I Couldn't Keep it to Myself
by Jarold Imes
It’s ironic how I would choose a Tony Toni Toné song to bring about the words I want to say. If you ever get a chance to listen to the song on their album, Son’s of Soul, then you’d realize that as you are reading this, we both are addressing prominent issues within the black community.
For a long time now I’ve wanted to address the growing problem between black book store owners and black publishers. The battles between black authors and their black publishers are growing like an incurable cancer. Somewhere along the line someone has had one cigarette too many and as a result, we are struggling to breathe in an industry where everyone should have room. It’s not better with growing problems between black publishers versus black distributors and the black book stores versus black distributors. I couldn’t keep this to myself… and I wanted to tell someone. I wanted to tell you, the reader. Yet, I admit that I didn’t know how. I wanted to tell you so much that I have written at least three articles and submitted two to be published…only to retract both of them from publication. That’s how serious I can see this problem becoming and I can’t keep this to myself. We need to talk about this in the open instead of behind closed doors. We need to stop the crabs in the barrel effect that continues to hinder us collectively as black business men and women in this industry.
How to spark this discussion openly has been very hard. Never have I had a challenge of speaking my mind and being so delicate to approach an issue. Never have I faced the possibility of alliances changing; gaining new “friends”… old ones thinking that I am an enemy instead. Nope— in spite of my personal dealings with authors, publishers, graphic artists and the like in this industry; I’ve never really felt that I’ve had to be as cautious with my pen as I do now.
But why? Dr. Maya Angelou once said that “if someone shows you who they are, believe them.” And I’ve truly come to understand what that means in the last few months. Now that I do understand, I don’t like the image we are showing. I don’t like what we are making others believe about us. I’m not feeling the two or three faces that many people are putting on just so they can interact and stay in the know of what’s going on. I don’t like the fact that there are days when I’d rather do business with people other than my own because some of my “people” are not representing us professionally.
We are showing our children that it is okay to ask for X number of books and not pay the invoices…or pay them when we are ready to as opposed to when they are due. Our children watch us sign demeaning, cut-throat, outright ridiculous (not to mention unethical and loosely-legal in some cases) contracts in the name of saying “I’m better than the self-published author, I got a deal.” They are witnessing one black publisher accuse another black publisher of not being black owned and practicing proper business etiquette when this same publisher isn’t doing right (or write) by their own people.
I hope this gets published and copied and pasted and forwarded to as many people as possible so that we, the black people in this industry can get the message. I can’t keep to myself the inevitable problem that we face a problem similar to the one that the black hair care distributors and supply shops are currently facing. It’s a shame that Madame CJ Walker, the credited first black and first American woman self-made millionaire built her empire by selling, manufacturing and distributing hair care products and today, as a thank you to her legacy, 90% of this market that should belong to us belong to the Koreans. Let’s look at music—we helped build the hip-hop culture and only receive approximately 6.357% of that revenue, give or take a few tenths of a percentage point. I often wonder how we, black people, lost control of those two industries and several others.
I can’t keep to myself that I question how long we will be able to maintain our hold on this industry. We are being credited as re-introducing literature to a market that craves visual and audio stimulation and for the time being, we, the black authors, publishers, distributors, book store owners, agents, graphic artists and other media professionals control approximately 55% of the facilities in our markets. We own the black book stores, but for how long? Some of the most prominent are threatening to go out of business. To date, there hasn’t been a non-black or Hispanic person with the ability to write in our genre and capture our hearts and respect but who’s to say that won’t happen in the next two, three, or ten years? Our publishers are at the greatest risks because as we grow and expand and form alliances (be them public or private) with larger multimedia firms to get our works to the masses they will (some already have) develop a large interest in publishing our works. They will introduce us to markets “we” don’t know exist. As part of the hip-hop culture, that has become multinational, it’s not hard to say that that isn’t the next step for us.
We want that growth and we deserve it. But we aren’t going to get there by being greedy. We’re not going to grow and prosper while we feel its okay to hate on an author because they are not with our firm. We can’t reach that level by not paying the publishers what they are owed. We need each other to survive—we can help each other survive.
For those of you who don’t want to acknowledge what I’m saying or feel that I am a “non-selling author” just “talking shit” let me say this in a language you can understand. If we don’t stop robbing, killing, provoking, destroying, hating and crucifying one another, we aren’t going to have an industry to be in. We’ll end up like our rapper counter parts, who often have to wonder whether they will be the victim of a senseless act of violence. We fuss and bitch about how we aren’t respected by traditional publishers and authors and the lack of black representation in position to look out for us. If we keep on doing what we are doing then we won’t have an industry to be in. Do not be deceived, we can be locked out!
Let’s pray that we change our course of action before we can’t keep it for ourselves.
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 (www.holdonbestrong.com), send emails to:email@example.com
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