Author in the Mirror
Stepping to the stage is: Brenda Hampton
I often ask myself is anyone really listening or paying attention to the voices of those who cry out, on a regular basis, about the state of African American literature. There is no doubt that we’ve read numerous articles where some authors have thrown in the towel because they’ve had enough. We’ve seen blogs and Facebook posts where frustration is mounting, but when an author/reviewer/reader expresses their concerns, crickets sound off. Then there are those who feel the pain of what our industry is experiencing, yet they remain silent and prefer to whisper in their cliques about how messed up things really are. There is no sense of urgency regarding this matter, nor is there a sense of togetherness. Fingers point at those who write in certain genres, and according to some, had it not been for those doggone authors writing about thugs, prostitutes, pimps and hoes, we wouldn’t be in this predicament.
No one can pinpoint a specific reason as to why we find ourselves locked out of major publishing houses, looked upon as non-gifted writers and money hustlers. But that, indeed, has become our reality. From someone who eats, sleeps and breathes this industry, I feel compelled to lay down my burdens and keep it real. My stomach turns when I read poorly-edited books. I cringe at book covers that represent African American women and men in a negative light. And I am saddened for those who believe it is to their benefit to value their literary works at a mere ninety-nine cents. I scratch my head at authors who consider credible reviewers as “haters” and whenever many of those reviewers offer valuable information, only a handful of us are willing to say one simple word—thanks. I could go on and on about what I’ve witnessed over the past eleven years, but if I, Brenda Hampton, want to put some of the blame on anyone for the mess in which many of us have contributed to, I must look in the mirror. Change starts with me; after all, I am the creative one. If the industry in which I love so much is sinking like the Titanic, what am I prepared to do? How can I save it, and why can’t I use my ingenious mind that all real writers are gifted with to help make a difference? Many will reject the idea that I, and or you, have contributed to our downfall, but when we love something so badly, don’t we nurture it? Just like a business, don’t we do what we must to build it up? Is it our responsibility to teach those within our company how to run it or do we ignore them? We have to remember that we’re not in this business by ourselves, and whatever we contribute to it, good or bad, it is a representation of the whole company, not just part of it.
I think back to when I wrote my first novel. I had no idea what to do, how to do it or where to turn. I did, however, reach out to seek advice from certain authors, who shall remain nameless. Not one of those authors responded. I was shocked, but I did some homework, had my book edited and released it with a book cover my daughters had designed for me—bless their hearts. To make a long story short, after doing all of the research that I could do, I was still, in a sense, lost. As many authors do, I pushed forward, not realizing that I hadn’t hired the right editor, not knowing that reviewers would critique my book from front to back, and I was unaware that readers would leave my book on the shelves because they didn’t approve of my cover. The $19.95 price tag on it surely didn’t cause readers to dig deep into their pockets, and I even caught one lady laughing at it because the entire book was double-spaced. At that point in my career, I truly thought I knew it all, and shame on that lady for laughing at my book! Hater…she’s just jealous—that was what I thought, but realistically, I had failed myself. What I didn’t know was, many years later, I would still be in the learning stages.
I say all of this to say that, as writers, we can be educators too. While I make NO excuses for so-called authors who could care less about doing the right thing, whose half-ass efforts will eventually stall, and who ignore the state of our industry, I do have compassion for those who want to grow, learn and better their literary careers. I’m still looking in the mirror, asking myself, how can I help those authors? Can I educate them on a process that is unique in its own way, because, technically, you have to go through something in this industry in order to know something about it. Am I too busy, and or selfish, to share all that I have learned, in hopes that raunchy book covers, cheap e-books, and poorly written stories do not become the norm? More so, have I done anything, other than complain, about the very people I wasn’t even willing to help?
I am still a work in progress, and I will be classified as such until the day I retire from writing. But as we seek skillful and simple solutions that are vital to reversing the path in which we are traveling, I ask those who truly care to look in the mirror. Many of you already go to hell and back for others—you certainly know who you are. But for those who sit on the sidelines, check your reflection. Who do you see? Are you willing to take a stand for African American literature and help to give it new life? Can you be honest with upcoming authors who may not know better and who do not understand the process? Speak up and take action now, because if you don’t, I assure you—no, I guarantee you—that we will all fall together. Being affiliated with a bestseller’s list, having a galore of author friends, and even writing the best book ever will not spare your reputation. History will remember us as a defeated group of individuals who lost courage and failed to preserve AA literature. One author at a time…we can do it make our literary world a better place.
February is Black History month. Beginning February 1st, reach out to somebody in the industry who you know needs you. Post everywhere that you can: “I love Black literature. I’m an author, reviewer, editor, agent, publisher…How can I help you?” If you can’t answer the questions directed to you or if you’re not one-hundred percent sure, take the time to seek someone who knows. Allow the love for what we do to spread like a wildfire, in hopes that our conjoined efforts will begin to stabilize the shaky ground we walk on. Onboard? We shall see…
Brenda Hampton is a bestselling author, publisher and literary agent. Praised as the writer who brings the heat, Hampton’s literary career is filled with many accomplishments including being named favorite female fiction writer in Upscale Magazine as well as other literary nominations and awards. In an effort to show appreciation to her colleagues in literature, Hampton created The Brenda Hampton Honorary Literacy Award and Scholarship Fund. The award not only celebrates writers, but it also represents unique individuals who put forth every effort to uphold the standards of African American Literature.