Courting African-American Readers

Article excerpt

ATLANTA (Cox) -- Until Terry McMillan proved them wrong with her best-selling Waiting to Exhale, most New York publishers ignored the African-American market as basically a non-reading audience. Authors such as Tajuana "TJ" Butler and former Atlantan E. Lynn Harris had to resort to publishing their own books. Harris sold copies of Invisible Life out of the back of his car and in beauty parlors. Butler, whose novel Sorority Sisters was published this year by Villard, peddled copies of her self-published books to black-owned businesses.

"When I first started publishing myself, I was advised against it because I was told the industry frowned upon it. But within the African-American community I saw lots of sales," says Harris, a Doubleday author with 2 million books in print.

With Harris and fellow author Eric Jerome Dickey now regularly landing on the best-seller list, more doors are opening for black writers. This month, Kensington Publishing will launch a new line of fiction and nonfiction for African-Americans, and next winter Random House will follow suit with its Strivers Row imprint.

"After Terry McMillan's success, blacks were buying books (by African-Americans) just because of the novelty. Taste wasn't really involved," says Manie Barron, publisher of Amistad Press, an imprint of HarperCollins that publishes fiction and nonfiction by blacks. "Now, a decade later, readers are more discerning."

Wildfires disrupt vacations

NEW YORK (NYT) -- The wildfires that have swept through parts of a dozen Western states this summer, destroying homes, businesses and millions of acres of recreational land, have also disrupted or ruined vacations and crippled businesses dependent on the tourist trade.

"It has been an absolute disaster for campers, hikers, rafters and other outdoorsmen over a big portion of the West," said Dorothy Maitland, the owner of Travel by Maitland, a tour operator in Kalispell, Mont.

A major entrance to Yellowstone National Park was closed for several days in mid-August, Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming was shrouded in smoke, and fear of wildfires kept visitors away from Glacier National Park in Montana. Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, a trove of ancient cliff dwellings and ancient Anasazi artifacts, was closed twice for a total of almost three weeks before reopening Aug. 14.

Although small businesses near recreational areas have suffered and individuals have had to change camping and hiking plans, tour operators in the affected states had surprisingly few cancellations. They juggled schedules; when the south entrance to Yellowstone was closed, some went in via the west, said Keither Griffall, chief executive of Western Leisure in Salt Lake City. "It took another three hours or so, but by staying in close touch with the Forest Service we were not badly affected." And as long as visitors do not think they are in danger, he said, many of them enjoy what he described as "a little spice" during their tours.

While Mesa Verde was closed, Tauck Tours of Westport, Conn., rescheduled tours to Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico. "We had a lot of people calling to inquire," said Phil Otterson, a vice president, "but we had very few cancellations." Maitland, a former president of the National Tour Association, said that there was a falloff in early August, but that tours picked up when her company stuck to most itineraries and rescheduled others. "But it was definitely a challenge," she said.

The United States Forest Service's Web site for checking fire conditions is www .fs.fed.us/fire/news.shtml.

Taking stock

NEW YORK (AP) -- Fluctuations on Wall Street seem to have caused greater insecurity in people's personal lives. Although non- scientific in nature, a survey of 319 adults conducted by the financial services company MoneyUnion found 53 percent of respondents feel less secure in their jobs as a result of recent stock market gyrations, and 41 percent said they have less confidence in their financial security as of late. …