Love is definitely in the air and on the airwaves in Ebony LaDelle’s debut YA romance Love Radio. Garnering starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, and selected as an Indies Introduce and Indie Next List pick, the novel centers on Black Detroit native Dani who is not interested in dating, charming Prince, also known as DJ LoveJones on the local Michigan radio station, and a heart-stopping challenge: to fall in love in three dates. It’s the stuff of classic rom-coms, which LaDelle keenly references throughout the book, while crafting her own modern-day romance.
Before pursuing her writing career, LaDelle was a seasoned publishing professional, working at major houses such as Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Random House over the course of her 10-year career, marketing books for young readers. In 2018, while working with mentor and fellow author Dhonielle Clayton and in the midst of the pandemic, LaDelle was struck with the idea for a Hitch-esque YA romance novel highlighting the cultural pillars of her hometown Detroit. Using her morning commute as her writing time, LaDelle prepared her draft and, in a twist of fate in 2021, Kendra Levin at S&S, one of LaDelle’s previous employers, acquired North American rights in an 11-house auction.
LaDelle’s built-in knowledge of the publishing industry, including understanding the YA genre and its audience, was a helpful part in building her novel, she told PW. But even with years of publishing experience under her belt, being on the flip side of the coin as an author presented new challenges.
“It’s interesting, being on the other side,” she said, “and being able to say to everybody who works in publishing, if you haven’t published a book [as an author], there are just things you’re not going to know if you haven’t actually gone through the process yourself.”
In this shift to becoming an author, LaDelle wanted the process of publicizing Love Radio to be “collaborative,” and took off her marketing hat. The campaign included ARC distribution to social media influencers, a Spotify playlist inspired by the book, book festival promotion, SimonTeen social media promotion, and a book tour with stops across the country.
LaDelle prioritized paying homage to the many African American greats that came before her, highlighted in her novel through characters who are both nostalgic for and informed about the history of music, literature, and film. “Giving credit is really important to me,” LaDelle explained. “Art is a hard process. You put a lot of yourself into it, and so that credit should be given. I wanted to show that from a literary level.”
Similar to her protagonist Dani, LaDelle said she has been largely influenced by writers such as Toni Morrison and Audre Lorde, and felt it was only right to make that visible on the page. LaDelle considered “what it would have been [like] for me to have read those [Black authors] sooner.” Many of the authors have written works that are considered classics, while others don’t receive the same attention, and LaDelle hopes to use her novels as a “teachable moment.” “I’m going to try to teach [about empowering figures] in every book that I write, in some way,” LaDelle said. “I’m always thinking to myself, ‘What could I have used to make me feel stronger or better or more confident in myself as a woman?’ All of [those writers] did that [for me].”
LaDelle’s intention, she said, in addition to reflecting the experience of Black love from the world around her into her novel, was to “subvert a lot of narratives that have been placed on Black kids.” Protagonists Dani and Prince are vulnerable and sensitive, and learning to confront their fears, and LaDelle explained that she wanted “to show the complications of love and the complications of being a Black person and falling in love, but also that it could still be healthy and beautiful. It’s about processing all of those things on your own and having that journey of self-discovery and self-love before coming to [that] person as your best.”
Love seems to be on the brain for LaDelle as she prepares for upcoming projects. “The goal will always be for me, particularly to center Black women as the protagonist of my story. I’m always thinking about what love means, and you see it in this book, not just in a romantic relationship, but in friendships and family and all of those things.” And LaDelle is clear about her next book: “It’s gonna be another romance.”
Love Radio by Ebony LaDelle. Simon & Schuster, $19.99 May 31 ISBN 978-1-66590-815-3