Sponsored by Tiffany Dufu, Creative Assets designed by Kareracter Creative Studio exclusively for #blkcreatives It doesn't matter what level you're at in your career, new experiences and opportunities will always clear the way for growth. Tiffany Dufu, a catalyst-at-large in the world of women’s leadership, doesn't shy away from that process. As a new author (of Drop the Ball, a memoir and manifesto that shows women how to cultivate the single skill they really need in order to thrive), Tiffany is celebrating her book anniversary by sharing the challenges she's faced in the publishing industry and how embracing herself and her community, helped her overcome them.
Happy Anniversary to you, as Drop The Ball will be celebrating its first birthday (on Feb 14th). You've built an incredible career around advancing the lives of women and girls. Why was it important for you to bring this particular story to life?
Tiffany: Women's leadership is incredibly important to me. The biggest reason why we struggle with innovating solutions to some of our toughest problems, things like disparities in access to education and healthcare, global warming, or a criminal justice system that isn't just, is because we don't have diverse people sitting around the most powerful decision making tables. I've been trying to inspire and equip women to pursue their ambition. But women kept telling me that one of the reasons they couldn't be the CEO at work was because they were already the CEO at home. It was just too much. They also kept asking me how I was personally managing it all. I felt I owed them an answer and that it was my responsibility to support them in creating lives they were passionate about.
One box that the publishing industry seems to put Black creatives in, is that we all have to create from a space that's just about race and identity but we have SO much more to share. How did you push back against this narrative and how would you advise others to do the same?
Tiffany: I pushed back by recognizing this racist narrative is profitable and proving to the industry that there's an alternative narrative that can also make money. It's good business for publishers to market black authors to black women because college educated black women read more books in any format than any other demographic. We have a lot of book buying power. But I didn't want to be put in a box. I felt that Drop the Ball had a message that would appeal to all women. So I was explicit about positioning the book in the broadest way possible so that it would appeal to more consumers.
For example, I ensured the BISAC codes reflected how I wanted Drop the Ball to be categorized. They included Business & Economics, Women, Autobiography, Social Science, and Marriage & Family. As an avid book buyer, I was sensitive to the fact that regardless of the subject, books by black authors are too often relegated to the African American section. I personally love this section, but the average white woman isn't walking into Barnes & Noble and heading there. So we assigned BISAC codes that guaranteed Drop the Ball would be placed in the business section alongside titles like Lean In. I've loved all of Ava Duvernay's films, but I'm most excited about A Wrinkle In Time because its success will be the biggest push back to the narrative that black people can't tell stories that aren't just about being black. And the most convincing evidence will be the dollar signs at the box office.
Was there anything that surprised you throughout this process? Is there anything you would have done differently?
Tiffany: Because I was so hell bent on ensuring Drop the Ball appealed broadly, I refused to appear on the cover. But once the book was released, it became clear that sales were closely correlated with my public appearances and interviews. The cover wasn't selling the book. I was. We often spend a lot of time trying to find the best marketing tools and strategies, but what I learned was that I am my own best marketing tool for my creative work. My editor had to sit me down to explain that I really needed to appear on the paperback. A new jacket was designed that will be released soon.
In your book, you share how you've relied on your community and network of support to adjust. How did your community show up for you throughout the publishing process?
Tiffany: I'm just the cumulative investment of other people. I could tell you a million ways my village showed up, but I have to give a special shout out to the black women came through in a big way. They talked me off ledges during the writing process when I doubted myself and got scared I wouldn't be able to deliver a manuscript to my editor worthy of the advance. They hosted book events for me in major cities, they hired me to speak at their companies and purchased multiple copies of Drop the Ball for their audiences. One of my friends, Keli Goff, wrote a fierce review of Drop the Ball on the day it was released. It went viral and made my book fly. Then there were my Delta Sorors that showed up at every public event just to tell me they had bought multiple copies and to give me a hug.
Every time I think about all of the love I received I want to cry all over again. Drop the Ball was a bestseller because of some serious #BlackGirlMagic.
We all know that publishing a book is no easy undertaking. What would you recommend as the first practical step that someone should take when looking to publish their book?
Tiffany: Write every day. Find an agent that will fight for you. Interview authors. Know that your voice is important and your words are needed to help change the world.
If you haven't already, grab your copy of Drop The Ball here.