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Street Noise Books’ Outreach to Authors from Marginalized Communities

Thursday, June 25, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Christopher Locke
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Street Noise Books Publisher and Founder Liz Frances (left) is pictured with author Aisha Redux, whose book, Stupid Black Girl: Essays from an American African, will be publishing on June 30.

One of IBPA’s core values is inclusivity, working towards a publishing industry where everyone can tell their story and find themselves in the content they read. Accordingly, from the moment we learned about the new independent publishing company Street Noise Books last year, we wanted to showcase their work. Not only is their mission to give a voice to marginalized communities but they also actively seek talent in untraditional ways.

We spoke to Publisher and Founder Liz Frances for all the details:

IBPA: Street Noise Books’ titles have a “radical, intersectional feminist, queer and inclusive vision, and seek to provide a platform for the voices of marginalized people.” Can you explain why this mission is so important to you?

Liz Frances (LF): In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, I, like so many others, felt devastated, horrified, and hopeless. But after I recovered from the initial shock and sadness, I began to challenge myself to take stock of my life choices and consider how I could do better. I tried to step back and listen to the points of view of people who have been marginalized. I wondered, “Is there a way for me to use my skills to help heal the deep wounds in our society?” I started to understand that these wounds were not new. But that so many of us in a position of privilege had simply closed our eyes to them in the past. I was determined to do better in the future.

As resistance to the new administration grew, I was inspired by the grass roots efforts of individuals and communities. I was inspired by the intersectionality of the movement. People weren’t just lashing out or placing blame, they were striving to break the patterns of oppression and to prioritize the most marginalized voices in our communities. I was encouraged by people who took it upon themselves to stand up to the forces of corporate America and to collectively work to create a better world. A world in which each person enjoys freedom, respect, self-determination and love.

IBPA: Instead of seeking queries for manuscripts through the usual channels (agents, etc.), you actively search for diverse authors through different methods. Can you tell us more?

LF: As a new independent publisher, we are open to non-agented submissions. We believe it is our role to help provide a platform for voices which otherwise might not be heard. And we are happy to work with debut authors, cartoonists, and illustrators. We hope to collaborate with creative people to help realize their vision and bring their stories to life in compelling and captivating books.

I’m hoping that, as a small indie publisher, Street Noise Books can take chances. It’s important to me that we champion those voices that are otherwise marginalized, the voices that the big publishers might overlook or shy away from. This often means searching out debut authors and artists, and then working closely with them to bring their vision to life.

Graphic novels are a hot category in publishing right now, and they have been for a number of years. All the big publishers have been getting into that market. And they’re publishing some great books. But I’m interested in the stories that aren’t being shared. As an indie publisher, I’m fascinated by people who have rich lives and unique perspectives, but for whatever reason haven’t had the resources to develop their ideas, and/or haven’t been taken under the wing of an agent or publisher.

I knew that I couldn’t compete against the big publishers to land those coveted acquisitions. As a little indie startup, we just don’t have the resources to offer the kinds of deals that the big publishers do. But I was determined not to lower my standards. I wanted to publish great books. And I believe that there are a lot of people out there who have a powerful voice, and a compelling point of view, and a whole lot of talent, but who are not getting picked up by mainstream publishers.

IBPA: Can you share some ways that you’ve actively sought diverse authors through untraditional channels?

LF: I believe the best way for me to find new authors is really by keeping my eyes open all the time. I stay involved in things that matter to me. I attend a lot of events, like art shows, and theater, and lectures, and readings, and fundraisers, all sorts of things. And I read about all different subjects that interest me in the media and on social media platforms. You never know where you are going to make a connection that could lead to finding a really amazing author.

For graphic novels, I try to attend ComicCons, comics arts festivals, and zine fests to discover new talent. And it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at those events, so before attending, I try to do some research. I read over the list of new, emerging artists who will be exhibiting, and look them up online, and make notes of the ones whose art I’m drawn to. And I try to reach out to them ahead of time to make a connection so that it won’t be too confusing for them when I meet them in real life.

