This week I sat down with Janae Marks, the critically acclaimed author of middle grade novels From the Desk of Zoe Washington and A Soft Place to Land. We get to hear about her journey from writing as a side hustle to becoming a full time author. Now, her best selling book is soon to be a Disney Original movie, produced by Kerry Washington!
In episode 328 Janae shares:
- How impactful and important her novels are for young Black kids
- How to get started as a new author and the reality of how long the process all takes
- The pros and cons of self-publishing vs pitching a publishing house
- How Disney Channel picked up her novel to become an original movie, executive produced by Kerry Washington
Links mentioned in this episode
- Tufts University: https://www.tufts.edu/
- The New School Masters Program: https://www.newschool.edu/writing/
- Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: https://www.scbwi.org/
- Simon and Schuster: https://www.simonandschuster.com/
- Harper Collins: https://www.harpercollins.com/
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Guest Social Media Info
Janae’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/janaemarksbooks/
Janae’s Website: http://www.janaemarks.com
Nicaila Matthews Okome 0:00
Hey friends Hey, I'm so excited to announce that side hustle Pro is officially part of the HubSpot Podcast Network family. That's right. Your girl is on our network after six years of being an independent and if you don't know HubSpot is the audio destination for business professionals. Make sure you check out shows like being bossed with Emily Thompson, or online marketing made easy with Amy Porterfield, one of my personal favorites, and my new favorite, my first million All right, I am so excited to be a part of the network you guys so check out all of these shows and more at hubspot.com/podcast network. Seriously, listening to side hustle Pro, the podcast that teaches you to build and grow your side hustle from passion project to profitable business, and I'm your host Nicaila Matthews Okome. So let's get started.
Hey, guys, hey, welcome. Welcome back to the show. It's Nicaila here, and today in the guest chair. I have Janae Marks. Janae is the critically acclaimed author of middle grade novels From the Desk of Zoe Washington, a soft place to land and on air with Zoe Washington, which releases on February 14 2023. Today is also part of the middle grade anthology hope wins Edited by rosebrook. And her novels have been named Best Book of the Year by Parents Magazine, Chicago Public Library, the Boston Globe, Bank Street College of Education and others. And from the desk of Zoe Washington is currently in development with Disney branded television to become an original movie executive produced by Kerry Washington today grew up in the New York city suburbs where she loved to read and write and she holds a BA in English literature from Tufts University, and a Master of Fine Arts and writing for children from the new school. So Janae, and I actually met through her cousin Marlena, who is my line sister, and just my dear friend who has always shared with me bits and pieces of Jenny's journey. And of course, we've seen each other at gatherings. And I've always been inspired by from afar and followed along. And once the books came out, I was so excited about them, and to actually see them in the store on bookshelves, and more and more of wanting to feature an author on the show. So it was just perfect timing for me to finally reach out to Janae to have her in the guest chair. And I'm so excited that she said yes, you guys, this episode was really educational for me. And it was also a reminder of how important it is to treasure your side hustle, what is just a side hustle, because the time will come when it's a busy business that requires so much of you deadlines, and stakeholders and all this other stuff. But it's that creative time, that passion time when you can just be free to develop it as you wish that is building the building blocks and the foundation for what is to come. So enjoy it. And now let's get right into it.
Hello, today, welcome to the guest chair of side hustle Pro.
Janae Marks 3:12
Hello, thank you so much for having me.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 3:14
Oh, of course, of course. Now, I already told the Fun fact, your intro about how we know each other. But what I don't know is how this whole writing author publishing world works, right. And I would love to know like First things first, you have a BA in English literature. And then you have your Master of Fine Arts in writing for children. So did you always kind of see yourself as an author one day.
Janae Marks 3:41
So I did not always see myself as an author. When I was a kid, I definitely loved to read a lot. I was always an avid reader. And I did enjoy writing for fun as a kid. But it did not think that I would become an author. When I was growing up. I just it was just something to do on the side for fun. When I went to college, became an English major and started taking creative writing classes. That's where it started to be more of an interest to me. And I started to realize that I could actually do this. And I when I was in college, I actually really wanted to study English to go into working in publishing. So like behind the scenes that publishing house. And I did do that for the first seven years out of college. But you know, in being in these creative writing classes, and even also just being at that public ones, I actually started working for one of the publishers, I worked for Simon and Schuster, you know, seeing all the books on the shelves, and realizing how much I did enjoy creative writing. And I started to see like, Oh, that would be really cool if I could be one of those authors that we you know, whose books we publish here and things like that. So I would say that the dream started probably in college and then got even more when I when I decided to go back to school to get that master's so
Nicaila Matthews Okome 4:44
amazing. You work for Simon and Schuster, which is like one of the most well known publishers I mean, even I know that I haven't worked in publishing whatsoever. As you were there. Did you start writing on the side like the first few years or were you just focused on doing your work? work and being the best that you could be at your job.
Janae Marks 5:02
I, you know, I definitely still tried to do my best at work. But I also was at that time writing on the side, I went to school. So the master's program I went to, I worked at the same time. So I was working at something at certain and getting that master's degree because fortunately, the new school where I went, all the classes were at night for the graduates. So it was really easy. It was challenging to juggle the two, but it was possible, like I could go from work to a class, you know, a couple times a week, and then whatever else. So yeah, I was doing a lot of writing on the side after work, I would go to coffee shops, you know, things like that. This is when I was still living in New York. And then, you know, on the weekends, you know, I a lot of my weekend time had to go to writing in return and other things. So yeah, it definitely felt more like a side hustle at that time, especially because I wasn't, you know, at that point, I was still aspiring to be published, I
Nicaila Matthews Okome 5:47
was still trying to figure it all out. Did you have to have a complete book by the end of your master's program that did the beginnings of your first novel come through the program?
