Women of Our Future: Women in Literature With Leah Hernandez
Interviewee: Leah Hernandez
Interviewer, Editor, Graphic Designer: Pat Sevikul
My name is Leah Hernandez and I’m a 24 year old from Pomona California. I moved to Atlanta in 2015 to attend Clark Atlanta University, where I graduated with a degree in Business Marketing. During my time at CAU I participated in a study abroad trip to Beijing China. One of the students on the trip with me published his own book. Reading his book on the trip and hearing his story really inspired me to start writing my own book. I wrote the first chapter of my book on that trip and published it later that year. Self-publishing my book, Try God at the age of 19 made me want to help others do the same thing. The following year I started my company Young Authors Publishing.
Tell us about Young Authors Publishing!
Young Authors Publishing is a traditional children’s book publisher that exists to share the stories of Black and Brown young people. Our mission is to share diverse stories by diverse authors and to use book publishing as a self-sufficient pathway for our authors. All of our authors are between the ages of 8-22 and their books are distributed globally. Authors also attend quarterly financial literacy sessions to help them save and invest their book royalties for their future. Our vision is to become a global book publisher sharing the stories of Black and Brown people through print and digital media.
What was your story growing up and how did it pave the way to you starting Young Authors Publishing?
I was raised by strong women in a house full of love. We live in a low income community and growing up my mom always worked 2-3 jobs to make sure ends met. My mother, grandmother and aunt worked in women prisons, some prisons with children that allowed families to stay together. They worked tirelessly to support the women by helping them get an education, a plan for when they got out and most importantly they gave a lot of them a second chance at life. Witnessing this as a young person instilled in me early that whatever career I chose it had to be rooted in helping people. The reason why I started YAP (and keep going after 5 years) is because I really believe that we have the power to impact the lives of our authors and readers.
Why do you think literature and representation in literature is so important in today’s world?
Literature allows us to dream and exposes us to so many worlds. However, when you don’t see yourself reflected in those stories it’s hard to dream those dreams or see how and where you fit in the world. It’s imperative that people, especially people of color, see themselves and authentic stories reflected in literature.
When you don’t see yourself reflected in those stories it’s hard to dream those dreams or see how and where you fit in the world.
- Leah Hernandez
What do you love most about literature?
I love how literature has the ability to transport me into another place and while doing so, teaches me so much about this huge world that we live in.
Why did you choose to focus on Children’s literature?
I wanted to publish books that young people, even as young as 8, could write. I also wanted young readers to start seeing themselves reflected in the books they read.
Did you have any representations of Black women that you could look up to growing up? If so, to what extent, and who were they?
Absolutely! They’re all in my family. As I mentioned before my mom, aunt and grandmother raised me and poured out so much love to me. I would not be where I am today without them.
Let's talk about the Experience Program by Young Authors Publishing. Why did you choose to work with young authors not adults ?
I believe that wealth creation for Black people in America should start from adolescence. If we can publish their book at a young age and sell it globally we can earn money for these kids' futures. I wanted our authors to graduate from high school and have options for their future. If they want to take a gap year and travel, open a business, go to college or become an investor using their book royalties they could.
What do the young authors do in the program and what do you hope they take away at the end of
In our Experience Program, young authors are paired with trained writing mentors, who are college students of colour, to help them write their book.
I hope they walk away from our Experience Program with an increased confidence in themselves, and excitement about their future and healing. Some of our authors write about personal stories and experiences. My hope is that we foster a safe environment for them to tell their stories and get healing from their writing.
What have you learned from your experiences working directly with young people, and how has this impacted you?
Young people in my opinion have THE most creative ideas and stories. Their ideas are not jaded by the world so when they think of something, they go for it and that makes some of the best stories!
What has Youth Authors Publishing accomplished and what successes have you been most proud of?
We’ve accomplished a lot for being started by a 19 year old who knew nothing about the publishing industry. The thing that I am most proud of is our distribution partnership with Ingram Content Group, the largest book distributor in the country. This makes our books available to buyers globally which I am so proud of. We received an email from a teacher in Beijing China reading one of our books, The Swap, to her classroom. What a full circle moment! This moment wouldn’t have happened if we did not have global distribution.
What you do is absolutely incredible! What do you love most about your job?
I love reading all the cool stories our authors create, and it’s my favourite thing. Seeing a child enter our Experience Program not knowing what they want to write about and seeing them leave with a finished book is a wonderful sight.
What challenges did you face starting and running Young Authors Publishing?
So many! Starting any business is challenging, starting a business in a predominately white industry is challenging. However, each challenge has made me a better person and CEO. Our biggest challenge in the beginning was my lack of knowledge about the publishing industry and how it operates. I knew I needed to be around other publishers and learn from people who have done this before. I joined PubWest, an association for small to mid sized publishers, and learned so much about the industry. I also grew my professional network which is vital in this industry.
How have representations changed over the years? What progress has been made and what could the media still improve on?
We see a lot more diversity now, primarily because it’s the trendy thing right now. However, real progress in my eyes isn’t just about showing diversity in your marketing materials, commercials and on screens, but giving the power and opportunity for people of colour to control their own narrative. I want to see the media give key positions to people of colour and invest in their stories, so that when our stories are being told it’s authentic.
Real progress in my eyes isn’t just about showing diversity in your marketing materials, commercials and on screens, but giving the power and opportunity for people of colour to control their own narrative.
- Leah Hernandez
What do you think is the biggest barrier that prevents young girls from pursuing literature?
I believe the biggest barrier is the exposure. Young girls just have to see where they fit in this space but if they don’t see it it will be hard to believe that they can.
With the rise of the social media era, Gen-Z has moved further away from literature in favour of new technologies. How do we encourage them to get involved in literature?
Give them stories that they are passionate and care about. Then create new marketing strategies to market those book to them. We need to meet Gen-Zers where they are, sometimes outdated marketing misses those readers.
What advice would you give to young girls starting out in literature?
Start! You don’t have to be anybody but yourself, readers are waiting for your unique perspective and voice. There are also organisations that want to help you like us! You can also get help writing your first book with NanoWrimo and if you’re looking for internships and employment in the publishing industry We Need Diverse Books can help with that too.
Support Young Authors Publishing!
Sign up for their newsletter on their website to learn more about upcoming book submission opportunities and internships. Also buy a book or two for your favourite little one.