Urban Lit Career Builders, Pt. 1: Vickie Stringer Talks Passion & Publishing

Urban fiction, sometimes called “street lit” or “hip-hop literature,” has  been one of the fastest growing segments of the book publishing industry in the last decade. Known for its R-rated subject matter, the genre’s raw descriptions of sex, drugs and violence in the inner-city have made it as controversial as it is popular. And while critics label the stories of street life exploitative its fans revel in the reality-based tales of ‘hood heroes, hustlers and good girls gone bad.

Want to be an urban lit novelist but don’t know where to start? BE Next’s got you covered. In this two-part series we’ll be talking to professionals in the urban lit industry to get their advice on getting your manuscript read, your book published, and even starting your own publishing company.  In part one we talk to author and publishing veteran Vickie Stringer, as her company, Triple Crown Publications, celebrates its 10-year anniversary. A best-selling author, literary agent and publisher Stringer has some sage advice for aspiring writers and business people looking to get into the industry.

Don’t Be a “One-book Wonder.”

Stringer wrote her first book, Let That Be The Reason, while incarcerated in a federal penitentiary on drug trafficking charges. She turned her life story into fodder for the fictional tale of single-mom-turned-criminal-mastermind, “Carmen.” But she stresses that though new authors should cull their work from their own life experiences, they must also tap into their creativity and hone their skills to ensure that they’ll be more than just a flash in the pan.

“I think the majority of writers are telling their [personal] stories and that’s why you see so many writers now,” she says. “The challenge for longevity is, after you’ve told your story, can you [really] write? Can you create? And that’s where I see that a lot of authors are ‘one-book wonders’—just like one hit wonders in music. They’re one-book wonders because after they tell you what happened with them and their first love they’re out of gas and they have nothing else to say. That’s why you don’t see many repeat authors and why it’s so hard for the majors to invest because they know your talent is ultimately what’s going to allow you to have longevity.”

Raw talent and a story aren’t enough— hone your skills.

Because of the grassroots nature of urban lit and all of the number of book we see on vendors’ tables and on bookstore shelves some assume that all one needs to be a success is a good story, a little seed money, and not much else. On the contrary, Stringer advises that novice writers actually learn the fundamentals or writing and storytelling before they even try to get their manuscript turned into a book.

“I took a creative writing class because I needed to build my confidence. I was writing about a subject that people weren’t going to be impressed with [at the time]. You have to remember when I came out with my novel no one was really feeling that [type of subject matter]. I had taken a creative writing class with a non-African American person, a White teacher who enjoyed my book. After I submitted three chapters he was like, ‘Can I read chapter four? I’ve gotta read four!’ I got an ‘A’ in the class. That’s when I began to feel like I could write. You need that authenticity to validate stuff so that you don’t walk forward in doubt. You need that confidence as a writer so that you can write confidently.”

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