I never had a chance to recap my experience at the Indiana Black Expo. (I’m off at WorldCon right now, which means, at this rate, by sometime mid-winter I’ll be done recapping my summer adventures.) This is part of my on-going experiment on how best to serve an underserved market. You see, a long time ago, I once posed the issue to the genre whether or not we, as black writers, would be better off trying to break into the largely ignored black (audience) market rather than concentrate on being well known in the horror community. Maybe the debate isn’t limited to whether or not black writers, as opposed to all of us horror writers, should pigeon-hole ourselves into the relatively small horror buying market that barely seems to keep the small presses afloat. After all, isn’t the point to reach as large an audience as possible? (This would be the flip side to my comments at another convention where I was on a panel and had the audacity to suggest that black people read so maybe it would be prudent to, you know, market to us.)
So putting my publisher’s money where my mouth is, I had a booth at the Indiana Black Expo to sell copies of my Knights of Breton Court series. Even though it was a down year in terms of attendance for the Indiana Black Expo, as a non-genre “con”, it had a cross section of black people from which I could extrapolate many lessons:
1. There’s not a lot of/enough competition. I was the only author selling anything speculative fiction. I was largely up against self-help/empowerment, romance (largely of the “baby mama drama” variety), and crime novels. Plus a disturbing amount of conspiracy/origins books.
2. Horror does not play to the blue hairs. This is still Indiana. We’re still in the shadow of the Bible Belt. Plenty of folks don’t take too kindly to folks playing with faith. My fellow author Wrath James White would have been proud about how many good church folks gave me the “FU glare” after studying the covers of Orgy of Souls and Dark Faith.
3. Speculative fiction is wanted. The number of folks who stopped at my booth just to shake my hand about wore me out. The comments ranged from “we need more black super heroes” (referring to my books, not to me, sadly) to “why can’t we write our own Lord of the Rings.” [Okay, to the person who asked “Are your books like Harry Potter?” I probably shouldn’t have answered “yes, yes they are” to make the sale, but, come on: my dude has a sword and a gun on the cover!]
5. Self-publishing has never been frowned upon in the black community. It’s part of the DIY ethos at the heart of how we’re used to getting things done, as anyone who has bought tapes/CDs out of a car trunk can attest to.
6. My ideal demographic is black geeks and/or young males. This makes me think that Onyxcon should be on my radar for next year.
7. Never tell your mom that you have a booth at IBE. I can’t emphasize this enough. My mom, who returned from her retirement home in Jamaica largely to go to Indiana Black Expo, turned my booth into her base of operations. As if my booth only existed for her to drop off her bags. And let me tell you, there’s nothing like having your mom drop off bags full of free condoms she’s managed to scoop up at the health fair. In fact, I’m repressing that memory right now.