Millenia Black: Racism at NAL Signet?

Millenia Black writes that the publisher of her second book, The Great Betrayal, is demanding that she change her characters from Caucasian to African-American before they publish the book. The publisher isn’t named, but according to my sources, it’s New American Library Trade Books. We only have Black’s word to go on. But if this is true, then this is abominable on several levels.

Since nobody thought to look into this, I called NAL Signet to see if I could hear its side of the story or what it had to say in response to Black’s charges.

I got in touch with the NAL publicity department first and was then led to another publicist, who suggested I contact the main switchboard. I then got in touch with a woman who worked in “editorial,” but who did not identify herself. I asked her if she could tell me who the editor for The Great Betrayal was because I was trying to verify some information about the title. When she did not, I then told her about Black’s story. She immediately replied, “I don’t know anything. It’s not my book.” Before I can say anything in response, she transferred me to publicity.

I then spoke with a publicist named Lisa, one of the two I had spoken with before. She didn’t have any information on who was handling the book. I then told her what the charges were and, in an effort to get somewhere, I said, “Well, if you’re publicity, then you’re going to have to offer some kind of official response to this. Because I’m sure you’re going to have many people calling you about this.” Lisa told me that she had asked around and said that Black’s allegations were “not true” took down my name and number and wouldn’t reveal the editor’s name to me. But the editor, a woman, would be calling me back.

If I don’t hear back from NAL tomorrow, I will call again. And I’ll call the next day. And the day after that. And I will continue to call until I get an answer from NAL on this. If anyone has any leads or if there’s anyone inside NAL who would like to respond anonymously about this, then you can email me at ed AT edrants.com and I will treat your emails with the strictest confidentiality.

(The lead on this story came from Lee Goldberg.)

[UPDATE: I have also sent emails to Claire Zion, editorial director of NAL Signet, and Tina Brown with some questions. I will keep readers apprised of any information I uncover.]

[UPDATE 2: An anonymous tipster suggests that Millenia Black plans to file a lawsuit for damages. But the story is suspect, because this tipster reports that Black has retained an attorney named Susan Clark, who is not even listed in the New York State Attorney Directory. So I remain dubious.]

[UPDATE 3: Last month, The Palm Beach Post reported that Millenia Black cancelled an appearance at Pyramid Books in Boynton Beach because the bookstore asked if she was black. I plan to call the bookstore to hear its take on this. The question is this: is Black making up charges to gain notoriety or is there truth to her statements? Or is the truth somewhere in between?]

[5/31/06 UPDATE: I spoke with Millenia Black this morning and I have several calls into many parties pertaining to this matter. There is a forthcoming podcast in the works devoted exclusively to this issue, but here’s what I can tell you now:

The Great Betrayal, the novel in question, is being released by NAL Trade on December 5, 2006. The novel will feature the characters as Caucasian, rather than the suggested change to African-American.

Black claims that recent legal maneuvers spawned the book’s release as is. She told me that, outside of the change in race, she had no problems with any of the editor’s changes. (I also finally got through to the editor today and hope to hear her side of the story.)

The Great Betrayal was accepted in outline form with the characters as white. Black then wrote the novel based on this outline. It was just after Black had finished the manuscript when the character race change was requested by her editor.

Communications on this matter between Black and the editor came through her agent. The editor broached the race change question with the agent; the agent then relayed this to Black. Black said no and there began an email volley between Black and the editor. Curiously, the matter was never taken up by phone directly between Black and the editor.

There is a lot more I’m following up on here and I will present the results as they come in.]

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17 Comments

  1. Am I misreading Millenia’s original post or didn’t they ask her to change them from Caucasian to African American?

  2. No, you’re right. Post modified, also removed most of the editorializing in first paragraph.

  3. No, it’ s true. I work for Berkley and we heard about it through the grapevine. Black’s represented by a firm, Ritz & Clark here in the city. Not sure of the attorney’s name, but Penguin got a demand letter last week.

  4. Just checked out the story at the post. Looks like Rhonda Swan did call the store herself. The guy told the reporter he wanted to know if Millenia Black was black. From the Post:
    ++++
    Akbar says he got an email from Millenia cancelling the signing, but didn’t know why until I called and told him about her blog.

    “I didn’t mean to be offensive. I was just curious. I wanted to know whether she was a black writer,” Akbar says. “If she was offended by it, maybe there’s something deeper that needs to be looked at.”

