December 21, 2007

Interview with Dave Long

Please pardon the interruption, folks, but we've got a minor change in the lineup. I will feature Marilynn Griffith's survey comments next week. Today we have an interview with Dave Long.

Dave Long is a fiction acquisitions editor at Bethany House Publishers and a 2002 Christy Award winner for Ezekiel's Shadow.

Here's my interview with him:

LH: It's been said that books with people of color on their covers limit their audience or reach. What is your opinion on that?

DL: I'd love to be able to say that there's no impact, but I think that's naive. I think if you look at the demographic of the core of the CBA readership, it's a largely white readership. And that makes an impact as you look at targeting audience. I don't want to go so far as to say it automatically limits the audience though. But I think the overall design of the book and packaging of the book becomes important. A book like Abraham's Well, which BHP published, is aimed widely at that general readership and we feel has a cover that will appeal widely.


LH: Do publishing houses use African American (AA) marketing firms to help them market the book? If not, are there any efforts underway to consult with AA marketing professionals?

DL: This isn't an area in which I'm terribly knowledgeable. I'm sure some do as a number of houses have imprints targeted at the AA market. I wasn't part of the Sharon Foster books in-house, so I don't know what went on here specifically. But when you're talking marketing firms, etc, you're talking about pretty significant campaigns aimed at the heart of your audience... And so the question for any publisher would be: Do we think this book is best aimed at the widest possible audience or best targeted at a niche? BHP to this point has not decided to pursue publishing AA Christian fiction. Though we're be happy and honored to publish fiction by AA Christians. Any and all races, in fact. Or nationalities. Or age demographic. It's the work that counts.


LH: To the best of your knowledge, are there any African Americans working in marketing for Christian publishing houses?

DL: We don't at BHP. I don't know the make-up of other marketing departments to speak more broadly. You could likely ask a pretty provocative question about the make-up of the entire staffs of most CBA publishers. And, frankly, the congregations of many, many many churches. It's an issue that seems beyond us as a Church right now.

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That's all for now. Have a great weekend.

16 comments:

ragamuffin diva said...

Ouch! I think I just got blinded with Whiteness.

I wish some of my White brothers and sisters could hear the way this sounds to us African-Americans. It's disheartening. Lord, have mercy on us all.

We need to do better than this, ALL OF US!!! And I don't mind that I'll probably take some hits for saying it, but I'm willing to be love's martyr today because to me this sucks to high Heaven and somebody needs to say it.

This is not reflecting the love by which all men shall know we are His disciples.

I don't think racism, including CBA's thinly veiled Jim Crow mentality is beyond us as a Church, no matter how hard it seems. It will take work, and courage, and tenacity, and people of all colors breaking down these awful walls, and they are awful.

Stories are universal. The kingdom of God is universal and multicolored. If The Kite Runner can appeal to gazillions of people of all races than the CBA industry can open it's doors to African-Americans and stop making excuses.

African-Americans buy books. We buy White people's books. We read. We read White people's books. If we boycotted White books like African-Americans boycotted buses in Selma back in the day I think, and this is pure conjecture on my part, that the industry would feel the loss of us, or maybe at least they'd be ashamed of not including us. Mercy!

I wish I, as an African-American author, were appreciated by these same people who get my money every time I buy Lisa Samson's, or Liz Curtis Higgs, or Brandilynn Collin's novels.

African-American books are booming, Christian and otherwise, in the ABA. This idea that our books won't have wide appeal is played. And I mean no disrespect to Dave. Dave and I have been cool for three years. It's this colored and White's only drinking fountain mentality in this industry that gets to me.

May the Lord whoop us good. We need a firm rebuke on this one. All of us.

Claudia Mair Burney,
CBA *and* ABA writer.

upwords said...

After reading and re-reading this a few times, the old familiar sting is still there. I know Dave means well, but I've heard what he's saying all too many times. If dealing with race at some honest level (or at least making the effort) is beyond us, than redemption is beyond us. Christ is beyond us.

I choose to believe that He is with us.

We live in houses on Indian land worked by black and even yellow hands. To build a legitimate literary entity in America (Christian or otherwise) all the voices of America must be heard. It is not an elective decision whether or not black voices will be included in Christian publishing. We are America. We are Christians. We became Christians in spite of all that happened to us on the way and since we've been here.

That said, we also read. Before I began writing, I bought as many books from BHP and other CBA houses as any other "core reader". If we're going to get more from our core, maybe some of us need to board a bus and go around country and look at who the core is and determine what is significant in terms of ministry. I see them (black folks, brown folks) at every book signing I do and they're not just buying black books.

