In the wake of mass protests that were sparked by the killing of George Floyd while in police custody, books on racism, race, and racial equity have flown off the shelves. Every industry has been experiencing a racial reckoning and many are re-evaluating policies, practices and procedures to assess racial inequity. The publishing industry is no exception. In a recently published New York Times article, eight Black professionals in publishing shared their experiences being Black in the field. One theme that arose from their experiences seemed to be the lack of spotlight and value placed on Black stories. Kori Wilson, an operations manager for Sisters Uptown Bookstore, who was interviewed for the aforementioned New York Times piece shared, “with the larger publishing houses, when they would have their book tours for upcoming seasonal releases, [Black people] weren’t part of that group.” Understanding the unique challenges that Black people have faced when it comes to writing their book and getting their stories highlighted, Jasmine Womack has made it her mission to “help leaders transform, communicate, and connect with others through storytelling.” Some of Jasmine’s clients have even dubbed her the Harriet Tubman of the publishing world. Jasmine sat down with Forbes to share her story, her mission and what motivates her to do the work that she does.
Janice Gassam: The first thing that I wanted to ask you is, could you just share a little bit about who Jasmine Womack is for those of the readers who were not familiar with you?
Jasmine Womack: I am a former language arts Middle School teacher. I taught…for 12 years. I held various roles in the school, as a writing coach for the teacher’s leadership, all of that. But at the core, I’m a woman who believes that everyone has a story, and your story has the power to change the world through connecting with others. Sharing your story and sharing your expertise really is the catalyst, it’s the push that other people need. And I look at, when I look at motivational shows like…Undercover Boss…it’s all centered around…leaders…learning the stories about the people who work in their businesses. And I think that having the power and really being able to not only share where you come from and share your experiences and share your expertise, but also listen to the experiences and expertise of others…it has the ability to shift our mindset, our perspective, and our trajectory. Really push others into who they are supposed to become. So, that’s just who I am…what I’m about.
Gassam: And could you share a little bit about some of the work that you do with authors and also why you decided to work with, I know you don’t work exclusively with black women and black people, but why do you… Why is that sort of your target demographic?
Womack: The work that I do with authors is to help authors use their story in a way to teach someone else how to improve their life and or their business…I hear a lot of authors say they want to share their story. But at the end of the day, that’s really not enough because everybody has a story. And nobody just wants to read a book where you’re just talking about yourself…so I take the perspective of, how can you use your story to teach someone else a skill or a lesson that they can then use to go and make an improvement in their life or their business? How can you transform this into a platform where you’re able to position yourself as a thought leader and a credible expert in your field? I work with a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs, and even those in leadership roles who are already doing the work but, they really need a book to really establish themselves as a credible expert in their field…in some instances, people have put in 20 to 30 years in their jobs and in their careers as consultants, but they feel led to a bigger purpose and they want to use their book as the catalyst to create a personal brand where they are able to teach business development…business tips through personal development. I work primarily with Black women because Black women…we have marginalized voices…we are often overlooked. If you look at the history of how Black women have been treated in this country, and even just in light of the current events, it just makes me think about my own grandmother who had a sixth-grade education and had to stop school because she had to go and work to help take care of the family. I think about my great, great, great grandmother who was a slave…as a slave, it was against the law for her to know how to read and know how to write…so when I look at my grandparents and everyone who came before them, I feel like now is our time…we have the opportunity to learn without boundaries. The laws that used to exist no longer exist. So, we have a responsibility to put meaningful content into the world because at one time…we weren’t even allowed to, we weren’t even allowed to open up a book. And so now we have the actual power to create and in having the power to create we have the power to create our own narrative and tell our own stories and not just rely or depend on the perspective of our stories about our people or about our lives to be told by other people who have no knowledge of us or no knowledge of what it means to be Black. Does that make sense?
Gassam: No, that makes a lot of sense. So, why do you feel like it’s a great route for Black authors to self-publish?
Womack: One of the reasons I believe that it’s a great route for Black authors to self-publish is because if you look at this traditional publishing industry…self-publishing allows you to actually go ahead and put your book out…without having to pay anyone royalties, without depending on anyone else to get your book out there. And at the end of the day, you have control over your work. You can pretty much say what it is you want [to] say, the way that you need to say it without it being censored or controlled or filtered by a company that may have other interests. Not to mention, it’s just easier. You don’t have to go and find an agent. You don’t have to wait around for your book to get picked up. Once you have the idea, you have the concept, you can write it…you align yourself with thought leaders in your industry, you get on podcasts, you create that visibility, you build the platform and not only are you able to really help the people who need what you have, but you’re also able to create financial freedom for yourself and for your family and for your legacy through creating information-based products and services that are aligned with your book.
Gassam: I’ve seen that some people are calling you the Harriet Tubman of the publishing world or of the author world. Do you want to share a little bit about that and why people that are saying it may feel that way about you?
Womack: I think it’s totally an honor…[when] I think about Harriet Tubman, I think about a very strong and determined woman who was guided by purpose. She was guided by God to lead a pathway to freedom. And once she found a pathway to freedom, she went back and pulled others with her…I’ve been told that I have a way of literally unlocking something inside of people and pulling their stories out of them when they struggled to share it for years, or maybe even just start from ground zero. And then within a matter of days…you have a book and now they’ve been able to do so many things with it, such as get booked and contracts and speaking, do workshops and just really help others on a level that they didn’t even imagine to begin with.
For me, it’s an honor, but even more so, me just really walking in my calling and picking up the mantle that my great, great grandmother started. I recently found out that my great, great grandmother began a publishing company back in the 1920s as a Black woman. And I never knew this. I literally found out from my first cousin sharing an article with me on Facebook about two weeks ago. And so, for it to be literally a hundred years later and I’m continuing the work, I just feel like it’s bloodline and it’s calling and purpose.
Gassam: So, how can the Forbes readers work with you?
To learn more about Jasmine Womack, click here.
This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.