Helping to expand the burgeoning community of Black and brown voices in children’s books, Young Authors Publishing is celebrating its third year in business. Six new books were released in March, and 10 additional titles are slated for fall. What began as a corporate social responsibility initiative for the Atlanta-based book publisher has since morphed into a full-time nonprofit that serves children in low-income communities by putting their stories onto paper—and into readers’ hands.

More Tales to Tell

Formerly known as the Young Authors Program, the company was founded in 2017 by Leah Hernandez, a former full-time student whose experience of publishing her first book led her to develop a pilot project to help kids write books and deposit the royalties into savings accounts. “We worked with four dynamic girls from Vine City [in Atlanta] who had a beautiful perspective about the community they lived in and wanted the world to know about it,” Hernandez said. Upon the conclusion of the program and the subsequent publication of the girls’ book, Roxie’s Day in Vine City, she realized other stories were out there, waiting to be told. “After this remarkable experience, I understood the pure imagination and perspective kids had on life,” Hernandez explained. The following year, the company officially changed its name to Young Authors Publishing (YAP) and pivoted to a 501c3 tax-exempt children’s book publisher focused on devoting its resources and expertise to underserved communities.

The cornerstone of YAP is its Experience Program, which partners prospective writers with mentors (interns of color hailing from local colleges, including Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College and Grand Valley State University). Each mentor is assigned to two authors and undergoes special training to guide their writing process. According to Hernandez, the mentors are “taught to foster an environment that gives the young author creative control to write a book about what they are most passionate about.” As the book is being crafted, mentors gain experience by collaborating and communicating with illustrators, editors, and designers. On the business side, they also learn how to collect metadata, how to copyright the books and assign ISBNs to their authors.

The authors themselves, in addition to understanding how a book moves from concept to completion, are schooled on the fundamentals of public speaking and financial literacy. New members of the program emerge via community partners, made up of afterschool programs, churches, writing programs, and other nonprofits working with YAP’s target demographic (Black and brown children ages 8–17). “They are where we find our young authors and new books to publish,” Hernandez said.

To date, a total of 36 students have completed the YAP program and 23 books have been published, with more on the way. Among the titles’ more prevalent themes are bullying and family, with a common focus on personal experience. “Primarily what we see is young people capturing their reality as children,” Hernandez added. The company is currently gearing up for a national expansion and will open up submissions to high school students of color in Minneapolis this fall. Two other yet-unnamed cities are expected to join the writers’ pool by the end of 2022.

Meanwhile, to further its mission, YAP has joined forces with Berkeley, Calif.-based West Margin Press to distribute its backlist and frontlist titles. “This partnership allows us to grow our publishing program and makes our books available globally,” Hernandez said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled.”