Interview with K’wan by Niccole Simmons
*What are your titles and publication years of your books?
Gangsta (2002), Road Dawgz (2003), Street Dreams (2004), Hoodlum (2005), Eve (2006), Hood Rat (2006), Still Hood (2007), Blow (2007), Gutter (2008), Section 8 (2009), From Harlem With Love (2010), Welfare Wifeys (2010), Gangland (2011), Eviction Notice (2011) and Animal which will be released under Cash Money in 2012.
*Which of the books you have written is your favorite?
I don’t know if I have a favorite. My stories are like my children and I love them all dearly. I think the book that I had the most fun writing was Street Dreams, because I wasn’t necessarily writing it to shop to a publishing house. By this point I had had enough of the publishing biz and convinced myself that I was going to retire. So when I wrote Street Dreams I was writing it for me, because I wanted to prove to myself that I was a great writer. The fact that it ended up being my first major release was a bonus.
*If you have a mentor, who is it and how have they helped/inspired you?
My mother was my inspiration. In the beginning the plan was to help her get published. I had no desire to be a writer, but when she got sick everything changed. When my mother passed I picked up the torch and discovered a talent that I never knew was there. This was her dream, not mine, but when the time came I stepped into her shoes and carried on. I didn’t really have a mentor when I was coming up as a writer. Most people wanted to keep me ignorant to the business and writing non-stop. I was worth more to them dumb than smart, if that makes sense. Shannon Holmes gave me a lot of positive game early in my career, but the person most instrumental in me making the jump to the majors and really realizing what I had was L.A. Banks (RIP). Leslie didn’t know me from a hole in the wall but when I laid my problems at her feet she welcomed me with open arms and directed me to submit to St. Martins. I can honestly say if it wasn’t for her I probably would’ve never come to the attention of St. Martins (at least that early in the game). She told her editor “This kid is gonna be huge one day and you need to check him out.” She helped me in a BIG way but most have never heard this story because she wasn’t the type of person to do something to say she did it. When Leslie helped you it was from the heart.
*What is the best thing to you about being an author?
Freedom. I make my own schedule, have no boss, and do not punch a clock. If I don’t wanna work, I don’t have to work, but I understand that I must “Write 2 Eat” so I go balls in all the time. Becoming a writer provided me with a way to feed my children and not have to worry about the other shoe dropping and being left out in the cold. I write because I MUST. It’s the same thing with people who have to breathe air to live. These stories are my air and my salvation.
*What is the most challenging/difficult thing about being an author?
The most challenging thing is dealing with industry politics. I never got into writing for money or fame, I kept at it because I grew to love it. As my name got bigger I was introduced to the dark side of publishing. This is a shady business and nobody cares about you if caring about you doesn’t create wealth for them. You’re only as good as your last favor and this is something that I had to learn the hard way. I’ve seen quite a bit over the last few years; backdoor deals, cliques, scandals, people hating for nothing and people who you go out of your way to help that don’t even offer so much as a thank you for your time. I have no stomach for the B.S. which is why for the most part I keep myself isolated. You used to see me at all the industry parties flicking it up, and inviting people into my circle who didn’t deserve to be there because their intentions weren’t pure. So I had to cut the cancer before it spread. I’m a good and genuine dude, but that doesn’t mean everybody else is.
*If you could establish 5 Rules of Conduct every author must adhere to, what would they be?
1. More individuality and less ball riding.
2. Be true to yourself and not to what the new trend is.
3. Learn how to take criticism without automatically calling it “hating.”
4. Conduct yourself in a professional manor when you’re at an event or social networking.
5. Probably the most important; educate yourself about this business so you know what you’re getting into before you get into it. So many people are content to take short cuts or ask a bunch of pointless questions instead of taking the time to try and learn.
*How did you acquire your publishing deal with Cash Money Content?
