A good friend asked me how much my dream was worth. I was totally confused by his question. “Is your dream worth more than two thousand dollars?” he asked. “Yeah,” I said. “Then take two thousand dollars and publish your own book. Trust me. You’ll more than double your money, if it’s any good.”
He was right. That advice plus my experience as a student in NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute in 2006 made all the difference in the world. I had been calling myself an “aspiring novelist” for years. Until I actually published a book, I didn’t think I could ever call myself a novelist. I took money from my savings account and published Robbing Peter, a novel about three fatherless families. I sold it at work, to friends and family, online, at the grocery store, at hair salons and at night clubs. Everywhere. It was a lot of work. To my surprise, it went on to win a Fiction Honor Book Award from the Black Caucus of The American Library Association. It was the first self-published novel to do so.
But I couldn’t stop there. I wanted to get signed to a major publishing house, so I sent the book to agents and publishing houses alike. It wasn’t good enough, I was told over and over again. I didn’t give up. I believed that if I could get my book into the hands of the right people, I could get Robbing Peter published on a major level.
While researching new ways to market my book, I read about NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute (SPI), applied and was accepted. This was it! I’d get to meet the right people and learn how to market my book better. SPI taught me a lot more than I had even hoped it would, and I realized that editing books could be a great career move for someone who devoured books. Not long after I moved to New York, I began looking for jobs online, emailing everyone I knew. Somebody hire me—please! I finally got a bite: A literary agency interviewed me for an assistant job, which actually led to an editorial position at St. Martin’s Press.
I worked primarily on African-American fiction titles, and was able to learn firsthand what was considered commercial. I read books on The New York Times bestseller lists so that I could understand what the mass audience loved to read. I realized that I had to adapt my style of writing to a more commercial audience. So, I read, read, and read, before I began to write again. I had an idea for a book about the violence-filled, troubled lives of inner city kids told from the perspective of a ten-year-old girl I named Camille.
This time when I sent out my book, Damaged, I went to the same agency where I interviewed a few years earlier. Even though my manuscripts had been rejected by the agency before, this time the feedback was different. The agent felt something special about Damaged. I couldn’t believe it when she told me there were several houses interested in buying it.
Until this day, I’m still pinching myself about the three-book deal I received with Grand Central Publishing. Damaged has received great early reviews from the Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. I can’t wait to see what everyone else thinks. Visit www.kiadupree.com for more information.
by Kia DuPree
Note from NYU: The Summer Publishing Institute 2010 is now accepting applications for this summer’s six-week intensive, from June 6 to July 16th. For more information, please visit our site at www.scps.nyu.edu/spi.