Author Gloria Mallette ~ Interviewed

Author Gloria Mallette, a winner in the USA Book News Best Book 2007 Awards for African American Fiction, was first published in 1995 by Holloway House with the title WHEN WE PRACTICE TO DECEIVE while she was employed part-time as a Federal Perkins Loan Coordinator at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York. However, by 2000, with five manuscripts and several rejection letters from major publishing houses in her file cabinet, with a nudge from her husband, Gloria stepped timidly out onto the self-publishing track.

In April of 2000, Gloria self-published SHADES OF JADE and by August had sold 13,000 copies when Random House came calling. SHADES OF JADE was re-published in June of 2001 and has since made several best sellers lists, including Black Board, Essence Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, The Washington Post/Washington is Also Reading listing and Upscale Magazine.

Gloria has been featured in ToDay’s Black Woman (2003, 2007), The New York Daily News (2000), USA Today ( 2001), The Pocono Record (2006, 2007), and has a novella, COME TOMORROW, featured on the website.


Gloria Mallette was a life long Brooklyn, New York resident, but she now call the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania home.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

My current project, which I am excited about, is SASSY. SASSY is the story of a romance novelist, Sassy Davenport, who meets the man of her dreams, Norris Yoshito. While Sassy falls head-over-heels in love with Norris, key people associated with him are brutally slain, but when Sassy comes fact-to-face with a man who looks uncannily like Norris, she finds herself caught up in a nightmare of deception and danger where romance takes a back seat and fear and edge-of-the-seat suspense plunges her into the real world of murder and mystery.

In this book there are elements of suspense, mystery, and romance. I believe readers of these genres will love SASSY.

We are all about journeys…unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

My journey to publication was definitely unique. My initial attempts to get published in the early 80’s were not successful. I stopped writing altogether but then in the early 90’s the writing bug crept up and tagged me again. However, still the major publishers rejected me. I finally submitted a manuscript to Holloway House out in California who initially rejected When We Practice to Deceive, but then changed their mind. That was 1995 and the book was a mass market paperback which meant it came out without any fanfare. I believe my advance was a thousand dollars; and to this day, that book is still in print, but I’ve never been able to buy more than two pair of pantyhose when a royalty check comes in.

I was a bit discouraged but I continued writing. By the end of 1999, I had five manuscripts in my file cabinet and a part-time job I didn’t like. My husband gave me an ultimatum—“Self-publish or get a real job.” I had tried an agent who was unable to get me a contract; so sucking in my breath and saying a prayer, I entered 2000 with a purpose. By April I had my self-published edition of Shades of Jade in hand and was scared to death that I was not going to be able to get rid of the two thousand books in my hallway; but two weeks later they were gone. I was amazed. In a period of five months I sold 13,000 copies of Shades of Jade. At that point Random House acquired it along with Promises to Keep for its new imprint Strivers Row and the rest, as they say, is history.

Share the pros and cons of being self-published.

Aww, the pros—the absolute best part of being self-published is having all the say about my books. For example, I always hated the covers publishers gave me. My original self-published edition of Shades of Jade had a stark white cover with bold emerald green letters and a wedding band dangling off the J. When it was reissued by Random House, the cover was dark green with bold yellow letting with a woman in the shadows and a reel of two people making love across the center. I hated that cover but the publisher wasn’t interested in my opinion although the contract said I had “consultation.” I had no say about covers on any of the seven books I did not self-publish.

Another pro of self-publishing is being able to get a larger percentage of one’s book compared to a 7.5% or 10% or 15% from publishers. It is usually a 60/40 split with book stores and a 55/45 percentage with distributors (they get the larger percentage).

Also, I would say, although I was lucky my editors didn’t rewrite me, self-publishing allows one to retain one’s creative voice.

The cons are many. Self-published authors pay for everything—editing, book cover creation, printing, shipping, promotion, marketing, etc. If one doesn’t have a dry basement or garage, one must find and pay for storage of the books one hopes to sell. Then there is the issue of keeping great records of sales and receipts—not a great job if one isn’t detail-oriented and organized. I mentioned promotion and marketing which can cost quite a bit, but having access to the internet makes promotion a lot easier.

I guess the real downside to self-publishing is getting one’s books distributed and into the chain stores and the mega stores like Wal-Mart, BJ’s, Target, etc.

What were the reasons you decided to self-publish after gaining a spot with a big dog like Random House?