  5. At first brush, I’m inclind to believe the author must be telling the truth, because it just doesn’t make sense to kill her relationship with a publisher with such a far-fetched fabrication. Logic, along with the way of the business as we know it to be, seems to point to this being painfully fact don’t you think? It’s a shame a writer would be subjected to this. I’m eagerly awaiting more information.

  6. Edward:

    Maybe one place to start with judging Ms. Black’s credibility is found in her first book “The Great Pretender” at the back: A CONVERSATION WITH MILLENIA BLACK.

    on this page, from the third question comes a query of what she has learned through writing her book and becoming a published author. I think her answer to that question is enlightening as to what we’re hearing as rumors today.

    Well, shall we assume she started rumors in her book that the publisher calssified AA and put in marketing? Doesn’t seems right to me.

    “The Great Pretender” is darn good attractive family story worthwhile reading, and it may appear that this book given time would gets around pretty much on its own.

    Dased on points we’re able to see, it seems rather unlikely that this story is just nothing but a contrivance.

    I’d suggest that wherever there is real smoke, you should clear away the ashes. Why? There’s at least one coal of fire there.

    You know, everybody both Whites and Blacks should be out- raged over this issue. At least for the sake of civility. Really, we should have past the dump site eons of years ago, more belest to be here struggling with the aberrations of racial chavinism and religatng of others in 2006.

    I think we’ll find out the truth in the near future. This kind of nasty racial conduct must stop today, and that’s how I feel about it, damn it.

  7. Susan Clark isn’t listed, but I did a google search and there is a Ritz and Clark in NYC with a Susan RITZ. Seems your tipster got the names transposed. The other partner is Miriam Clark. So, I agree with Justine and ‘Ancient Reader’. Where there’s smoke watch for fire. She’s got a lawyer and if the info from ‘Insider’ is accurrate, she’s making some type of demand.

    I can’t wait to see how this plays out. As I said on my blog, I think the outcome of this, whatever it may be, will have a collossal impact on the industry going forward.

  8. Millenia Black self-published her first book, The Great Pretender, in 2002. Her “press” file lists only quotes from Harriet Klausner and the Midwest Book Review. No prepubs like Kirkus, PW, Booklist, or Library Journal and no newspapers or ejournals like Bookreporter and Bookloons. What if NAL picked up the book because the author is black and they were trying to get in on the “hot” category of AA romance/erotic fiction? Is it still racism for them to say that don’t want her second book unless she has black characters? I don’t have the answers, but I think it’s strange that dozensof bloggers are jumping on this story without reading any of Millenia Black’s work. There’s an excerpt up at Amazon for anyone who’s curious.

  9. Another Anon (who hates racism) April 23, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    “Millenia Black self-published her first book, The Great Pretender, in 2002. Her “press” file lists only quotes from Harriet Klausner and the Midwest Book Review. No prepubs like Kirkus, PW, Booklist, or Library Journal and no newspapers or ejournals like Bookreporter and Bookloons.”

    NOT SURE WHAT YOUR POINT IS WITH THIS. PW, ETC. AREN’T KNOW FOR REVIEWING SELF PUBLISHED BOOKS…AND OBVIOUSLY IT DID WELL ENOUGH AS SELF-PUBBED TO ATTRACT NAL’S ATTENTION….BUT THAT’S ALL BESIDES THE POINT.

    What if NAL picked up the book because the author is black and they were trying to get in on the “hot” category of AA romance/erotic fiction? Is it still racism for them to say that don’t want her second book unless she has black characters?

    IF THEY DID ANYTHING BECAUSE THE AUTHOR IS BLACK—THEY’RE IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW. YES, IT’S RACISM, THE FACT THAT YOU HAVE TO ASK SHOWS YOU UP, BIG TIME……..I TOOK THE LIBERTY OF READING THE EXCERPT OF GREAT PRETENDER AT AMAZON, NOTHING IN THE STORY TO THAT POINT THAT SAYS “AFRICAN AMERICAN FICTION”.

    I don’t have the answers, but I think it’s strange that dozensof bloggers are jumping on this story without reading any of Millenia Black’s work.

    IT’S INTERESTING YOU THINK IT’S STRANGE. A PERSON MAY BE BEING SUBJECTED TO RACIAL DISCRIMINATION AND YOU THINK IT’S STRANGE PEOPLE ARE RALLYING IN OUTRAGE AND QUIT TO DECRY IT IF IT’S INDEED TRUE. TSK, TSK.

