20/20 Interview With Author K'wan

Who is Author K’wan?
-A father, a husband and a writer.
What was your journey like into the writing industry? Where you signed to any labels along the way?
-My journey was a bit unique in the way as I was not looking to get published by anyone. It was a simple case of the stars lining up properly. I was reaching out to different authors to get advice, not a deal, not a hand out. Just a few questions answered. Very few (hardly any of them) responded, and the majority that did, didn't have anything particularly encouraging to say. The majority of what I heard was "There's no market for the genre you write in. It'll never sell." So, at the time when I wasn't looking for it, that's when it came. In my queries, I stumbled across an author whose book I had recently read that was in the same genre I had written my story in. I showed her my work and asked for some tips on how to get it out. Again, I wasn't looking for a deal. When she read it, she loved it and offered to help. She gave me the option of having her shop me for a deal, and taking a cut, or signing me to a publishing house she was trying to get off the ground. I would be the first author they published. It was more or less a self-publishing venture, only I didn't have to put up any money. It would be a mutual grind. I was blessed that my very first book out of the gate was HUGELY successful, and the publisher blew up. That publisher was Triple Crown.
-I've been signed to a few publishers along the way. My first was with Triple Crown, then St. Martins Press, where I stayed for about nine years. I currently have projects with St. Martins, Urban Books, Infamous, Cash Money and I self publish my own work.
As an author, what is your writing process? How long does it take you to write book?
-My writing process is pretty simple. When the light in my head comes on, I get to it. I sit in front of my computer most of the time, even when I'm not writing I'm still waiting for inspiration to hit. This is my post pretty much 24/7
What is the average word count of your books?
-My average word count is about one hundred to one hundred and twenty thousand words, but I stopped my last couple of novels at about eighty thousand words, which people raised hell over. Readers were so used to me giving them gigantic books that when I put out regular sized books they feel cheated.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
-Yes, during my mother's bout with cancer. Those months leading up to her death was the first time I really sat down and felt the magic. She passed her gift to me.
What books have most influenced your life and career?
-Gangsta, of course. It was my first born, and the book that introduced me to the world. I'm thankful that twelve years after it was first released Gangsta still sells like a new book. If you mean books by other people I'd have to say "Whoreson" by Donald Goines. That was the book that showed me it was okay to write about where I come from and not be ashamed.
What inspires your novels?
-My mother. I never wanted to be a writer, it was her dream. She died before she could ever get published, so I'm carrying the torch. Besides that, I absolutely love writing.
Where did you get the inspiration to write Animal 1-3 book series?
-Animal was first born as a role player in Section 8, which came out in 2009. From there his legend grew to the point where it was time for him to step away from the Hood Rat series and carve out his own lane. As Animal grew across the multiple books he was in, I was growing as a writer. I think that's why he's one of the few characters who I haven't killed off yet. We kind of grew up together, so I'm emotionally attached to him.
What are your short term and long-term goals for your writing career?
-My short and long-term goals are to keep writing. Eventually I'm going to branch off into directing and writing films, but I think I'm always going to write books. I enjoy it too much, not to.
What sets your pen apart from other authors in the same genre?
-I think what sets me apart is that I come from my heart and soul when I write. It's never about money with me, though it does count. This isn't to say that I'm the only writer that writes from the heart, but we each have different hearts. My heart and how I do what I do is unique to me. Writing is like fingerprints, no two writers can write alike, even when they try to. That and the fact that I freestyle everything I write. No outlines, no well thought out stories. I just type and see where the story goes.
Do you have a specific writing style?
-I don't think I do, but I hear readers say they enjoy my murders scenes. My stories always contain very creative murders.
What is the importance of protecting your brand and the integrity of your pen?
-It's extremely important to protect your brand, because you come into the game as the underdog. Most of us writing in this particular genre are minorities who come from less than pleasant backgrounds. People already have an idea of what kind of person they think you are because of what you write about and where you're from, so when you conduct yourself like a jackass it makes them feel like they were correct to prejudge you. What a lot of writers don't understand is that this is a business above all else, and any business should be conducted with tact. Rappers gain popularity by being controversial, but we're not rappers. As writers we're all supposed to be scholars to some extent, so you don't get points for who keeps it the most trill, you get points for who has the most respected body of work. Blurring the lines between keeping it real and doing good business is why many folks find it hard to catch a break.
Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
-I want my readers to grasp the fact that I'm painting them a picture. I want them to be able to see the world as I see it through my eyes.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors wanting to get published?
-Do your homework. When you get in this game, you’ve chosen to swim at the deep end of the pool and there are more sharks than lifeguards. That hand you think is extended freely to help you up, may really trying to push you back down so you'll drown. It took me a decade to correct a mistake that I could've avoided if I had only understood what I was signing before I signed it. I'm trying to save you the grief.
What is the name of your publishing company and how did it come about?
-Write 2 Eat Concepts. This isn't the first time I put on this publisher's hat. I've done it a few times over the years, and had some success with it too. I even managed to squeeze out an Essence Bestseller, when that list was still around, so it's not a new thing for me. The thing with is that it's a thankless job. Sometimes you can do all you can to please your authors and they'll still be unhappy, so for a few years I had washed my hands with it. Then one day I got a random manuscript by an author and I liked it so much I decided to put my money behind it. While I was back, in publishing mode I decided to reach out to a few other people who had come to me over the years and it started a snowball effect. With each author, I try and teach them everything I've learned after twelve years in the business. Hopefully, when they leave me they can teach someone else. This is how we keep the cycle going and the chain strong.
What inspired the name?
-Write 2 Eat was tattooed on my hand long before I formed the company. It's like my personal mantra. I don't have a job, I write full time. My writing is how I feel myself, my family and anybody else who might be hungry at a time when I can help out. Write 2 Eat isn't really a company, it’s a way of life.
What is your company’s overall mission?
-The overall mission is to help authors avoid the pitfalls that I fell into. It’s important that an author recognizes the importance of what they're doing and do it to the best of their abilities. There are tons of talented writers out there, and more popping up every day, but some of them don't have a clue as to how to get their work out. This leads to desperate moves that can come back and haunt you. I didn't have very many people to help me make the transition, but I'm paying it forward in honor of the ones who did try and help me.
Who are the authors you have published and what are some of their titles?
-We currently have titles out, or soon to be released by Niles Manning (Convince me to Live, and Scars of Salem), Raynesha Pittman (Dog Food 1 & 2), Erick S. Gray (Gigolo), MarSean Jones (California Love 1 & 2), Kris Green (Area 47 and Wild Child), Johnna B (Wicked Deceptions), and of course my titles under Write 2 Eat (Ghetto Bastard and No Shade)
Are you a Full-time publisher?
-That all depends on who you ask. I have a very hectic schedule so sometimes it’s hard to invest in someone else's project without taking away from what I'm supposed to be doing. Until recently, with the success of Write 2 Eat Concepts, publishing was something I'd only do every few years. As I stated earlier, it's a thankless job, that comes with more downs than ups. It's more than me signing writers and selling their books, I'm working to teach them how to sell their own books.
Other than your having your own publishing house what else do you do?
-I have a few irons in the fire, but writing.
What do you feel is the biggest problem in the urban fiction genre? How can it be improved?
-I think the biggest problem is that everybody is so busy talking that nobody is listening. It’s become less about writing good books and more about hitting a bestseller's list by any means necessary. There is absolutely nothing wrong with aspiring to be a bestseller of any kind, but we're losing focus on the craft. Many of us are so blinded by our own ambitions and egos that we don't see the writing on the wall. We are tearing each other and the genre to pieces and everybody is sitting back watching and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Urban Fiction was dead for more than thirty years and you'd be a fool to think it couldn't be killed again. The sad part about it is the genre is being killed by its own. It's bad enough that we are only able to reach a certain demographic with our stories, but now the readers who came up on our stuff are starting to shy away from it, because of the lack of quality stories and the minstrel show played out on social media. Until we come to some kind of understanding and work cohesively, Urban Fiction will always be the black eye of African American publishing.
What sets your publishing house apart from others?
-Honestly, I'm not sure how to answer that question. I could easily tell you what I feel sets us apart, but that would be bias. It's up to the readers, aspiring writers and anyone else watching how we move to determine what makes us different.
Follow Author K'wan
FB: K'wan_Iamlegend or K'wan Write to Eat
Twitter: Kwan141
IG: K'wan_iamlegend