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?

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