Linda, thank you for this forum and for opening this discussion. Some of the things said have made me have some long talks with God, but I know that above all He is a God of the nations. Most of the world is made up of people of color and I think it's a little sad that some American Christians will get to heaven and spend eternity with so many people they wanted nothing to do with while on earth.

And yet, God is able to do exceedingly abundantly more than we can ask or think. And I'm glad of that, 'cause some of the things I'm thinking are as wrong as what I'm reading.

May God have mercy on us all.

Marilynn

l. l. hargrove said...

Thank you Claudia and Marilynn for your comments. I also want to thank Dave for agreeing to be interviewed. He could have said 'no, I've seen how you stirred things up on my blog last year' and we would have been no furter along in this discussion. So Dave, I thank God for you.

That said, let me say amen to Marilynn's comment on familiarity. The essense of Dave's responses are nothing new to many people of color (read: minorities).

As 'colored folks' we live a white-black-red-yellow life in a society where the majority race doesn't cross into 'colored' world often or not at all.

We know that. That's a fact. A sad one but it's the way it is. So deep it is that many times it feels like it can't be changed. The power structures are so big, entrenched even. And on some levels, safe. But they have to be called what they are in this case: racism (like Claudia said). It's not active like the Klan or skinheads but racism nonetheless.

I'm glad this forum has started you praying. That's one of my goals. Pray. Pray. Pray. And maybe fast a little. Someone told me a long while back that this racism thing is like a demon in America. A well-fed pet of a demon in some places. But an imp from hell all the same that needs to be cast out by fasting and prayer.

In our daily lives we need to seek ways to bring healing/wholeness/oneness across denominational/cultural/racial walls.

Be intentional. Take risks. Be sincere. Be sensitive. In other words, show love.

Hi, I'm Dee said...

Hi, Linda. Everytime I think I have the questions I want to ask you for Christian Fiction Blog on Reconciling Faith and Race I get a phone call or email that says you will not be believe this. Right now I don't know what to ask, because I'm freshly done.

In the AJC last week AA author Stephanie Perry Moore was featured. The woman has sold more than 250000 books. I'm just...woah.

I keep writing my stories and working the errors in it and I don't know what for. But I'm glad to see the chatter about this issue. I'm glad I'm not the only voice crying in the wilderness.

l. l. hargrove said...

Nicole Petrino-Salter emailed me the following comment in response to this post:

"You know this sounds terrible to me, and I'm "white".

I hate racism, but I have no idea how to remedy it--especially in Christianity because of all places it should NOT exist here!

Somehow it doesn't surprise me to hear these things, but I'm appalled by them just the same. And I think it's a cop-out claim about "the writing" or "the story" because, if we're honest, there are enough mediocre pieces of CBA literature out there written by "white" authors.

I'm embarrassed."

sally apokedak said...

I'm trying to understand.

Give me some help. I've not grown up with the life experience of an African-American women, and try as I might I can't understand what it's like to have a heritage of slavery and abuse behind you.

But I want to understand you. Several black women have commented and said they see racism here. One white woman has seen the same.

I can't see it.

Racism is a harsh accusation. I trust you don't make such an accusation against your sisters and brothers in Christ without realizing how hurtful it is.

I have always been horrified when I've seen a movie or read an account that depicted the abuse of blacks (or reds or yellows or whites) in this (or any country) and so if you accuse me of racism it really, really cuts. I hate racism. Hate it with every inch of my soul.

I don't believe white people are superior to black people or yellow people or red people. I don't believe Germans are superior to Jews.

But I didn't see any racism in Dave's comments.

Can any of you explain this to me? I'm not trying to bait you. I'm really trying to understand why you think the CBA is discriminating based on race. If Dave says Bethany will publish a book by an author of any color, how can you think they are discriminating based on race?

If they don't choose to publish to a niche AA market that's not racism, is it? They don't choose to publish to a niche YA fantasy market either.

You look at the YA shelves in the ABA stores and you see fantasy overflowing. Kids love fantasy. Even Christian kids are reading fantasy. So where do my Christian kids get their fantasy? From nonChristian writers. The characters in the books don't look like my kids. They don't go to church. They don't pray. That bothers me. I want my kids to have books with characters who look like them (spiritually, not physically) and Bethany won't give such books to me.

Does that make them racists? Or genre-ists? I think they discriminate against genres. They don't think they'll make money if they publish AA fiction or YA fantasy, apparently.

So these genres are tough to sell at Bethany (and many other houses).

But I don't understand how this has anything to do with race?

We read the same interview and some of you saw racism and I saw a fellow saying his house would be honored to publish books by authors or all races.

What are you seeing that I'm not seeing?

