Why publishing is so White and why what I do matters

PW

Yesterday, I posted a graph on my Instagram from Publisher’s Weekly, to illustrate a point about what I do and why. The graph correlated with an article titled, Why Is Publishing So White? This is something I have written about extensively and also talked about over the years. But the charts are striking and illustrate the need for more independent publishers across the board. Allow me to bend your ear for moment.

I did not post the chart for kudos, likes or for you to pat me on the back etc. That’s not why I’m here. But I do want to demonstrate that what I do is RARE and needed. I can count on one hand how many 100% independent Chicana/o presses there are. And I do NOT mean ones who are sponsored by outside influences.

There is content created by many people of color these days, but of that, select few get chosen for distribution and or the mass market, and the ones who do are filtered through a White/corporate lens. From there, they get segregated by the markets they are in in such a way that you have to hunt for them as they become virtually invisible. Don’t believe me? Look at that chart again.

Sure, you might get an anthology etc. but it will be published through a university press, or a major one, and then vetted for whatever they deem important. I cannot tell you how many authors (both big and small), approach me, with both wonderment and awe, that I do not have anything vetted by anyone but myself.

That’s one of the things that makes what I do pure. And yeah, I’m tooting my own horn here, but it’s true. The downside to that is I lack the budget, time and resources to get what I publish out in the mainstream and so I am unknown, despite operating close to a decade now.

I marvel at the cries for more “diverse” books by so many people these days, while at the same time ignoring those of us who create them. More on that in a bit.

I do not want to come off as if a White lens is always a negative thing, because it’s not, but when you compare it to the amount of things created without one, you will find that there aren’t many and that’s a problem.

Take Lowriting for example, I stand by what I have always said about that book and that is that no mainstream publisher would dare to create such a book. Why? Again, see that chart.

And for those who would argue that the book market is largely White, so why should the industry cater to select groups, I will say that one), you’re wrong and two) people of all walks of life enjoy these books. If I had the ability to put Lowriting in the auto section of major bookstore chains, or even on a front of store display, I could prove that. But  I do not have that ability – only major publishers do.

As I have said ad nauseam over the years, to the press, to classrooms, to C-SPAN, to children, the “Hispanic” book section of any major bookstore carries the same five or six books no matter where you are. But if you pay attention to politics, Hispanics are this “yuge” market with all this buying power and blah, blah, blah. So where are the books..?

This is wrong and why I persist in what I do. It’s a bullshit, hypocritical, double-standard and I fight back against that with everything that I have.

The other day I was fortunate enough to talk to a university class along with my friend, Art Meza, who also happens to be the photographer behind Lowriting. It was a great experience for us and one of the things that stood out for me was hearing from a student how much she identified with Lowriting.

She told us that she saw the book a year ago and was unable to afford it at the time. Seeing the book on the shelf moved her – it was something unexpected, as many of us do not often see ourselves represented on the covers of books. It filled her with a sense of pride. She said she was overjoyed to see that it was required reading for the class.

I cannot tell you how proud that comment makes me. It is for these reasons that I continue to publish, and in the face of extreme adversity, because I know that feeling well. Seeing yourself represented in the mainstream is such a rare occurrence that when it happens, you are taken back. And it is for this reason and for students like that, that I do what I do. Again, not for kudos, the publicity, nor the moolah, but to make a genuine impact on someone.

So far this year, I have been snubbed by two major book festivals in the Southwest. Why? Look at the graphs again. I try not to take it personal but it’s difficult when I know I deserve to be there by now, and the people who I publish do as well. These literary circles are small, so a snub is always bitter.

And as I have told you before, dear reader, were I producing garbage I wouldn’t bother, but I stand behind my books.

When I release a book? It’s an anomaly! It’s not supposed to happen. According to the industry, I should have folded years ago. I’ve said it before, but these books do NOT grow on trees. Okay, books are made from wood pulp so technically they do…but you get my drift. Not many others are doing what I am doing.

Next year marks my 10-year anniversary and I am still virtually unknown, ignored and blacklisted in that little circle I was talking about. Despite the pond being small for “Latino” books, these cats pretend I don’t exist. And yet I still manage to impact people’s lives and squeak my way into the conversation.

I’m not out here taking corporate cash, I don’t answer to board of directors and I don’t take bribes to stay in line or keep my mouth shut. I am a 100-percent independent, Xicano publishing house with a chip on its shoulder and I pride myself on what I do.

You don’t have to like me, and I know more than a few who don’t (waves), but you do have to respect what I’m doing. If for nothing else but for the simple fact of looking at those graphs and realizing how much of an uphill battle this is and how goddamn stubborn I am.

