Q & A: Azarel

The Urban Book Source
January 2009

Azarel, the Empress behind the scenes of Life Changing Books

What has changed in the industry since you started your publishing company?
I have to laugh as I say this. First off, when I started in publishing in 2003, there were five major, Urban Fiction books on the shelves. Now there are 5,000 that have been in circulation since then. Okay…I might be exaggerating, but the market is, and has been for at least two years now, saturated with urban books. I seem to keep adding to the list. (smile)

Another major change has been the ability for small, independent companies like myself to get major distribution from chain stores, and premier distributors. That was unheard of in 2003. It has taken hard work and dedication, but LCB has spent the last three years securing that type of major distribution which keeps the company afloat, and selling in large quantities.

How do you sort through the slush pile? What is your process of accepting a manuscript with so many submissions?
In my opinion, this process is the most grueling task for the staff of a publishing company. For LCB, upon receiving an average of fifty submissions per month, we start by separating manuscripts into categories; contemporary, urban, and erotic. If it doesn’t fall into one of the three, we don’t accept it. Plus, we only publish fiction titles.

For every calendar year, we already have in mind how many titles in each category we’re looking for. Then the difficult work begins. Each manuscript is read by our reviewers and staff members, all with the task of rating the projects on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the best. I only get wind of the 4’s and 5’s for consideration during meetings. At that point, the next step is to re-read the possibilities for content and marketability. Upon making a decision the author is sent a contract and the real job begins. Of course I have the final say on all projects. I generally like to get to know my authors just a little before making a decision. I pride myself on keeping my company and my authors focused. It’s a business over here, not a soap opera. No drama! Strictly business!

How long have you been writing and when did you publish your first book?
I started writing in 2003. It was sort of a fluke. I was a teacher at the time, taking advantage of a short leave of absence. Working diligently, I penned my first novel, A Life to Remember, which focuses on gritty prison life. No, I’ve never been locked down as most people ask after reading that book. carbon copyAfter self-publishing the novel, I quickly realized I was much better at the business aspect of the book world than sitting at the computer. I hit the ground running, and soon published my first author, Tyrone Wallace in 2004. Honestly, it was rough. I only had my independent vendors at the time, who still stick with me faithfully today. From there, it’s history! I soon published another one of my own titles, Bruised, which brought me great success…then there was Daddy’s House…and now I’ve penned what I say is my best book yet, Carbon Copy which releases in April of this year.

How do you pick out your book covers? Do your authors have any role in this process?
No doubt, it’s a team effort, and a tedious process. It’s probably the most interesting procedure for me in the publishing process. For starters, we have relationships with professional photographers who present us with their hottest photography. It’s costly but you got to pay to play. Also, from time to time, staff members and/or some of the different graphic designers we use will come up with photos as well.

As a CEO, I want my authors to love their packaging, so I welcome their input and suggestions. Ultimately it motivates them to grind, and be proud of their finished product. In a nutshell, The LCB team works together to come up with smokers like Millionaire Mistress, Brooklyn Brothel, Good Girls Gone Bad, and Carbon Copy.

When did you first get into the publishing business? How did you establish your company as one of the premiere companies of urban/street literature?
2004 is when I officially launched the company legitimately. We seemed to grow in stages. Initially, I sold books to predominately independent bookstores stores and street vendors. Then my big break came in 2005 when I became a direct vendor to Borders and Waldenbooks. At that point it gave me the confidence to pursue other major distribution channels that we were able to establish direct vendor relations. Overtime, I began to take the company to higher levels. We hired the most qualified staff in the business, and made sure to select stories, which could become bestsellers. Most importantly, the company prides itself on loyalty, hard work, and dedication. Ultimately, it has gotten us to where we are today- twenty-four titles.

Everyday authors and publishers dispute their contracts and more, how do you avoid this and what do you think the major issues are? How can this all be avoided?
Wow, to date I have 16 authors and I would be selling you a dream if I said none of my authors have ever had a dispute with their contract. It seems like most independent publishers do not have airtight contracts. Of course this makes room for minor and major issues to seep through. For me, I’ve learned to spend the money and hire one of the best lawyers in the industry; thanks to another publishing friend of mine who suggested it. Since then, any problem that arises has been handled with ease; it’s all written in stone.

What is something that you would like to happen with this genre? Or what is something that you would change if given the chance?
I would like to see everyone operate on the same page within the industry. Over time, I’ve noticed different practices that are not in the best interest of a publisher or the business as a whole. We as a people need to remember that integrity is important and that’s something that has been lost during the recent surge in minority publishing.

Seems like more and more books are popping out of nowhere. With literally hundreds of titles, how do you effectively market yours?
Every opportunity is a marketing opportunity for LCB-whether it's at a book signing, a local event, major event, or simply talking to customers on the street. In this competitive market, we maintain a monthly advertising budget in which we selectively choose paid advertisements based on upcoming books. We also take advantage of free marketing- we love that best-my space, reaching out to LCB members via e-mail. Marketing is the key to any business. Even if you have the best book in the world nobody will know about it without major marketing. I would miss the opportunity now if I didn’t shout out my web address: www.lifechangingbooks.net and www.myspace.com/lifechangingbook

Be sure to visit: Life Changing Books

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