In the wake of the Black Lives Matter Movement, we’ve been seeing an influx of companies, artists, celebrities etc, celebrating Black professionals in their fields. We’ve also been seeing this in the publication world. Black authors, shoutout other Black authors, to bring their fan bases new authors to fall in love with. This was the case with Karma Kingsley
She posted this to her Facebook-
The post is incredibly sweet but took a bit of a turn for the worst, when this got around to Michaels’ fans. Ember Michaels responded with this.
Michaels explains that her name, Ember Michaels, is a pen name and no one knows what she looks like on purpose. She wrote under her own name for six years but still experienced racism. She would receive comments from people saying they couldn’t relate to her stories because they weren’t black. She created Ember Michaels as an experiment of sorts and as a way to keep doing what she loved. So she went completely anonymous.
And since that change, her book sales were on an up swing. In her post, she explains that nothing changed about her writing except for adding some murder. But other than that all that really changed was what she looked like to the outside world. Her post was in response to some of her followers telling her that they felt betrayed by her, and how they felt lied to. Her blackness doesn’t change her writing, the meaning of her books, or how someone feels toward her work. If you enjoyed it, you enjoyed; knowing that she’s Black shouldn’t affect that.
In the summary of her post, she touched briefly on the racism that is still alive in the book community.
There are a lot of talented African American authors out there that are being looked over simply because of people’s biases, racism, or the age old excuse of “I don’t think I can relate to the stories they write.” Racism is alive and well in aspects of life and also in the book community, but I’m sure you already know that.
Just do better.
And again, if me being black bothers you now that you know, you know where the unfriend/unlike/unfollow/unsubscribe button is.
I had to opportunity to ask her some questions about this situation and here is our discussion:
When I was reading your post, it reminded me of another writer, Julie Kagawa, who we featured on our recent 5×5 segment for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. She is an Asian American author and a lot of her book covers either have art with no faces or have white people on the cover, like her best known series, The Iron Fey; Is this more common than we know, that black authors, authors of color or their publishers make the decision to have either white people on the covers or choose beautiful art work so that their book will be more palatable or accessible to a diverse audience?
Ember Michaels: The characters for my mafia romance trilogy are white (Italian-American). This trilogy isn’t the first time I’ve written white characters; I wrote a lot of it when I was writing under my actual name. It was more so because it seemed to be what the market wanted and the advice that successful authors usually give is to “write to market.” Some people ask for more diverse stories and then when they got those stories, they’d still be picked over it or it had to be a certain type of “diverse” story (whatever that means). I don’t put much info about characters in the description because that’s meant to be picked up in the stories. My branding is that I create psychotic, savage anti-heroes who end up with the sassy heroines that can handle them. Everything else a reader would want to know about them would need to be experienced in the story itself.
Ember Michaels: My characters are white. I’m not sure how or why someone would assume I’m white just based on a book I’ve written. To assume that and then are surprised to find out I’m black, that’s just as insulting as “you’re so well-spoken for a black person.” Being black doesn’t equate to being unintelligent or speaking in slang or ebonics or whatever people think black people are supposed to speak/write like. Growing up, I always dealt with things like that. How other black kids would call me an Oreo (white girl in a black body) simply because I spoke what they called “proper.” I even deal with my own family members saying that I talk “white” because of the way that I speak. I basically type the way that I talk. I mean I’m sorry, but I didn’t take a bunch of English classes just to write or speak as if I hadn’t LOL. Writing white characters also doesn’t automatically make the writer white either. I never mentioned anything about my race in any fashion, nor have I given anyone a reason to believe I was white. I can’t control anyone’s assumptions, but I wouldn’t say that I led anyone to assume anything about me. They had nothing about me to focus on but my books, but my books are not a reflection of who I am as a person. Considering what I write about, I’d be in some hot water if my books reflected me as a person LOL.
Ember Michaels: Starting a new name wasn’t really a hard decision. As I’d said in my FB post, my plan was to leave the bookworld completely. Writing has always been a coping mechanism for me, which was how I got into publishing in the first place back in 2012. After I made the decision to stop writing under my actual name, I had a major health crisis that really took a toll on me mentally. I knew I needed to write, but I was in no mood to write cute, sexy romances at the time. I needed an outlet to write all the dark and dangerous emotions I felt, so I figured the only romance genre I could get away with that was dark romance. All I really did was create the pen name, write a prequel, and share a spanking excerpt from the prequel in a bunch of takeovers. You’d be surprised how attention-grabbing spanking scenes are LOL. I think my biggest fear with starting a new anonymous name was that it would take FOREVER to rebuild relationships I already had with people as a completely new person. So I was more worried about how long it would take to build a fan base being anonymous than anything else. Surprisingly, the prequel took off and was pretty successful, a lot more successful than I expected for my debut for my new pen name.
Ember Michaels: I think the main plan was to remain anonymous long enough for me to build a sustainable fan base. I was just going to be anonymous as long as possible because I was 1) testing to see if my social experiment was valid and true and 2) to build a fanbase so that when I did eventually reveal my identity, people would have already read and loved my work and it probably wouldn’t have mattered as much. Now, if anyone were to ask me about it, I would’ve told them, as I had nothing to hide. I’m not ashamed of being black; I mean why should I be? It’s how I am. But what I didn’t want was for it to negatively affect my work when I’ve worked so hard on something. In my experience, I only seemed to have a bit of success if a white author co-signed me in some way. I could rave and sing promotions about my books until my head exploded but it would mostly fall on deaf ears. It’s almost as if people are more trusting of people that look more like them and that’s where the “I don’t think I can relate to your book” thing comes in. But if someone that looks like them says, “OMG, this book is so amazing! Get it!” then they’re more likely to step out of whatever comfort zone they have to “try something new,” even though it’s not really new, it’s just written by someone they probably wouldn’t normally read. That can be pretty frustrating because there’s so many amazing authors of color because of this. And while it’s sad, it’s not uncommon.
And finally, do you have any idea what the future might hold for you? I know you are working on your next book, are there any details you can spare? We here at Bookstr would love to know.
Ember Michaels: My plans are to just continue writing for now. I’m currently working on finishing The Destruction of Sevyn, which comes out on June 29th! It’s a bit different than my mafia trilogy, but my hero is still a savage anti-hero that my readers will love to hate. I’ve added the prologue for it on my blog so that readers can see what they’re in for! You can check that out here.
Ember Michaels’ story is unfortunate yet filled with hope. It brings to light the work that needs to be put into the book community and the publishing industry to make them more inclusive and open minded. There are many Black and POC writers out there that many won’t read because they believe that they can’t relate. The decision to give a story a chance shouldn’t be based on what the author looks like. It should intrigue you because of interesting characters and the premise. So do yourself a favor and read something you wouldn’t normally would have. You may be surprised.