In many ways, the film and publishing industries go hand in hand. If enough copies are sold, what lines the shelves of Barnes & Noble often ends up on the silver screen. Adaptations aside, publishing is something to be appreciated, especially by the film industry. The purpose for both mediums is to entertain, inspire and intrigue—to shed light on various subject matter, whether it be comedic and lighthearted, dark and brutal, true stories, autobiographies or memoirs. The possibilities are endless and hopefully they pull some heartstrings along the way.
Yona Deshommes is the President of Riverchild Media, a public relations firm specializing in the promotion of books by and for authors of color. She previously served as an Associate Director of Publicity at Atria Books, an imprint of one of the largest publishers in the world, Simon & Schuster. She has conceived and executed strategic publicity plans for a number of high profile clients that have since become The New York Times Best Selling authors.
How did you get started in the publishing industry?
I started out in education actually. I was a teacher for 9 years before switching over to publishing. I have always loved books and decided to get my MFA in creative writing instead of pursuing a Masters in Education. My school offered a publishing certificate program and I decided to take some publishing courses. I had the privilege of meeting publishing veterans who are my dear friends to this day. They have nurtured and guided me in my career and I am so grateful for their love and support.
Tell us about Riverchild Media
In October of 2019 my position at Simon & Schuster, one that I proudly held for 13 years, was eliminated and I was devastated. After taking some time to grieve the loss, I got back on the horse and went out on the trail to find another publicity director position in publishing. Then the unexpected happened--COVID hit and everyone was now focused on remaining healthy. Job opportunities that matched my skill set just weren't there. I pondered long and hard about what my next steps would be. Being the spiritual person that I am, I heard my mother's voice in my head. She said, "Na," that was her nickname for me, “it's time for you to do your own thing!” I ignored the voice for months and continued to look for another publishing gig. But mommy, being mommy, was relentless. She whispered in my ear again and this time I chose to listen. I figured if the biggest cheerleader I ever had was encouraging me to strike out on my own, who was I to question her? I decided to push past my fear and doubt and Riverchild Media was born. Once I announced I was back in the business, many of my old contacts supported and continue to support my new endeavor.
In your opinion, what makes a book worthy of becoming a film?
It's really all about the heart of the story. The films that most resonate with people are those that are revelatory, heartfelt, honest and transparent.
Who are some notable people you've worked with?
I have had the distinct pleasure of working with a long list of entertainment and literary luminaries such as Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange, Kevin Hart, Common, Taraji P Henson, Blair Underwood, Dionne Warwick, Issa Rae, Zane Dr. Tererai Trent, Janet Mock, TJ Jakes, George Clinton, Charlie Wilson, Lauren Bacall...I have truly been blessed in my career.
What projects are you most proud of?
I love what I do and I bring that passion into all of my campaigns. While I am always excited to work on a book that ultimately becomes a New York Times Best Seller, I am most proud of books that move people, books that are transformative. One of my favorite books was AWAKENED WOMAN by Dr. Tererai Trent. Here is a woman who beat all the odds to realize her dream of getting her high school diploma, Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral degrees! She grew up in a society that devalued women and did not see the purpose of educating young girls. She broke that cycle and instead of passing the baton of poverty and illiteracy, she passed on the baton of hope and accomplishment to her children who all have advanced degrees. Hearing her story changed my life and whenever I feel defeated, anxious or fearful, I think of her and I stand tall and move forward. She is truly an inspiration. Working with her is why I love what I do. I am able to help women like her tell her story and she serves as a powerful example to other women who are trying to find their way.
What do you want for the future—for yourself, the publishing industry and how it could better collaborate with the film industry?
I would like to see my dream of a platform-building program I am creating. She IS...coming into fruition. It was born from another vision I had years ago (and before you ask, YES mommy had a hand in this one, too). I wanted to create a program where I could help to elevate and amplify the voices of women of color globally. I want these women to provide "soul food" in the form of books, TV and possibly file to various communities. I can't tell you how often I saw missed opportunities for authors in particular in mainstream publishing, all because they were more concerned about the dollar. While I understand that publishing is a business, I firmly believe there is a way to work with these women to create marketing and publicity campaigns for books and still make a profit. It requires careful, thoughtful planning and oftentimes no one wanted to take the time to do that. If something wasn't an instant best seller, they would forget the book and the author and move on to the next book instead of taking a little more time to figure out what could be done better.
As for collaborating with the publishing industry, I would say to give underrepresented people and their stories a shot! We live in a diverse world with people from all walks of life. Instead of focusing on differences, let's look for similarities in terms of life experiences. I think people would be surprised to know that their neighbor who may be from a different cultural, social, political or economic background may have more in common with them than they thought. It's THOSE stories the entertainment industry should seek out. If we focus on the heart and spirit of people, we will find a thread that ties us all together. There is nothing wrong with letting love and compassion direct our movements and decisions. As the late Maya Angelou once said, "I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision."
If the publishing and entertainment industry dared to move in this way, I can't imagine the magic they would create.