Eisa Ulen‘s debut novel Crystelle Mourning was published by Simon & Schuster’s Atria imprint as a hardcover in 2006 and released in paperback by Washington Square Press in 2007. In the book, Crystelle is living a comfortable life with her fiance in New York City when a ghost from her West Philly past compels her to look back to move forward. The Washington Post called Ulen’s voice “rhythmic,” adding that Crystelle Mourning is “a rich…tapestry that evokes days gone by with affectionate yet clear eyes.” She shared her “How’d you get Published” story with us. Like author Leslea Newman, featured last week, Ulen’s advice for authors currently shopping for a publisher is this: “Don’t just sit there waiting to hear a response. Start writing your next book. Now.”
How/why did you choose Atria to publish Crystelle Mourning?
I was excited to work with one of the more powerful women in publishing, Malaika Adero. I talked to other writers, some much more established in their careers than I am, and everyone had great things to say about her. That’s rare. I mean, no one had anything bad to say. At all.The overwhelmingly positive responses I got from other authors firmed that Atria would be a good place for me. Atria has published the work of Jewell Parker Rhodes, one of my favorite living authors, and Carl Hancock Rux, a writer whose work I greatly admire. So, when my agent, Michele Rubin of Writers House, told me we were having lunch with Malaika to talk about my book, I was thrilled.
Please share the details of your publication process.
Crystelle Mourning was in pretty good shape. I had won a fellowship from the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center and another from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. Through FDCAC, I was able to develop my work with author Grace Edwards, and while at Provincetown I worked with A.J. Verdelle. That process of revising the work prior to submission helped the publication process go much more smoothly, I think. Michele, my agent, is really amazing. I remember visiting her in her office one afternoon long before she had even sent Crystelle Mourning out to editors, and we started chatting about the cover art for books by contemporary Black women writers. Months later, she remembered that conversation and arranged to give me some influence on my book cover when she was negotiating the terms of my contract. That turned out to be a really valuable clause–one that helped me feel fully invested in the publication process. When I was able to gaze at that cover for the first time, to hold the hardcover of Crystelle Mourning in my hands, well, that was a wonder.
How did Atria support you once the book was finished?
Again, Malaika was terrific. She refused to let Crystelle Mourning fall through the cracks and really advocated for me within the company. Her then assistant, Krishan Trotman, got the paperback deal done with Washington Square Press. They were both supportive when I was out there in the trenches, trying to connect with readers.
Would you recommend other writers seek publication with Atria? Please explain.
I would definitely encourage any writer given the opportunity to work with Malaika to take it.
What’s the biggest revelation you’ve had about the publishing business in your experience getting Crystelle Mourning published?
Probably the importance, the influence, all the other gatekeepers in the business have. I’m thinking of the reviewers, the television and radio producers, the people who curate reading and lecture series in their communities, the leadership in all those book clubs out there. When a publicist at another house, Linda Duggins of Hachette, invited me to read at an annual event she does at Chelsea Piers, I was happy to be there. I was chatting with a person in the audience, and he turned out to be the publisher of Mosaic Literary Magazine, Ron Kavanaugh. Ron made the decision to put me on the cover a few months later, and I’ve done work for Mosaic ever since. The business is made up of people–many, many people–supporting and encouraging each other. These gatekeepers who work outside the publishing companies can have more impact on a book’s success than the teams working in the houses themselves.
What advice do you have for authors currently shopping their manuscripts for publication?
Advice for authors currently shopping their books through an agent? That’s easy: Don’t just sit there waiting to hear a response. Start writing your next book. Now.
Follow Eisa on Twitter @eisaulen