At BookExpo America this June, Columbus, Ohio, writer Faye Childs will launch the new incarnation of her BlackBoard African-American Bestsellers List. The list, which she founded 10 years ago, will now be a four-page, biweekly standalone news publication called the BlackBoard Biweekly.
The forthcoming BlackBoard Biweekly will offer reviews, features on books and authors, information on author tours, columns written by book clubs, a column written by Childs discussing forthcoming books and deals, and, of course, the BlackBoard bestseller list of 20 titles. "We intend to remain the authority on black-interest titles," Childs affirmed, noting that the BlackBoard list currently reports results from 35 stores in 30 cities. Childs is currently in negotiation with the ABA for support of the new publication.
Although the list has accompanied hundreds of newspaper and magazine feature articles on black books and authors, it had only two regular homes: in the pages of ABA's Bookselling This Week, where it reaches almost 9,000 booksellers, and of Essence magazine, which has a circulation of more than five million. For three years, the list also ran in the now-defunct Emerge magazine. In December 2000, Essence ceased crediting the list to BlackBoard, although it continues to run a list of black bestsellers.
Childs said that the newsletter, which will be independently printed and distributed, "will go to African-American booksellers, with enough overruns to distribute to customers; public libraries; chain stores with significant African-American interest sections; independent booksellers who are members of ABA with significant African-American sections; newspapers; publishers; and we plan to publish it on African-American Web portals. We want the customer to see it and recognize it as resource information and a buying guide."
Necessity: The Mother of Invention
The seed for the BlackBoard African-American Bestsellers list was planted when Childs was shopping her first novel and was told by an agent that "black people don't buy books." Instead of retreating, Childs decided to do something to turn that statement around.
She researched the issue for two years, and among her discoveries was the fact that blacks were buying books, but were unfamiliar with black writers who were not on major bestseller lists. After surveying 35 bookstores in 22 cities across the country to find out the preferences of black readers, Childs compiled her first monthly list of the five bestselling fiction and nonfiction books written by or about African Americans. That first BlackBoard list was published in several Ohio newspapers. Several months later, in the fall of 1991, the ABA agreed to run the list in Bookselling This Week. In 1992, Essence began running it.
Childs is proud of her list, which she feels has become "a brand, a force in the publishing industry."
"We have propelled writers to theNew York Times bestseller list who were selling books out of the backs of their cars!" she said. "E. Lynn Harris, Terry McMillan, Iyanla Vanzant, Eric Jerome Dickey. We've spurred sales growth in large numbers."
Terry McMillan has affirmed that BlackBoard was instrumental in propelling her onto theNew York Times bestseller list. After BlackBoard named McMillan's Disappearing Acts the 1991 book of the year, her publisher had to print 40,000 more copies.
She's An Author, Too
The BlackBoard list intervened to create a 10-year hiatus from the novel Childs was writing. She has only recently resumed work on the novel, which she says has morphed into something different. And in June, St. Martin's Press is publishing Going Off: A Guide for Black Women Who've Just About Had Enough by Childs and Noreen Palmer. Childs's coauthor is her sister, a licensed psychotherapist and clinical social worker. Their book is a practical guide showing African-American women how to express anger constructively, without "going off" on others, repressing their anger or stifling their feelings.
"I ended up writing Going Off because I was interviewed for a magazine article on women and anger," Childs told PW. "The questions were, 'What made you angry? And what did you do about it?' Several women, black and white, spoke about things that made them angry and the successful things they did about it." Childs's own answer was the story of how she had started the BlackBoard list. After reading the article, Childs and Palmer decided to explore the topic further.
"Initially we interviewed black and white women—400 of them were black—and asked them, what does 'going off' mean to you?" said Childs. "But the anger issues unique to black women helped us decide to focus on us, since we are black women."
To promote Going Off, Childs has learned from working with authors that "you cannot sit back and wait for the publisher to promote your book. So we are aggressively pursuing other avenues." These include hiring an independent publicist who specializes in African-American publishing and planning a corporate-sponsored multi-city tour. A documentary based on the book is also in the works.
"The documentary idea evolved from reading the women's responses to our questions," Childs said. "It made me think about our history in general: who is documenting our history, and in what way? No project has been devoted specifically to us. So we are filming black women across America, and we want black women to participate behind the scenes as well."
Those wishing to participate may contact Faye Childs at 5361 Refugee Road, Columbus, Ohio 43232, (614) 863-3946.