Thursday, November 16, 2006

Targeting Latina Readers-Publishers Don't have a Clue

Targeting Latina Readers- The Gringos Don’t Have a Clue

After reading some Literary agent blogs, they now want publishers to target Latina readers with novels by Latina writers. While I’m all for diversity on the bookshelf I cringed when I heard some of the premises the agents proposed Latina authors write.

From some to the ideas proposed by the white female literary agents, I’m seeing a stereotypical and exploitative view of Hispanic culture. One wants to represent a Latina Waiting to Exhale, Another proposed an idea for a romance novel where gang members girlfriends withhold sex in an attempt to make their gang member boyfriends give up their violent lifestyles. Why should this make Latina readers angry? In addition to being stereotypical, it’s just insulting that literary agents think this is how to target a market of women who come from numerous cultures and experiences.

Growing up in the South Bronx among a diverse audience of Latinos, (Puerto Rican, Dominican, Ecuadorian, Mexican, Columbian, Honduran, Peruvian) I’ll explain why these two premises don’t work.:

First off, Waiting to Exhale was written fourteen years ago. Publishers should be looking for Latina writers who submit stories reflective of the issues Latinos face today. Hispanic readers have no interest in some re-hash of an early 1990’s story detailing issues in a culture different from their own.

Second, Waiting to Exhale dealt with the issues Black women had in their relationships with Black men at the time. Latina women in the 21st Century aren’t face different issues and their relationships with men. In the Latino community there is no “shortage” of available men, and the values regarding family and marriage are totally different in the Latino community than those in the Black community. The plot and themes Terry McMillan used to appeal to Blacks readers don’t relate to Latina readers. They’re two different audiences with two different experiences in American society.

As for the insensitive “gangsta” romance novel it’s just offensive. To target only Latina readers with this type of book shows how little those in the publishing industry regard their audience. First off, gang life encompasses more than just race or class. Gang members are not just Latinos, but Blacks, Asians, and yes Whites.

Second, to think that women withholding sex will make men give up gang life shows a total ignorance of gang culture plain and simple. Anyone who knows gang culture knows it’s harder to get out of a gang than to get into it. That’s why it’s easier to go to jail than or die than get out of a gang.

If this is how the American publishing industry views one of the fastest growing populations in the country we’re in trouble. There’s more to Latin American culture than the few stereotypical images of gangs and large families seen on the news every day. How about a story reflective of the life of a real middle class single Latina? Or the story of a Latino family just moving into the suburbs trying to maintain their Hispanic roots while living in a conservative White neighborhood? Or how about a novel about the struggles of a young independent Latina working towards earning her college degree? Each of those three story ideas is far more interesting to read than the two stereotypes proposed by the agents on their websites. They explore race, class and culture; something Latina readers in America and abroad will identify with. (Great for those sales of Foreign rights!)

There are so many great stories about the Latin American experience out there. It just upsets me that American Literary agents want to pigeonhole several different groups of readers into one or two best-selling publishing categories that the audience doesn’t fit. Perhaps these agents need to go to Mexico, Spain, and South America where Latina writers have been writing novels about the Hispanic experience for years. Once they read a few, they should try to import some of those great titles stateside for the American reading audience. When they finally get an expanded understanding of the many Latin cultures, maybe then they can find well-written novels reflective of the whole Latin experience in America. I mean, if there’s an Black Fiction section in the bookstore, with a diverse array of titles reflective of the Black experience, why can’t there be a Latin American Fiction category with a diverse array of quality stories reflective of the Hispanic experience in America?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Shawn's Writing Wish List

Shawn’s Writing Wish List

As stated earlier in this blog, I’m a poor black guy who writes for fun. On my limited income, I write my stories without many of the amenities many other middle-classed writers take for granted. Even though God has blessed me with talent, I often wonder how much the quality of my stories would improve if I just had one of the items most other middle-classed writers take for granted like:

1. A copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. Boy it would be great to have this in my reference library. While I have Elements of Style, (paperback) I need this to help me catch all those small style mistakes in my book drafts. But at close to $40.00 for the hardcover I just can’t afford it. Worse, since Manual is a reference book, the New York Public Library isn’t allowing me to take it out the building. Publishers really need to print a $5.99 pocket-sized paperback version of the Chicago Manual of Style so struggling writers like me can afford to buy it.