  10. I agree with you anon2. The cover, the title of and writing in Great Pretender is race neutral/mainstream. That’s what so chaffing about having the black women put on the commercial cover–the book was written to appeal and be marketable to anyone, but was given “black” packaging–which given segregrated shelving and the smaller demographic of black book buyers–results in limiting author opportunity.

    Tess Gerritsen is Chinese, but there’s no Asian packaging of her mysteries. More recently, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Lifel” by Kaavya Viswanathan has been marketed as mainstream ya-chicklit, not east indian fiction.

    The central issue that only the courts can resolve is if NAL (or any publisher really) can use race to make lawful niche marketing decisions or if such use of race is discriminatory in the treatment of certain classes of authors from others. That’s the bottom line.

    I can almost see a niche publisher or imprint argue such a case successfully because the guidlines require black/gay/christrian/ whatever only books and authors know better than to try and subvert the restrictions. NAL isn’t such a publisher nor has such an imprint.

  11. Ancient Reader April 25, 2006 at 1:18 am

    This is good argument:

    Good stance hon., that’s it.
    Together we stand, and we all know what happens to the contrary.

    But there’re some people who need a little instruction on how to operate themselves, if you will.

    Below are some food for thought.

    Indeed we all must realize the value of the power of “language”. For believe it or not, when someone begins fashioning a more efficient and effective way of speaking, people automatically take note of it.

    Racism reigns for this long primarily because folks lacks position of proper linguistic rhetoric and mode of conduct. Do you believe that? Its true.

    So having an issue such as racism against any race at all, White or Black, calls for particularly the most effective linguistic delivery to disgrace the perpetrators and thereby bring about access to liberty everyone is entitled to enjoy.

    Talking trash even jokingly, but more specifically in solemn occasion as in this subject matter, this do seriously harm the chance for which to deliver needed change.

    Good spoken representation and sage conduct is the tool that’s reliable enough to get the job done regardless of the resistance.

    Trust Mi, for I’m a global philosopher, I do understand the chemical secret workings of when we communicate. And there’s a vast difference between when you “hit it or you mist it”.

    It seems like many of us do recognized and well appreciate Millenia’s sense of articulation. I can tell that by reading her novel “The Great Pretender” that she’s mentally adroit and skilled, very decisive. She seem to exercise her ferocity of pursuits with some kind of subtle MO. That’s very powerful, allot of linguistic mystique is at work here.

    What I’m driving at is this; it has to take something extraordinary in talent to embolden someone of Ms. Black’s status to get up single-handedly to lead the fight of racial cause with Mount Everest standing there…like David against Goliath. Of course David’s big brothers et al just stood by while he slay Goliath. But they all celebrated the victory. We can’t just stand by like some are attempting to do.

    I affirm that it behooves both Whites and Blacks to speak decisively, effectively and scholarly in solidarity against the shamefulness of racism, and loathed it with high emphasis.

    Millenia Black is undoubtedly doing the hardest part, like being on the frontline– so instead of one being critical in speech, just put that energy to renounce the dam injustice affecting them while trying to shoot down the wrong target. Racism will never go away doing that kind of a thing.

    Hey, good judgment and accurate distinction are vital for our living, especially for fighting any battle.

    I’m sure Millenia Black will win with Whites and Blacks supporting this noble cause, I see the support is building on several fronts. It must not stop, that’s until we’ve made and are satisfied with substantial progress.

    So, is any more fool left out there? I really believe that the national medias will soon pick this up and run with it, its too relevant and seriously important to all of us. Then many will say: I knew this was a damn serious thing.

  12. Hmmm…

    Millenia Black ‘s post is gone.

    Isnt that interesting?

  13. Millenia explains the absence: http://milleniablack.blogspot.com/2006/04/temporary-absence.html

    —-
    Wednesday, April 26, 2006
    Temporary Absence
    Due to certain imperatives, I’ve temporarily hidden the post and subsequent comments on the Jim Crow state of publishing. I will be away for the next two or so weeks and will respond to all the inquiries and requests for interviews upon my return. I’ll be at liberty to share more information at that time.

    I want to thank everyone for their support during this painful and trying fight for fair and equitable treatment. Thank you so very much! More later.

  14. Ancient Reader May 28, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    Ed:

    What has become of you pursuit to find out Penguin publisher position on Millenia’s lawsuit over “The Great Pretender”?

    I understand that more things have been happening and brakes in the saga.

  15. Haven’t forgotten, Ancient Reader. Still following the trail.

  16. so what happened with this?

  17. I think the case was settled wasn’t it?

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