I got this in my NT e-mail box today:
Should publishers treat authors according to their race? Or according to the content of their work?
Floridian writer Millenia Black, a debut author with New York publisher Penguin Putnam, is currently experiencing one of the most horrendous depravities of racial liberty you could ever think of in the 2006 epoch: Because she is a person of color, her publisher has decided that, despite having written commercial work, she is not entitled to the same opportunities as their white authors!
Specifically, this publisher has unduly restricted the author's first novel, THE GREAT PRETENDER, by classifying it as "African-American Fiction" even though the book was, in total, free of any such ethnic content. Black successfully self-published the book without any such racial designation, which led to the contract with Penguin. Secondly, in another attempt to reach the mainstream marketplace, Black wrote her second novel, THE GREAT BETRAYAL, with all white characters, and this time the publisher told her the book would not be published if she did not change the race of characters!
Black was forced to retain a lawyer and serve Penguin a demand letter to correct the disparate treatment of both books. In response, they immediately agreed to accept and publish the second book with white characters as Black wrote it. A decision has yet to be reached on THE GREAT PRETENDER, which was published in September of 2005.
This treatment is absurd and grossly ridiculous, don't you think? Are books to be treated according to the race of the author and not the content of the book itself? Shall everyone just stand by and watch such insidious conduct by such an affluent and respected publisher, without saying a word? I think not. This is the very reason I am sending this letter, to let you know that this is happening and to ask for your help to bring this issue out into the open. I know that people with effective voices and platforms have always made a big difference.
For the author's own account of the issue, you can visit her blog: http://www.milleniablack.blogspot.com -- See the post entitled "The Great Betrayal - Jim Crow Publishing" and also "Back, With a Beacon of Hope."
My take: It may be absurd, but it's all business. Penguin obviously signed Black, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, with the idea she was a niche writer aimed at black readers. And they obviously don't believe she's greatly marketable outside that niche. In other words, it's more about green that it is about black or white.
But that doesn't mean it's right. I certainly sympathize with Black and I think she has a legitimate complaint. It seems that, at the very least, Penguin has been duplicitious in the way it's dealt with her. Who wants to write a book -- a romance novel, in Black's case -- and have it marketed only at one demographic group? And the entire thing about changing the race of all the characters in the book is, indeed, ridiculous. I'm with you, Millenia.