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In 1999, African Americans spent $307 million on books, according to Target Market News, a Chicago-based market research firm. And that means this segment has the power to impact the publishing industry.
Just ask the members of the Go On Girl! book club. Founded in 1991 and established as a nonprofit corporation in 1995, this organization aims at convincing book publishers of black consumers’ buying power. With 420 members in 35 chapters located in nine states, Go On Girl! (GOG) is one of the largest reading groups for African American women in the country.
Monique Greenwood, Lynda M. Johnson, and Tracy Mitchell-Brown, then all editors at magazines, formed the first chapter in New York. Naming the club after a skit from the former FOX-TV show In Living Color, the founders established formal bylaws and rules in 1993.
“We decided to meet once a month to discuss a book written by an author of African descent,” says Johnson, style director at Children’s Business, a magazine published by Fairchild Publications in New York. The reading list, voted upon by the entire membership at GOG’s annual business meeting, includes everything from science fiction and mysteries to historical fiction and classic novels. Members read a book each month, meet to discuss it, and then send reviews to the author and publisher.
GOG’s goals include encouraging the continued publication of works by authors of African descent; encouraging the responsible writing and publishing of literature by people of African descent (by sending book reviews to authors and publishers); presenting recognition awards; purchasing books written and edited by people of African descent; attending book signings, and making charitable donations.
GOGs annual awards ceremony “honors the author of the year and recognizes publishers who promote books by us and about us,” says Johnson. GOG also gives a monetary award to unpublished writers and a scholarship to a student attending a black college or university.
GOG does not endorse books, but its enthusiasm about certain books has helped authors get professionally published. “Random House became very interested in my book after [GOG] chose it as their book of the month,” says Persia Walker, author of Harlem Redux. “Simon & Schuster also developed an interest. Unbelievably, my self-published book became the subject of a small tug-of-war between these two major publishers. …I decided to go with Simon & Schuster. The book is slated for release in June 2002.”
According to Brent Janeway, publicity manager at Plume Books, his publishing house monitors GOG picks. “We pay close attention to the books they select,” he says. “I think many publishers [do]. Look at the number of imprints that have been started by major publishing companies recently to publish books by people of color. There are at least half a dozen.” For Plume, a GOG selection means word-of-mouth sales generated by GOG members. “You not only reach an entire club or nearly 400 members, but you also know that the members will read it, discuss it, and most likely talk about the book to other people not in the