“I didn’t have a lot of aunties and uncles I could call, asking ‘how do you start this publishing house,’” Hunter said. “People running publishing companies don’t look like me. But I had the wherewithal to understand I had to know how publishing works from the inside. What makes this business work from the business side.”
After a false start with another author who wanted to do a book imprint, but didn’t possess the same standards as Hunter, she eventually created a relationship with publisher Simon & Schuster. From there, Hunter continued to produce both celebrity memoirs and books by authors dealing with eye-catching, but informative subjects. The first book on her imprint, Rajen Persaud’s Why Black Men Love White Women, tackles gender, race, history and relationships.
“The title is provocative, but it’s a history of white supremacy in America,” Hunter said. “It’s that kind of stuff that I wanted to do. You do some celebrity books because they, quite frankly, pay the bills. But I’m careful with the celebrities I pick.”
One of those celebrities is the doyenne of the Kardashian clan, Kris Jenner.
Jenner’s memoir, Kris Jenner . . . And All Things Kardashian, goes into detail regarding her marriage and the fact that she cheated on her husband. “She actually did have a story to tell. She got real honest. Started talking about her affair, her journey to finding God. It allowed me to see her in a totally different light,” Hunter said of the work.
It received negative backlash initially because the book came out the week her daughter Kim initiated her divorce. Kim Kardashian, who had wed basketball player Khris Humphries in an elaborate televised wedding, was only married to the baller for 72 days. Both Kris and Kim were embroiled in the controversy surrounding their break-up.
“People thought that it was scheduled and planned, but this was a disaster nobody wanted,” Hunter said. Kris Jenner may not have been released with perfect timing, but Hunter used her unflinching power with words to promote the book effectively.
“First day on Amazon she was getting all one [ratings] from people going ballistic. And I did something I shouldn’t have,” Karen revealed. “I’m on Amazon cursing people out: ‘Hey, read the book first.’”
Yet ultimately, Karen was able to create good buzz. Thanks to Jenner’s willingness to take the heat, Hunter eventually got her a break through moment when a celebrity gushed about Kris’ book on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Now Hunter is working with Jenner’s youngest daughters, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, on a young adult novel.
Hunter’s next project is a book with Muslim Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison. Ellison is a convert to Islam elected from a district where Muslims only make up one percent of the population and African-Americans are only 11 percent. “This kind of book is a game changer,” Hunter said. “It will allow so many people who may be prejudiced against people who are Muslim to see them as human beings. We bring humanity to the stuff that we do.”
Her passion about Ellison’s book and its potential is reflected in how — even though she’s made a mark in celebrity publishing — Hunter’s heart still beats with an activist’s fervor.
“I am very black and that means something to me. It’s not just about having a publishing house, but looking at how you are remembered. The person who is able to record their message owns it and we didn’t own anything in the publishing space except for some erotica novels,” Hunter stated passionately. “Everything has its place, but… You have to have a vision for what you want to do. A hundred years after I’m dead, what will this line stand for? When you look at [Karen Hunter Publishing] and see the titles I did, I can rest on that. I made a contribution and it wasn’t ‘coonery.’ It wasn’t the typical fare of books, like we threw some books together because they were black.”
Yet, as proud as she is to be an African-American book publisher, Hunter balks at this moniker as a limitation.
“There’s no such thing as a black book. Black music, black art. The stuff we do is as mainstream as Barack Obama as president. He’s not the black president, he’s the president of the United States who happens to be black. I’m not a black publisher, I’m a publisher who happens to be black. He’s not doing it in a black way, he’s just president. And that’s how I’m approaching publishing.”