Disclaimer: By no means am I criticizing for the sake of it or calling out anyone in particular. These are just my observations and opinion. However, if you are offended by my views don’t take it personal because it is not my intent to bash.
On my Facebook feed this week, the theme seemed to be the presence of trifling titles and tasteless covers in Urban Lit. I couldn’t turn around without seeing a status about some low budget and base title or a cover that leaves nothing to the imagination and devalues the words between the front and back covers. In Urban Lit, it is nothing to see the grit and rawness of the streets, because anything less would water things down a bit .
However, when there’s a “bitchapalooza” (ie hoards of books with “bitch” in the title after it’s been done before), covers with images that would put porn mags to shame festering on the wall of African-American and Urban lit like kudzu, it’s beginning to become a problem with some readers. I have heard thoughts like this:
“It (The book) might be a good story but I’m at the point where I can’t look beyond the title anymore”
“Using profanity in their titles and pretty much X Rated pictures on the covers. Deal Breaker. Turn Off.”
“Just because a story is based on ghetto reality, the title doesn’t have to be ghetto. With some books, you can tell it’s ghetto as hell just by the title. It’ shouldn’t be that way.”
The irony in all of this is the complaints by some about Urban Lit not being taken seriously. The titles and the covers are only two of the reasons why the genre is being vilified. I get that the author wants to appeal to their demographic and wants to sell, but I really believe that it could be done without the outrageous titles, covers and fonts. I go as far as to say that watching what you put on your covers should be mandatory. Before you look at me with a skeptical eye, picture this:
A reader strolls into Barnes And Noble, really thristy for a great novel. He or She searches endlessly for that little section in the store reserved for black authors in the corner. The store lumped them all together because if we “look” alike, we may “write” alike, but I digress. The eager reader sees tastefully done covers on the shelves such as Treasure Blue’s ” Fly Betty”, Terry McMillan’s “Who Asked You?“, Jason Mott’s “The Returned” or even Zane’s “Afterburn” or Walter Mosley’s “Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore” next to your “ Hand Me Down Bitches part 3″, “Shame On You, Bitch 2” or “My Baby Daddy May Be Shit But He’s My Lump of Shit and I love Him“. What would they think? I’m willing to bet you that they’ll either scrunch their face and frown and frown before moving on and away. If it isn’t that, they’d probably pickup the book and laugh at the title before putting it back on the shelf and going on facebook to tell their friends about the tomfoolery that they found in the store. Either way, you lost a customer and a potential fan with those covers and titles.
For some, maybe your aim isn’t Barnes and Noble. However, the same principle applies on Amazon. The covers and titles will still turn them off.
If some of these readers see it, you better believe that some authors are paying attention as well. I believe that while a huge percentage of authors are serious in their titles, there are some that wrote a story and came up with such a crazy title and cover just to see if it would sale or get a bunch of reviews. Sadly, they get the pop of attention and the reviews to go with it sometimes. Even if an author get the reviews and the acclaim from that experiment or even those who are serious about the titles, the billion dollar question of the hour is “will they keep the readers coming back in the long run?”
Readers! I would love to hear more from you. What kind of titles and covers appeal to you generally?
Authors! I’m not leaving you out either. Why the graphic titles and covers in the first place? Is it preference or is it profit that’s driving you to put them out there or both?
About the author
Jannelle is the author of “Wild Cards” “Thirst”, “Thirst II”, and “Love’s Hangover” and is a fresh voice in African-American fiction, spending time on Amazon’s Hot New Releases list for two of her four titles. She’s also a freelance journalist. Her DC Bookdiva Debut, “Uppity” will be released in November, and is available for pre order now.