I have a treat for you. I stumbled upon a powerful and insightful blog post written by USA Today Bestselling Author Brittni Chenelle titled Writing POC: The 5 Major Obstacles You’ll Face. Enjoy!
When I first became an author, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to represent the African American community the way I’d always wanted to be represented growing up, but in the two years I’ve been publishing my enthusiasm has waned.
As a teenager, I craved books with Black protagonists–books about magic, romance, and adventure. Unfortunately, the only books with Black protagonists I ever came across back then were about slavery and discrimination. Those books have great value but do little for escapism, especially for a Black teen in rural New Hampshire.
I entered the industry of self-publishing two years ago and I’ve been lucky to find more success than most new authors. I even managed to land on the USA Today bestseller’s list. I dove into the writing community and began networking with successful indie authors and over the course of two years, I’ve uncovered a slew of obstacles that keep Black characters out of the spotlight.
1. Prepare to Fight
If you mention any race other than white in your story, you will get hate mail. It doesn’t matter how much research you do, how respectfully you approach it, or if you belong to the ethnic group you’re representing, someone will be offended (usually someone not from the race being represented) and you will get hate mail. Also, expect automatic one-star reviews just for mentioning race.
It’s something you can ignore and roll your eyes at but a lot of new authors haven’t developed a thick skin yet and it drives them away from writing about POC.
2. Take a Pay Cut
Most of the successful Black authors I know write white characters exclusively. Yep. That’s right. Black authors often write under pen names and use their author logos to hide their identity and proceed to publish books with only white characters because those books sell much better.
One of my close friends who nets above $500,000 per year on book royalties did a study. She published the same book, both with gorgeous covers but one with a Black main character and one with a white main character. The one with the Black main character got 150 pre-orders and the white main character got 800.
There are many reasons why this happens and I think racism outright is a small percentage. A lot of it happens subconsciously. Some white readers think they’ll have trouble relating to Black characters, whereas when I polled a group of 4,000 Black readers on whether they preferred to read Black characters the vast majority said no that they had no preference.
This means that in order to write Black main characters you’ll most likely cut your profits by a minimum of 75% and that’s a generous number. For new authors, this is a death sentence. Most new businesses take about five years to become profitable and it’s no different in publishing. But to start off at a disadvantage like that, when you can just swap out the girl on the cover and do much better… It’s hardly motivation to stay the course.
3. Book Cover Hell
I was surprised to find out that the writing community is actually very small. We all hang out in the same groups, use the same services, and work together to reach goals. One of the most frustrating obstacles that POC face is that many cover designers REFUSE to make covers for POC.
Now they’re (for the most part) not doing this out of spite or racism, it’s actually because their covers with POC don’t sell as well. With those books selling less in the marketplace, the writers can’t afford as many, so the demand is lower. Not only that but the designers have less practice making them so they don’t usually come out as nice. The few stunningly gorgeous covers that get made for POC are fought over by the POC at the auctions and usually won by white authors who usually write white characters but are thinking about doing a spinoff for one of their side characters.
They, more often than not, don’t see the light of day.
4. Amazon Advertising is Broken
So you decide you’re going to overcome all this and you ignore your inbox, damnit it’s not about the pay, it’s about representation so you take the pay cut, you spend your life savings on a cover with a beautiful Black woman who looks like she could be related to Beyonce–time to advertise.
Yeah… uh… Have you ever typed in your favorite genre plus “black girl” on Amazon? Go ahead, give it a try. That’s right. You’ll find all white characters. The truth is, these keywords are actually searched a ton on Amazon. Indie authors have software that tells us exactly how often those words are searched and the truth is, they’re searched more than their non-black counterparts.
This is it, it’s your turn to cash in on doing the right thing and representing your community. Amazon allows you to target keywords specifically–except if those words are “black girl” or anything related. They simply won’t serve the ads.
I’ve written 20+ emails to Amazon where they’ve asked me to jump through hoops to target these keywords. I’ve gotten a variety of reasons. They asked me to add “Black Girl” to the product description. They asked me to separate targets by type. They claimed it’s because the keyword has more than 3 words in it. They asked me to delete all duplicate targets (all of which I didn’t need to do for regular targets) and they still–to this day–won’t target these keywords, so when Black readers are looking for representation, they’ll never find it unless they go to the Amazon graveyard known as the African American categories which have a way of keeping books hidden away from the general public.
5. For the Black Community
If you do manage to reach your target audience, you might not like what you find there. As it turns out Black readers write harsher reviews when critiquing books written by or about POC.
You may think that you’re overcoming the odds and will be welcomed as a hero in communities of color but you are sadly mistaken.
Does this mean you shouldn’t write characters that are POC?
Absolutely not. For every punch to the gut this industry will deliver you, there’s a Black person out there who will stare at your book cover with disbelief because they’ve never seen someone who looks like them represented so beautifully. Someone will write a heartfelt message about how they’ve never seen a black character written as vulnerable and scared, or how they’ve never read a book where the thick dark-skinned woman was considered the most beautiful.
Our Black brothers and sisters need us to forge a path. All minorities need to be represented regardless of the obstacles. We may not be getting sprayed with water at marches, but our battles are important too. For the Black authors making big money writing white characters–I’m proud of you too. You get yours. You cash in. You collect that money and shine.
For those who look at these obstacles and think that you can take them down one at a time, I’ll stand beside you. We may never get recognition for it, but perhaps we’ll make enough of a difference–perhaps we’ll inspire some young reader to do the same and eventually when a kid searches for a Fantasy book with a Black, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern, or LGBTQ main character, they’ll find one.
Leave a comment with your thoughts on Brittni Chenelle’s guest post!
Have you come across any of these obstacles?
Have more to add to the list? Have you ever read a book with a Black protagonist?
What’s your favorite book written by a POC?
If you’re interested in checking out books by Brittni Chenelle, this is a great place to start:
Enemies to Lovers: A Collection of Series Starters.
It’s a bind-up of the first book in each of her series. All three are Fantasy books with Black and Asian protagonists and love interests.
You can also explore her author website: