragic, it’s real life stuff.

I always believe that when a survey is conducted, it all depends on who makes up the group. You can have three groups of one hundred people each, and come up with totally different results. Though I will say that compared to the options that AA readers had ten years ago, the increase in the number of choices readers have now is like day and night. I believe that even though some readers select a book they’ve never heard of simply based upon the cover and back-copy, most readers know which book they want before they step foot in the bookstore. So in order to reach these readers and let them know about a certain book, authors must target core audiences through specific types of marketing and publicity. What is it that will get the word of mouth going? What gets readers talking about the great book they just couldn’t put down?

Another aspect is the fact that years ago, readers would wait for their favorite author’s book to come out and follow that author no matter what, along with maybe a few other select favorite writers. But now, when I ask readers who they read, more and more they name authors I’ve never heard of, who the reader just discovered. Readers are giving newer authors a chance more than they ever would have before, simply because there are so many choices, or that author’s book caused such a buzz that folks were talking about it at work and that buzz prompted a reader to go straight to Amazon and order it.

So if it’s true that AA readers only read 5-10 books per year, and if there are more AA authors with bound books sitting on the shelves than ever before, waiting to be chosen, (as well as non-AA books, which the survey suggests we’re buying as well), then what are the chances that a great number of authors can sell the expected number of books to keep their titles on the shelves? I'd like to believe that the readers always will outnumber authors. I believe there's enough room.

How many books would you say you read per year? I tend to believe that for avid readers, it’s more than 5-10 (I actually pray that it is :-) I’ve talked to readers who finish a book in two days and rush back to their local bookstore for another fix. I’m talking true- blue book lovers!

Is it a question of who you read, or what you’re reading at the moment?

3 comments:

  1. What is it that will get the word of mouth going? For APOOO it's a member reading/reviewing a book and recommending it to the rest of us. Also, many of us are literary readers and follows picks of Essence's Book Editor Patrick Bass. A lot of books are discovered each month because of him promoting them.

    What gets readers talking about the great book they just couldn’t put down?--For me it's a book with a distinct and unique theme and one that's well written. Right now that book is Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice. I'm LOVING IT!

    Another aspect is the fact that years ago, readers would wait for their favorite author’s book to come out and follow that author no matter what, along with maybe a few other select favorite writers. But now, when I ask readers who they read, more and more they name authors I’ve never heard of, who the reader just discovered. Agree...one author was my favorite for years but after he included a certain character one time too many;'I had to let him go. Althought I will admit that I haven't met a Pearl Cleage book that I didn't like...oh wait snap...yes I did but only one...so I still rush out and buy her books as well as books by Tananarive Due, Dianne McKinney Whetstone, Bernice McFadden (if she starts writing under her name again...lol). Favorite authors who come out with books infrequently...I'm always there to buy their book immediately because I never know when their next book is coming out. Favorite authors who have books that come out yearly...unless I receive a review copy I wait until a reader friend tells me 'it's a must read.'

    Readers are giving newer authors a chance more than they ever would have before, simply because there are so many choices, or that author’s book caused such a buzz that folks were talking about it at work and that buzz prompted a reader to go straight to Amazon and order it. Yep, yep!

    So if it’s true that AA readers only read 5-10 books per year, and if there are more AA authors with bound books sitting on the shelves than ever before, waiting to be chosen, (as well as non-AA books, which the survey suggests we’re buying as well), then what are the chances that a great number of authors can sell the expected number of books to keep their titles on the shelves?
    Hmmm if the writing is tight...and the author is a storyteller I would say they can probably be around for a very long time. Unfortunately, many authors don't appear to read...and as such while they think their book might be unique...it really isn't there's about 200 other books out there with similar tales that actually might have been told better.
    Authors like Beverly Jenkins, LA Banks, Tananarive Due, Octavia Butler (may she rest in peace) don't come along every day...but they have such distinctive styles and writing that is out of the box that it's hard for me not to continue to pick up their books. I know that no two books will ever be remotely the same for them and so I will ALWAYS pick up one of their books.

    I'd like to believe that the readers always will outnumber authors. I believe there's enough room. I agree...there is something for everyone...just because I don't like it doesn't mean that someone else will not.

    How many books would you say you read per year? Last year I read over 150 books; in an average year I read at least 100 books.

    I tend to believe that for avid readers, it’s more than 5-10 (I actually pray that it is :-) I’ve talked to readers who finish a book in two days and rush back to their local bookstore for another fix. I’m talking true- blue book lovers! Yep that be me...lol.

    Is it a question of who you read, or what you’re reading at the moment? For me it's a question of what I'm reading at the moment...I must admit that I'm probably reading more non-AA books than I was even 2 or 3 years ago. While we have a lot of books out there...we don't have a lot of variety and choices and that is disheartening.

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  2. Hey Yasmin - thanks for your feedback. I know the power of Patrick's picks. Essence is a major source for what's new and what's good. And I've heard that Carleen Brice wrote an awesome first book. I will pick it up. I think that as far as there being so many books and choices, I suppose the bottom line is that "if you build it, they will come." Great books get talked about. And yes, the quality books are always needed and appreciated. Wonderful comments!

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  3. Marissa:

    I find myself reading a vast array of books. One day I'm reading Toni Morrison and then the next can find me reading Dan Brown. I like all kinds of books. I am a lover of the written word. I do however I find that AA books have been dominated by street lit or erotica. Now I don't have anything against these genres, I just need more variety. I'm searching for the next BeBe Moore Campbell or Octavia Butler. I think there are so many elements to the black experience and we need more authors that explore these realms of our lives.

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