I wish more than anywhere else that I could be in Stockholm right now, celebrating IN EVERY MIRROR SHE’S BLACK with Lola. My first time meeting Lola was in Stockholm, April 2019.
I had just landed to meet Chigozie Obioma for his Swedish book tour. And Lola had just landed from travelling for a photo shoot (as well as being a rising-star novelist she is the first black woman I´ve met who is a prize-winning, trail-blazing international photographer).
We had time for just 20 minutes to meet at my hotel. And as soon as I saw her radiant smile and heard the energy, warmth and intelligence in her voice, I wanted to keep conversing with her all day. And I told her I would love to read her debut novel.
A few days later she emailed me her remarkably polished manuscript and I was hooked and surprised and delighted from the first to last pages and I immediately offered her representation. It was rare to read a manuscript that is thoughtful and nuanced and featuring an intriguing cast of characters that is also a page-turner. And I had never before read a novel about the experiences and desires of black women in a European city. Everything about Lola as a person and a writer exemplifies my conviction that racial and gender equality will only be realized when women of colour are seen and heard in all the same spaces that have always been dominated by white people – whether in books or in travel magazines or in corporate boardrooms or in western cosmopolitan culture. I also felt so connected to the three different women at the centre of the story – Kemi, Brittany and Muna – I never wanted to stop following their journeys even after the last page.
And I was certain US and UK editors would share my excitement for Lola’s storytelling and for Lola’s incredible personality and platform (her best-selling Swedish lifestyle book, LAGOM, was published by a major British publisher). I was even anticipating that we’d have an auction. This was in June 2019, and by June 2020 after more than 70 rejections, I was about to tell Lola that I couldn’t think of anyone else to try.
It’s still stunning to me to look back on this and to see over and over again the limited vision of so many editors from literary to commercial, the “stay-in-a-lane” mindset that perpetuates so many unfair walls, from New York to London. It was only thanks to Lola’s relentless determination, her never-stop-asking WHY NOT attitude, that I couldn’t give-up.
And then all of a sudden, back in June 2020, we found one editor, Christa Desir of Sourcebooks, who like me, couldn’t get Lola’s storytelling or characters out of her mind. And Christa wouldn’t give up on convincing her colleagues, and then with Erin McClary we had not only one but two passionate editors, and then CEO Dominique Raccah fell in love with it, and then this journey changed almost overnight into an unstoppable source of joy and affirmation.
I believed all along that this book would be embraced and cherished by readers all over the world if they could only have the chance to read it. And now since earlier this year when advance copies started going out and we heard that Barnes & Noble had invited Christa to present to their booksellers, and then all in one week in March we received heartfelt endorsements, just in time for the gorgeous cover, from Deesha Philyaw, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Imbolo Imbue, Kim Golden we could feel our predictions coming true.
And every day this year we’ve been counting down to this hardcover publication day and I´m bursting with joy and gratitude for the love that keeps coming back at us from readers all over the US and now also in the UK where IN EVERY MIRROR SHE’S BLACK will be published in October by Head of Zeus and also in West Africa where we have Parresia. (And just today we closed a first translation deal with a great German publisher…)
And what gives me the most strength and hope is that this life-changing book journey is truly led by women, trail-blazing women supporting women across continents, from the literary agency I founded exactly 5 years ago in my apartment in Spain, to the publishing house Dominique Raccah founded in her suburban Chicago home in 1987 – from the editorial + sales+marketing+publicity dream-team of Christa Desir, Erin McClary, Cristina Arreola, Caitlin Lawler to brilliant cover designer Kimberly Glyder and interior text designer Ashley Holstrom.
I’m raising a glass and expressing my deepest appreciation for you all, and also to every woman who feels seen and heard and understood from reading this book and who will feel the courage to never give up on your own dreams no matter how many obstacles you face.
And above all thank you to LOLA for writing a novel that is true to your vision and that pulses with the authenticity and generosity and empathy that we all need more of in our lives, and for lighting my path and recharging my energy every step of the way through all the ups and downs in these incredibly challenging times. I´m so excited and inspired to see what we can achieve together next!
And I can’t wait for you all to read IN EVERY MIRROR SHE’S BLACK!