Is there a black audience largely ignored by horror writers and marketers? What can we do to draw them in?

Michelle: Well, I’m going to try to stay off my soapbox on this one. I will make a sweeping generalization and say that I think across most markets, black audiences are ignored, and in particular, the diversity of tastes among blacks for what we read, listen to, drive, etc. is dismissed and stereotyped for easier digestion. As a new writer, it might be naive of me to say this, but I think the way to draw the audience in and get our stories out there is to drive the market. Be aggressive and assertive (and creative!) about how we market and when and to who.

L.A.: Yes, I think so–which is really crazy when you look at the demographics of who goes to see the scary movies = largely African American teens. Include them and their reality in ones stories… people like to read about characters they can relate to.

Chesya: The simple answer would be, yes, but I think it goes deeper than that. The average black reader doesn’t want to read the average horror story. They read erotica, or urban, or uplifting non-fic. So, in essence, horror isn’t marketed to black audiences.

Linda: I think there’s always been a large part of the black community that liked scary stories, more in the form of movies than books. I’m not sure how to draw more in. I would defer to writers like Tananarive Due who has marketed their work successfully to all communities, especially the Black community. There are other black writers outside the genre field who have also built a readership in the Black community.

I actually see an increase in attention to black genre writing. Black bookstores have been very supportive when I worked with them. The other collections of black genre writing like Angela Allen’s Dark Thirst (vampire stories), Brandon Massey’s Dark Dreams I and II and the continuation of Sheree Thomas’ Dark Matter series are a reflection of the increase in market recognition. I don’t think there has to be a rule that as a black genre writer you have to write in black/urban environment. Writing is creating; we should create what ever calls to us.

L.R.: Perhaps because those in control of acquiring work and distributing it to readers are dealing with some different issues when these stories are presented to them, like:
a) They can’t relate to the story, so it’s not interesting to them; makes them feel like their readers won’t be interested
b) The writing might focus too much on being an overtly ‘black story’ instead of an overtly ‘good story’
c) Sometimes, when things related to black culture are fictionalized, they can fall in the categories of farce and stereotypes because, in trying to make an urban experience we’re familiar with familiar to others, we might get lazy and fall back on the more popular images constantly beating us over the head thanks to the media. By popular, I mean pimps, Cristal sipping rappers, ghetto kids with hoop dreams, drug dealers trying to go straight, women prostituting themselves out of desperation for money and/or drugs, etc. Not that these archetypes don’t really exist somewhere, but, in terms of fiction, most of them were played out with Superfly and Dolemite. And, it excludes so many aspects of the “black/urban” experience that it’s not even funny.

Are our stories largely ignored?

L.A.: I can’t say ignored, because up until now, we haven’t been writing them, producing them, embracing them. But as African Americans, if we were to just write some of the chilling old wives tales we’ve heard growing up–that is a WEALTH of stories right there that folks would gobble up. The key is, our writers have not, by and large, been providing those stories for readers. If we write it, they will buy it–if it’s crafted well and done correctly… just like anything else. Publishers will pub what sells, so it’s a chicken and the egg issue–we haven’t written it, so folks haven’t purchased what’s not been widely available, so the publishers say black folks don’t buy horror (not true, in my opinion–circumstantial.)

Chesya: I think that our being black makes for different life experiences, different views on life, if you will. Because of that, our stories may not appeal to the average horror reader, and the editors only buy what their readers want.

Brandon: Most definitely. You don’t see Bram Stoker Award-winners doing booksignings at Karibu stores (a chain of African American bookstores in Maryland, by the way). And you sure don’t see horror writers at the Harlem Book Fair–at least, not non-black horror writers. People tend to market primarily to those who are like them, either racially, or culturally, or economically. That’s just the way it is, in every field of endeavor. Books aren’t unique in that regard.

I think for the black audience to get more interested in reading horror, more black writers would need to start writing horror fiction. For better or worse, that’s what it would take. Of course, large numbers of black writers probably wouldn’t bother writing horror unless they thought they could make a lot of money. The herd of writers tend to follow the cash. The serious writers, those who are genuinely driven to write horror, will do so whether they are making money or not. But serious writers are always in short supply. 🙂

Wrath: Horror is now very reliant upon the small press and I don’t think most small publishers understand how to market to Black audiences. I don’t think it’s even a consideration. They don’t really see the Black audience as a viable target consumer group. The larger publishers have the mechanisms in place to reach more Black readers now that many of them have created separate divisions to handle their Black readership but most of them are only interested in romance novels. If they were to shift their attention toward horror I think the larger publishing houses could help cultivate that audience.

Back in the eighties there were a lot of African Americans reading horror. When I would ride the bus back in Philly it seemed like everyone was carrying a Stephen King novel. I think they were largely turned off by stories that did not relate to them and that they could not relate to. If they were to discover that there were writers out there writing horror stories that were relevant to their lives I believe it would renew their interest in the genre. Right now Horror is dominated by white authors and so you don’t find many characters that African Americans can relate to. People tend
to want to read about people like themselves and so if there are no horror novels with Black antagonists or protagonists or if those characters seem inauthentic or stereotypical it’s going to turn Black folks off. Hell, that’s one of the reasons I stopped reading King. I just got sick of reading about Maine. I didn’t mind the magical Negroes I just wished he could have put them in New York or Philly or Atlanta.

Lawanna: Many of us, upon saying we write horror, are greeted with “You write WHAT?!” as if that’s something we just “don’t do.” The largest demographic that marketers skew to are adolescent White males and will they “relate.” In the end, it’s a business and it’s all about a bottom line. We have to fight to get “different” stories told. There are many fantastic writers out there, like Brandon and Tananarive, who are “doing the damn thing” when it comes to being a force in their genre, but there aren’t enough. That’s why it’s so important to have showcase anthologies like Dark Dreams. You draw them in by making folks aware that there are Black writers out there writing more than urban/relationship dramas. In my area, here in D.C., I’ve been seeing it face out–so folks are definitely noticing it.

L.A.: I have to say that’s because writers write from their perspectives. If mainly white authors are doing horror stories, because black authors haven’t embraced the genre, they you’ll get an Amityville Horror set in the burbs. But if a black author did it, one could have a high-rise in the city that has some demonic presence, too. Again, we have to write it. My tales have “the ‘hood” as a backdrop, and believe me, a dark alley in an urban city–even without the paranormal–is scary in its own right!

[to be continued …]

The Black Horror Writers Round-Table Discussion Guide:

Black Horror Writers I – A Little Help from My Friends
Black Horror Writers II – Defining Ourselves
Black Horror Writers III – The Black Market?
Black Horror Writers IV – What We Do
Black Horror Writers V – Black Characters
Black Horror Writers VI – The “N” Word and Other Obstacles

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