Jessica Alex is the founder of children’s book publisher Upon A Star Books Inc. as well as its subsidiary Jessica Alex Marketing. An author herself, Jessica founded Upon A Star to publish her own book, What If the World Had No Colour?, and soon began working with other authors and illustrators, before launching a second business focused specifically on marketing. She was a part of the Winners’ Circle in a previous issue of The Edge, and this is part of that conversation.
You created the free publication Urban Voice when you were 17. How did that experience shape you?
I think creating a business while still in high school helped me to realize that anything is possible. I didn’t let age stop me from making something happen. Specifically, in running a newspaper I was able to learn a lot of valuable skills like design, publishing, and marketing. I also learned how much I love being an entrepreneur.
What inspired you to create Upon A Star Books Inc.?
I always had a love for writing, and back in 2012 I planned to publish my first book. I started researching various publishing companies and realized I needed a literary agent. I attended an “Authors and Artists” networking event where I was able to have a great conversation with one of the authors. Upon speaking to him I explained that I was looking to publish a book of short stories, but I realized that short stories weren’t as popular. He agreed that short stories were becoming a dying breed and that’s when I remembered that I had written a children’s book a few years back that was just sitting there. When he heard that, he said, “Well, why don’t you publish that – and if you have an entrepreneurial spirit why don’t you try self-publishing?” Admittedly, I missed having my own business. So instead of just self-publishing through an online third-party service, I decided to go the entrepreneurial route and start my own book publishing company
How integrated are Upon A Star Books and Jessica Alex Marketing? Is it difficult managing both companies simultaneously?
Jessica Alex Marketing is a division of Upon A Star Books Inc. This division came about organically. I also assisted my publishing clients with marketing, and from there I started receiving referrals and inquiries about marketing from authors that hadn’t published with me. I kept receiving referrals – and I decided to start a new division so that even authors who weren’t referred to me wouldn’t feel obligated to publish with me in order to receive my marketing services. It is a lot of work managing various clients at the same time, but I do it because I am passionate about it.
When and why did you decide to expand and create a company to specifically focus on marketing?
I made the transition in 2016, and the expansion continues. I love working with authors, but I also see the challenges that other small businesses are faced with and have opened my services to help not only authors, but businesses too. What can I say, I love being a problem-solver!
What have you learned about growing and developing your own business(es)?
I’ve learned that it takes time, planning, patience, and hard work. Growing a company can be a scary thing, full of what-ifs or worrying about making the wrong pivots – but I’ve learned that you have to take a leap of faith. I’ve also learned how important it is to have help. So I have aligned myself with people that can help me in providing the various services for my clients.
With both of your companies, you’ve targeted niche markets (children’s/YA publishing, publishing-related marketing and PR) rather than taking a broader, everything-under-the-sun approach… How important has that strategy been to your success?
I remember one of my family members calling me a jack-of-all-trades, and one of my aunts chimed in saying, “But be careful not to become a master of none.” Those words have resonated with me over the years. In a way I have become a one stop shop for my publishing clients, offering them publishing/printing services, editing, illustrations, and marketing; but again, I have aligned myself with great editors, printers and illustrators to help everything come together. With Jessica Alex Marketing, although I am expanding to work with businesses, my services are continuing to be more streamlined.
Much has been said about “building an author platform” before a book comes out. Is there truth in that statement?
I agree with that statement. It’s something that I encourage authors to do. Overall, building a brand is very important. For example, if someone is writing a book as an “expert,” that aspiring author should build their credibility and brand before releasing their books. Building an online presence is important too. Sometimes I work with clients that do not have an online presence before their book is released, but in the long run it helps to have a fanbase before the book is published so that there is a demand for your book.
How important to you and your businesses is social responsibility and giving back?
Social responsibility has been a part of my business from the beginning. Whether it’s donating proceeds from book sales or hosting fundraisers, giving back is so important because this life is so much bigger than just one person. If we all take the time to give back, whether monetarily or with our time, it will make a difference, making this world a better place. It might sound cliché, but I believe it to be true!
Shirley Graham | Editor-at-Large