Janae Marks 5:57
Yeah, they did. The first novel that I wrote that it did not end up getting published. So the book, the first book that got published was actually the fourth book that I ever wrote, oh, wow, first book back in, you know, that first book that never ended up going anywhere, I started it in the master's program, I didn't finish it during the program, because they didn't have a requirement that you had to have a full book, you just had to have a certain number of pages. So I was kind of working on different things throughout the program. So I kind of started really working on this book toward the end of the program. And so I got, you know, a good chunk of it done. And then I finished it after the program, with the help of a lot of the, you know, the same writer friends that I made in the program, they continue to be my critique partners for years to come. So we kind of you know, continue to share my work with them and find other ways to continue learning and getting feedback, you know, even after the program was done. And so, yeah, so it took a long time, though, for me to get published, I had to write four books. And this is over the course of like, 10 years, because I graduated from or I started the program in the master's program in 2008. graduated in 2010. But didn't get my first book deal until 2018. So it was another I love that you
Nicaila Matthews Okome 7:03
share that timeline. Yes, yeah,
Janae Marks 7:06
it was another eight years after graduating, and I was I honestly thought, you know, because there's so many alumni from my graduate program, who go off to publish immediately after I really thought I was gonna be one of those people. I was like, Yeah, you know, I'm going to graduate, you know, I'm going to get discovered, and then it didn't happen that way it was. So I definitely talked about this a lot when I do school visits with kids that it's okay, if your journey takes a longer time, you know, there's a lot of twists and turns along the way, it's fine. Normal for most people, you just got to keep going. Perseverance is so key to all of it. So
Nicaila Matthews Okome 7:34
normal gets normalized that that this like idea that you're going to come out, and especially in our 20s, right, we think everything's supposed to just happen in our 20s like, boom, boom, boom. But a lot of stuff starts to come together as you get older as you have the experience under your belt. So you have four books under your belt, as you're writing those books. What was it about those first books that made them not get published?
Janae Marks 8:01
Yeah, I think the first one for Well, first of all, I think it took me a few books into realize what I was meant to be writing. So the to all the novels that I've published, that I've actually gotten published have all been middle grade, and that is for the age range eight to 12. So typically, the main character is around 12 years old, just think about like, you know, the, the books you might have read in middle school. And I was writing slightly older stuff, the stuff that I wrote in graduate school, and then a couple books after that were all young adult, which is slightly older, you know, teens, because I was what was so popular with Twilight and the Hunger Games being so popular, like I just and I was working at Simon and Schuster in the children's division, there's so many white books on the shelves. I thought that's what I wanted to write. But I think part of it may have been that my voice really wasn't right for it. I think my voice kind of skewed younger. So that might have been one thing, it was just a lot of I think it really just was not the right story at the right time, kind of a situation, I think I you know, I knew that I was a good writer, still, I got a lot of really good feedback. What so when you want to get published the first step, traditionally, the first episode, get a literary agent. So I'm sending out these books, these first books to literary agents in the hopes of the one to represent me. And a lot of them would give me nice feedback on those earlier projects. Like they would say, like, I liked the writing, you know, I liked the characters, but they would say, but this book just wasn't something about it just didn't feel marketable, or, you know, it was maybe too quiet, or they just didn't know who they would sell it to. So there's a lot of things that are out of your control as a writer, because it's a lot about the market what they think will sell, you know, so I think what ended up happening is I started writing from the desk of Zoey Washington, which is my debut. And I thought it was also going to be a young adult novel, but a critique partner gave me this feedback that you know, it sounded like it actually could be a good middle grade book. And so I switched and I think that was kind of the key for me realizing that I should have been writing for a younger audience and so that one I mean, for multiple reasons was much more successful. Yeah, but also like every book you get better you know, those I look back at that first book, and I don't actually think you know, it's fine, but like, I'm kind of very like not great compared to anything I've done now,
Nicaila Matthews Okome 10:01
that is very insightful. And it's interesting that you touched on a few things I want to send her right now. So number one, the voice like it takes time to cultivate. Yeah. And you know who you're writing for. It doesn't just happen right away, right? Also timing, timing is so key, and then also started to add luck. And then you start talking about the process. So those who are interested in writing, and you know, people have been asking me for an author on the show for a while. So those who are interested in writing want to know about the process. So you mentioned literary agents, but plural. So I always thought, Okay, you go out there, and you try to find one agent, when you said, you shopped it to agents? What does that mean? Like? How does that process work?
Janae Marks 10:45
So essentially, in order to find one that will represent you, you have to send your work out to as many as you can, because what they do, the process of querying them, they call it querying is you send them, you make a list of all the agents that you might want to have, like, if any of these were to say, yes, you'd be happy to have to work with one of them, and you send them out, you know, basically an email, that is a summary of what project, you're sending them a little bit about yourself, why you think they would be a good fit for you as a client, you send them a sample of your of your book, depending on what they want. And you email that out. And so the process of querying means sending out these emails, you know, I would send them out in like batches of 10, and then waiting for responses. And sometimes they would respond to say, I'm sorry, like, just based on this on your pitch alone, like, no, but thank you for reaching out, or no, oh, this sounds good. Can you I read the sample pages, can you send me the rest? Can I read the rest of the book? And then so you get one, either, but it takes months to get these responses sometimes, you know, so it's just a process. And as you go through it, eventually, if they read the whole book, they'll again either say, you know, I read the whole book, unfortunately, it's, it's not right for me, but you know, whatever. Or they'll say, actually, I love this, I would love to represent you. And that's ultimately, what ended up happening with the ZOE Washington book, when I because I sent out my first novel, the one that I started in graduate school, out to, I want to say, like, at least like 50 agents, you know, and that is waiting to hear from them sometimes during revisions based on feedback I got from them. And in the end, all of them ended up saying no, so you know, it's obviously hard. And this is months, it takes time to even hear from all of them. But then years later, when I sent out from the desk of Zoey Washington, I sent it out to maybe 12 agents total, before I started getting offers, and I ended up getting offers from more than one agent. So I had to choose, I got to choose which one I wanted to sign with. So that turned around, which kind of goes to show why that perseverance and just keep going keep writing eventually could lead you right, to really great places, so
Nicaila Matthews Okome 12:36
and did any of the agents you pitched Zoey Washington to were the people that you circle back with? So they'd seen your writing before? And then they just liked this project?