I ask this with a sincere desire to better understand this whole issue and appreciate your time and willingness to discuss this.

upwords said...

Sally,

I'll jump in quickly and say that I am not accusing Dave of racism. Rather, I hear in his words the familiar sting of our bitter roots as a racist country.

True, Bethany House says they'll publish black authors (to date, I only know of one, Sharon Ewell Foster). However, they won't publish black stories. So it's as if I said to you,"Sally, we don't do Christian books here, but you can be a Christian and write a book, just none of that Jesus."

And perhaps that would be okay if you wanted to make the choice to write stories without your faith. We're being asked to write stories without our experience. If you had to write only about black women for the rest of your career to be published, would that be okay? Chinese men? Or would you rather be free to bring the fullness of your life and faith to the page?

Freeing the slaves was said to be beyond our government. Only a few decades ago, giving blacks the right to vote was "beyond" the country (despite the fact that we'd had that right before).

It's difficult, Sally, for those of us who write in CBA (and are sometimes ridiculed for it it and asked why we even try) to watch black writers in the general market write about both their faith and their heritage with not only no obstacle, but with great support and affirmation.

What is beyond us as church has seems to have been mastered by the world very well. Even if money is behind it all, it's still a bit maddening.

As for anything further, Sally, I'll let others break it down for you. Perhaps one of your black friends or a black person you go to church with? :)

Have a blessed New Year,
Marilynn

Robin Caldwell said...

I'm astounded. This is a long overdue PUBLIC discussion. Black authors have discussed these things in hushed tones and in the privacy of the safe place -- a place where the observations can be shared without attacks on our abilities to discern right from wrong, black from white, racism from something that pleases God and brings Him the greatest glory. I'm a former book reviewer on Gospelcity.com and a current book/author publicist (haven't figured out what exactly a literary publicist is...) The first books I read as a child did not represent me who has brown skin. But can I share the moment I finally saw myself: it was magnanimous, wonderful and awesome. And it was in a poem by Countee Cullen. Someone got me and it felt good. And for the rest of my reading life, with the exception of school assigned readings by white authors, I actively sought out the literary images that reflected some part of me. I learned to love the diversity and dimension in the literary representations of myself. That has carried over to Christian fiction for an African American market, which was why I was all too pleased to review those works by a Sharon Ewell Foster or a Marilynn Griffith or Pat G'Orge-Walker, and even Stephen L. Carter. There is a wealth in imagery in these works that makes me proud and makes me excited for the future. Sort of...

Claudia pondered what would happen if we pulled a boycott, a flat out refusal to sit in the back of the bus, which I thought was a brilliant "what if?" I'd like to reframe it, however, ask What if there was a demand for more titles and writing styles and authors of color in Christian fiction, and the CBA wasn't ready? Zondervan told me three years ago that couldn't find a qualityfiction writer of color, but they hoped to in the next few years. ROFL It looks like the ABA is ready b/c faith, inspiration and even Christian fiction for blacks by blacks is doing quite well. Extremely well and it looks like they know what to do with their faith authors of color's books. In the meantime, the CBA is saying we should be happy just to be there, collecting dust, hidden, obscured by nonrepresentational art on the covers ...The CBA ain't ready but thank God the authors of color are ready. Claudia and Marilynn represent a rising up of authors who would make any writer proud. Their works are literary, genious in some cases, and necessary. Moreover, their works are doing a new thang (thing for everyone else) and they are receiving critical acclaim from their secular kin. And they are receiving this acclaim without one compromise to their faith and values and without apology.

I'm never insulted when I read or participate in discussions with secular people on the subject of race. Never insulted. HOWEVER, this discussion or the comments uninformed by fact Dave Long made leave me floored and insulted. In fact, I'm rarely speechless, but right now I am...

Martin Luther King Jr. said the most segregated hour in America was during Sunday morning church services. Dang, he said that 40 years ago and look at us now...

How are we as a Body fighting battles in the name of Jesus when the army is segregated? One part of the army walks in a privilege that doesn't even question it's own privilege, intellect and superiority. While the other part of that army is constantly reminded thinly veiled or otherwise that according to that standard, we just don't measure up...

Norm said...

What a bizarre discussion. It seems to me that all the comments about "back of the bus", "boycotts" and the like are what perpetuate the kind of racism you supposedly oppose.

People tell me that if you write something worth publishing, it will get published. Why should that be any different regardless of skin color. If what you are after is an affirmative action program for authors then neither "side" has come very far when it comes to attitudes on race.

Robin Caldwell said...

