Brooklyn independent publisher Akashic Books is partnering with Infamous Records, a music label founded and run by the Hip hop artist Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, to launch the Infamous Books imprint, a line of urban fiction. The imprint will launch July 16 with its inaugural title, H.N.I.C., an urban crime novel written by Johnson and British novelist Steven Savile, timed to coincide with an international tour of Mobb Deep, the two-man Hip hop group of Prodigy and his partner Havoc.
Akashic Books will distribute the titles and co-handle editorial and marketing duties with Infamous; Prodigy’s talent manager Marvis Johnson (no relation) will oversee the daily operations of the imprint. The release of H.N.I.C. will coincide with Prodigy’s Mobb Deep tour as well as his own solo album Albert Einstein, which released last month.
Prodigy’s first book was a memoir, My Infamous Life (Touchstone, 2011). The new book, Prodigy told PW, began as a movie script he wrote in 1999. “After My Infamous Life came out, I decided to take the H.N.I.C. script and [work with] somebody who was a book writer.” The co-author he chose is Steven Savile, an award-winning British fantasy, horror, and thriller author.
“Steve brings the European style and mixes it with mine,” Prodigy says. “I love street slang, and I listen to the street slang of other countries. So Steve added twists and turns and changed the language.” Savile added, “each of us basically added our own unique skill set to the book. It's certainly a book neither of us could have written alone.”
Akashic Books publisher Johnny Temple said Infamous fiction titles will be in novella format–between 80 and 100 pages with a small trim size of 5” by 7”–and will be published simultaneously in hardcover, paperback, audio, and as e-books. “We’ve had a lot of success with small trim sizes: Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno, and Adios Muchachos by Daniel Chavarría, which won an Edgar–that was even smaller. With the Hip hop street esthetic, there’s something about being able to slip it in your back pocket. If the book is too big and thin, it’s a little floppy.”
Infamous plans to publish at least four titles a year, with forthcoming titles by bestselling urban fiction authors K’wan (Hood Rat, Welfare Wifeys), JaQuavis Coleman, half of the duo Ashley & JaQuavis (The Cartel, Murderville), and Miasha (Secret Society, Diary of a Mistress). “Prodigy is an avid reader,” Marvis Johnson explained, “and he’s familiar with urban authors who have a style that is not repetitive and who come up with creative angles.” Johnson explained that “K’wan weaves sci-fi into this stories. JaQuavis interweaves good character development. Miasha has a series with main characters who travel the world. So we look for people who stand out and who are great storytellers, who take the urban fiction model and expand it.”
Marvis Johnson, who is president of the production company Buck 50 Productions, which includes an audiobook publishing arm distributed through Blackstone, plans to use his book publishing and music industry knowledge to create innovative marketing strategies. “The statistics are that 90% of urban music is not purchased by African Americans. But urban books, when they are released, are only promoted to African Americans,” he said.
Johnson said he wants to market and promote Infamous Books to “to an international audience. With Prodigy’s memoir, we created a marketing plan with Simon & Schuster to do unique events with really well known people, such as appearances on nightly news programs.” Johnson said that authors often feel they are not supported properly by their publishers and he emphasized that, in this case, there’s a potential audience beyond an author’s obvious fan base.
“For instance, we are doing interviews on Sirius XM with all their DJs; because Prodigy’s a musician, that outlet is available to him. We are also doing tours with [hip hop producer and rapper] Alchemist and Mobb Deep, meeting and greeting fans,” he said. “We learned a lot from the music business model: just having it on Amazon is not enough.”