Janae Marks 12:45
Or a couple where they said, Oh, I really like your writing. This just isn't the right story for me, and then I kept them in mind. Okay, so next time I have something, I'll send it to them, I didn't end up signing with somebody that I had read my previous work, just because I don't think that person was an agent, like eight years before. Okay, but But yeah, like, I definitely reached out to agents that I reached out to before who were kind and even if they sent the rejection, did so in a way that made me feel like, okay, they might be willing to see more for me. And she said, this isn't the right story. But if I have a better story, they might be willing to,
Nicaila Matthews Okome 13:12
wow, I just learned so much from just that explanation. I think sometimes I would be if I didn't know this, I would be intimidated. And also kind of think, Oh, let me just wait to hear back from Ted, not knowing that I need to just keep on saying I
Janae Marks 13:25
mean, it is good to hear wait to hear back from a few I advise not to send out all 50 at once, because sometimes you do get feedback from them. And so that feedback can help you make some changes for you set it up for the next match. So it is good to you know, send out a few at a time, whatever you feel comfortable with, and wait to get some responses before sending out more. That's usually. But yeah, I mean, it's definitely a lot to learn about publishing, it's not something that is obvious to most people. So I you know, I definitely took advantage of all the information online, obviously, in my master's program, we touched upon some stuff, but also afterwards, I joined. There are a lot of writing organizations that you know, have chapters or either are based online, or even if they have in person, they have chapters all over the country, I ended up joining one called the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. And so it's like this, you know, organization to help aspiring writers kind of get all the knowledge they need. And they bring in a lot of amazing, they'll bring in, you know, editors and agents to come to conferences to talk to us about different things. So I definitely took advantage of that. And there are organizations like that for all kinds of writing and depending on what you want to do.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 14:29
So what does a literary agent actually do? So, since you worked internally at Simon and Schuster, I'm sure you are more familiar with this process. But are they the ones that pitch your book to the major publishers?
Janae Marks 14:41
Exactly? Yeah. So they form relationships with editors and the major publisher houses won't take submissions directly from writers because, you know, they're so big and they were just getting flooded, flooded with too many people, too many submissions. So instead, they rely on et agents to essentially be that first step to kind of tell you Yeah, vetted, essentially. And if they get a submission from an agent, and that agent already has a good relationship with that editor, meaning they've talked about what they like, what they don't like, then that editor is gonna be like, Oh, I already know that this editor agent knows what I'm into, I'm going to really pay attention to this. So it helps, it definitely helps you your work be seen. So yeah, they're kind of handling the business side of things for you, like they submit it to the publishers, that whole process, which also involves waiting, often, you know, like waiting to hear back from the editors. And then once the book sells, they handle the contract, you know, making sure that all the terms are ideal for you, they have your best interest in mind. One thing to keep in mind about agents is that agents only get paid when you get paid, they get a cut of your pay, never pay an agent to represent you. There are a lot of aspiring writers who don't know that like, and they'll find out that oh, this agent said, I could just pay them this much. And they'll be making no money flows to the author. So they just get a cut of whatever you make it you don't actually pay them anything directly. So they take care of the contract. And then any other sort of business, he things, sometimes agents will help you with foreign rights. So if your book sells in the US, and you want to try to get it sold to a country where they'll translate it, they'll take care of that often. So yeah, there's different things they'll do. But that's essentially they take care of like the business, the money helping make sure you're being taken care of by your publisher.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 16:15
Did you ever think about self publishing? If so why or why not?
Janae Marks 16:19
So I did not only mainly because there really isn't a huge market for self publishing children's books. I mean, people do it, but you're not necessarily you're probably having a lot harder time getting seen by your readers. Because you really rely like the people who are buying books for their kids, or teachers or librarians like they're relying on your book being in the library or a physical bookstore or on Amazon. I mean, yes, of course, there's Amazon or online retailers that if you self publish, your books can get on there. But I think that brick and mortar store, you know, and libraries is where a lot of parents, teachers go to get books for their classrooms and homes. And so I that's where the market is. And you know, I again, having worked for Simon Schuster, I just aspire to be like those authors, it was like I saw it, you know, I got to see behind the scenes, and it was so cool. And even when they would come in sometimes, and, you know, for, I don't know, like a meeting, they would bring in an author. And I'd be like, I want to be, you know, like, I didn't want to. And also the other thing about self publishing is, so much of the marketing, the sales, even the designing like of the book comes on you like you have to pay for that to be done. While if you get the publisher, they'll take care of that. So I think just for the kind of book that I'm writing, I think there are a lot of successful self published, like adult romance books, Thriller books, you know, I think adult books in general just do a lot better with that, because I think adults have their Kindle, they don't care, they're just going to grab the book. But I think for kids, you know, it makes sense to be in bookstores and libraries, they can find you easier.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 17:45
That is true, you do raise an important point because adults, we can go online and we can buy it anywhere we see the Instagram boom, kids can't, you know, find your
Janae Marks 17:55
gatekeepers or these gatekeepers, I have to help the kids find your book. So you need to make sure you know, they know where to find it.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 18:02
But that said it is challenging, right. So as you were doing all this, you're still working full time. How are you navigating the process of all this while working while continuing I'm sure revisions of your book, right?
Janae Marks 18:15
Yeah, so in the beginning, before it was published, it was a little bit easier, because I didn't have a deadline, I could just work on it, it was still you know, I had to make a point to dedicate time to do what I wanted to do. But it was on my own schedule, you know, I could say Alright, I'm gonna after work today, I'll just stop by you know, Starbucks, and I'll just like work for a few hours, or, you know, on a Saturday morning, I'll meet a friend at a coffee shop or something. And, and then once I got the book deal, though, that's when it got more challenging, because it's like, now I have a deadline. Like they, you know, I send them the Book and now they've given me this edit letter and I have to give them the you know, the revision back to them in time. And so that's when it got to be more challenging. Fortunately, by that point, I was I switched down to part time because I had my daughter by then and I had switched jobs so I wasn't working in publishing anymore. I was working here in Connecticut where we had moved and it was a part time job and so that helps because that three days a week I was going in two days a week I was home and at the time when I was writing my debut and editing it she was really little so she still napped so I would take advantage of nap times. I often even this is like definitely pre pandemic times but I used to wake up early on purpose like can't do that anymore. I feel like I got the pandemic broke me but he's gonna wake up early and just like want to be up and now I'm too tired for that but yeah, so I'd wake up early and right before work before Linda would get out my daughter and stuff like that so I yeah so and then I would take advantage again of evening sometimes although it's hard I'm moreover I wouldn't be more of a wake up early than an evening work after bedtime person because I'm not much of a night I can relate to that. took advantage of weekends. Unfortunately my husband was you know, willing to kind of be like alright, like you can go like I don't mind you know taking over parenting for the day. Whatever. So I would go to, you know, again, the library or a coffee shop, leave the house, essentially, to get more work done on the weekend. So that's how it was for that amount of time. And then when my daughter got to preschool and was going to a place, and I had my two days free, those two days off of work, that's when I would get the bulk of my work done. And that was really helpful. So yeah, that's kind of how I was doing it while juggling things. But you know, is definitely challenging. And honestly, like, a lot of authors, that's what they do, they don't have the ability to leave their jobs. Some do, obviously, but a lot don't. So a lot of them do have to just figure out the times, you know, right morning in the evenings on the weekends, squeeze
Nicaila Matthews Okome 20:37
it in. That's that's the side hustle life we talked about around here like squeezing it in? And is it helpful to have like a partner in this, like, he talks about meeting up with a friend, just someone who is on that journey with you. So guys, like touch base? And yeah, I
Janae Marks 20:53
think in this field is, you know, it's such a solitary thing, being an author, you're just sitting there with your own computer and not really talking to anybody. And so I think it can be good to make friends who are doing similar things. That way, you can just meet up with them. And even if you're just on your computers quietly, you can chat in between, you know, your writing sessions, you can talk about what you're going through how that compares to what they're going through, you could feel less alone. So yeah, I definitely made a lot of writing friends along the way some local and the local ones, we made a point, especially before the pandemic to meet up, you know, we would meet at a Panera once or twice a month where it's you could just park there at a seat for a long time, and they don't seem to care. So another thing we would do is writing retreats. So we would, you know, I said this to my husband, one of my husband's friends and they're like writing retreat, is that just like, a way of saying like your mom, or just like going off and that a spa retreats? Like we work? It's not really it's a retreat, but it's not. Anyway, so we basically would, you know,
Nicaila Matthews Okome 21:47
throw in the word retriever.
Janae Marks 21:49
He was like, your way of saying you just want to like get away from parenting. I was like, No, I have work to do. But we would rent an Airbnb, you know, driving distance, very inexpensive, and just, you know, split it and just like go there for the long weekend, maybe from Friday to Sunday or Friday to Monday and, and spend majority of our time writing and of course, we would chat in between and maybe eat our meals together and hang out but also get a lot of work done. And that's been super helpful.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 22:14
Oh, I think a lot of people listen, I'm gonna steal that idea. It doesn't just have to be for writing. Okay, guys, let's do this. Okay, well, we're
Janae Marks 22:25
not accountability of somebody, you just look cross. And that other person is like, focus on what they're doing. Yeah, it keeps you focused, I even do it on Zoom. Now, there's a few, you know, now that we're, you know, in this post pandemic lifestyle, I've kind of connected with some writers, or we'll just hop on a zoom, and just be like, we even just mute ourselves and turn off our cameras during the writing session, but it's like, you know, that we'll check in with each other in 30 minutes. So you're gonna want to be like, in 30 minutes while I didn't do anything, you know. So for a little bit, you're like, Okay, I'm gonna do the work. So I highly recommend no matter what you do, like I was showing, right? Yeah, I've met up with other friends who don't write at coffee shops to just say like, Hey, if you have work to get done, we can meet, you know, we can meet up. And
Nicaila Matthews Okome 23:06
yeah, so I love this. So let's talk a little bit about your debut novel. Now. Now you're up to three, right? But let's go back to the original the first one. So tell us about the premise and you know, your inspiration for writing it?
Janae Marks 23:21
Sure. So from the desk of Zoey Washington is about 12 year old Zoey, she is really into baking and aspires to her big dream is to win this kid's baking competition on the Food Network called big kid big challenge. But on our 12th birthday, she unexpectedly received a letter from her father, who she's actually never met before, because he's been in prison her whole life. And so she decides to write back and in getting to know him through their back and forth letters, she ends up finding out something pretty surprising to her, which is that he might be innocent of his crime. And so then the rest of the book is a mystery. He tries to uncover the truth about what happened to him. So that's what from Sky washing is all about.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 23:58
I love that that's such a unique and, you know, very specific twist. So what inspired you to make this the background?
Janae Marks 24:05
Yeah, so I back in 2014 was really into this podcast, I don't know if you've listened to it serial s er, Al. was obsessed with it back then. That case that they shared in the first season. And it was essentially, you know, a case of a possible wrongful conviction, which I think has now kind of maybe been proven to be a wrongful conviction, because the guy has been released. But yeah, he's been released. Yeah. So at the time, you know, it was like a question of whether or not he was but it was super compelling podcast. And it just got me thinking about this idea of wrongful convictions. And so I started just looking, you know, I had this germ of an idea, like, what if I wrote about something that involves that and sort of doing research about you know, learning more about this problem, and then again, because I like writing for kids, I automatically thought of like, what would it be like to be the kid of somebody in this position? And it kind of just started like piecing together some details from there. And yeah, that was kind of the first inspiration and then you know, I added other things like the baking I add Because I knew this being such a, you know, like an intense topic. It'd be nice to have some other things in there to kind of like, you know, have some moments of levity. So there's definitely a lot of thinking throughout. So, you know, as you're reading it, it doesn't feel all intense, and, you know, and serious all the time. And there's also a friendship story because friendship stories are very common in young books. But also, like when I was in middle school, friendship, drama was definitely different things. But yeah, it was kind of really cereal that podcast kind of was the first spark for me.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 25:36
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So once the literary agent took you on as a client, what happened next, like what was the process? And how long did it take to go from there to being published?
Janae Marks 26:57
Yeah, so this actually was where things got really fast. So it was like a very long drawn out process for me to get an agent in the first place. Like, like I said, years, but then I signed with the agent in early or at, let's say, I think early December 2017. So we're coming up on the anniversary of that. And then he my agent read, you know, he read the draft again. And sometimes agents will have you revise with them again, after they sign you because maybe they feel like they have some additional feedback to give. But in this case, he said he felt like it was good enough to send out to editors, let's let them you know, just get it and they can give their feedback. And so he sent it out, I want to say like an early 2018. So after the new year, and within a few weeks, we had our first offer. So it was like so fast. And then what ends up happening was and actually the funny thing is the first offer was from Simon and Schuster. And it was actually somebody I knew. So I like that one was kind of like, you know, I was like a one connection I had was I have this friend who still edits there. But it ended up not, you know, it ended up becoming a bigger thing. Because once they got the one offer, the agent went and sent it out, sent that news to all the remaining editors who were still considering it and said, Hey, if you want to put it on offer, here's your deadline essentially became an auction with a call on the in the literary book worlds like a literary auction like so essentially, you're telling the publishers, if you want to put your bid in, here's the deadline entered in and then we'll we'll take a look at all of them. And we'll decide. And so that's what end up happening. So multiple publishers ended up other publishers ended up putting in a bid. And so we ended up with five offers or offers that I got to choose between. And we ended up going with HarperCollins. Even though it's kind of sad not to go with Simon Schuster, just because their offer honestly was just better. So at that point, it was had to just kind of be like a combination of a business decision. But also I really liked the editor as well. And she had some really great feedback. So yeah, so again, that was a whirlwind. So I think by it was all settled. And that was like last few months after getting an agent in the first place. So
Nicaila Matthews Okome 28:54
you've mentioned editor and publisher kind of interchangeably, is the editor, the decision maker at the publisher,
Janae Marks 29:01
kind of they're the one who sort of is mostly in charge of your book at the publishing house, they're the ones who are kind of, you know, there are other teams that will check your book, you know, obviously, like publicity and marketing will help you somebody wrote but like your editor is the one at the publishing house who's like is in charge of your book. So they're working with the other teams and departments, but they're the ones who offer on the book, who edit the book, and who kind of make sure that all those other steps are taking place before you know any time for it to come out. So having a relationship with your editor is important because you know, they're gonna be the ones who within the publishing house, we'll be making sure that everybody else is excited about it. Like if they're excited, then they'll go to all those meetings that they have in house and like share that excitement and then everybody else will be excited. So it's like they you need to have that kind of editor who like really, you know, behind the scenes the best that you can get at the publishing house because even just within publishing once you get that deal not everything's created equal, not every pump every book can get the same amount of attention, marketing dollars, etc. And so having an editor push for you helps a lot.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 29:58
Yes, I'm so glad you mentioned that, because we see it we see with everything, whether it's TV film, like, not everything gets the same amount of promotion and marketing. But, you know, let's just take a second to first of all, just congratulate you. I mean, how exciting. How exciting. Was that to, like, get an offer from a publishing house? And then be about to, you know, see your published? Yeah, I
Janae Marks 30:21
mean, it definitely was a whirlwind dream come true moment, honestly, like, hard to believe at times. Yeah.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 30:27
Now, and then once you got the offer, how long until it was published?
Janae Marks 30:32
So that it was two years. So it's a long process. So it's such a long process. So it was January, I would say, like February or so of 2018. March, it didn't come out until January 2020. Wow, no. And that's normal books usually take about 18 months to two years to come. Like, it can be faster for subsequent books, you know, because you wouldn't have that relisted with your editor, potentially, if they buy your next book. And it's a quick, it could be a quicker process. But with this, it was a long process, we had to, you know, we ended up waiting, like, there's a lot of things that happened behind the scenes, even before you start editing, like they had to wait for the contract to be negotiated, and didn't even like announce it until that was happening. And then we started the edits and the edits, we do multiple rounds with your editor. So that takes months because we're going back and forth. And then there's a certain part where you're done like you've done everything you need to do, but then there's other teams doing things like the sale, the publicity, the marketing, the designers with the design, the cover, you know, there's other things that they have to do. And yeah, they project really far out. So they know, way in advance what books are coming out. So it's like, okay, now with the new and the winter, you know, beginning part of 2018, what books were going to be coming out two years later. So that's like the list. So they like position things based on, you know, certain they put certain books out during certain times of year. And so they start creating these lists. And they know so far ahead, like I'm currently right now, editing are going to be start editing soon, the book that's going to come out in 2024. So it's like they know, in advance how far you know what books are going to be coming?
Nicaila Matthews Okome 32:03
That is incredible. I guess I've kind of heard of the timeline. But you know, I, for some reason, just didn't fully wrap my mind around it. And that's even more impressive. Janae because here you are, you got published in 2020, January, right before the pandemic. And for it to have just been as successful as it is, I mean, because we know, it's not just about we know that you're an amazing writer, right? It's not just like all these things, all these factors have to collide, to support this book, getting the attention that it deserves, especially in a really hectic time in the world. So what do you think was part of the success? Like? Was it your amazing team at HarperCollins? Are there certain things that you did like virtual book tours, that helped with the success of your inaugural book?
Janae Marks 32:53
Yeah, I think it was a combination of things like publisher definitely did a lot. They really did support the book from the beginning. So I was fortunate that even though I was a debut author, they really did, they were very excited about the book of the sales team was excited. And that's a team that you want to be most excited, because then they're gonna go out and make sure all the bookstores know about it and buy it. So I think that helps a lot. They did a lot of, you know, like, different publicity things in marketing things, you know, behind the scenes to help make sure that the gatekeepers that we're talking about know about it. And then I think so that was part of it. And then I'm actually I was supposed to even go on a book tour like that they were sponsoring with two other middle grade authors. And it was supposed to be basically like the week of March, whatever, that everything shut down. So cool that they thought of me to be part of it. So I was like, ah, at least I got invited to be on a tour, even if I didn't get to go on it. So yeah, I did end up pivoting a lot of things to virtual that might have helped to. But I think one of the big things, which is kind of a weird thing is that 2020 was also the year that like the Black Lives Matter movement, you know, had a resurgence and a lot more people there was that like hashtag amplify black voices. And like all these initiatives that people were doing to try to promote black books and stories and things by black authors. I think that definitely helps me because they put, you know, my book ended up on a lot of lists. It's kind of unfortunate, because now only a couple years later, a lot of these books are being banned from places around the country. So it's kind of a different climate now. But yeah, at that time, I was in a positive climate in terms of reading diverse books. Yeah. So I think that really helped my book get seen as well. And I don't know, and I think maybe it was just again, the timing and luck. I think this is a story that people just really, you know, maybe they just were again, they were intrigued by this idea,
Nicaila Matthews Okome 34:47
wonderful book, from the cover, to the story to the writing. And I think that once people see that and realize that there's really something magic about it, there's something unique about it that you don't see every day and I do I think that as people started to highlight, because you're not the first site has progressed that has said this, right, like, oh 2020 was a time when people actually, were putting more emphasis on getting to know black owned businesses black things. And so we could dissect and find negatives in that, however positive and it is that these well deserved businesses and well deserved authors got amplify platform. And so now, you have these opportunities, and it's so well deserved so Alright, so now you're up to, I thought it was three books, but you're talking about one that's coming out in 2024. I thought it was. There's a book coming out in 2023. Right.
