September 22, 2020
Partnership Highlight: Young Authors Publishing
This fall, Reading Partners SFBA is excited to celebrate the launch of Reading Partners Connects and announce our partnership with Young Authors Publishing! Young Authors Publishing is a children’s book publisher that exists to share the stories of children. Much like Reading Partners, Young Authors Publishing believes all children are story-worthy. Last month, we had the pleasure of (virtually) sitting down with Leah Hernandez, CEO and Founder of Young Authors Publishing to hear more about the amazing work they are doing.
What’s your role at Young Authors Publishing, and what do you love about it?
I’m the founder and CEO or Executive Director, since we are a not-for-profit. My daily tasks/ roles change daily because we’re a start-up. When we’re running our experience program, which is where young authors are taught how to write their book and about financial literacy and entrepreneurship, I wear a program hat, making sure that programs run smoothly. When the program concludes and they move over to the publishing [part], I wear a full-time publisher hat where I’m communicating with our graphic designer, distributor, and warehouses trying to make sure that our books get out to the world. It changes daily, but it’s really fun and rewarding.
That’s in addition to all the fundraising, operations, and keeping the lights on work! She really does it all. What is your favorite part of the program? What do you love doing the most?
I think my favorite part is the end of our program, when young authors get their book for the first time. Seeing the smiles on their faces, it makes it all worth it. The thing that I love the most about the process is the editing, when our young authors are thinking about what they want to write about and are coming up with the stories. Seeing that process of – they have no idea what they want to write about and then having a full-fledged book is really awesome.
How did you think to start Young Authors Publishing? Where did it all begin?
I don’t think I really thought about “starting” it, it kind of just happened! My sophomore year of undergrad, I decided I wanted to write and publish my own book, and that led me to starting a for-profit publishing company. Within the first seven months of our operation, we had two books that we had published. We’re based here in Atlanta, so I was approached by the Atlanta Housing Authority to work on a youth development program. We worked with four young girls from the inner city of Atlanta, and they wrote a book titled Roxie’s Day in Vine City, which is about the community that they grew up in.
Throughout this entire process, I saw the pure imagination that kids had, and how when they would have really great ideas they just wouldn’t hold back. Then I also realized the challenges that children from underserved and underrepresented communities had, and figured that I can use book publishing as a vehicle to economic mobility. I decided that I wanted to pivot from for-profit to non-profit and dedicate our resources and our talents to making sure that we are helping kids write and publish books. So that’s our origin story – I didn’t really set out to do this intentionally, but I’m really grateful that it led me to where we are today.
Was that a while ago, how long has this been the nonprofit mission?
We’ve been around for three years, I started the for-profit at the end of 2016 going into 2017, and then started the program at the end of 2017 and pivoted fully in 2018. We’ve had Young Authors during 2018-2019, and now 2020.
What made you feel like it was important to focus on financial literacy and make that connection with publishing?
Before I got into publishing, I actually taught financial literacy at my university. About 7 months into the internship, I realized we were teaching people how to manage money who had no money, and it was really hard for them to get access to money. It started to change my thinking. If we want Black and Brown people in our communities to be financially literate, we have to give them access to capital so that way they can be able to manage that money. When I wrote and published my book, I was a broke college student, so I was making money off of the book that I wrote, and I was like, oh, you can make money off of this thing, maybe I can use this as a way to help others do the same thing.
That’s so cool! So much of your mission seems to be around the idea of storytelling, and how kids have such great ideas. Could you tell us how you feel about the importance of storytelling, and what it means to be “story-worthy” – we love that phrase!
Thank you! It’s really important, especially when we talk about the kids that we serve. The majority of our young authors are African-American, and within the publishing industry, there’s a severe lack of diversity. Little Black boys and girls will read more books about animals than they will about their own skin, stories, and experiences.
I believe this is a severe issue, it makes it harder for kids to dream and think that they can achieve the unachievable when they don’t see it. So when we talk about being “story-worthy” I think it means that all kids are worthy of being in the story and being the main character in the story. We wanted to make sure that that was at the forefront of what we did and that we would empower the children to create their own stories and to use their own imaginations to be able to develop these stories.
