Ashley Antoinette is a bona fide literary success story. She is a New York Times bestselling author in her own right, as well as half of the superstar-writing duo Ashley and JaQuavis. With over 40 books published, including the popular The Prada Plan saga, she is a force to be reckoned with. Not content to rest on their laurels, the partners have added a new job title to their already impressive resume: publisher. Below Ashley chats with Urbania about her writing process, what’s she’s working on, and why now is the time to take on the publishing world.
How do you think the writing with your husband makes your books better? What does that partnership add?
Writing with my husband gives me an advantage over every other female writer. I don’t have to guess about the male perspective because he provides that in our story lines. Our characters are authentic and the readers can feel them because they are accurate in their depictions and portray a true tone from both the male and female voice.
How is your creative process different when you work alone? Do you find you focus more on your female characters?
When I work alone I find it takes more concentration. I have to supplement for that loss of talent when I work without JaQuavis so I tend to overcompensate with my male characters. My novels are definitely female driven when I work alone and the story lines are less defined from the beginning. I oftentimes work unrestricted and without direction when I write solo. I let the characters lead me where they want to go, instead of already having the destination plotted out which is the strategy we use when writing together.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a project for Vh1 right now and also Prada Plan 4. Both will be extremely entertaining. I also have a novel entitled, The Pretty Circle, in store for my fans. That book will elevate my career to another plateau. I’m excited about that one. JaQuavis is working on individual film projects for legendary rappers, Prodigy and Scarface. He is also producing an innovative film project called, The Ruse. On top of that Murderville 3 drops September 3rd. So we are very busy. We never stop working.
Has your goal always been to start your own publishing company?
Absolutely. JaQuavis and I have always valued the idea of ownership. We knew that we had to work our way from the bottom of the totem pole to the top and learn as much as possible along the way, before we embarked down the road of publishing. We’ve been in this business for 8 years and we are now equipped with the knowledge and experience it takes to run a successful publishing company. You can’t publish bestsellers if you’ve never been one. You have to know how to get to a destination before you can be a map to someone else. So we built our A&J brand and we worked hard until our careers were at that level. Now its time to pass down what we’ve learned and share the map of success with those we feel have the same talent and drive. OWL is something that we are both very proud of.
After years of having success with a publisher, what was the reason for starting your own company?
At a certain point in your career it just becomes time to spread your wings. We’ve done the most that can be done being signed with a publishing house. We’ve become best sellers. We’ve helped to grow someone else’s company. We’ve made history in African American literature. Now its time to use our talents to grow our own house and groom our own authors. We want to change the face of publishing by contributing only the best pieces of literature to the business. The team of writers that we have gathered are doing exactly that.
What indicators in the industry or in your personal writing career made you feel like now is the time?
I knew that it was time to start OWL when I got a 7-figure check and was disappointed because it was signed by someone else. I don’t want anyone cutting checks to me. JaQuavis and I are business-minded individuals and have always been in boss positions behind the scenes. It was time to put in the work and make it official at our own company.
What is the significance of the name?
The Official Writers League is significant in many ways. Only those who are breaking bread at our table truly know its significance, but what we will share with the world is that we only specialize in the highest level of storytelling. Everything we publish is phenomenal and personally stamped by the two of us. We vouch for all of our writers.
The book publishing industry is rapidly and dramatically changing. How will your publishing company cater to the modern reader?
At the end of the day its about producing quality material for readers. I don’t believe in gimmicks. I don’t want to trick readers into purchasing novels based on anything besides the body of work. Good literature is timeless so whether you’re a modern reader or someone who has had a love of reading since childhood, you will be able to appreciate what OWL has to offer.
Will you be focusing on publishing up-and-coming or established authors?
OWL is a mixture of both. We have some very established authors on the roster like JM Benjamin, Amaleka McCall, and Danielle Santiago, but we also have some new writers who are just as talented with their pens. C.N. Phillips is a young lady that I hand picked to mentor. We call her ‘The Protege’ because she reminds me so much of myself. She definitely has next and will take this business by storm with her next few projects. She’s studied my technique for years and she has a unique voice of her own that captures you from the first sentence. With that combination she can’t lose and she can definitely compete with anything that is on shelves. We also have a new writer, Ms. Keisha Tyree who is getting excellent reviews on her first novel, Heavy. Our team is strong and we aren’t biased to established writers. We just appreciate people who understand the art of storytelling. There are a millions writers. The genre is becoming over saturated, but very few people are true storytellers. That gift is rare and everyone on our team has the ability to do that. We just signed quite a few new authors as well, whom we can’t wait to announce.
What do you think a smaller, more independent publisher can offer an author that a big house can’t?
I can’t speak for every small publisher, but I know JaQuavis and I can offer a few things that a big house can’t. For one we are at the peak of our careers and from association only, our writers have an inherit fan base. We are also doing more than just publishing. We are actually mentoring our authors. We are giving them the knowledge that we wish someone had given us when we first began our career. JaQuavis and I are a brand and no one built it but ourselves. We are teaching our writers the importance of building their brand. We show them how to build it, nurture it, protect it, and grow it. We also invest our time and money into our writers before they ever make us one red cent. We want them to look a certain way, to behave a certain way…OWL is more than a company. We are truly going above and beyond to make this feel like home. We are all supportive of one another. We are grooming publishing executives and we are competitive with everyone outside of our camp, but within OWL we are each other’s biggest promotion.
Why haven’t more books, specifically urban fiction books been bought to film?
Because the writers of urban fiction books sit around and wait for others to bring their books to film. JaQuavis and I are so fortunate to have a major motion film deal, but honestly if that didn’t happen we would have still had plans to transition our books to film. That has always been the goal. So while the majors are working on producing The Cartel for the big screens we are also working on three other independent film projects. We don’t wait on anyone to make things happen for us. We speak and act things into our own existence.