The Coming ‘Tsunami’ of Books on Race


Certain titles saw explosive growth. “So You Want To Talk About Race,” first published in 2018, sold about 34,000 copies in the 12 months before Floyd’s death. In the year that followed, it has sold more than 10 times that amount.

Publishing executives wonder who the winners and losers will be in an increasingly crowded field. Many editors, however, including Chris Jackson, publisher and editor in chief at Random House’s One World, reject the idea that the market will reach some kind of saturation point.

“The history of publishing is that when something works, people try to do the derivative version,” Mr. Jackson said. “So absolutely you’re going to get some books that really aren’t that good, that are probably derivative or repetitive or redundant of things that are already out there. It’s inevitable.”

But books about race and racism shouldn’t be lumped together, he continued. “What we’re talking about is not the category of ‘books about Black people’ or ‘racism,’ we’re talking about the category of ‘books about the American experience,’” he said. “Because that’s what these books are. They’re talking about different aspects of it.”

Take two books from One World, he said: “Four Hundred Souls,” edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain and published in February, and “The 1619 Project,” which will be out in November. “You could say, ‘Well, you just published a book that’s about 400 years of Black history,’ but they’re completely different books,” Mr. Jackson said. One is a celebratory narrative history, he added, while the other is a series of essays examining contemporary American life. “They’re no more competitive with each other than any other book about political economies is competitive with a work of history.”

Books that view race through a conservative lens are starting to take off, as well — including titles by authors like Candace Owens and Mark R. Levin — and there are more coming this fall aimed at the same audience. These books have been boosted by aggressive coverage of critical race theory by outlets like Fox News, and the Republican Party’s plan to run on culture-war issues in next year’s midterm elections.

Many in publishing bristle at the suggestion that the market can only absorb so many books about anti-Black racism and the experiences of Black Americans. Ms. Habib, the literary agent, said that for many years, publishing operated on a “scarcity model,” rooted in the idea that there could be only one successful book about Black life, for example, each season.

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