“Just because you can do one doesn’t mean you can do the other. The world is full of starving artists.
Spend time with any writer and they will attest to the power of this statement. Black writers, in general, can tell you that the life of professional writers “hasn’t been a crystal staircase.” There are things called income gaps and outbursts called racism. Jones, a literature lover with a keen mind for business and marketing, understands the power and struggles unique to black writers; especially black female writers. Actually, Jack Jones is 100% owned and operated by a black woman.
As if that weren’t a remarkable achievement in itself, Jack Jones staged his first wwriting retreat at SMU-in-Taos in Taos, New Mexico. The retreat is intentionally designed to provide support for writers in a way not usually given.
“The Jack Jones Literary Arts Retreat is an opportunity for black women and women of color to commune without the excess and responsibility of everyday life,” Jones told ESSENCE. “For working writers, the practice of art begins before or after the working day. For women writers, the added pressure of family responsibilities makes time off much more difficult. I wanted to create a vacuum seal, if you will, for these women to work where, in addition to completing their manuscripts, they received expert advice regarding their careers.
Jones and Jack Jones Literary Arts are deeply committed to the literature of women of color. She also believes in working for the client and not for the publishing house.
“Authors hire me directly to publicize their book projects because their in-house publicist is usually busy with dozens and dozens of other books on their list,” Jones explains. “The in-house publicist works in the best interests of the publisher. I work in the interest of the author who hired me, whether or not it is the leading title. It’s my job to fight for his high, low, mid and whatever book.
Jones, who has worked on 17 book campaigns over the past two years, is able to take on projects she absolutely enjoys. She has the freedom to say “yes” or “no”. This level of freedom was built and did not come overnight.
“I had all my steps in order,” she tells ESSENCE. “I created a first-year business plan, a two-year business plan, and a three-year business plan. I hired help for some areas. I did a soft launch with my network and asked for feedback. I specifically asked my network does this work with what I’m telling you about my vision? They would tell me the truth. It allowed me to focus on what the industry expected of me, but also what I demand of myself and what I want it to look like.
As with launching any business, knowing your target audience and understanding the market is essential. “I knew black women were the biggest book buyers,” Jones says. Add to that his ability to appreciate classic literature while remaining committed to supporting more contemporary writers. “I [recently] tweeted about the importance of supporting the work of living black women writers who actively publish because they need our allegiance and love now,” she says.
Jones is particularly proud of work on the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry winner, olive, by Tyehimba Jess; the 2017 PEN America Robert W. Bingham Emerging Fiction Prize winner, insurgencies, by Rion Amilcar Scott; and winner of the 2017 Midland Authors Award in the Adult Fiction category, To know the Mother, by Desiree Cooper.
Black women are the most educated group in this country. These statistics are indisputable. Historically, I think of Toni Morrison on the Oprah scene. Black women always put other black women. I know how dynamic black women are. I know we create amazing literature that shapes history. I have a story that tells me so.
Below, Jones shares five black women’s books published in the past 10 years that have influenced her:
1. But a storm is blowing Heaven by Lillian Yvonne Bertram
2. Pristine forest by Vievée Francis
3. Collect the bones by Jesmyn Ward
4. Balance by Tiana Clark
5. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson