Growing and Glowing Up: Marketing the Black Girls’ Book Club
By Caitlin Davies, Danielle Hernandez and Georgia Rees
Having a large social media following, Black Girls’ Book Club has challenged expectations and asserted a love of reading shared by Black women online. Their next step is a debut novel: Grown: A Black Girls’ Guide to Glowing Up. We delve into the power of the book club so far, and how their campaign has struck a chord with readers.
Not Your Common Book Club
Frustrated with the lack of spaces within which Black women and girls could gather together to discuss works of literature that address and embrace their shared life experiences, friends Melissa Cummings-Quarry and Natalie Carter founded the Black Girls’ Book Club (BGBC) in 2016 to put Black women at the helm of the discussion. In an interview with Vogue, they point out that brands often overthink how to market books to Black women, when the solution is simply to create a safe space where Black women feel empowered and free to express their points of view.
BGBC uses its large social media platform to promote Black-authored books, as well as to advertise the “Black Girls are Magic Brunch” events, the first of which, back in 2016, was a huge success. In an effort to create a safe, welcoming space for women, Magic Brunches involve informal discussions about a set text – as well as general life experiences – over food and booze in the company of some excellent speakers. This truly is, as their tagline suggests, ‘not your common book club.’ Previous special guests have included 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction Winner Tayari Jones, author Malorie Blackman, broadcaster June Sarpong, Hollywood actress Gabourey Sidibe, and transgender model Munroe Bergdorf, among many others.
The BGBC believes that successfully marketing a Black-authored book means marketing it to Black women by fostering the connection already felt between them. This is why the Black Girls Book Club Magic Brunches have achieved so much success. Building on this success, Cummings-Quarry and Carter decided to expand the space they’ve created by founding the month-long Black Girls Book Club Literary Festival, hosting inspirational Black women within the literary field such as Candice Carty-Williams, author of Queenie, and Emma Dabiri, broadcaster and author of Don’t Touch My Hair. Writing on Twitter, Cummings-Quarry and Carter cite the importance of Black spaces as “the only type of therapy we can afford or feel safe in.”
Grown: The Black Girls' Guide to Glowing Up
Following the triumphant success of the Black Girls Book Club, founders Cummings-Quarry and Carter made their debut as authors this year, collaborating once again to create Grown: The Black Girls' Guide to Glowing Up which was published 30 September.
After a highly anticipated auction with six different publishers competing for the rights to publish their book, the London-based duo chose to work with Bloomsbury Children’s Books on their guide for teenage girls. With contracts signed, chapters written, illustrations drawn by Dorcas Magbadelo and the cover jacket designed by the talented Leah Jacobs Gordon, the only thing left to do was build anticipation in the lead up to publication day, something that doesn’t seem to have been a challenge for two women who created their dynamic social media presence in just five short years.
Utilising this specially curated brand to their advantage, the writing partners promoted their debut book across multiple social media platforms in a uniquely personal marketing campaign, the success of which is embodied within their twitter timeline. In what is a seemingly casual, millennial twitter account packed with gifs and retweeted tiktoks, the impact of their social channels might not be immediately evident. It is certainly not the most expensive marketing campaign: the calls to action are often quite subtle, and unlike some of their contemporaries, the BGBC timeline has successfully avoided becoming a constant stream of self-promotion.
But take a closer look and what you will see instead are Black women sharing their experiences, Black women laughing at familiar stories from their nuanced upbringing and Black women rejoicing at some long-overdue representation in popular culture.
Ultimately, this is what is so exceptionally refreshing about the marketing techniques of Cummings-Quarry and Carter: they put ordinary Black women at the centre of everything they do.
Through their lively twitter page, they have effectively created an online space that mirrors the warm and welcoming environment of their events. They have empowered their community to participate in discussions other brands and corporate organisations have long ignored and in the process, they have given followers a taste of exactly what their debut book will be like. Filled with all the experiences of being a Black teenage girl that aren’t talked about in the public sphere, Grown: The Black Girls' Guide to Glowing Up is that special safe space for thought-provoking discussion that Black girls have rarely had before.
If the celebrity attention they have received is any indication, it would be safe to say this community-based marketing has worked. No doubt a tweet from Bernadine Evaristo praising the book as the perfect gift for young Black girls will be a lasting endorsement.