Atria Publishing’s Malaika Adero Shows Who You Know Will Help You Make It To The Top

Our special guest writer Ebony LaDelle joins MN Business for three stories this month focused on the published industry. LaDelle works in marketing at Simon & Schuster, specializing in the education & library space, as well as an advocate of literature of color. You can connect with her on Linkedin.

Malaika Adero imageNelson Mandela. T.D. Jakes. Common. Mikki Taylor. These are just some of the many exceptional and progressive black voices Malaika Adero, vice president and senior editor at Atria Books (an imprint at international publishing house Simon & Schuster), has been fortunate enough to publish. With all the phenomenal projects Adero has worked on over the course of her 25-year career, she considers some of her most fulfilling projects to be reissuing The Black Woman: An Anthology, filled with works from Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, and Nikki Giovanni, and working with Maryse Condé.

Adero is now one of the top editors of color in the publishing industry, but her interest in arts and culture came from her upbringing in Knoxville, TN — her mother was a pianist, and a few of her close relatives were involved in theater and the arts. “I was encouraged to read and books were important in our home,” Adero said. “So I always had this notion I wanted to do something in book publishing.”

And to think, Adero got her start working at Franklin and Axam, a law firm specializing in criminal and entertainment law. The job allowed her to acquire books that launched her career.

Adero enrolled at Clark Atlanta University to study library and information studies. Her first publishing gig, while attending school in Atlanta, was at the Institute of Black World, an organization of scholars and activists dedicated to addressing concerns in the African-American community. There Adero said she learned the simple duties of book publishing, like typesetting and running a printer. “It was at the Institute of Black World I was first able to look over the shoulders of editors and see what they did,” Adero said.

One of those editors, Gillian Royes, became an author under Adero, writing The Goat Woman of Largo Bay in 2011.

via Facebook

via Facebook

At Clark Atlanta, Adero also built and established relationships with people that went on to make major strides in the entertainment industry today. “One of the reasons why I have a fondness of HBCUs is because a good number of significant people have come out of those schools. So those relationships are important.” Spike Lee attended Morehouse while she was at Clark Atlanta. And Adero’s classmates included Samuel L. Jackson and his wife LaTanya Richardson, as well as Thomas Bird.

“The thing about working in media and publishing is no experience is wasted,” Adero says. While at Clark Atlanta, she learned about Howard University’s book publishing institute. “I felt that attending Howard’s institute could help me get a job in book publishing,” said Adero. So in 1980 she enrolled.

Upon completing her certificate Adero was offered a position in Florida in educational book sales. “I got a job as a college textbook sales rep and hated it, but I still knew I wanted to be an editor.” After getting fired from her job, Adero made a bold move. With no job opportunity lined up and no plan, she moved in New York City. “[W]hat I did have was a supportive mentor and friends,” she says.

Adero started out as an editorial assistant when she began working at Simon & Schuster in 1985. She moved up to assistant, associate, and finally senior editor fairly quickly because of her connections. Working at Franklin and Axam allowed her to acquire her first book that catapulted her trajectory in editorial, The Autobiography of Miles Davis, as she handled some of his affairs at the firm. “The network was extremely helpful to me advancing my career,” she says.

Though Adero has put some distance between herself and her beginnings in Atlanta, she is stil; aware of how hard it is breaking into this industry as a black author.

“Publishing historically hasn’t been that diverse. Patterns of increased diversity go up and down so there’s always a need to break through that,” she says. There have been many aspiring authors of color who’ve voiced recently the hardships faced with breaking into the industry. However, Adero does feel getting noticed in book publishing is easier now more than ever. “These days, the good news is authors have avenues for becoming published. Small press and self-publishing allow authors to cultivate a readership that wasn’t available before,” Adero advises.

These unconventional avenues allow black authors to build an audience and be seen by publishing professionals, showing that it is possible for people of color to publish and sell successful books. But she does caution up-and-coming authors who are looking to break into publishing.

“It is a lot of work and people should know that. They should read widely. It’s so important. You learn how to write by reading good writing. And [publishing a book] is not an income source aspiring writers should depend on solely,” she warns.

Hurdles aside, she still encourages black women to enter into the creative profession. “It’s important to have our voice, our aesthetics recognized,” Adero said. “It’s nothing more fulfilling than to inspire others.”

courtesy of MadameNoire

2 thoughts on “Atria Publishing’s Malaika Adero Shows Who You Know Will Help You Make It To The Top”

  1. I enjoyed watching Malaika Adero on Book TV’s broadcast of the Harlem Book Fair. In response to Ms. Adero’s request that we tell publishers what books we’d like to see written, I’d like to see a book that explores the efforts of blacks to restore our history and re-educate ourselves. There are some books on the subject with a limited focus. But a comprehensive treatment is what’s needed. Starting with 19th century: David Walker and other black nationalists, the book would then cover the 1920s-1950s: Harlem street scholars, professors Carter G. Woodson, Leo Hansberry, Chancellor Williams et al at black colleges. The 1960s would cover institution of black studies departments in other colleges. The 1970s-1990s was a raucous period when mainstream academia pushed back with vengeance against what’s been labeled ‘afrocentrism’. One highlight of this period was the 1987 convention in Aswan Egypt of ASCAC members. With the passing of great historians like John G. Jackson, Chancellor Williams, and Ivan Van Sertima, much teaching of black history in the 21st century has moved online. It’s remarkable to remember when a presentation by an eminent scholar like Ivan Van Sertima would be considered successful if it attracted two-three hundred attendees. Now, Dr. Van Sertima’s videos on Youtube get 10,000-60,000 views and growing! I hope someone writes this book. I would if I could, but I can’t-for various reasons.

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