So You Want to Write and Publish--This is the Post for You!


It's Black History Month, and while all are always welcome, this post is speaking mainly to Black creatives.


It's been a long time! Too long, really. But I'm back in the blogging seat, which I find to be all the fun 'cause it's just writing and sharing without pressure to be perfect. For those who are new to the space, my name is Tamara, I'm the founder and CEO of The English Schoolhouse.

I'm a Black Southern writer who was raised on this--

And this--

And I went to college
at 16 here--

SMU in Dallas

You put that in a pot with a helping of divine grace, inspiration, and the ancestors blessings, you get this:

A spiritual boho-thug.

Last night I had the pleasure of curating an online exhibition entitled "Imagery as Activism: Blacks in Italy and the Art of Taking Space" for Temple University Rome featuring art by Elena Tommasi Ferroni from our books Fatou and the Kora and Lotus and the Baby Bird. Prior to the event, I'd hinted that I'd be spilling some literary tea, but the event organizer is a young Black woman named Benedicta Djumpah, whose face and questions as she guided the interactive event were so moving and touching that I ended up getting emotional instead and forgetting. But, as promised, I'm back the morning after with my fine china, southern charm, airs, wit... and all the stories.

One of the questions I received after last night events in my DM's was what advice do I, as a writer who's penned and published 25 stories, have for (aspiring) writers who want to get into publishing successfully. So I've compiled a list of (I don't know how many 'cause I ain't counted 'em yet) suggestions and tidbits of advice below. I'ma talk to y'all like I care and like I know you, because I do and I might.

Here we go! In no particular order of importance...

1. Drop the 'aspiring' adjective when you refer to yourself. Take yourself seriously. Show up as who you are.

2. UNDERSTAND THIS!!! Come here. Sit down. Listen to this 'cause there are a lot of people in the writing/publishing game who don't get this thing right here and it's PARAMOUNT: 

You listening?

Here it is--


Publishing is a game of OWNERSHIP.

No different from a house. That's why they call that ish 'INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY.'

And you can rent intellectual property, just like you can a house... you know what that's called?



My very favorite phrasal verb is 'Lawyer up.'

I ain't afraid to do it. In fact, I do it quite often. You gotta protect YOUR house, YOUR intellectual property, from start to finish and even beyond that with maintenance.

Doesn't matter if you like or love or get along great with whoever you're collaborating with on your books, roles have to be clearly delineated because people get forgetful at best and delusional at worst when success (i.e. the gravy train comes).

Like my mentor Tom told me, a contract is about what happens if things don't go as agreed.

4. Take yourself and your work seriously. Protect it at all costs.

Just like you wouldn't leave the door to your beautiful house wide open and you set an alarm when you feel like it's necessary, you gotta do the same thing with YOUR intellectual property. You gotta be able to act if the alarm is triggered; you still call the law, a lawyer. 

5. Everybody ain't necessary and everybody's opinions ain't necessary.

Make work that pleases YOU, delights YOU, makes YOU happy. 

Authenticity is a currency. The success will come.

6. If you're collaborating, set clear expectations and boundaries that MUST be respected.

Work relationships like personal relationships are built on trust and mutual respect, but if you setting a boundary is problematic for the person with whom you're collaborating, it's a deal breaker.

If telling the truth and saying what you need to be comfortable costs you a relationship, business or personal, so be it.



Like, y'all, for real. We set the tone for pop culture without even trying. We determine what's hot in vernacular, hair, music, art, *Shirley Caesar voice* YOU NAME IT!

Protect your genius ideas! Cite yourself. Trademark yourself. Copyright yourself. Watermark your 'ish.

Folks be thievin' and get mad at you if you won't let 'em.

A lot of these big publishing companies follow my independent publishing house. They swim from their ocean to what they think is my pond, 'cause they can't see I too am the ocean, and get 'inspired' by my ideas, collaborations. 

Yemaya by Elena Tommasi Ferroni, curated by me

Before you know it they're doing some of the same things with the same people, offering me a simple "thank you!" or "I love your page and I think we can do something similar at (insert huge publishing house name).

To that I say hell to the naw. 

No more.

You inspired? Cool. Run me a check. For consulting, agenting, having a damn good eye, curating, whateva. Just stop stealing. It's shady.


Don't be so quick to sell!

Again, publishing is a game of OWNERSHIP.

And I'm not just talking books, ya'll. I mean any type of creative content: music, art, literature, whateva. Own it as long as you can. And when and if you do sell, make sure the lion's share goes to you.

'Cause real talk publishing is set up on a plantation model. That's another post for another day tho...

So I feel a lot of us (writers, particularly Black writers) get caught up in the glitz and glam of major publishers coming to swoop up our content, but think about it like selling your house to Beyonce. Which would be dope, right? Right. Unless you sell it to her at a deeeeeeeeep discount, just 'cause she's Beyonce. Then the transaction is reduced to an interesting story you can tell at dinner parties, but what did YOU really get though? What are YOU able to pass down to your descendants from what transpired?


Keep your creative inspiration logged, content, emails...I know a lot of what I'm saying is legal and business, but that's honestly where the real work is because having a great idea is the easy part! Someone once told me everyone in NYC has a blunt and a good idea. And if that ain't the truth...

10. Get you a life board of directors.

This was THE best piece of advice my mentor Tom gave me years ago.

The Board of Directors of your life are the people who's opinions and values you trust. These are people who have been successful in their own lives, and who genuinely root for you. You know who they are. Not that scandalous, passive aggressive wench or dude who's always trying to knock you down a peg. No. They're of no consequence. We are talking the people who you respect and whom respect you, see you, value you. Have a conversation with each of them. Ask them thoughtful questions about your next steps. They're there to guide you.

I remember Tom suggesting this years ago, and at the time I was around, well, a different sort of group than I am now. I asked him, "Why would anyone do that? What's in it for them?"

Y' know what his response was?

"What do they get out of it? The satisfaction of seeing you on top."

*Marinate on that y'all.

That conversation led to this boardroom scene in Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO:

I took Tom's advice and put together my Board of Directors in 2015.
It included my mom, sister, my family attorney and dear friend Tish, and, of course, Tom
whose political affiliation could not be further from what his shirt implies.

11. Cut the opportunists outta your life.

12. Don't share big ideas with small minded people.

13. Keep your heart, spirit, and character. Integrity is a currency.

14. How you do one thing is how you do everything. Deliver excellence and excellence is what will return to you.

15. Have fun! That's what we're all supposed to be doin' on this planet anyway. Have yourself a ball.

With that, good people, I'm off to warm some leftover lasagna and write.

If you found this post interesting and/or helpful, share it. That's another good piece of advice...share share share share share.

And if you'd like to talk more about the creative process, storytelling, publishing, editing, finding illustrators, art directing--anything of the sort, writing and publishing consulting services are available at

*Bonus tip:

If you're reading this, you might be sitting on a bestseller.

How will you know if you don't do it?

Honor your good ideas by following through on them.

Narrate yourself.

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