Street Noise Books' Stupid Black Girl: Essays from an American African by Aisha Redux

One of my lead titles this season comes from someone I was following on Instagram. Aisha Redux writes under the name Stupid Black Girl. And I had been following her on Instagram for a while. I really liked her voice. She was very smart and had a really interesting perspective on the issues of the day. She mentioned in one of her posts that she was working on a book. Honestly, I assumed she already had a deal with a bigger publisher. But she reached out to me one day and asked if we could talk. We met for coffee and the rest is history. Stupid Black Girl: Essays from an American African is being published June 30th.

I engage with people whom I admire. I try to go outside my comfort zone and reach out. Once, I went to a Broadway show and wrote about it on Instagram. I said how much I liked one of the actors, and he thanked me in the comments. I did some research and found out that his life was pretty fascinating, and I thought he might have a really great story to tell. So, I took a chance and sent him a message asking if he’d ever thought of writing a book. And he wrote back and was interested in talking. And now I am in discussion with him about doing a graphic novel memoir on his life.

IBPA: Can you offer a few tips for other independent publishers about how they can seek more diverse authors?

LF: I think it really has to come from their heart. They shouldn’t see authors as “talent” to be discovered. Authors are people with stories to tell. If other publishers are interested in working with people from diverse backgrounds, they need to do the work themselves to engage with those populations. They should educate themselves and really listen to those voices. They should watch more movies, read more books, follow social media accounts, attend more lectures and theater and concerts, all by people from marginalized communities. It has to come from a place of authenticity and passion, not from some sort of abstract, disconnected aim.

IBPA: Instead of waiting for manuscripts to be sent to you, why is it important for you to actively seek authors yourself?

LF: As a new publisher, just getting started, people didn’t really know about us. So, we didn’t get many submissions in the beginning, to be honest. But seeking out authors myself is also important because people from marginalized communities often don’t have access to the resources or connections to get their work out there to be submitted to publishers. Or sometimes they lack the confidence or bravado needed to approach agents and publishers. From living a life on the margins, they might suffer from a sense that their story wouldn’t be of interest to anyone else. Sometimes these are the people with the most unique and important stories to tell.

Also, with graphic novels, the art is so important, and as someone who worked as an art director for many years, I have very strong feelings about art. It’s a gut instinct thing. I know when I like someone’s art and when I don’t. If it isn’t a style which interests me, I can’t really work on it. So, it’s easier for me to do the scouting myself, I guess.

IBPA: Not only is it important for books themselves to be better representative of marginalized communities, but it’s also important that the people who work in the publishing industry be more diverse. Unfortunately, the publishing industry is nowhere near diverse enough. Do you have any ideas about how the industry can be made more diverse, or thoughts about this issue in general?

LF: I believe very strongly that people need to work much harder to make the whole publishing industry more diverse, along with most industries in this country. It isn’t easy, because we are dealing with the effects of hundreds of years of institutional racism. It’s going to take a lot of really conscious work to undo those effects. But we have to make a commitment to do that.

The industry itself has to do a lot of soul searching and examine all aspects of the situation. Businesses should not be allowed to hire unpaid interns for instance. Because that is giving an unfair advantage to people who can afford to work for nothing. And businesses must examine their corporate culture to dismantle attitudes which favor people from privileged backgrounds. The effort has to be much more genuine than a few HR execs paying lip service to diversity through “Diversity and Inclusion” committees, and sensitivity training. Everyone has to really dig deep and do the work necessary to undo the effects of generations of oppression.

Unfortunately, I have seen already in my role as publisher, that the people who approach me looking for work, whether it’s editorial, design, marketing, or proofreading, are overwhelmingly from privileged white backgrounds. Maybe that’s because I am a privileged white person myself? As a white person, finding people of color who have experience in those fields is a challenge. But we have to be willing to keep making that effort. And not to give up when it proves difficult. To make that a priority and be willing to sacrifice other business goals to make it happen.

IBPA: IBPA strongly supports the recent uprising against police brutality toward the Black community, and since it’s such an important topic that's related to your publishing mission, do you have anything you’d like to share about the issue?