2. A new dictionary and Thesaurus. My Webster’s dictionary is a shredded paperback from 1982 missing the front matter and the first two or three pages. My thesaurus is a Random House version from 1989. I’d love to have a copy of the recent Webster’s dictionary and the thesaurus. There have been so many new words added to the English language in the past seventeen years. I’d like to know that I’m spelling them and using them correctly.

3. A couple of friends proficient in English to be pre-readers for me. Another disadvantage of being a struggling writer in the Bronx is: There are no writing workshops in the South Bronx. There are no writing clubs in the South Bronx. There are no bookstores in the South Bronx. There are very no magazine stores in the South Bronx. There aren’t even a handful of newsstands in the South Bronx. There are very few people reading in the South Bronx anymore. Plain and simple, the South Bronx has one of the lowest literacy rates in the United States. So I’m on my own when it comes to getting help with things like grammar, sentence structure, word definitions and spelling, or even an opinion on my writing.

4. A new computer. Right now I do my work on a five-year-old Pentium III (remember when that was the latest?) from 2001 with a Windows ME operating system, Microsoft Works, and a 10-gigabyte hard drive. Before I bought this computer five years ago I did my work on a pea soup green screened Brother word processor that only allowed the user 256Kilobytes per disk and 25Kilobytes per file. (Each chapter of the book was in a separate file) Currently a ten gig hard drive isn’t enough space for a good MP3 collection today let alone manuscripts, PDF finals, and screenplay drafts. I’d love to have a new laptop computer with an AMD Athlon 64 processor, 200 gig hard drive 2gigs of ram wireless Internet, DVD-RW, TV tuner and a 17” monitor. I’d also like to have Windows XP Pro, Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, PageMaker, Photoshop and Final Draft bundled as software. I think that package would last me a good five computer years.

5. A high speed-internet connection/Cable TV. This would allow me to do my research for stories a lot faster. It’s frustrating using Dial-up and having to deal with all the disconnects. Once AOL dropped my connection five times in a half-hour period! At present I only have rabbit ears TV, so with all those wonderful cable channels I can have access to documentaries and other shows that would be helpful in doing research.

6. Ink cartridges and extra paper. Most authors take for granted how many reams of paper they go through editing the drafts of their stories or how many ink cartridges they use to print them out because they’re only focused on the quality of the writing. On my limited income, I just can’t afford to print out paper copies of my stories to edit them during the drafting stage because paper and ink cartridges cost so much money. So I do all my editing based on what I see on my computer screen. I alternate between reviewing the blown up PDF files made on Cute PDF writer and Microsoft Word files to check for typos, misspelled words and style errors.

7. A laser Printer. Right now I’m borrowing an inkjet printer. I’d love to have a laser printer to print my manuscripts out with. Laser printers make documents look their best and I want to leave a good first impression with readers.

8. My own web site. While the blog is great, I’d love to have an official website like other authors have to promote their books and themselves. My site would be a marketing venue where I could have sections to post up book synopses, sample chapters (first three), and link up to or Barnes and noble. There I could cross-promote merchandise to readers like T-shirts, mugs in addition to autographed copies and offer sneak previews of new books to readers.

9. A good job. Writer has been the “unofficial” job I gave myself ever since I graduated college in 1994. I’d love to have a regular nine-to five job like everyone else so I could have a steady income. Being a writer is fun, but it doesn’t pay any bills. I’m tired of being a starving artist. If you are reading this blog and you like what you’ve read please buy a copy of Isis. PLEASE BUY A COPY OF ISIS! I could use the royalty money.

10. Extra Money. It would be great to make enough money from writing for all those writing necessities that I don’t have to borrow it from other people. It would be wonderful to be able to buy things like postage for submissions, paper for manuscripts, printer ink, boxes and envelopes without worrying about whether or not I’ll have enough for stuff like soap, toilet paper, or tomorrow’s dinner.
These ten things most middle-classed American writers take for granted. But I’ve worked without these tools for over a decade without a complaint. I continue to persevere without these amenities because I love writing stories. Oh well, a brother can only dream of the day when he can afford these things….