by Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti
From the ghost of gangsta past, notably Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim, a new generation of writers are taking up the mantle and resurrecting a long since dead and underground genre—street novels and making it into a multi-million dollar industry. From the ashes of Blaxploitation films like Jackie Brown and Shaft, these new gangsta novelists are creating their own brand of blood-drenched tales of criminal life in American ghettos reminiscent of Whoreson by Goines and Pimp by Iceberg. And just like the rap game these authors are on one million and taking the game by any means necessary with their intoxicating world of hip hop fiction.
If Donald Goines and Icerberg are the godfather of street novels, then Teri Woods is definitely the Queen Bee. Her novel, True to the Game, which fictionalized the rise and fall of the notorious Philadelphia Jr. Black Mafia crew from the late 80’s, has sold more than 500,000 copies independently since its mid 90’s release. Woods has become the major player in the hip hop fiction genre as an independent with her publishing company, Teri Woods Publishing. “True to the Game was really meant to represent a lifestyle,” Teri said in Don Diva Magazine. “You write what you know. A lot of these books and especially the ones that are real good with stories behind them are leaving a piece of documented history. I don’t really call what I do street fiction. I refer to it as true to life crime and that’s what I think my books represent. The crack era existed for black gangsters just like prohibition did got the Italians and Irish.” And Teri’s company was the one that has opened the flood gates and what begans as a trickle is now an all out waterfall as streets novelists are coming up out of the gutter and flooding the market with their independently released gangsta books. But authors are also literally coming out of prison as novelist Shannon Holmes did.
Holmes wrote his first book, B-More Careful, in prison and after several rejections from the publishing industry he contacted Woods in the late 90’s who then proceeded to put out his gritty street novel. The book has sold over 100,000 copies and made Holmes a star in the hip hop fiction genre. Flush with success Holmes found a partner, another ex-con by the name of Vickie Stringer and they formed Triple Crown Publications which put out Stringers first novel, Let That Be The Reason and a hostg of others by first time authors such as a roster of 25 authors and has gone onto sell several hundred thousand copies of the various books they’ve published to become a leader in the genre. “Triple Crown Publications is like the Motown when they were on top back in the day,” Vickie Stringer said in Inc Magazine. “The name guarantees it will be a bestseller. Hip Hop is universal. But don’t owrry you don’t have to go to the hood, we’ll bringh the hood to you.” And Vickie remembers her humble beginnings. “I was a 29 year old felon with no degress, no resume, almost no legal work experience, no money and no prospects. My manuscript was rejected by 26 publishers so I decided to self-publish. I will never forget the small African American mom and pop distributors because they were there for me from day one when all I had was word-of-mouth.” And distribution has been a big factor in the genre’s success or lack there of.
“Distribution and lack of structure on this book game is a problem.” Says author Kwame Teague who penned the Dutch series for Teri Woods. “Its just a scramble now as far as the book game goes. So many good writers aren’t heard because of it. Still the industry is wide open to be organized and streamlined, feel me?” With all the success of the genre the majors have come calling. Shannon Holmes was signed by Simon and Schuster to a $400,000 two book deal an Stringer signed on too. Both are on Atria Books, the African American imprint of S&S and they are working with senior editor Malaika Adero for more mainstream success. Because the big companies see dollar signs in the genre. Holmes produced Badgirlz and two other books on Atria and Stringer wrote Imagine This, the follow up to her first novel but they haven’t made the impact that their first novels did. More Triple Crown authors have been picked up by St. Martins press another large New York house as Vickie Stringer has turned agent. “I have now represented nine writers with contracts valued at over a million dollars.” And another ex-con has capitalized too. Relentless Aaron who put out books on his own Relentless Content label has signed to a major to in a reported six figure deal.
And with Nikki Turner formerly crowned the princess of hip hop fiction making a claim for the Queenship the genre is being shaken up. Her success at Triple Crown and Urban books enabled her to sign with Random House for a very large deal that included setting up her own imprint, Nikki Turner Presents. “I’m really excited about my new imprint,” she says. “In addition to Street Chronicles, my short story collection I just received a deal to do full length books.” So just like the rap game the world of hip hop fiction is blowing up. Going hard like Don Diva Magazine with their violent tales of drugs, betrayal and money. The grimey and gritty world of the ghettos is coming up to mainstream America in print. Even 50 Cent is getting in on the action with G-Unit Books, who signed the aforementioned Nikki Turner to pen their premiere release. But back to Teri Woods who now boasts 10 titles out on her independent house.
Teri Woods has continued to publish herself. Changing the game one book at a time and refusing to sign with a major and steadily putting out books on the strength of her name alone. She has been described as a good marketer and savvy businesswoman who knows what’s hot and what will sell. Her fans have eagerly awaited the release of her second novel, The Method to the Madness. It has been long in coming and Teri is still putting out novels by prison writers like Kwame Teague and Kurt Pacino and doing all the marketing and book signings herself. Of the signings to majors, Teri said, “I keep telling writers stop taking these deals with these companies. You’re already selling your own units, why would you let these companies eat off you? Those little bullshit advancement checks don’t mean anything. Don’t break your bread with these people. Stay independent.”
But independent or not the world of hip hop fiction is exploding. And Kwame Teague sees this as only the beginning. “I think the street book game is like hip hop in 74. At first we told simple stories. Simple cadences, simple vocabulary then it evolved. Right now we’re telling the simple bang, bang sex and money story.” Nikki Turner takes it further, “I feel that the market is over saturated with a bunch of books that can’t meet their full potential,” she says of the crowded genre. “But the good thing is hip hop fiction is not fading. Its just like the rap game, you have those artists who fall by the wayside, then you have the ones who hold their own. And when the dust settles the ones who are true to their craft will be the ones still standing.”
Time will tell if Gangsta Lit is just a fad, but with sales of over $50 million annually for the books the genre seems to be entrenching itself in the market place. And with the majors throwing money around and several independents like Hampstead, Fast Lane, Gorilla Convict, Ebante and Amiaya emerging to produce books that readers are demanding, the genre can only skyrocket like the music before it.
Seth Ferranti is a contributing writer for The Urban Book Source and accomplished journalist having written articles for Don Diva, Slam, King, Feds and many more. View more of his articles at: www.gorillaconvict.com
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