Things in Bookstores that Frustrate me.

In my spare non-college time, I spend a somewhat freakish amount of time in bookstores; mainly because I work for one. So I have a few bookstore related pet peeves, and I felt like sharing them.

Urban Fiction
They’re supposedly stories that are set in a city landscape, are really just somewhat stereotypical stories about African-American people. I recently read an article over on mediabistro about how the Urban-Fiction or African-American fiction sections in bookstores help sales of these authors. From my experience the only time I ever see people looking at those books is when they’re saying “Are these books for black people or can I read them too?” (That is an actual customer statement). Then when African-Americans do want an urban fiction novel, they look somewhat embarrassed at the fact that they have go to a section  that is clearly labeled “African-American/Urban Fiction” Like those two ideas are one and the same. Zadie Smith (White Teeth) and Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye) are placed in the Literary Fiction section, while authors like Zane (who did the mediabistro interview) and Relentless Aaron are put in urban fiction, and they mostly write erotica and romance that just happen to have african-american characters who speak in ebonics or in slang. I don’t see why publishers, and bookstores don’t just separate those sections based off the story content.

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2 Comments to “Things in Bookstores that Frustrate me.”

  1. I agree. There is a tendency on the part of publishers to figuratively ghettoize books. Look around the bookstore and you’ll see a science fiction/fantasy ghetto, a mystery ghetto, a romance ghetto, and, yes, an urban/black ghetto. From the author’s point of view (I’m a writer) this is unfortunate, because it scares off a large portion of the audience that might actually enjoy a book’s contents, but from the publisher’s point of view it guarantees a certain minimum of sales from people who are fans of the particular genre. Thus, the publisher is willing to sacrifice the possibility that a book might break through to a larger audience and larger sales in return for a guarantee of a small but mildly profitable number of sales. This is galling for writers in general, because it limits the audience they can reach, but I can see how it would be especially galling to black writers who may produce books with universal appeal that will never reach beyond a black audience because of the section of the bookstore that they are inevitably tucked away in. Suggestion: Since you work in a bookstore, sneak some of your favorite “urban” books into the section labeled “General Fiction” or “Literature.” It might help the authors find a whole new readership.

    • I would do that, and in some cases I have. The problem is that most small bookstores use a SQL database program that’s moderated by publishers. Though you can make changes to sections by hand, when you scan a book it tells you the author, publisher, and the section it belongs in. I work for a relatively small bookstore and on any given day we’re processing between 100 and 300 books, so in the end it’s a time thing.

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