Janae Marks 35:41
Yeah. So that one coming out in 2023 is the sequel to the ZOE Washington book. That one comes out on Wednesday. And then the fourth book that has not been announced, not been shared anywhere yet. I'm just working on it. So.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 35:51
Okay, got it. Alright, so at this point, are you still working part time? Are you full time author?
Janae Marks 35:58
No, I am now a full time author as of last June. So it's been for a few months now.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 36:05
That lifestyle, like you know, as far as the feeling of security, monetary wise, like you, you get these big deals that you write, then you have to get another big deal, right? Like, how does it work? Yeah,
Janae Marks 36:15
it definitely is a different, it's taken some getting used to, because I was you know, I'm that kind of person who, you know, when you have that steady, you know, by monthly or weekly paycheck, you feel comfortable, you're like, I can know what I'm doing. This was a little bit of a scary leap to take because I basically had a lot of author money saves that I was like, okay, like I have enough, you know, that I can wait till the next amount that I get, and I think will be good. But part of what made me feel comfortable making this leap was, well, first I was I did have these deals, and I did unfortunately get paid, you know, Harper's is paying me pretty well for my books, at least, you know, for a newer author. And those payments come in in pieces. So you don't get it all at once you get some of it, you know, when you sign the contract some of it when you finish editing the book, and some of it when the book comes out. And so it's like you get like what you potentially can get multiple payments over over a few years. But I also started doing a lot of school visits. That's kind of in school visits, you know, they pay authors, the OB schools will pay authors, authors get paid to do these visits. And so as I was doing more and more of these visits, they sorted it out virtually. And then and then eventually, as of last spring started to become more in person. And now they're much more in person. Again, like it's another little side hustle for an honor, because you can do these, these school visits, you know, that takes some of your time. But like they're really rewarding, because you get to actually chat with the kids. But also like you get paid, you get compensated. So as I was getting enough of those, I started to realize like in a month, I'm making more from my school visits and my like, part time nonprofit job. Wasn't really making that much to begin with in that job. So I realized, like if i As long as I can keep this up, and that's the thing, that's scary, because it's like, what if I can't keep this number? What if something changes? And that was partly my husband being like, relax, just quit your job. Like he was?
Nicaila Matthews Okome 38:01
Like, shout out to supportive husband.
Janae Marks 38:04
I was like, I don't know, maybe I'll wait till the end of the year. And he's like, why don't you wait, why did you summer like, because I know summer is a busy time in the job that I had recently. And so he's like, do it before it gets crazy at work. And I don't know, I hadn't, he had to kind of push me to take the leap. But so far, it's been working out fine. And I think, you know, I hope that I will continue to sell books to my publisher and get the school visits and all the other things, you know, another side hustle for authors is to is teaching like sometimes teaching workshops here and there or, you know, you know, so like, there's just little things that I've heard other authors do. It's definitely a topic of conversation in the community of like, what else can you do to make money? Because the publishing deals, sometimes they don't always work out the you know, the timing, you know, and you might need some income in between those deals. So, yes, fortunately, I'm in a good place now. But yeah, hopefully, and also, being married makes a big difference. I didn't have to worry about my health insurance, you know, like I have my spouse's health insurance, things like that, that if you're a single person writer, it's a little bit harder to make that choice, you know, because I fortunately, in this country, those kinds of benefits are hard to get otherwise. So yeah. Yeah, yeah. That's essentially kind of what helped me make the leap. And I'm really happy I did it. It's been a learning curve, just how to spend my time how to figure out my time, but it's been it's been rewarding.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 39:19
That question that you mentioned, is really so important. That's the number one thing that I think you have to address before you make the leap. It's you know, but can I keep this up? Yeah. Can I keep this up that fear that all right, things are good right now, but what can happen? And the hard part is the reality is you never know what can happen. No one could have predicted or make like, you just never know.
Janae Marks 39:43
And I imagined that it's similar with other entrepreneurs where you're having a product like you can't control always like who buys your product, you know, like, I can, I hope people will continue buying the book and that's why I'm excited about the movie because eventually that comes out. That'll help you know, get people continue to be excited about things books, but you just never know if like, eventually the books are just gonna get forgotten about or you know, people are going to be like, nevermind, I want you for my school visit, or I mentioned that. Fortunately, the book bedding hasn't really affected me too much. But it's definitely a concern, you know, challenges the country, like often about like, there are places that are in school districts and things that are challenging or banning books that literally all it'll have is just featuring an LGBTQ or minority. Like, literally, that's all it needs to do to fit their criteria of we don't want this. And even I've gotten a few passages over time of people being angry about my book, I'm not too many, fortunately, but a few people who are angry about the certain things that it talks about, and you know, and you can tell, like, what their where their politics might lie based on their the way that they are saying it, you know, so like, it's just, it's unfortunate. But again, that's also a scary Fortunately, it's not been affecting me too much. But you never know what could happen. So you never
Nicaila Matthews Okome 40:54
know. But I will say you touched on the movie. So we have to talk a little bit more about that. I need to know, how does one write a book? And then, you know, now Kerry Washington is set to produce it as a movie, how does that work?
