Patrice McLaurin is a children’s book writer/image activist. Adopting this coined term from the twitter feed of Michaela Angela Davis, a prominent race/gender writer, McLaurin personally defines image activism as her work to actively dismantle negative, mythical stereotypical images of black people through her books. In particular, her books primarily deal with debunking negative images of young black boys and reinforcing positive imagery and ideas. McLaurin’s first two children’s books have been moderately successful.
I learned many things from McLaurin about the book publishing/writing industry. The two points that stood out to me the most, was McLaurin’s outlook that self-publishing was better than getting a standard book publisher and that the children’s books industry is a very “saturated” industry that can be hard to get into, especially as a self-publisher.
One of the main reasons McLaurin decided to pursue a career as a children book writer,was the ongoing tragic shootings of young black men,including Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown in particular,whose deaths occured around the beginning stage of her first book. She wanted to educate the youth by presenting positive images of black people and she saw children’s books as the best pathways to do so.
“I just really feel like that’s a strength of mine to be able to connect with young people….give good guidance and wisdom…so when it comes to my children’s books,I think about what lesson do I want to teach because quite often, a children’s book is a child’s first intro to the outside world. So if we’re giving them this information via a book, then we want to make sure that this information is something that can introduce them to uncomfortable topics that might not be talked about that often.”
McLaurin’s entry into the children book’s industry was not easy and it took time to get to position she is in now. Her resolution to self-publish also played a factor.This is also partly due to the fact that in recent years,there has been an advent of celebrities/entertainers who have saturated the children’s books industry,which can make it harder for a new writer to join the industry.But the biggest factor for McLaurin’s choice to self-publish was her resolute decision to get her book published no matter what. Consequently,she saw no need to shop her book around with outside publishers that might reject her book.
“I did not have to show my work to a traditional publisher… I just chose not to, because again, my voice deserves to be heard.”
So,as a virtually unknown writer,McLaurin had to work to establish a social media presence to get attention for her first book.
“I had to build the brand, and fortunately enough, I was, I was able to build the brand, to the point where it got to be in front of particular right eyes.…what really set it off was when it was recognized by Microsoft as a book that inspires and informs STEM.“
As part of building her brand,McLaurin had Googled herself and was surprised to find out that her debut book, Have You Thanked an Inventor Today, was recognized as a STEM book by Microsoft. This immensely held recognition helped to launched McLaurin’s work into the the topic of conversations in school classrooms. which she occasionally visits to talk about her debut book and the preceding children books she has written. As of today, McLaurin has sold over 13k copies of her debut book and it ranks on Amazon as number 90, in the top 100 list of Boys Childrens Books.
“So now, educators are taking this seriously…Parents began to take it more seriously. And then it just kind of spread like wildfire”
When asked what five tips she would give to a young writer seeking to get their first book published,McLaurin answered:
1. Your voice deserves to be heard. (This is particularly true for black writers,especially since stats show that only 10-12% of children’s books are written about black children, of which less than half of those are actually written by black writers )
2. If a traditional publisher doesn’t want to pick you up that’s fine, Self Publish. If you got something that you really want to say self published, don’t be discouraged by the knockdowns that might happen along the way.
3.Remember that this is going to be a challenging experience but you gotta pick yourself up dust yourself off and keep it moving. You’re gonna have to be okay with the setbacks, and you’re going to have to remember that the setbacks are only making way for your breakthrough.
4. Have a backup plan/part-time job, because getting a book published can take a lot of time and money.