Hip-hop launches new breed of black pulp fiction

An entrepreneur hopes to net readers with tunes.

Published January 19, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

You can catch more readers with music than you can with lurid book covers, says one publishing entrepreneur.

Marc Gerald's indefatigable efforts to promote black pulp fiction have included launching the Old School imprint, a line of 18 gritty but stylish tales of crime and intrigue by what Gerald calls a "lost generation" of African-American writers. Now, Gerald wants to foster a renaissance of black noir. "There is a readership out there," he wrote for Salon in 1997. "It's now up to the industry to find some way to capture it." But rather than wait for publishers to bust a move on this untapped market, Gerald has devised his own solution for reaching young readers: hip-hop.

This May, Gerald's Syndicate Media Group plans to introduce original black pulp fiction titles by packaging them with CDs. Gerald, who will edit the novels, has recruited leading hip-hop writers, including Sasha Jenkins, the editor of the hip-hop magazine Ego Trip, and Michael Rodriguez, to write them. One of the lead titles, Ronin Ro's "The Street Sweeper," will be packaged with a compilation of songs by Def Jam artists Ja Rule and Method Man. (Ro is best known for his chronicle of Death Row Records, "Have Gun Will Travel.")

And, in an innovative marketing twist, record stores, not bookstores, will sell the product. Many of the country's biggest vendors, including the Wherehouse, Tower Records and Virgin Megastores, have bought into the program. The company is planning a print run of 50,000 copies per title, a handsome quantity for any first-time novelist. "Our projections were 75,000, so this run is pretty conservative," Gerald says.

Actor Wesley Snipes is a principal in the five-employee company. Hip-hop label Def Jam records is Syndicate's music and promotional partner.

"I think it stands a chance," says Gerald Howard, Doubleday vice-president and editor in chief for trade paperbacks. When Howard was an editor at W.W. Norton he worked with Gerald on the Old School imprint. "The music is the catnip that will draw in the readers," he says.

By Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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