Janae Marks 41:12
So yeah, so my literary agent at the agency, they have a film agent, but also so they have a film agent depart like a film department. So they have agents who will take books that they represent in the agency and send them out to the different people who work on movies, whether it's producers, directors, things like that studios. In my case, my agent actually decided to work with a different film, a film agent and a different bigger, like agency that does a lot more film stuff. And this particular agent works with a lot of books to film. So he started working with him, and just sent to my book and said, Hey, like we'd love it, if you could shop this around, he did. And kind of similar with the book, like we got an we ended up getting interest from a smaller producer, who kind of started the cuts, that was the first interest. And so we ended up I had a like a call with them. And they kind of talked to me about it. And then that agent then kind of did similar things with the book went around and said, Hey, we haven't just from this one producer, anybody else have interest and that's of interest. And so then they swapped slept in. And I had a call with them, you know, they're t and this is Disney Channel. So it'll be like a Disney Channel Original Movie, which is great, because I feel like that's like exam was a reach. So I had a call with their team. And then the film agents was able to help negotiate the deal. The way it works is they basically license it's like it's an they're optioning the right to the movie, which means it's you're essentially paying you to be the only ones who can even work on it. And then they decide to make the movie, they pay you to actually buy the right so they have it their option the rights right now. So the tough thing is that it takes a long time. And also this happened during the pandemic. So a lot of projects had been delayed and they need to work on now that they couldn't work before. So I don't know the timeline, but I do know the last I heard is that they have a screenwriter working on the script. So I got it and I still come in it's like articles were like either Disney or or Kerry Washington's production company was part of the article and at the bottom, they were like upcoming, just conclude. And I was like, oh, it's still on there. Okay, good. Hard to not have any, it's hard you get so few updates when it's like this, but
Nicaila Matthews Okome 43:21
my question for you is, are you ready for what's about to come? Because I feel like we're speaking now and I feel like we're speaking before major shifts in your life and career. And I could tell like I don't even think you wrap your mind your mind around
Janae Marks 43:37
other authors who've gone through this I don't know if you're familiar with Angie Thomas, who wrote give and that was yes, yeah. So like it's it's interesting to see like from and she's even more involved in her most she was like executive producer for movies. So she was like more involved. But it's interesting to see like what I mean I don't know that I'm on that level but it's just like you see what happens it's cool but ya know, I don't know I Yeah. Changing that I don't really know what will come but I just excited that it might it just will help me continue to be to do what I love to do. You know, it'll be right books. So
Nicaila Matthews Okome 44:13
and I'm just so happy that middle grade kids have something like this like I remember reading you know, baby sitters club and Nancy Drew and you think about how non inclusive
Janae Marks 44:23
Exactly yeah, like Sweet Valley High or
Nicaila Matthews Okome 44:26
Sweet Valley High that my nieces will have a book and a series and now on screen someone who represents them it just I love it. I love it
Janae Marks 44:35
honestly, is another thing that helps my book eventually be published because there was definitely a big or bigger movement toward adding more diversity in publishing. There's this organization that came out called We Need Diverse books.org And they were pushing the publishers to not only publish diverse books, but publish diverse books by authors that share those identities, you know, and so as so people like you know, Andy Thomas and There are other you know, even in the middle grade space, other authors that came before me that, you know, we're publishing books like this, I think kind of like paved the way for me to be able to do it. Because again, like, I don't know, if 10 years ago, a book like this would have been controversial at the time, I don't know. So I think we're in a place where, and also just, I think more people are realizing that kids can handle these kinds of topics for you know, in books, it's about how you handle it. But you know, right, you'd have a book about topics like this for younger readers. And, yeah, the conversation is so important. I talk about how my favorite books as a kid, when I go to school visits were the baby sitters club and how I love them, I related to them in so many ways. But that was a one way I did not relate was that there was only one black character and she was
Nicaila Matthews Okome 45:42
a black character, like we all
Janae Marks 45:44
knew the character she was not even like, and you didn't see on the cover, you know, you didn't see that. And so now, to be able to see so many more books, not just mine, like it's so great that our kids now that today's youth can see themselves represented in their books.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 45:59
And before we shift into the lightning round, I'd love to just touch on this idea of self publishing again, because exactly what we've just been speaking about, I think, is what inspires so many people to just do it themselves. Like, I want this now. So if you do self published, like how can you still kind of get brand awareness and still kind of get distribution? And can you ultimately be picked up by a publisher, if you start out self published,
Janae Marks 46:27
I have heard stories where people have self published a start. And I think that is a very common thing for marginalized authors to do because they feel I mean, it is hard to get published. And, you know, sometimes, I mean, I've heard stories of, you know, black authors saying that they get a rejection from some publisher, because they already have a book featuring a black men character on that particular list. So they don't need another one, you know, like, things like that. And not even just black, it could be Indian, it could be Asian, like just any minority they feel like for why they felt like they had to have just one is enough, you know. And they think that only, you know, only marginalized readers are going to read these books, like they don't think that it's going to reach a wide audience. So that's a problem that within publishing needs to be fixed and is hopefully on its way to being fixes are definitely much more diverse books now. But it's hard to get published. And as a marginalized creator, you're you're at a disadvantage. So you can understand the reasoning for wanting to self publish, I think I've definitely heard stories where sometimes if you self publish, and it does really well, a publisher might notice and you can and they might decide to take it on and, and, and redistributed under their branding. As for marketing, I mean, there are a lot of I just know that there's a lot of resources online about that. I have a friend who self publishes mainly because the kind of stuff that she publishes, she does like, like fantasy, it's kind of like there was this thing called New Adult for a while where it's like not quite adult, but not quite teen, it's like in between, like 20, something characters, a lot of romance, a lot of fantasy, there's like this whole, a lot of those books are being self published and being in doing really well. So I have a friend who publishes books like that, and they do a lot of online marketing. You know, if you're Amazon, there's ads you can do there's like print promos, you can put your book on sale, you can like, put it on, you know, those kind of things like Kindle Unlimited, where people can read it for free. So I think it's just a matter of finding the resources online. There's a lot of self published authors who shared their advice. And even whether it's on YouTube, you can find videos where they talk about it all the time, or blog posts, things like that. So yeah, it's just a matter of doing your own research, because I think that's the thing like the the positive about being self published is that you do have control, you have kind of a lot of your control. In some ways, when you're traditionally published, you know,
Nicaila Matthews Okome 48:37
that the money is you're not guaranteed to really make that money back that you invest. Okay.
