Independent publisher, author, and scholar Janeé Brown, is exploring the complexities of womanhood with her new book Pieces of a Woman Volume 1.
In her exuberance for women, Janeé Brown released for pre-order Pieces of Woman Volume 1 on March 8, 2022 (International Women’s Day). The collection of short stories display seven different women and their experiences, voices, and power. Janeé included, these women let their voices be heard.
Janeé’s lifelong goal: to become a publisher. By using her own voice and giving God’s will, she was able to launch her own publishing company, Open Book Publishing in 2019, where she helps others share their stories.
We spoke with Janeé Brown about her new release and her inspirations.
So tell us about you. Who is Janeé Brown?
I am from Miami, Florida born and raised. I recently have relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina and I am a book publisher. I started a publishing company called Open Book Publishing in 2019. I wanted to revolutionize communities with a pen and paper. That is our mission statement, but it came about from being a child. I was doing a group project and I said that “I want to be a novelist”. And I was like “high stuff” right? In elementary school with this big word. And my daddy was like “You’re not going to be a novelist, you’re going to be a publisher because you’re going to own your work”. And so, life happened. I went to school and got a degree. I got in and out of relationships. I forgot about that childhood moment. Then I did a prayer fast. I legit prayed for 60 days with the whole ugly cry “God what do I do with my life?” and I had the same dreams that I was having when my Dad told me I was going to be a publisher. I woke up and said that’s it. And here we are today.
I 100% say that God is the co-founder of Open Book Publishing. Because I can’t move forward without proper guidance. When you are a leader, you need to be led. So much is on you.
So for me, I tell everybody it’s God and Google. Don’t try to live this world alone. There is a God and there’s Google.Janeé Brown
Pieces of a Woman is such a powerful title. What is the inspiration behind it?
I believe that women, us girls, are complex individuals. People have a lot to say about women, [people] who are not women or [who] do not walk in our shoes. There are pieces that make up womanhood; there are pieces that make a woman. I feel like when you put all those minutiae together and random pieces together, it comes into a full figure of what womanhood is. That was the idea of the title.
I’ve heard many stories of women personally, I have met women I don’t know talk about how their voices were not heard or their experiences were minimized until they had a man who vouched for them. Or until something went left. When we look at hip-hop, Lil Kim got discovered because of Biggie. Or Foxy Brown is here because of Jay. But she was a dope rapper before that, but he had to vouch for her. I think it’s so important for us to be able to hear female experiences and perspectives from the mouth of a woman – not someone talking for us. That’s what Pieces of a Woman is. It’s a woman’s story. Women’s events, women’s experiences on real-life things but from the voice, the mouth, of a woman.
What did you learn about yourself while writing your book?
I learned the importance of foundation. I’ve had this vision of Pieces of a Woman since the pandemic; the entire pandemic, it was sitting on me and weighing on me. I did not consider the impact of the stories or how they would impact me. I listened to a lot of discovery calls and all of these stories I listened to within a 60-day period. Every day, all day I’m hearing their stories trying to hold back tears, trying not to go fight somebody, or be Dade County for real. I had all these emotions that I didn’t consider when I was putting together Pieces of a Woman. How all of these untold stories that I wanted to create a place and space for were going to impact me personally. I could’ve just been very disdained but I’m thankful for my foundation, I had a community that I was able to lean on and could bring me back. But I also had that foundation going back to God and Google and really had to pray about it. You know God gave me the opportunity to hear these stories so I could pray for her and pray for other women like her. Because if there’s one, there’s a two.
What is the golden goal, the key takeaway for women reading this book?
The key takeaway of Pieces of a Woman is that your story is relevant and your voice matters. I can’t speak for all women but I can speak for this one. For a long time, I didn’t think my story was credible because it didn’t come from Beyoncé or it didn’t come from Oprah. I was like I’m just a little girl from Dade County. But it took a while for me to say I’m here and I have a purpose. My name doesn’t have to be Beyoncé. I’m Janeé Brown and she is a force to be reckoned with and everybody is going to know that when it comes to my space. And everybody should feel like you could use your voice. Women are silenced and overlooked. Naturally, in some environments and spaces, we question our own judgment. ‘I’m I tripping? Am I over-thinking?’ ‘No ma’am. You’re not.’ You’re not being a hard time. You’re not being a nuisance. This is something that matters to you, so it should matter to the people around you. And that’s okay.
