Candice Carty-Williams, senior marketing executive at Vintage Books, talks to us about publishing her debut novel, Queenie:
You’ve worked in publishing for a number of years: was writing part of the plan?
No, not at all. Never. There are very, very few writers like me around, and so I didn’t think of writing as an option for me. There also seems to be such emphasis on a writer having gone to Oxbridge, which was another barrier to me thinking that I could have a book published.
Of course, over time there have been a handful of books a year published by underrepresented writers, but less so commercially. When I was writing Queenie, I had absolutely no thought that it was going to go anywhere; I was just writing with the aim to represent.
How closely have you followed the publishing process?
Very closely! It’s so hard to be hands-off when it’s your first book, and when you understand the editorial and marketing process. But luckily my publisher talks to me like I’m part of the team. We’re all moving towards the same goal, which I’m very grateful for. And if I feel I’m asking something unreasonable, I’ll always preface an email to my editor with, “Sorry for being a prick, but...”
Did anything you learned from publishing help with the writing of the book?
I wouldn’t say that anything helped, but having insider information has definitely eased my mind when it comes to understanding what the team at Trapeze is doing. I’m not sure I would have been as happy to wait a year before Queenie was published if I didn’t understand about how important lead times and building buzz were.
Queenie was described as a “black Bridget Jones”, but Afua Hirsch said later in a review that this was reductive. How would you describe it?
Ha yes, Afua Hirsch’s Time review was unbelievable, and she hit the nail on the head when she spoke about publishing needing to desperately find comparisons for books. I would say Queenie is about identity, heartbreak and humour, through a lens readers haven’t seen through before. It’s dark, it’s funny, but it has a lot of heart.
There is a lot invested in your book, but what does success look like to you?
Success looks like people saying they’ve learned something from Queenie; whether that’s someone telling me that they now understand that touching a black girl’s hair because you’re curious about how it feels isn’t okay (even if you’re well-intentioned), or someone telling me that they’ve gone through what Queenie has gone through and feel less alone—both of which I’ve had. When I sat down to write this book, it was always about representation. A friend of mine, also a black woman, sent me a picture of herself holding the US edition in an LA branch of Barnes & Noble, and that felt amazing. Now stories by women like me (and her) are in places we never could have imagined.
I found the email I sent applying [for a funded place on] Jojo’s Moyes’ writing retreat in 2016, and in it I say: “Since working in publishing, I’ve worked hard to do anything I can to widen the pool of representation; I’ve created a short story prize for writers of colour, I’ve attended editorial meetings where I can in the hope of commissioning books by underrepresented authors, and I’ve held focus groups and workshops to see how it is we can redress the imbalance in the industry. Maybe what I can do next is write a book myself.”
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams will be published by Trapeze in hardback on 11th April, priced at £12.99 (9781409180050). The e-book is priced £6.99, and an audio edition read by Shvorne Marks is also available.