Strong Storytelling Skills are what You Need Before Knocking on the Doors of any Agent or Publisher
We specially set the month of August for Black Literary Agents, to appreciate their work in the literary space and for the Writing Community to get even more insights on what their job entails and its advantage to the creative.
It was a two-part series and we kicked off with our first guest, a literary big-wig (with quite a bio) and a force to be reckoned with in the publishing industry, the distinguished MALAIKA ADERO.
In fewer words, Malaika is a writer, editor who has enjoyed a celebrated career in publishing which spans over eighteen years at Simon & Schuster, where she was a Vice President and Senior Editor for its Atria division and Executive Editor at Amistad Press in its early years. She has had critically acclaimed authors including amongst many others, Miles Davis, Quincy Troupe, Kanye West, T. D. Jakes, Susan L. Taylor, Common, George Clinton under her rooster. Her literary agency, Adero’s Literary Tribe represents author of highly acclaimed novel ‘Dance of Jakaranda’, Peter Kimani and veteran journalist, Ron Harris.
MALAIKA ADERO: Thank you so much. Facilitating more conversation between creatives and workers on various side of the story telling business is important. I appreciate what you’re doing–even if it’s on this odd medium.
SYNCITY NG: Thank you so much, Malaika. Glad to have you here.
MALAIKA ADERO: Literary agents, as a community, enjoy a work life where they can provide a service to writers and relative independence from one company.
SYNCITY NG: Let’s begin. You have had long and fruitful decades in traditional publishing. Can you give us a sneak peek into the daily life of a high level exec at a traditional publishing firm?
MALAIKA ADERO: “High level” is a poetic term when I think of who African American leaders in publishing are. There remain many levels of decision making above us. Not much trickle down in terms of power. But, more than ever we have options.
I work independently now after a long career in corporate. No matter what, my daily work is reading, editing, writing and all of the business task, e.g. negotiating, paying, getting paid,etc. Big Wig however is literal. I am among many sisters in publishing with big Black Girl’s rock hair. And we like it.
Facilitating more conversation between creatives and workers on various side of the story telling business is important.
SYNCITY NG: Indeed, more black/African/African-American writers need more representation. In your capacity as a literary agent and seasoned publishing professional, how do you plan to help this cause especially for markets in the West?
MALAIKA ADERO: My territory is the World from an African American P.O.V. The core readerships I bow to are black and brown who have English as a language; and then everybody else who recognizes beauty and brilliance when they read it. My priority for the writers I represent is to ever expand my relationships to publishers, to pay attention to what’s happening in and out of books that is an opportunity for them.
SYNCITY NG: As a person of color, do you represent only people of color or does your choice of client transcend race? I’m asking the things that would make you choose to represent a writer. Great story? Race? Referral? Others?
MALAIKA ADERO: My taste in literature is peculiar and neither mainstream Black or White. I was a child of the Civil Rights movement, came-of-age in the 1970s. I could be described as a child of the revolution and a Black hippy raised in the urban & rural South. I will consider anyone who ask. I agree to represent writers when I believe-with my contacts, etc-I can succeed for them. That is before: quality, resonance, emotion, authenticity, platform etc, because I try to balance my passion with a bit realism. At the moment, my inspiring list of agency clients are Kenyan and African American. My editorial clients are a wide range, including of European descent. My rapport with the writer is all that matters. In the current conditions, race, in my opinion, cannot be transcended, especially in literature and art. You try and snuff that out and whatever you’re creating will be missing a fundamental piece. Referrals help motivate me to respond & sometimes pursue a project. But, I’ve done this work so long, I’m ever sensitive to creatives and can help along to create a new or new kind of book.
SYNCITY NG: Take us behind the curtains of literary representation. What exactly does an agent do? If an African writer were to sign you on as an agent, what are the things to expect?
MALAIKA ADERO: An ideal agency in support of writers would include an attorney, CPA, Publicist and marketing specialists. We need partnerships across fields in support of our creatives.
SYNCITY NG: Whaaaat? All these people for one writer?
MALAIKA ADERO: Our people need to grow the economy of our respective and collective cultures. We – writers, artists – bring wealth to the places we inhabit. We need to understand ourselves in a business way, e.g. instantly retrieve and read your contracts. We need all of these professionals – to handle their business in the best way – for a roster of writers.
SYNCITY NG: Wow! May I ask what the cost implication of hiring an agent will entail?
We need partnerships across fields in support of our creatives.
MHIZ_MAY: Hello ma’am Malaika, it’s good to have you here on SynCityNG. My questions: What is the greatest lesson your work as taught you?If you have an opportunity to speak with your 25 year old self, what would you tell her?
MALAIKA ADERO: I would now tell my 25 year old self that you’re going to get that corporate publishing job and you’re going to be holding it down for decades to come. So, don’t cut back now on your time to dance, art and other passions.
MYSTIQUESYNN: Your books (4 generations of my afro-appalachian family and Up South: stories, studies and letters of African American migrations) tell of your deep love for black culture. In what other ways have you groomed writers to take over from you in this?
MALAIKA ADERO: The idea of grooming writers isn’t what I do, I work with by listening, sharing what I know, responding to what they know. What I hope they get from my published work is inspiration to do more or do better than I in documenting our stories.
MYSTIQUESYNN: For your editorial clients who aren’t TD Jakes or Kanye West, what marketing and publicity methods were used in selling their books?
Can you tell us what working in Simon and Schuster/traditional publishing was like?
MALAIKA ADERO: Celebrities such as Jakes, West, come with their own marketing machines to partner with the publisher. There’s not enough space here to share 18+ years in a company. It is a few chapters in a long long story.
DHEEGENIUS: What books or writers will you recommend to young writers seeking a deeper and broader understanding of how race impacts literature and art? Sometimes as an African living in Africa, it can be difficult understanding how it plays out.
MALAIKA ADERO: We have brilliant thinkers on the subject: Farah Jasmine Griffin, Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, Theaster Gate, Amiri Baraka, Toni Cade Bambara, for starters. Thanks for asking.
SYNCITY NG: Malaika, to conclude, what important information would you like black/African/African-American writers to know before pitching to an agent? Strong storytelling skills or? Also, how can we get your books?
MALAIKA ADERO: Strong storytelling skills are what you need before knocking on the doors of any agent or publisher. Write, read to people, read other people. Share and be open to a response. Keep writing and rewriting. Know that the agent’s decision isn’t only about how strong they consider your work, it’s also about what they can take on at the time. Someone being impressed by you isn’t the same as respect. You deserve respect.
Up South, the anthology, and The Mother of Black Hollywood with Jenifer Lewis are sold by online retailers. A Black Woman Did That (for our young people) will be available this fall, including the regular retailer. Thank you.
* An option for sharing your short pieces & excerpts: Query me here by DM. Thank you for being here.*
SYNCITY NG: Any last words for black and brown writers, Malaika, before we call it a night(over here)?
MALAIKA ADERO: Research your work. Even if what you find doesn’t end up on your pages, you find surprises, inspiration, motivation especially and also if the subject is yourself. Stay the course.
We had a very enlightening session with Malaika plus creatives (who joined the show) got the ‘option’ of sharing some excerpts of their work with Malaika. We are very pleased about the feedback and synergy the SyncityNGLLL show is producing.
Downloaded our Anthology yet? You should indulge already.