Actually, I left Random House when they said there was no budget to promote my second book but that my name would sell that book. I didn’t buy that for a minute. Instead I chose to go over to Kensington because I saw their books everywhere. However, I had no idea that Kensington only promoted a handful of their authors and did nothing for the majority. Too late I realized I jumped from the pot into the fire. Kensington never promoted a single one of the four books they published with my name on them. When they offered a third contract and the new editor said I had to “up my game” and “add a lot more sex and over the top drama” to my books, I bowed out. I like to think my books are character driven, not sex or drama driven. Oh well, back to self-publishing.

In case you’re wondering, it would have been a waste of time to shop my work at another publishing house. So many African American contemporary/mainstream and literary authors are without contracts at this time. It seems publishers only want erotica or street lit from us.

In your opinion, what does a self-published successful author look like?

Well, I guess a successful self-published author would look as I did back in 2000 with Shades of Jade. I did four print runs before I signed with Random House, and they were paid for by the books I sold. I was totally in the black two weeks after my first print run came in.

Share your opinion of the stigma attached to self-publishing. (If you need a jumping board — that the writing is inferior…)

For years it was thought if one had to self-publish, it meant no publisher wanted the book because it was poor writing. In some cases it was, but it wasn’t something that a great editor couldn’t fix if the tale warranted it. For years, the self-published book looked like the dress that was homemade and said clearly, “I’m inferior.” The truth is, in today’s publishing world, most publishers are looking for the “celebrity” author. They want the biggest bang for their bucks which they feel they will get with a celebrity name on the cover. Therefore, the little unknown guy with the compelling story might never ever get a publisher. He would have to self-publish just as I did. In hindsight, I didn’t know what I was doing when I first self-published. I just knew I wanted to write and hoped someone would want to read my book. By the way, I didn’t focus on what anyone would think about me being self-published.

Today, the interior writing and the exterior cover quality of many self-published books are just as good as those published by the big boys. Because of this, there are authors who have never sought to be published by major publishers. As well, today, self-published authors are an eclectic mix of people—from the uneducated to the highly education; from the clerk in the mailroom, to the doctor in the hospital, to the lawyer in the courtroom. Everyone has a story, everyone wants to be published. If major publishers reject an author, that author now clearly has a option—self-publish

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Good question. It’s not so much that I have self-doubts about my work, I’m just nervous until the first reviews come in. Perhaps this is because no one actually sees my manuscripts until it’s a finished product.

I can’t say I’ve truly had writer’s block or angst to the point of banging my head against a wall. With SASSY I had so many interruptions, I couldn’t keep my writing flow going which backed me up a bit. With The Honey Well, I tried to take the story in a direction the characters did not want to go, so in one chapter it was like climbing a steep hill. I got tired of climbing. I deleted everything I’d written and gave myself back over to the characters and the story they wanted to tell.

Giving oneself over to the characters and their story is one hint I’d give to a new writer. The characters know where they want to go, the writer is the one who oftentimes don’t. One might have to do some research as I often have to, but that’s when the story flows.

Another hint I’d give to someone who runs into a brick wall while writing, is re-read from the beginning what has already been written to get a renewed sense or feeling of the story. If that doesn’t work, write a chapter out of order or just stop writing and come back with a fresh mind a few days, a few weeks, whatever time period, later.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

This question puts me in the “Knowing what I know now, I would have. . .” frame of mind. Looking back, the biggest mistake I made while seeking publication was not self-publishing much earlier than I did, perhaps by ten years. As soon as I was picked up by a major publisher, the landscape of the type of literature publishers were interested in changed. In the African American market, publishers wanted erotica, street lit, and chick lit, none of which I write. If I had taken a leap of faith earlier and self- published, I would have been more of a name for myself.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I’m pretty open to receiving stories from many sources: the news (newspapers, television), something interesting I hear, my dreams. In fact, the idea for SASSY came from a dream I had several years ago. I should mention, however, what I hear or see is only a germ of an idea. Once I begin writing, the characters come to life and take the story wherever they want.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

Fortunately, I haven’t had any awkward writer moments, but I have had a few weird moments wherein readers thought I had really experienced something I wrote. With Shades of Jade some readers actually thought I had to have dated married men in order to write the story the way I did. No, not I. It’s called imagination.

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

As I mentioned before, I would have self-published years earlier, and perhaps, additionally, I would have remained self-published. Signing with a publisher when I had no clout (name recognition) I lost all power over my books. Simply by changing the cover on my book consigned me to a small section of the bookstores that only one ethnicity (African American) is sure to venture.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

My childhood has the greatest impact on me a writer. In fact, I began writing because of my abusive childhood. My first manuscript was written when I was nineteen, and it is about my childhood. Way before Oprah I committed my thoughts to paper which was very cathartic.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn’t have to be one of your books or even published.)