I'm sorry you think the discussion is bizarre, but I believe it is necessary. I don't believe in a form of Affirmative Action publishing, where someone is published just because and it looks like you're perceiving this discussion as one that suggests that practice. That's not true. I believe the discussion has more to do with an acknowledgment that there is a demand and need for Christian literary images that reflect more than one existence in this world. And the only way to do that authentically is to have diversity in writers.

There should be a celebration of God's handiwork in the difference of our skin colors and stories. It's like looking at a garden and ONLY seeing flowers when there are many different species of vegetation represented. We need an appreciation for the parts that make the whole, Norm.

Fueling a racial fire is telling someone that something they've lived, felt, seen and heard is irrelevant -- doesn't count. It's negating and devaluing an experience that is different than your own and different from your imagination. (Question: How do you write characters that are believable if you don't understand their worlds?)

upwords said...

Norm,

Thanks for joining the conversation. I think you're right, most conversations about race in America seem bizarre to someone sitting at the table. I thank you for coming over and sharing your thoughts.

When we read books, blogs or even talk to one another, we all bring our own wounds. While "boycotts" and "back of the bus" spurred thoughts of affirmative action for you, phrases like "signifcant" or "beyond us" touched a nerve for some of us.

A few years ago, Norm, I would have read my own comments and gone away shaking my head. "What's wrong with her?" I would have thought. Back then, I wanted just what the gracious Mr. Long described, to be a Christian writer and the best one I could be.

Then I got published.

I learned quickly just what Dave said, that the CBA markets mainly to white Christians yet they wanted for my books to bring in the black market too. In fact, those sales may have to mostly come from the black market because many have said here, they're not interested in books that don't reflect their experience.

So some authors are left being too black for the CBA market and too saved ("preachy") for the black market. Sometimes it can be a tight squeeze for both authors and publishers. It can be done though. It's being done. Especially at companies with diversity and in-house understanding of how different markets work.

That said, I just thank Linda again for this forum. It's been very thought provoking. I must now get back to writing my next book (and forget about what color person will read it). For that, along with the rest of it, is all in God's hands.

Happy New Year everyone,
Marilynn

l. l. hargrove said...

Wow.

First off, let me say that I’m glad things didn’t suffer loss during my Christmas absence. In fact, I think you guys got a lot more chatty while I was gone.

Thanks so much for your openness and honesty. Your willingness to 'come out with it' is encouraging. This is a hard thing to do (talk publicly as believers about race) but I'm glad you're up to it.

There's so much in me now, after reading the comments and I don't think I have enough room to respond in the comment box. Plus I don't want my response, especially to sisters (and brothers) like Sally, to get lost in the comment queue.

So to that end, please read my December 28 post as my response to this discussion.

sally apokedak said...

Thank you, Marilynn, for explaining. I appreciate your time. And, as you suggest, I will ask a couple of black church members if they can shed more light on the issue. I'm not sure they'll be able to since the black members of my church don't share African-American history. Their ancestors weren't brought over as slaves. These folks came over of their own accord several years ago.

Still, they may have felt the sting of racism and they might be able to help me understand a little of what you are feeling.

I don't have any black friends of the slave ancestry variety. I have black friends who were adopted by white families and grew up not understanding African-
American culture much better than I do.

Why don't I have any black friends who grew up black, you ask? Because the several times I've tried with black girls at school or work they couldn't get over the color of MY skin. (They weren't Christians so maybe that would make a difference.) I didn't care if they married my brother but they couldn't stand to see black boys marry white girls. I understand that has to do with them not wanting blacks to feel inferior and to feel they have to cross the line and marry white because that's the next best thing to having blue eyes yourself. (I was moved by Linda's post here about her son wanting to have blue eyes.) But just because I understand the reason they are against mixed-race marriages it didn't make it any more comfortable for me to hang with these girls. (I worked with a couple of black girls and we spent a lot of time traveling together for work and we roomed together. We also hung out a lot outside of work.) They were always making color comments. Racism was such a big part of their lives--it colored everything. They interpreted every gesture and word through the lens of racist history. I would have loved to make them believe that they weren't inferior and I didn't think they were inferior. But they would not believe me no matter what I said or did. It was exhausting.

So when Claudia says we're exhausting her...well, guess what? It is exhausting to try to bridge this gap. It is, as you say, Marilynn, deeply rooted.

But I do think we can bridge it. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Jesus Christ loves you. And he loves me. And he loves Dave Long and Claudia. This all makes me very happy. And it gives me great hope.

There is going to be frustration on both sides. Because we come at this discussion from different perspectives. But Christ loves us both equally. Far from spending eternity with people I don't like, I'll be happy to hear you singing in heaven, Marilynn. I'll even clap my hands--I assume since I'll be perfect I'll be able to finally keep a beat. =0)

Here and now? We are to love one another. It's as simple as that.

