This is the second installment in our self-publishing series and we’re sitting down with a newcomer to the self-publishing arena, but she’s made a very big splash. Imani Josey is the author of The Blazing Star, an amazing ownvoices YA fantasy. Watch the trailer!
- What value, if any, do you think that gatekeepers serve in the publishing world?
If we’re speaking about agents and editors, etc., I do think that they serve a purpose a traditional publishing. Their purpose is to weed out material that isn’t ready to be consumed on a large scale, and once they’ve selected a project, they will help strengthen an author’s content. That is very valuable and necessary part of the writing and creating process.
However, the issue arises when all of the men and women who are in these positions come from the same racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, among others. Lee and Low does an annual study on the diversity of YA and children’s book publishing, shedding light on publishing’s overwhelmingly straight, white, and female editor and agent population (http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/). There are layered reasons for this, even down to editing internships being difficult for young people of color to take on, as they’re often unpaid and match best with the budgets of students from wealthy households.
So why does this matter in terms of content selection? To be frank, material that is considered publishable is in the eye of the beholder, and when all of the selectors of the content come from a similar background, their natural biases can keep stories that are unfamiliar to them from getting published. For example, I don’t like horror movies (shudders). If all gatekeepers thought like me, there would never be another horror movie made and the millions and millions and millions of people who love being terrified would never get to watch what they love.
I do think gatekeepers serve a purpose for quality, but they just aren’t diverse enough to feed the growing, changing, and evolving needs of readers and consumers.
- Why did you decided to forge your own path in independent publishing?
I wanted to go the traditional route, as most writers set out to do. You think of yourself like Shakespeare writing beside a candle, with a jar of ink and a quill. You imagine sending off your masterpiece, being accepted by an agent, editor and a big house and as George R.R. Martin says in his interviews, “they park dump trucks full of money outside of your door”. And then you really get into it, and see that every path is different. I started writing The Blazing Star five years ago. It took two years to write, one year to edit, one to query agents traditionally, and then one year of production with Wise Ink to go independently. The decision wasn’t a quick or easy decision to make, but I went with my gut and stepped out on faith. I had a lot of agent interest in the book that didn’t materialize, but I still believed in the story. It wasn’t (and still isn’t!) easy, but I’m proud of what we’ve created (my family, team, and myself). I was excited to have as much control over the book as I did being indie (raises Virgo-control freak hand), and I loved being involved in every step and process. I’m ecstatic about what we’ve created.
- Do you think traditional publishing is dying?
I wouldn’t say dying as much as I’d say transforming, and independent publishing has a lot to with that. Traditional publishing will need to evolve to keep up with a market where artists can directly connect with consumers, and many editors and graphic designers that would once be in-house can freelance at very cost-effective pricing. Wide-scale distribution and printing costs are still two of the largest challenges that new authors face, which is definitely where traditional houses come in. E-books are doing very well (definitely a friendlier format for new authors), but I think people still want to hold printed books and break away from staring at screens all day. I think that authors and houses will enjoy more a of a hybrid publishing experience in the future.
- How can Black women, specifically, take advantage of the indie market?
I think the indie market is a game-changer for black women. Firstly, African-American women are a huge audience, as we buy and consume a great amount of books, and we read in a wide variety of genres. Many Black women authors have gotten held up in the traditional process by gatekeepers that are unfamiliar with colloquialisms and other cultural experiences that African-American authors put in their work. Going indie does allow a direct-to-consumer advantage, allowing us to tell our stories, our way, to the people who want to hear them.
- What do you wish you knew about publishing before you began the process of promoting your first book?
I haven’t really thought about it like that! I knew a fair amount about publishing before I jumped in, as I was a print journalism major in college and come from a family of journalists, authors, and words people. If anything, I wish I had come into it with more of an open mind. Unfortunately, when you go into an arena after seeing someone do what you want to do successfully, you think that your experience is going to be like theirs. Ha! No! My grandfather is a historian, and wrote an important book on black history that has been widely praised. I write YA fantasy. To say our journeys have been different would be understating it. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been rewarding and worth it, and that I still can’t draw on the strength of those who came before me. Keep an open mind, new authors. Have faith and drink coffee (or hot chocolate in my case).
- What’s your marketing mantra?
As a creative who also loves marketing, I have a bunch. Here’s one: Pictures are worth a thousand words. Videos are worth a thousand pictures.