I do not bombard you with ads and I do this with a shoestring budget, a guerrilla warfare handbook and the spirit of the 1970s in my heart, so when I put a book out I expect you, dear reader, to do me a solid, especially if you believe in what I do! That does not mean I expect your patronage, although that is greatly appreciated, but I do expect your voice.

This is how we win – use your voice. Tell a friend, recommend a book, write a review, lend your copy, gift your copy, share a link! If you have a blog, write about us, interview us. If you teach, include us, talk about us, ask us to speak to your kids. If you have connections to the press or festivals, write about us, interview us, invite us!

I shake my head at those folks who either want to fight the beast (see chart) or join them. We’re not gonna win the war that way, and make no mistake, this is a war – a culture war that wages itself on every bookshelf in AmeriKKKa today. Ask yourself why your favorite bookstore is so segregated by race…then get back to me.

So….yes! Use your voice! Help me out here – friends, enemies, and frenemies. That’s how the underground continues. That is how I have survived, thrived, been denied and revived – word of mouth. It matters. YOUR voice matters. Help me make it another 10 years and let’s take it to the front lines together.

I consider myself a literary Jihadist and a publishing infidel and I relish in being able to ruffle the feathers of the establishment with books they look down their noses at.

For there is no sweeter victory than the satisfaction of knowing you impacted someone’s life, for the better, and on your own terms – establishment rules be damned.

As always, thank you for reading!

10 Comments

  • Frank S Lechuga Reply

    Relying on word of mouth, methinks . . . is noble, classy. My observation is that it is still the Way. However, I believe we can’t avoid some degree of paid promotion at the onset. It can be creative, selective and strategic. We’re battling behemoths that suck up all the oxygen and if we don’t advertise in some way we will be asphyxiated. What I especially like about what you do, Santino, is that you run upstream against the mainstream yet within the mainstream. You don’t settle for corporate sponsorship which always segregates.

    • Sarlos Cantana Reply

      Thanks, Frank! I appreciate that, man. You’re right of course. The problem is…where to advertise that is both affordable and hits the target? Don’t say Facebook…haha! I’ve found that Goodreads worked pretty well. I need to do another campaign with them.

      That’s one reason I like the Amazon author page – it’s free and bundles everything together neatly with the ability to sell. And there’s no rules that I can see restricting expression on there…hehe.

      • Frank S Lechuga Reply

        Sounds like you’re getting results from Goodreads now! Each social media still offers an affordable kick-off package. The trick is learning how it works without spending a bucket of money, hit and miss. Each platform has + and -. The gurus are commanding higher and higher fees for teaching. So each one of us invests in a guru and then we share the knowledge and give each other tips. On Amazon, the founder of the IA-Coop, with which I was fortunate to connect with early on, shared with me he spent a lot of money advertising on Amazon without results. Okay, that’s paid advertising not the Author Page and that was him. Mayhap there’s creative ways to promote the Amazon author page without spending a lot of money.

        • Sarlos Cantana Reply

          If I could trust myself not to post anything else, or more importantly, not get involved in any discussions on there, I might consider it. You’re forgetting the cardinal rule of social media though: engage your audience.

          I’ve read time and again how just having a robotic social media presence, without engaging the audience, is a big turn off for most people. Which always brings me back to my two main points…

          1.) You have to engage, make it meaningful, at least on a minimal level to be worth it. People see right through it otherwise. That = time. You have to invest oodles of time and a strong stomach to have “presence” on there. That entails dealing with bullshit I’d rather not.

          2.) I’m still not convinced doing any of the above translates into actual book sales. From what I can tell, Fb is trying to keep everything “in house,” i.e., get people to NOT leave the site. My whole goal is to get them to Amazon.

      • Frank S Lechuga Reply

        About Facebook…I shared that PW article on Facebook a couple of days ago, quoting from you. So far, it got four Shares and eighteen Likes. Now, I should mention that I’ve been aggressively adding on Fb friends. Hey, the funny boys did it, so why not moi! The challenge is to ignore the ideologues and to forget the Chat box. Oh, yeah…and this one is hard for me…never Comment on other user’s posts!

        • Sarlos Cantana Reply

          Ha! Yeah, that’s the whole enchilada right there…I wish there were a way to do a business ONLY page on Fb, without having to see all the other bullshit on there or give your personal info. People love using that chat feature there…ugh. I hate that crap.

