Gangsta was picked up by TCP by accident. I was trying to self publish through a vanity press but I didn’t have the start up money (Thank God!). I’ve always been an avid reader so I pulled all the books off my shelf and started writing and emailing the authors and publishers who had their info listed. Vickie was one of the few who actually responded to me. All the publishers were telling me that there was no market for the kinds of stories I was writing (street lit), but her book was a street book so I reached out. I was so frustrated by then my opening statement to her was “I’m a thirsty mutha fucka, can you point me at a glass of water?” I wasn’t looking for a deal, only advice on what I might’ve been doing wrong. I sent her the synopsis and she loved the storyline. She offered to help me get signed for a small fee or gave me the option to sign with a publishing house she was trying to get off the ground. I decided to go with her because she didn’t have any authors and it would be easier for me to get one on one attention. When the story got out and people realized how good it was publishers were coming out of the woodwork wanting me to get down with them but I was loyal to Vickie because she responded and offered me a chance when nobody else wanted to fuck with it. We printed Gangsta at the end of Dec and by the 2nd week in Jan we had sold all 5,000 copies, this was with no distribution. Back then it was straight footwork. Gangsta was introduced to the world and TCP was officially in the building. I haven’t looked back since.
You’re often times referenced as one of the originators of the genre, Urban Lit, how does this make you feel?
I wouldn’t say I was an originator of the genre, but I was there for the re-birth. Urban Lit has been around longer than a lot of us have been alive. The genre died for like 30yrs and came back stronger than ever with those first five titles (Coldest Winter, True To The Game, B-More Careful, Let That Be The Reason and Gangsta). Back then I was the baby of the group. I am blessed an honored to have been a part of that movement.
What do you feel your role in Urban Lit is & what do you think the state of the genre is in now?
That’s an excellent question. If you ask five different people you’ll probably get five different answers. I see myself as a trendsetter and somewhat of a mentor for those who are willing to listen. You have to understand that I’ve gone through a lot since my first book, from being cheated, bad mouthed and everything else under the sun. They’ve thrown just about everything at me and I’m still here to talk about it so I know a little bit of something about something. I try to help new authors avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made but some of them are just determined to get themselves screwed over. Sometimes when you try to tell people stuff they think you’re hating or giving them false info, but I really don’t stand to gain anything by doing that. K’wan is going to be K’wan regardless. So when they jump out the window, get burnt and come back to complain about it I’m still here to listen and help if possible.
I’m on the fence about the state of the genre. On the one hand it’s great that people are able to express themselves and create their own wealth via this genre so it’s growing every day, which is beautiful. On the other hand you have people who are hustling ass backward. Urban Lit is on fire right now so everybody wants to be an urban author but some people are doing it for the wrong reasons. Many authors are just putting out product to say they did it or to turn a quick buck and not respecting the craft or the game. This is a way of life for some of us and not just a passing fad. Respect your craft as you would respect your lover, if not then it will turn on you. I see it happen all the time with new and even “established” authors. You Inc. your company, slap a tax I.D. on it, sign a bunch of people but have no clue what you’re doing, because you didn’t take the time to learn or listen. So now you’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting the people who trusted you with their material. The captain must always go down with the ship, but don’t take your whole crew with you. These are the authors/publishers who are giving a black eye to the game and making the rest of us look bad right along with them. People outside the genre tend to group us all in, so as unfair as it sounds they judge the many based on the few.
Out of all your books which one do you feel defines you as an author the best?
That’d probably be Street Dreams. Around the time I wrote it I was just beginning to see how ugly the game of publishing could be and I was very turned off by it. I was done with writing for publishers and I was just gonna go back to doing it as a hobby, something that made me happy but at the same time I wanted to send a message to those who may one day read the story. I was more polished as an author so my word play was better than in my first two books and there was no pressure while I was writing it. I didn’t write Street Dreams for TCP or St. Martins, I wrote it for ME. That was a book that I sat down and said “I’m going to pen a great story that will make people respect my talent.” I didn’t care if it ever got published or not I just wanted to get back to when writing was fun for me.