Simple, but not easy. Not with the long history of abuse the black people in this country have suffered (and still do suffer to some degree).

Anyway, I'm sorry for carrying on so long. (This is such a hard discussion that it seems impossible to have it without long explanations on both sides.)

About the writing thing:

You say, "We're being asked to write stories without our experience."

I think I have to respectfully disagree with your interpretation on this.

I remember sitting at your table at ACFW a couple of years ago. Wendy Lawton raved about your writing and so I thought I'd sit at your table and see what you were all about. I didn't buy your books, though, when they came out. You struck me as an intelligent, deeply thoughtful person and one I could really connect with. But when your books came out the covers did not appeal to me. And even though my friend Mir gave you a good review and I planned on buying one book to see if I liked it, I never did get around to it. The covers really did have some kind of a psychological effect on me, I think. I really did feel like I wouldn't be able to like the books because they'd be too contemporary/black culture/chick-lit-ish for me.

I didn't buy Claudia's book either. I read the first chapter online and thought she was a very good writer. Very good. But her first chapter exhausted me. The character's voice exhausted me much like I'd be exhausted if I attended a church with black worship style every Sunday or even a white Southern preacher stamping and sing-songing his sermons. These styles of writing and worship are not wrong, just not my thing.

So I understood Dave, and agreed with him, in this: If you market to a black audience you won't get the white middle-aged woman to buy your books. And white middle aged women do most of the book buying.

I'd like to see that change. I'd like to see the CBA take more risks and market to the rest of the world. What man or teen-ager wants to buy a prairie romance? I think it is changing. Slowly, but surely. The truth is that there are a lot more than prairie romances on the shelf now. That will continue. I see houses doing Black lit, and Asian lit now. It's coming.

I don't think Dave was suggesting you cut your life experience from your books. And I certainly don't want Claudia to stifle her voice back to make it easy for me. And God? I'm sure he doesn't want you to cut your life experience. He gives us our experiences for a reason and we're to use all them for his glory. He makes us different on purpose. You aren't supposed to write white anymore than Linda's kid is supposed to have blue eyes.

So keep writing your stories.

But I think Dave was absolutely right when he said Abraham's Well will appeal widely. The cover invites me to read. Whereas Pink did not invite me to read. Is that racist? I don't think so. I sure don't think Pink is an inferior book. It just didn't grab me. Like literary books don't grab me. I don't read literary books. And the authors of those are equally disturbed at the CBA's lack of interest/marketing for their works.

So which audience will you write for? God knows. He'll give you the story that will cross the boundaries if that's his plan for you.

I'll pray for you. I think you are talented. I think you are smart. Linda, too. I'll pray for you both. And Claudia and Dee, if they'll have me. God knows what he wants you all to do with your writing. He has a plan. All the marketing departments in the world aren't going to stand in his way.

=0)

Thanks, again for your time. And have mercy. We can't see life through your eyes. Maybe that's why you need to write. To show us what life looks like from your seat on the bus.

sally apokedak

l. l. hargrove said...

Okay, I coulnd't resist. Have to chime in here more time. Sally, thanks for commenting again. Glad to see you haven't written us black chicks off.

I don't think what Claudia and the other ladies here are talking about likes and dislikes. I don't care much for chick lit myself. Horror and fantasy don't float my boat either and there's no amount of appealing covers (with black folks on it or not) that's not going to make me buy/like the book.

But like you're pointing out, covers do affect the potential reader in a big way. I'm struggling now because I'm thinking the cover on my first book excluded my audience. What's a writer/designer to do?

I think the main issue here (now, correct me if I'm off y'all) is a matter of access, as in equal access and seeing some marketing money and energy being put behind the 'we will support good writing' rhetoric from the power structure in Christian publishing.

sally apokedak said...

Linda, what is your first book and who is your audience? I'm just curious. I like the cover of Isaac Hunt--find it provocative--and I read the prologue and liked the writing.

I don't read much adult stuff just because what limited time I have to read is usually spent on children's books since that's what I write, but I will read your book I think.

l. l. hargrove said...

Hey, Sally, thanks for your interest.

My first book is called The Making of Isaac Hunt, a contemporary novel about a biracial adoptee in search of his birth mother.

Contrary to one blurb (which I tried to retract) it contains no reference to the Ku Klux Klan. So needless to say the Klan is not in my target audience. ;-)

My true target reader is an educated, working mom who has a heart for social justice (be that overseas or downtown) and puts her money and effort where her heart is. Yeah, that's right. I wrote the book for me.

Just kidding (sort of).