I’ve Been Thinking…(#13)

Here are some opening words…

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

-James Baldwin

“Why you?”

This is one of the questions readers ask themselves before buying an author’s book.

“Why are you the person to listen to as an authority on this topic?”

Publishers and editors bring a similar lens when they make decisions about signing book projects.

We bring all sorts of biases to that question and we are fooling ourselves if race isn’t one of them.

While black authors are dominating the major bestseller lists right now, there are no black authors on the business book bestseller list this week. Or last week. Not the Top 15. Not in the Top 50. The last book I could find by a black business book author was back in the first week of May. Before that, it was a week in March.

Try this exercise: go to your bookshelves and find the business titles written by black authors.

What did you come back with? Malcolm Gladwell (maybe), and… My guess is that most people will come back empty handed. For me, I had two business books by black authors. That’s crazy and sad.

So, I started a real search for business books by black authors. I checked list after list. The same books came up. I bought all of them. There might be a total of twenty books sitting on the table in my office. Twenty books. That’s it.

A third of the books were biographies and memoirs that aren’t really business books. The next third were self-help titles with authors writing books framed around their experiences. The final third were straight up business books.

So, the sum total of what I could find was seven business books written by black authors. Like I said, that’s crazy and sad.

To successfully publish a business book, you need a combination of expertise and popularity. For the first part, authors need to do the work, think about the work and start to tell people how the work can done better. The works needs to have scale. Do the work at a big organization or for big organizations. Or create big, remarkable things that get noticed.

And then you need an audience. People need to see your work. Write for a newspaper. Host a podcast. Make documentaries. Become a Youtuber. Publish, publish, publish. Give speeches. Host events. Do interviews. Show people your work.

That truth leaves us with a problem.

We might use the fact there are only four black CEOs in Fortune 500 as a proxy for the difficulty that black people have in gaining the business expertise and market awareness needed to publish a successful business book.

This creates a credibility problem for readers. This creates a credibility problem for editors and publishers. This starts to explain the lack of business books by black authors.

I knew there were not many black authors in the business category. The 100 Best Business Books of All Time doesn’t have any black authors. And the honest reality is that if I rewrote it today, it still wouldn’t because there are so few titles to draw from.

Not seeing scope of the problem—the almost complete absence of black authors in business books—is the part gnawing at me. The work that the black community is asking everyone to do right now is to just start looking for the bias and the blind spots you have. I am biased. I have worked in business book publishing for sixteen years and I didn’t see it. There is more to say and do on this.

Today, I am going to start with something simple. This week, there is an effort underway called #BlackoutBestSellerList. The point is to create awareness for black authors and put more authors on the list by encouraging people to buy two books this week by black authors.

If you want to support black authors in the business community, here are four great choices:

  • The Power of Broke by Daymond John – You likely know Daymond John from Shark Tank. He writes his books to push you. He also has written three other books including Display of Power, Rise and Grand, and his latest Powershift. If you want a brand name, buy one of Daymond’s books.
  • Starting Finishing by Charlie Gilkey – Charlie is a close friend and I am a fan of Start Finishing. The book covers all the things that get in the way of doing the work you want to do. Start Finishing is works well for the analytics who want a manual for better productivity and a better life.
  • It’s About Damn Time by Arlan Hamilton – Arlan’s book came out six weeks ago. She is the founder of a venture capital fund dedicated to the “underestimated” women, LBGT+, and people of color founding companies. For me, this book is about possibility and how grit and smarts embodies successful entrepreneurship.
  • Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins – Goggins completed the elite training in every branch of the U.S. military and has gone on to become a multiple world-record holder in endurance athletics. This book is for the drivers who work every day to be their best self.

If my work or the books I have published have helped you, my ask is that you buy one of these books this week.

I hope you are well. Please stay safe. More soon. -Todd

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