I hope that women will learn that their experiences are valid. Their feelings are valid. And they should not censor themselves or silence themselves for the sake of nobody else.Janeé Brown
When was your love of writing and literature first sparked?
I was in Ms. Hubert’s class in the third grade. I was writing because I hated reading. Strange. But I hated reading because the books weren’t about me. The books weren’t about me or people that look like me. The book wasn’t about Miami. The book wasn’t about eating hot sauce and pickled eggs in a salt and vinegar chip bag. I didn’t know what they were talking about! So I hated reading because I was like ‘For what?’ I used to write in my composition notebook and I would write stories. And this story is going to be published for girls when they’re in the third grade or the fourth grade because I didn’t have a story.
Writing has always been my jam. My mother was a woman who grew up from a woman, who grew up from a woman, who had to be quiet. I think that she wanted me to say what I wanted to say even when no one heard it. My mother gave me diaries and my father gave me composition notebooks. I wrote my stories because my father encouraged me to be a writer. I had these two different writing types happening at a very young age. Then my mother was tired of going to the school because Janeé wasn’t reading the books. She was like ‘Let me get this girl some books that she was going to read’. My mother was a part of this old book collection company called ‘Black Expressions’; It was a subscription and they sent the books to your house. And that’s where you could get your Fly Girl, you could get The Coldest Winter Ever, your Beverly Jenkins and all those. My mother gave me Toni Morrison and I’ve been addicted to Toni ever since. She died and cried like I knew her…because I did. My mother gave me books with women and culture that I could connect to. So [I was interested in] writing at a very young age but [gained interest in] reading maybe middle school or high school.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Toni Morrison feels like home to me. I really feel like I intimately know Toni Morrison. In my hierarchy, there’s God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Toni Morrison right up under that. Everybody who knows me knows that Toni Morrison feels like auntie to me and I really wish I could have told her ‘Thank you’. She went through everything but showed us the pieces of a woman and she allowed me to be able to do it too. Toni is it for me.
What is one of your favorite books by her?
As a writer, my favorite book by Toni Morrison is the “Bluest Eye”. And that’s probably very cliché because it is her first book. But Toni Morrison on the first page told me don’t sensor what you saying [and] don’t sensor what you write. She came out the gate with The Bluest Eye. We knew exactly what happened. She was raped, how she was raped, and who did it. There were no questions about it in the first paragraph. But my favorite book as a reader was Sula because it’s about womanhood, it’s about experiences. There are a lot of stigmas and taboos about what is appropriate in culture regarding women. I feel like in Sula you saw all that in a very provocative way. So yeah, those would be the two.
What are some career moments you are especially proud of?
This moment. I’m having a press day for a short story collection that I stayed up like seven days straight and did not sleep. I had this huge sheet of paper by my bed; I got up faithfully at 10 o’clock at night and stayed until 4 o’clock in the morning writing stuff that is now Pieces of a Woman. Then Pieces of a Woman came out on March 8th the way I anticipated and now I’m having a press conference tour on March 9th. That is bananas to me! And I’m sitting here having an interview with you. That is a big moment for me. Another big moment was the time I got my first client. It kind of validated me because she was already an author; the fact that she said “I want you to publish my next book” mattered to me. Another big moment was when Open Book Publishing was able to get a trademark. It was like this is yours, sis! I remember when we got the logo and I was crying. It manifests. For me, it’s those moments that let you know you heard God. You heard God and you did what He said and it manifested beyond your wildest dreams. Moments like this are the reminders that I’m on the right page. I’m doing the right thing.
Your story is a part of the story. And it’s untold if you don’t tell it.Janeé Brown
In becoming a self-publisher, what obstacles have you overcome? What’s the best lesson you can share with others?