          I’m struggling with this on Twitter as well. I want my timeline back. I’ve started muting all political stuff on there and so far so good, cuz honestly, at this point, I just don’t care.

          As for Goodreads, yeah, just as soon as the new books drops I’ll start up on there again. I’m liking the Amazon author thing so far. Hopefully it stays free…

          • Frank S Lechuga

            You could start off cold with a business page on Facebook. Give minimal personal information on the personal profile that as I understand it, you do need first to set up the business page. Or even if you just have a personal page, just stay focused and ignore the horde. Use the Security controls to become as insular as possible. Yeah…just focus on managing your Facebook advertising.

            I can think of a somewhat successful Chicano sci fi author and a very well-known Chicana artist who don’t advertise on Facebook but work off their personal Fb profile page. He posts non-political stuff, interesting cultural imagery from all over, and now he promotes his books methodically. The artist occasionally posts on her liberal political bias and a little more frequently posts on her art work.

            I read in an old Writer’s Digest article . . .an author say she would only go on Facebook once a week for two hours to promote her work and the rest of the time, it didn’t exist for her. The Chicana artist seems to be following that rule. I wish I could do that. It’s a goal.

          • Sarlos Cantana

            If I could really trust myself not to post anything else (spoiler: I can’t), or more importantly, not get involved in any discussions on there, I might consider it. That’s where I goof up on here and elsewhere – trying to keep it strictly business.

            You’re forgetting the cardinal rule of social media though: engage your audience.

            I’ve read time and again how just having a robotic social media presence, without engaging the audience, is a big turn off for most people. Which always brings me back to my two main points…

            1.) You have to engage, make it meaningful, at least on a minimal level to be worth it. People see right through it otherwise. That = time. You have to invest oodles of time and a strong stomach to have “presence” on there. That entails dealing with bullshit I’d rather not.

            2.) I’m still not convinced doing any of the above translates into actual book sales. From what I can tell, Fb is trying to keep everything “in house,” i.e., get people to NOT leave the site. My whole goal is to get them to Amazon.

          • Frank S Lechuga

            The very small readership I have so far I obtained mostly off Facebook and some Twitter. I think I sold one ebook off Goodreads and one probably off Amazon. The only time I paid for promotions was for a post on my Book page. That got me a couple of hundred Likes but no sales. But that wasn’t a bona fide advertisement, it was a post. I haven’t really advertised on Facebook yet. For different personal reasons I just haven’t been able to really get into my pricey Facebook advertising course. I still have faith in the power of advertising on Facebook. That faith will be tested.

            Okay…the engagement on Facebook. True, the book gurus say you need that personal contact to sell your books…yeah at first. Methinks that as a new author, the prospective readership out there wants the personal touch. Even before social media. Hence the readings at bookstores and such. I’ve seen authors announce they’ll be on Chat on such a date and such a time, available for discussion. They make it regular thing. I don’t know how effective that is.

            Back to Facebook…I believe bare bones personal contact and response is the deal. Then offer your readers and followers the opportunity to engage you on Amazon, Goodreads and your personal blog. Meanwhile one advertises on Facebook to the millions out there, experimenting with different Ads, blurbs, images…and focusing on new target groups AND ALWAYS BUILDING UP THE SUBSCRIPTION LIST!

            Once you have your reader’s email you’ve been allowed somewhat into his/her orbit. You communicate with them directly to promote…no more Facebook!

            Okay, this is the other thing I learned from that course so far and others say it . . .

            – You do have to offer something for free on your landing page in exchange for your prospective reader’s email address.
            – Your author website and blog does have to offer something else for free or even for sale. Books f/ other authors, cd’s, whatever.

            People expect this. Pure art for art’s sake bores them. Profound words & penetrating, heartfelt analysis same thing. Sad truth.

          • Sarlos Cantana

            You’re bring up great points! As an aside, I can see some of this has worked for you in terms of a following. Your Twitter numbers surged since you started to do the RT stuff – that’s awesome, man.

            One of the things that puts me at odds with the whole thing is how much I loathe marketing. Which, I know, is kinda dumb all things considered. But it’s the reason I never put ads on here.

            I *might* look into Fb again once the new book drops, but only if I can find a way to set up a business page on there and not do anything personal. That’s key for me.

            For example, there’s record companies that I follow who have Fb pages. They do not seems to have to participate in all the other bullshit on there…but maybe it’s just not visible. But if there’s a way to operate on there, strictly as a business, I’d like to know. I’m interested in the exposure there and possibly even the advertising – just not the turds. Haha!

            Thanks for sharing your knowledge, man. It’s greatly appreciated.

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