Looking to support Black books during a period of national crisis and protest over race, Amistad Press has launched the hashtag campaign #BlackoutBestsellerList and #BlackPublishingPower in an effort to draw attention to Black authors and Black book professionals.
Launched by an email appeal and via social media sites on June 14, the campaign in support of Black books includes a graphic that announces: “To demonstrate our power and clout in the publishing industry, June 14 – June 20, we encourage you to purchase any two books by Black Writers. Our goal is to Blackout Bestseller lists with Black Voices.”
The hashtag campaign is the idea of Tracy Sherrod, editorial director of Amistad, HarperCollins’ Black and multicultural imprint. The goal of the campaign, she said, is to “turn the bestseller lists Black, to take the list over with books by Black writers or by other people of color.”
Sherrod told PW that the larger goal of the campaign is to highlight the buying power of African American book consumers as well as the behind-the-scenes efforts of Black publishing professionals working to deliver these books to the public. In the email appeal, Sherrod wrote: “Please join me in what I hope will be a powerful and proud moment in publishing for all of us.”
Sherrod said, “I think that we still have to prove to the publishing industry that we—Black book consumers—are a large and vibrant market and that we’re interested in books. It still seems like we have to prove this.”
“The campaign may work, or it may not work” Sherrod said about the effort to transform the bestseller lists. “But it should still raise the profiles of a lot of talented Black writers and show that Black literature is a growing market,” she said. “And it will show off the contributions of Black people in the book publishing industry.”
The campaign supports any book by a Black author, although Sherrod noted that Amistad has two books on the New York Times bestseller lists right now: My Vanishing Country by Bakari Sellers (at #10 on the hardcover nonfiction list) and Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (at #2 on the NYT business list).
Sherrod said she came up with the idea for the #BlackoutBestsellerList hashtag and took it to Judith Curr, president and publisher of the HarperOne, Amistad, and Rayo imprints at HC, who was “super supportive” and introduced the concept to HC leadership. Amistad associate publisher Tara Parsons, Sherrod said, took on the implementation of the campaign and Amistad marketing assistant Maya Lewis designed the graphic.
In addition, Sherrod reached out to National Book Award-winning African American historian Ibram X. Kendi (author of How to Be an Antiracist), and to veteran Black literary agent Marie Brown to get their thoughts on the campaign before it went live. “If I didn’t have such a diverse team, I’m not sure we would have been able to pull it off,” Sherrod said.
Sherrod said it was good to see that the book industry is “paying attention” to Black authors and professionals. “All of the Big Five publishers have Black authors that are the backbone of their publishing lists and they’ve been benefiting from these works from the beginning,” she said.