Self-publishing is very trendy right now and I believe that it is trendy because we are living in a DIY culture where publishing is not an option for everyone and everybody’s doing it themselves. A publisher typically has to accept your manuscript and then say “yes I’m going to publish your book; I deem this worthy of being published.” Now people are trying to discover how to just do it themselves, which I respect. One of the lessons that I had to learn during publishing was that you still need support, you still need people, and that you should not force yourself to do something alone that you don’t know how to do. And that’s okay. It’s important to have the key players for publishing. You need an editor, you need a book formatter to layout your book, you need a graphic designer, you need people! You should certainly curate a team or go to a publishing service company or come on down to Open Book Publishing where we accept folks and you still maintain all your royalties.
People like self-publishing because they keep their money. And you should. But at Open Book Publishing you maintain all the rights and royalties to your book though we are helping you self-publish. We have your ISBN number but you have your royalties. We’re not taking your money; we’re not taking your books – all of that will come to you. I also learned that everybody should know whether self-publishing or publishing that your book is going to outlive you. That means you will forever have a product so capitalize it and leverage from it. Do not just write your book and leave it on the shelf, do not just write your book and don’t write additional books, do not just write your book and not make a coaching program or speak to the community. There is life beyond the book. You could really create generational wealth for you and yours with this product because that’s what it is. Zephyrhills is a spring in Florida that they put in a bottle and they capitalize off of it and the Zephyrhills family is doing just fine. They have a product that they are pushing. Your book is a product. Push it, sell it, make it worth your while.
We see there are seven women in Volume 1, how did you get in connection with those women? How can someone be a collaborator?
Honestly, I had been promoting Pieces of a Woman for about like six months. How we promoted it was on social media, I did a few podcasts here and there, we did some word-of-mouth things. But I wasn’t getting anyone who was interested. I had a lot of “I can’t wait for the book to come out” but, I didn’t get anybody to sign up to be a part of the book. For a minute I was like, “God did I not hear you right?” “Are we not doing this?” “What’s going on?”
Then in January, I changed my messaging. I said, “There are five slots left, applications close January 31st.” And all of a sudden everybody wanted to be in Pieces of a Woman. That’s legit how it happened. I was introduced to women who wrote comments on my Instagram and DMing me saying, “ I really want to be a part of this project.” That’s how we got the seven collaborators, randomly.
In being a scholar, how have the resources from your academics helped you with becoming a publisher?
I’m an educator, a college professor; I’m going to always push education – that’s the bias. I believe the experiences made me the type of person that I am. And that type of person makes me the leader that I am in my business. Academically, I learned project management, organization, teamwork, collaboration, and strategy especially in my Master’s program. My Master’s, I got from the University of Miami in Communications but my specialty is strategic communications. So I learned about culture, not just culture as far as your nationality, but culture as far as being in the office versus being at home.
Understating communications from a strategic lens helps me to understand people. So I know how to attract people. I know how to get people to move off my beat and my energy and that is necessary in business. I learned in school how to polish my writing. When I was writing in middle school and in high school, everybody was like “Yeah, Janeé your writing is great”. When I got to college there were red marks everywhere. I learned to take feedback. “You’re dope but, let’s make you doper.” I didn’t know that; I thought that you were telling me I was horrible. So I had to learn how to deal with rejection in college. I learned how to take feedback. Now I can give feedback in a way that people can receive it. College, from academics to social I think it’s necessary. For Janeé it was.
What is next to come after Volume one?
Volume 2. So we are having an early bird promotion where you could secure your spot into Volume 2. It’s $100 to secure your spot in Volume 2. And we will start the process for Volume 2 collaborators in July while we’re promoting Volume 1. But women are now welcome to sign up either on the email list if they just want to buzz around. If you know you’re definitely going to be a part of Volume 2, you can secure your spot right now. There is a process where you will do a discovery call and then you’ll complete an application that’s asking you probing questions about what your story is. You’ll go through a process and then we will publish your story as a chapter in the overall book.
Janeé Brown has created a space for other women to share their untold stories and appreciate them. Women are worthy and should not be censored by anyone. Let your voice be heard, after all the rest is still unwritten. “Pieces of a Woman” will be available for purchase in May on Amazon and now available for pre-order. If you know someone that is willing to be a collaborator, click the link here for more information.