LF: Of course, I am adamant about ending the police violence against Black people in this country. And I am very invigorated by the recent wave of nationwide and even worldwide protest which we have witnessed. But we must go so much further than that. I truly believe that we should work toward a different society. We need to dismantle the racist, sexist, homophobic, and otherwise hurtful systems and replace them with systems which prioritize people over profits. It will be a long and difficult road to walk. But it’s necessary. And frankly, it’s long overdue.

IBPA: Street Noise Books landed a distributor before you even released a book. That’s a huge deal, so can you share the details of how your distribution deal with Ingram Content Group’s Consortium Book Sales & Distribution came to be?

LF: I honestly don’t know exactly why it happened the way it did. But I worked hard to lay the groundwork to create Street Noise Books long before we actually had anything to publish. I did the work to craft a mission statement and create a brand identity, and I hired a publicity manager to work with me to launch the company to the public a year before any of our books would actually be on the shelves. I knew it was important to gain visibility and respect within the publishing industry, so that when the books came out, they would get attention. I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice the first few titles in order to gain a track record.

Street Noise Books’ mission was timely and seemed to resonate with journalists. So we were able to get some strong coverage of our company at that point last year, including a nice announcement in Publishers Weekly. And I think that’s what sparked the attention of the distributors. I also think it helped that I had almost 20 years of experience at some of the big publishing houses before I started Street Noise. I think that gave me some credibility which the distributors appreciated.

IBPA: Can you briefly describe the history of how Street Noise Books came to be?

LF: I am the publisher and founder of Street Noise Books. We publish nonfiction, primarily graphic novel nonfiction for the young adult and new adult voices. And we focus on the voices of marginalized people. I decided to start the company in the Fall of 2017. We launched the company to the world in the Spring of 2019. By that time, we had six books acquired. We signed a distribution deal with Consortium in the Fall of 2019. Our first title pubbed in May. And we have four more books coming out this year. We hope to publish between six and eight titles per year for the first few years.

IBPA: One of the biggest issues facing independent publishers right now is the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses. Now that we are a few months into this crisis (with no clear end in sight), can you share advice for other independent publishers about how they can weather the impact of the health crisis on their businesses?

LF: Oh, I wish I had words of wisdom to share on this. I feel that in some ways it has been a blessing to be launching my company during the pandemic, because I really have nothing to compare it to. I don’t know what it would feel like to launch a company without a pandemic. Of course we have had to cancel all of our plans for in-person promotional events, like author appearances and readings. We hope to plan some virtual author appearances and panel discussions online in partnership with local indie bookstores around the country. But mostly we’ve been focused on getting media attention for our titles. Book sales overall in the industry haven’t fallen too much. People are still reading. And they’re still buying books. Of course, it is challenging to get their attention as a small indie start-up publisher. But we’ve been doing a lot of outreach to journalists and online media. And since people are spending more and more time online, we have been sending out advance copies to online influencers to try to create buzz for our titles.

IBPA: How has it been beneficial to you to be a member of Independent Book Publishers Association?

LF: I’m really pleased that I joined IBPA early on in this journey. It has made me feel less alone as I navigate these uncharted waters. I have had a lot of experience in publishing, but the world of the small indie publisher is quite different than that of a big corporate publisher. So, I had a lot to learn. I attended IBPA Publishing University last year in Chicago, and I felt like a sponge soaking up all the information at all of the sessions. I made some really great connections there and made some good friends. I hope to take more advantage of the programs offered as I go forward.

IBPA: Would you like to share about an upcoming release?

LF: Stupid Black Girl: Essays from an American African by Aisha Redux is coming out on June 30th. It is a powerful collection in which a first-generation American New Yorker uses her bold voice and speaks with a unique point of view. It includes stunning artwork by Brianna McCarthy created in response to each of the essays.

IBPA: Congratulations, Liz, for getting off to such a great start with Street Noise Books, and thank you for sharing your expertise with the IBPA community!

Click here to read more about Street Noise Books!

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