Cautionary Tale

by Jarold Imes
January 2008

Lately, I’ve been thinking about 2Pac and Biggie. How what started out as a friendship turned into a bitter rivalry that pitted the East Coast against the West Coast; how what started as an all-star rap war ended with a slew of dead rappers, two unsolved murders, one company in bankruptcy and the lingering feeling that rap will never be the same again. I wonder sometimes what really went wrong with those two, yet I am amazed that those two seemed to have done what many black leaders since the Civil Rights movement have yet to do; bring together people under a common cause to debate and articulate what they believe in.

As Street Fiction authors who are on the rise and taking our rightful place as royalty, I caution that all readers, publishers, and affiliates, all of us, to take a look at ourselves. I would like to think that our literary beefs will stay between lawyers, personal emails, and the occasional diss article or message board post, however, at the rate we are going, if we aren’t careful, we could have our own 2Pac and Biggie.

When I think about the time, I, and other writers, and industry insiders spent defending this genre, pointing out the substance, leadership, and potential growth and benefits this genre can contribute to the literary landscape as a whole, I did not picture publishers outright robbing authors of their royalties. Our current literary leaders letting their personal issues with an author, for a moment, rule over the professional reputation they are supposed to build and maintain. I didn’t envision publishers having to resort to hunting, negotiating, and sometimes using other tactics to make sure the thieving and the conniving honored our invoices so that we could in turn pay our authors what is due. It’s a shame that an author can’t even announce the title for their upcoming publication before another author or publisher outright steals it for his own, knowing that the author spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars promoting the title. Sleeping with another author or a publisher to get a deal was almost non-existent before, now it seems to be a trend.

There used to be a time when readers could read one author’s book one day and another author’s book the next and not have to worry about the drama going on behind the scenes. There was a time when black authors could put their egos to the side, band together and contribute to a critically acclaimed and timely anthology.

Times have definitely changed us, and not for the better.

When I think about the authors who can lay claim to being responsible for the Urban Books and Triple Crowns of today, I often wonder what would have happened if Omar Tyree or E. Lynn Harris had parlayed their success to building successful publishing houses? What kind of literary leaders could Michael Baisden or even ZANE be molding? Many times, I dream that our whole outlook and perspective on publishing would be different. We need to take a look at ourselves before we become extinct. So many people outside of this genre would love to see us blow up and destroy ourselves; let’s not give them the satisfaction.

View more articles by: Jarold Imes

Jarold Imes is a contributing writer for The Urban Book Source and author of Hold on Be Strong; he is the creator of online soap opera: Hold on Be Strong (, send emails

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Zane :
Posted 3538 days ago
Interesting article but I would like to clarify something. Someone stated that I HAD a publishing company that is now run by Simon and Schuster. I RUN and OWN Strebor Books, I am the Publisher and the Acquisitions Editor and I have a full staff, both in Maryland and in the Simon and Schuster headquarters in NYC. I publish between 36-60 titles yearly, I select the titles, the covers, negotiate contracts and run my imprint.
I published Judge Mathis last year and this year, in 2009, I am publishing Omar Tyree's next book "Dirty Old Men." I just wanted to clear that up because I bust my ass all day every day running Strebor and do not want anyone to think or believe otherwise.
Therone Shellman :
Posted 3893 days ago
I think all AA lit has it's place whether it be street lit to mainstream lit. It's all in the writing that counts and what the writer is delivering( the bookcovers are another thing altogether and should reflect what the story is about. If its about sex then have a sexy cover--ok. But there is no need for s sexy cover when the story is about some stick up kid). I have a street lit story (No Love Lost) which details the struggles of two black male teens and their friends during the late 80's into the 90's. It's a good look at life here in LI, NY where I'm from. I can't tell you how the book has become so popular here out in the streets in Suffolk County not just for entertainment but parents are using it as an educational tool to wake their sons up about the negativities of the streets. The power to educate a past and present generation is what lies within street lit but people are blinded by the $$$ so this is why the stories fall short of what Donald Goines accomplished by giving you the good and bad of the black urban experience. I read about Kenyatta and went right on to Blood in my Eyes by George Jackson.
For me even when Karibu was open I saw an opportunity for more AA bookstores. Right now my mind is on taking my publishing company through the next faze this year. But i've already been laying down a plan to open a bookstore kiosk as my first venture into the bookstore world. I've been all over the east coast all the way down to Georgia so I've been looking and taking notes for the 1st spot, 2nd and so on. There are other opportunities as well in this business. I won't state them here but we need to expand a lot more in the AA market to ensure we control a large segment of the AA market. Most of my store sales come from the Borders/Waldenbooks, B&N/B.Dalton etc b/c most of my distribution come from a mainstream distributor. The AA distribution system is shabby. I sell more of my own titles myself than they do for me so I don't concern myself with them b/c my company will never publish books which glorify crime and violence, promote sexual lifestyles other than heterosexual or any other subject matter which I feel is not for the betterment of promoting a better self and family (man, woman and child/children). They remind me of the A&R's in the music industry who who only want to push artists who have a fan base b/c they do not want to do their job which is artist development. The distributors only push whats an easy sell. Literary fiction is not an easy sell just like meaningful hip-hop isn't or movies which promote positive messages. But there is an audience who wants all these things. And I'm bringing it to them outside the norms of the AA market.



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