What we realized is that books written by kids are actually more engaging for kids, kids want to read that because they can relate to it more. It was stated at the Nielsen’s annual Children’s Book Summit in 2017 that children’s books are more engaging when they’re actually written by children or created to mimic child-created content.
What is your hope for the young authors you work with? What do you hope they are getting out of the program?
My hope for our young authors is that they would be more financially literate and understand how to use money and know that they can achieve money by working hard and being an entrepreneur which is essentially what they are when they become an author. One of our core values in our experience program is to educate and to expose, and when we think about exposure, a lot of the kids that we’re working with, becoming a writer, becoming an author, an entrepreneur, a lot of that stuff really, they don’t see that often. My hope is that this will be able to transform the child holistically – from their emotions, from what they’re going through in their day-to-day, from their money, to their future, all of the things.
What is your hope for the destiny of the physical books that you publish?
I think it would be so dope to see little Black and Brown kids from the communities that we’re working with to be the New York Times bestsellers and to be the books who are at the face of the publishing industry. When I think about the books, I want them to be everywhere, I want them to be global, which is what we’re working on right now. More specifically, I want them to be in the hands of people who need to read them, who need to see a different narrative about children who look like us.
I’m curious, what does reading mean to you, in your life? Are you a reader?
Yeah! I think it changes in the seasons, when I was younger, like elementary school, I didn’t like reading because I hadn’t found the right book, which is kind of the story of everybody – if you don’t like reading, it’s because you haven’t found the book for you. When I was in middle and high school, I found books that interested me and served as some type of escapism, and so that grew my love for reading. Now that I’m a publisher, in full transparency, I’m not reading nearly as much as I used to, I think I’m just working on books all day every day when I have time to myself I’m like, let’s just sleep or let’s just do something else. So just like the young authors I’m working with, I’m constantly having to fight to find my love for reading again.
We hear you! At Reading Partners, we think about reading all day and then at night, we sometimes just want to rest!
What would you say to parents trying to get kids to read? Any recommendations for any Young Authors Publishing books? How can we make sure that the books that kids want to read are getting into their hands?
What I would say to parents is just, find out what interests your child. I think if we can do a better job of pairing the books, then I think children would find more of a love for it.
At Young Author’s Publishing, we have a plethora of books that range on different topics. One of the ones I’ve found that’s popular whenever I do reading at schools is a book titled A Day Inside, which is about a young boy who continues to bring home red behavior cards, which is not very good behavior, and so his mom tells him he can’t go outside and play, and he has to stay in the house for the rest of the day, so he comes up with all of these quirky, crazy things to do in the house to keep him entertained.
In the end, he ends up having a really good conversation with his mom about how he’s not necessarily a bad kid, just a kid with a lot of energy. I think kids really like that book a lot because it’s really funny, and it comes up with a whole bunch of fun stuff to do. I would just say figure out what kids are passionate about, what they like, and then find books that talk about that.
Wow, that sounds like a really fun and relatable story, but also speaks to something bigger around needs, and how to navigate the world.
To wrap up this conversation, what is your hope and what would you love to see out of this collaboration with Reading Partners?
That’s a great question! I think my greatest hope and desire is to get the books in the hands of kids who need to read them, especially kids living in book deserts or who don’t have libraries at home or bookshelves filled with books. I think you guys do a phenomenal job of doing that, and so I’m really excited to include our diverse and culturally relevant books. I’m also really excited about getting these books in the hands of other kids and getting kids excited about reading, and hopefully sharing new stories that a lot of kids wouldn’t have read otherwise. In book publishing, these stories have historically not been told. I’m really excited that we get to have this partnership that would expose those stories.
Is there anything else you’d like to say or that we didn’t ask?
I think you asked all the questions! We are super excited about this partnership and especially excited for the students that you work with to not only fall in love with the books but hopefully fall in love with writing too once they find out that the student who wrote the books is maybe the same age as them or maybe even an older peer.