You own Black Dawn Inc, tell us more about this brand you created.
B.D.I is something that is very dear to me. I had been in bad publishing situations and was seeing authors get roped into bad publishing situations. At this time the money was flowing in Urban Lit so everybody wanted to be a publisher but nobody wanted to play fair. Everybody was out trying to rob the new authors coming in and I got sick of it. Someone said to me “You’re getting money now, so instead of complaining about how people are doing business why don’t you create your own brand and do it how you see fit,” so I did. I took like ten thousand dollars of my own money and started B.D.I. but back then I was ignorant to the publishing side of it so there were a lot of mistakes made and I lost a lot of money. I took my own advice and started doing research and asking questions, but you’d be surprised how many people horde info. Out of the 100 people I asked questions only 2 were willing to share with me.
B.D.I was supposed to be something small but as I grew so did the company and the brand. At B.D.I we are not your average publishing house, it’s more like a small family setting. I’m the boss but I am not above my authors, everyone has a say in what’s done with their projects. What my vision is/was for B.D.I was to sign authors to a one book deal to teach them as much as I could about publishing then set them free to do their own thing. I hide nothing from my authors. From the time they turn the manuscript in to the distribution side of it, I walk them through every phase of it so that they have the knowledge for when they’re ready to venture out on their own. To date every author who came up under the B.D.I brand has gone out and got their own thing popping. I don’t want to create successful authors I want to create bosses so we can sit at the table together.
What is next for you?
It’s going to be a big year for me and B.D.I. As far as my stuff I’ve got Gangland dropping in March, Sex Shooter in April and Eviction Notice in Sept. As for B.D.I Five Star Chick will be out in July, Lazarus in October and I may publish one or two more authors in between. My goal is to hit the readers with something new every sixty days or so. I went from signing authors every two years or so to having my email flooded with submissions on the regular. Sometimes the dream becomes bigger than the man and I gladly accept that. I think I’m more focused now then I’ve been in the last 9yrs or so that I’ve been doing this. Sky is the limit and when we make it to the top I’m still gonna be screaming “B.D.I or NOTHING!!!”
Who is K’wan?
In 2002 K’wan hit the scene with his debut novel Gangsta, under Triple Crown Publications. It was the first novel released by the budding house and would eventually become the building block for what is now a multimillion dollar company. What started as a therapeutic release went on to become a part of urban-lit history and an Essence bestseller, as well as drawing rave reviews overseas.
After penning his second novel, Road Dawgz (2003), K’wan drew the attention of St. Martin’s press. The literary powerhouse quickly signed K’wan to a multi-book deal, the first of which being Street Dreams (2004). In 2008 he received the Black Author of the year award from Black Press Radio for the novella Blow.
K’wan’s titles also include Hoodlum (2005), Eve (2006), Hood Rat (2006), Flexin & Sexin: Sexy street tales vol. 1 (2007), Blow: A G-unit novella (2007), Still Hood (2007), Gutter (2008), Section 8 (2009), Flirt: An anthology (2009), From Harlem With Love (2010), The Leak: A Hood Rat short (2010), Welfare Wifeys (2010), Gangland (2011), Sex Shooter (2011) and Eviction Notice (2011).
Since his insertion into the publishing world K’wan has been featured in Vibe, Pages, King, Felon, Big News, The Library Journal, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Press, Clutch and most notably Time Magazine, to name a few. He was also interviewed by MTV News for a feature on Hip-Hop fiction, and a guest on Power 105’s morning show as well as NPR (national public radio). In addition to being an accomplished author, K’wan is also a motivational speaker, mentor to at risk children and the C.E.O of Black Dawn, Inc.
K’wan currently resides in New Jersey where he is working on his next novel. Please visit his website: http://www.Kwanfoye.com