Janae Marks 48:42
Yeah, that's the challenge is that you're not guaranteed. So I think maybe you want to make smart decisions about how much you spend on the different elements. But yeah, I think you definitely can, you know, it's possible, so just do your research. Um, but I totally get that, you know, it just it might make more sense for you just to put it out yourself, because you don't know that people say things aren't marketable just because they don't understand that there's a market for understand that, that you and you can find that, you know, so and you can reach out to your own local bookstores, and ask them to carry your book, you know, like you can also and I think there are even distributors who will pass I don't know how it works distributors like who distribute to all the bookstores, but individual bookstores, I definitely can find it especially because there are a lot of African American bookstores across the country too. So I've had a few you know, you can it's time Yeah, yeah, it's time to do that
Nicaila Matthews Okome 49:37
side hustler. There's there's only so much time that is a thing.
Janae Marks 49:43
And I just felt like I wanted to focus more on the writing and the and less on that. So that's why for me understand that was the right move.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 49:49
Now, as the book was published. what point did you get the next deal? Did you already start working on that book and have to go through the process of pitching and optioning again, No, how does that work? Yeah,
Janae Marks 50:01
so the first book deal was a two book deal. So my first question and the second one, a soft place to land, were part of one contract. And then around the time when I was done with edits of a soft wasteland, but before it came out, I was able to pitch another book. Because I wanted to work with my same editor, I was able to send like, they call it an option. So like, usually in the contract, they have a thing where they get first dibs or they get first view of your next work anyway, they write that into the contract, they want to make sure they get to see whatever you're working on next. And if they either want to say no, before we send it off somewhere else, but in this case, I had come up with a sequel idea, and they and they were happy to do that. So they ended up giving me another two book deal. So I had that deal before my second book officially came out, I believe, and then now I'm working on that last book and that too, but that second two book deal, and I gotta start thinking about what I'm gonna pitch next. So it it does, it's like a process. Yeah, keeps going, you just keep hoping you'll be able to keep doing it.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 51:00
This has been really educational. So we're going to do a quick lightning round before we wrap up. So you just answer the first thing that comes to mind. So we can share some Hot Topic resources. So number one, what's the resource that has really helped you in your author journey that you can share with the side hustle pro audience?
Janae Marks 51:18
Um, well, I mentioned earlier, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, it's not a perfect organization. And again, like, we have organizations like this for all kinds of writing, but I think if you're a writer, and you can just find some sort of workstation like that, for newbies for people just starting out, they have so many resources. So that's probably what I would choose
Nicaila Matthews Okome 51:36
number two, who is a black woman author who you admire, and why?
Janae Marks 51:41
Um, well, I mentioned I mentioned Andy Thomas earlier, I feel like she's just, you know, she's so wonderfully. I don't know, I just feel like she puts out amazing work. And not only that, but she also gets involved in all these different aspects of the process like the movie like she I feel like she's an entreprenuer in like it but she's also crazy, talented writer. There's so many others. We'll just go with her for now. Forget there's so much.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 52:05
Number three, what is a non negotiable part of your day?
Janae Marks 52:10
Nicaila Matthews Okome 52:15
Keep up with this life, children. Okay. Number four, what is a personal habit that significantly helped you with your author journey?
Janae Marks 52:23
I think it's something I'm constantly working out. But just coming up with some sort of routine for myself, this is what's the most challenging about switching to not working, you know, having another job. In addition to this, I think it's about coming up with their teens. So I can hold myself accountable for my day and make sure I'm getting the work done and things like that. So it's setting up little things for myself throughout the day that I can like, check points for myself, whether it's lists or, you know, like saying, Okay, I want to get this much done by this time, something, you know, something to kind of get me going.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 52:52
And then finally, what's your parting advice for fellow women side hustlers, who want to pursue their dream, but are scared about losing that steady paycheck?
Janae Marks 53:02
Yeah, I mean, I totally get the losing of a steady paycheck, I think as long as you can try, I guess you're best to do it while you have another job. If you can, yeah, find times to squeeze it in, amongst other work. So that you don't have to feel that stress. I think that's the one thing and it can feel more stressful. Writing loses a little bit of its joy when you're doing it as a job because now I have to make I have to make sure that what I'm producing is going to help me sell the next book versus before it was more fun and more like an escape at the end of my day. So I can understand, you know, so in some ways, embrace the fact that if you can have it as a side hustle for now, you're not relying on it fully for income, you can take more risks, maybe take more chances, because you have that thing to fall back on. But keep going no matter what I mean, that's my always, that's always my number one piece of advice in general is just to keep going keep trying new things, if something's not working, and then rely on get your community to because they'll help you. You know, for me, a writing community definitely helped me get to where I am today. So whatever community you're part of whatever your your creative thing is, find your community to because I'll help you through that journey. However long it may take.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 54:06
Yes, yes. That, you know, that's such an important reminder that you know, so many people, we start out and we're thinking, Okay, I'm onto something. I can't wait to make money from this. But you're right, you lose a little bit of the carefree creativity aspect was fun, but yeah, you lose, you lose that initial just, I guess the naiveness of it, or just yeah, the carefreeness enjoy it, enjoy it while it's in that stage too. And they'll just be hyper focused
Janae Marks 54:37
Exactly. Like I look back at how I was writing those earlier books had to get published or even daily before it got published. And it was such a joyful time. I love you know, and now it's a little bit more stressful when I have to sit down you know, you have deadlines, and it's because it's a job and I know that like it there's stakes involved now that didn't exist like before, so I think don't be afraid I guess to have that keep the side hustle aside thing for as long as until you feel calm. Trouble, because worrying about money, it's going to take away the joy of whatever it is you're doing. So you don't want to worry, you know, you want to get to a point where you can just do whatever you're doing, and not have to worry about how you're gonna pay your mortgage or your rent, you know, like, you want to be able to
Nicaila Matthews Okome 55:12
do both. Absolutely. So where can people connect with you? And get all your books after this episode?
Janae Marks 55:18
Um, yeah, you can find my website is Janae marks.com. There you can find the social media links. Basically I'm at I'm at Janae marks books on pretty much all the ones that I'm on like Twitter and you can find out all the links to the books, descriptions and everything are there as well.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 55:38
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