As part of its increased efforts to bring more change to book publishing, We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) is partnering with Penguin Random House on a series of programs designed to get more books by Black writers published. Operating under the Black Creatives Fund banner, the initiative consists of three parts: a “Revisions Workshop,” a mentoring program, and market symposia conducted in partnership with the Brown Bookshelf.
Dhonielle Clayton, an author and COO of WNDB, is overseeing the entire initiative. She said that after surveying Black authors, it became apparent that the area in which they struggle the most in the writing process is making revisions. “Authors repeatedly hear that their books are ‘not ready for market,’” Clayton told PW. “This program is designed to attack that issue.”
The inaugural Black Creatives Fund was conceived in collaboration with PRH, a long-time WNDB supporter, and the publisher has made a donation to launch the program.
The Revisions Workshop will feature five faculty member whose ranks currently include Nic Stone, Jewell Parker Rhodes, and Karen Strong. Each member will lead a separate workshop with the 12 Black authors selected for the program focusing on the topics of revision and craft. Participants will then have the opportunity to meet one-one-one with a writing coach to work on there manuscript revisions for six months during which all writers will receive a stipend. Clayton said she believes the six-month period is enough time to allow authors to dig into making revision while also providing a deadline by which writers will a have finished manuscript to present to PRH editors.
Claire von Schilling, executive v-p and director of corporate communications and social responsibility for PRH, said PRH editors are looking forward to receiving manuscripts from the program, but noted that manuscripts can go industrywide. "The scope of the Black Creatives Fund goes beyond the Penguin Random House portfolio. Our goal is to help expand the industry-wide pipeline for elevating Black voices and stories, so while we hope the Fund’s writers will publish with us, we designed the program and process so that writers will be able to submit to all publishers," von Schiling said.
Clayton hopes to begin taking author applications in the next couple of weeks. Submissions will be vetted by a team that includes Breanna McDaniel, WNDB's program manager, as well as volunteer judges.
Clayton is planning to hold the first of its marketing symposia mid-summer, which will be open to all Black authors. She said the goal is to “demystify” the marketing process. Marketing experts, independent booksellers, and other authors will discuss such topics as how to build an author brand and best practices for using social media and holding events. “The marketing symposia gets at the root of our call to publishers to invest more resources into the Black creatives,” said Paul Chase, cofounder of the Brown Bookshelf.
Clayton is also hoping to begin the mentoring program this summer. The goal of that effort is to introduce Black authors to the ins-and-outs of publishing through one-on-one mentorship with industry professionals and to help writers cultivate their networking skills.
According to Clayton, the three portions of the Black Creatives Fund are designed to give Black authors a better opportunity to get their voices heard. “Too often, Black authors don’t know the right steps to take in the publishing process and they get cut out of the pipeline,” she said. “We want to fix that.”
Clayton hopes the initiatives backed by the fund will live beyond 2021, and is open to working with other publishers. At the moment, though, she is appreciative of the backing from PRH. Asked if she would work with PRH again, Clayton said, “I’m game if they’re game.”