As with all the authors on the roster; Cash Money came to me. When I initially heard that Cash Money was putting together a wish list of authors I said “No.” I had done the G-unit thing a few years back and didn’t want to be a part of another gimmick devised by rappers and publishers. As I watched from a distance I saw that Cash Money was actually taking publishing seriously. The Cash Money situation popped up again this summer. I was a free agent for the first time in 8yrs and of course there were a bunch of publishers who wanted me, including Cash Money. It was a rough summer for me because I wasn’t used to dealing with this kind of pressure. I walked around looking like a homeless person all summer weighing my options. The blessing in it was that I got to see who my real peoples were. Everyone assumed that I had been dropped from my publisher, which was untrue. So thinking that I no longer had value a lot of people backed away from me, which was good because it put a lot of things into perspective. We had narrowed it down to four or five publishers, Cash Money being one of them. I was still hesitant because I wanted to give my current publisher a chance to give me what I was asking for, but they dragged their feet about it. So I did what was best for me and my family and told my agent to pull the trigger on the Cash Money deal. There’s no love lost between my former publisher, in fact I still have several projects that I will be releasing with them but I move the Hood Rat series to Cash Money.
My agent is a genius and structured the deal so I not only was taken care of monetarily but I also had the freedom to do other projects with other houses. Two more big factors in me signing with Cash Money were Ashley and JaQuavis Coleman. They recruited me the heaviest to come over to Cash Money. Those kids are young, but very sharp and they saw the bigger picture. Separate we are all formidable but united we would instantly become a powerhouse. I probably had more conversations about it with JaQuavis then I did with my agent lol. He broke everything down to me as far as the pros and cons of signing with Cash Money and there were more pros than cons, so it was really a no-brainer.
*In your opinion, how is the music industry, specifically the rap game comparable to the literary industry? (This question is relevant because some of the sites I am submitting the article to are heavily music related).
The publishing industry is the same as music because of the common principal of Big Bank take Little Bank. The major houses hold the keys to the kingdom as far as product placement and budgets, but we are the talent and therefore the cash cows. Still, even with being the talent we get the coins while the houses take the dollars. What most people don’t understand is that when you take that advance (which is just borrowing against yourself) it’s not for you to buy jewelry and cars, its to invest in yourself. For the last five years or so I’ve paid for my own book tours, marketing and everything else besides printing the book. That’s because I understand the hustle and I apply the same rules I learned as a starving artists to help keep this major machine going. A major publisher may place you in Walmart but it’s up to you to get the people into Walmart to buy the books. I see a lot of people fall back when they get a major deal thinking the battle is won, but in all truthfulness the battle is just beginning. They’re gonna get their money back regardless, but it’s up to you to get out there and hustle so you can make those coins add up to dollars.
*What are your long-term goals?
My long term goals are to write and direct my own films. Getting a movie option is great, but I need to be more hands on with my stuff. Nobody is gonna see my vision like I do.
*Any highlights or hardships you’ve had during your career?
The hardships of my career would have to be the lessons I learned early on about understanding paperwork. People have no idea how many times I’ve been cheated, exploited and everything else getting to the point where I am today. I put out a lot of material that to date I still have not been paid for. I could gripe about it or I can brush myself off and keep fighting. I chose to do the latter. These publishers will smile in your face to distract you from the knife being driven into your back.
One of my biggest highlights to date was seeing the looks on the faces of the people who thought it was over for me when they found out I was not only going to Cash Money but also had one of the most uniquely structured contracts I’ve ever seen. If you’ve been around me then you should know; I’ve always got a trump card up my sleeve. Lesson learned in this; never count K’wan out because you’ll lose that bet every time.
*What is your personal view on the self-publishing craze?
I think it’s a good and bad thing. Every man/woman has the right to feed themselves but some of these situations are ratchet at best. I’ve seen people who were just so thirsty to say “I wrote a book” that they’ll slap anything between the pages of a half ass cover, put it out and call themselves a bestseller. My generation of authors EARNED that title whereas some of these mofos ain’t even sold a book and are slapping it on their covers. Are you serious? On the flipside of that, you have some self-published authors who I have a great deal of respect for, because they did it the right way. They did the research and actually invested in making their project a good one. Those are the authors who will win in this game and when the time comes will be handed the keys to the city. The rest…..do I really need to finish this statement?
*What do you feel is in store for urban literature in the future?
I see great things in the future of Urban Fiction once the BS is weeded out. Today it’s a lot easier to self publish than it was ten years ago and there are more promotional and publishing outlets like E-books and social networking sights. We didn’t have all that when I came in; we actually had to get in the streets to get our product to the people. The times are changing and some are resistant to the changes, while others are going with the flow. We must change with the times or become obsolete.
Follow K’wan on Twitter @kwan141
Visit the Kwan Foye Website