I am particularly proud of Weeping Willows Dance. Why? I wrote Weeping Willows Dance solely for my grandmother. The story is about her life with my grandfather whom she married when she was fifteen and he was thirty-seven back in 1929. While writing Weeping Willows Dance I got to know my own mother, Cora, who died when I was two and a half years old. Weeping Willows Dance will always be my pride and joy, and the fact that so many readers have taken my grandmother’s story to heart warms my heart.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Oh, do I? As an African American contemporary writer, it disturbs me greatly that so many contemporary and literary African American authors have been dismissed by publishers disproportionally in favor of street lit, urban lit, and erotica. As well, I have never liked that African American titles are marketed only to African American readers. So many of our stories are universal and should not have a label.

Share a dream or something you’d love to accomplish through your writing career.

What author wouldn’t like to see his/her characters come to life on the big screen? I think it would be fabulous if one or two of my books could be turned into movies.

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course )?

My greatest writer buzz comes when I hold a finished book with my name on it in my hand. Each new book is a new emotional high. My husband said once that I had no passion for anything until I started writing. He was right.

What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?

I credit no unique or strange life experience for the extra oomph in my writing; however, I do credit my love of mystery and suspense for making my novels page-turners.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot.

My favorite writing spot is my messy office which I need to clean up now that I’ve finished SASSY. In the spring and summer, however, I like to sit out on my screened-in deck where it is especially scenic and quiet.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

The most difficult aspect of writing for me has to be narrative. I am at ease allowing my characters to dialogue which moves the story along for me. However, I have to constantly remind myself to focus on fleshing out my narrative. It is an ongoing journey for me.

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

Actually, I can’t begin a new book unless my office is spic n’ span clean. While I’m writing my office usually gets cluttered with lots of paper, (i.e. notes, mail, to do lists, magazines, etc.). Once my office is clean, I begin typing and whatever takes shape about the main character sets the tone for the rest of the book.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

I have my own home office, so I do all my writing there. Other than having to have a clean office to begin writing, I like to be left alone which isn’t always possible when my husband and son are home. Once I’ve begun writing, I strive to finish a chapter before calling it quits for the day. The next day I will reread and edit the chapter from the day before then move on to the next chapter which may or may not be the next day. I usually can’t go on until the last chapter feels right.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Interesting question. I guess because I write subplots in all of my books, the most difficult part of pulling together a book, for me, is making sure the subplots work well with the main plot of the story; and as well that they come together at the end. I keep a lot of notes while writing.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.

I’ve received several memorable reader responses, but the one that always brings me to tears, is a woman who wrote that she had just finished reading Promises to Keep. The woman E-mailed me that she purchased the book without reading the back first. A few nights later she settled down to read Promises to Keep and read the back. She said she threw the book across the room and started screaming like she had lost her mind.

It turned that the woman’s name was Meika and her murdered brother’s name was Troy. In Promises to Keep, the murdered son was Troy and his daughter was Meika. The woman said she had lost all faith when her only brother was murdered and had worked to exhaustion along with the police to find her brother killer. She said she stopped praying, and thought that no one truly understood her pain. After she stopped screaming and crying, she forced herself to read Promises to Keep because she said something told her that I would not hurt her. She said every page of the book was laced with her tears and at times her laughter. She said she read all night until she finished the book the next day; and when she finished, she got down on her knees and prayed for the first time in two years (since her brother died). She ended the E-mail saying, “Whatever or whoever got you to write this story, got you to write for me. Thank you.”

I boohooed like a baby. I tell you, I thank God for blessing me with Promises to Keep.

Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you’d share with us?

Believe me, if I had discovered a successful marketing/promo idea, I’d be rich. The fact is, most authors, unless they are rich, can never market or promo their books as well as a major publisher. They have the resources and the inroads that authors will never have. I’m becoming more internet savvy. The social networks are an excellent way to get the word out about books, and as well, blogs (which I just don’t have time for), and internet newsletters (I’m working on this).

Share the biggest difference between being an author with a house and being a self-published author. What did you do to overcome the negatives?

Right off the top, the biggest difference between being an author with a house and being a self-published author is the money. Publishing houses give monetary advances upon signing and upon book release. If one is lucky, royalty payments once the book has earned out. As a self-publisher, authors can’t give themselves advances, and if the book doesn’t sell, forget about royalties or even paying yourself back.

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

If you had asked, if I had known how difficult it was going to be to become a successful author; meaning financially as well as critically, would I have become a writer; I would have answered, yes. Of course I’d love to be rich, but I write because I love writing.