Karen Hunter: Black female publishing guru talks publishing Kardashian family books, LL Cool J's memoir
Book publisher Karen Hunter does not know how to hold her tongue. Not that she has any desire to learn. After all, silence would deny the world of such witticisms as Hunter saying that Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney might be “running for president of Caucasia-stan,” because of a GOP ad that was devoid of people of color.
“Did he say, ‘This time we’ll get it white’?,” Hunter joked on air in an interview with Thomas Roberts on MSNBC. Mocking Romney’s “this time, we’ll get it right” narration in his commercial, the dig by the frank and funny Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and MSNBC analyst ruffled feathers. But Hunter was more bemused than anything.
“Wait, we can’t talk about white people for being white?” Hunter asked during her interview with theGrio, shrugging the whole ordeal off. “That’s really bizarre for me. How do you really cultivate a truthful exchange with your audience, because now you have to watch your mouth or watch what you write?”
And if there is anything Hunter does in her publishing business, it is to go for the jugular of truth. When Hunter “goes in” on someone – whether it is Mitt Romney or on the behalf of her clients, like the mother of all momagers, Kris Jenner – it’s no holds barred. She’s unapologetically bold, unapologetically blunt and always unapologetically black. “[T]hat’s how I’m approaching this publishing thing. I know that I’m very, very black. Both in agenda and voice,” Hunter said.
Hunter founded Karen Hunter Publishing in 2007, because the “luster is off” as she put it regarding the power of big media companies. “They’re all folding, closing down. When you read a book, do you look at the label or for who the publisher is? You just care about the end result. I can’t tell you what record label Chris Brown on.” Karen Hunter Publishing is taking advantage of this shifting landscape to great success.
Hunter’s products — works by huge celebrities such as Janet Jackson, Patti LaBelle and Kris Jenner — are now being published under her own imprint, but she started her career as a reporter. As a writer for the Daily News, Hunter covered sports and then crime. In her closing years there, Karen became the first black columnist in Daily News history.
But the move that would eventually spawn her professional life as a book publisher came on a whim – her desire to get the hottest new music for the low, low price of nothing.
“I started writing about music to get free CDs,” Hunter admitted.
Writing about music to get on the promo CD media list led Hunter to do a piece on Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G., before he blew up. She also did interviews with the singer Faith and actor/rapper Will Smith. But it was a story on LL Cool J that eventually got Karen out of the newsroom and onto the book publishing track.
“I was in Long Island doing a piece on LL Cool J for a movie,” Karen explained. “During the interview I asked if he’d ever done a book. He said he wanted to and added, ‘in fact I see myself on a cover, covered in hats, naked.’” Perhaps seeing that image as an easy sell, from there Hunter enlisted the help of a friend to find a publisher for the performer. During then-President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, Hunter and Cool J went to Washington, D.C. to seal the deal with St. Martin’s Press.
Hunter admits, in retrospect, she had no clue what she was doing — but she still ended up helping the rap star write a New York Times best-seller.
That’s when Hunter thought to herself, “Hmmm. I might have a future in this writing thing.”
A self-proclaimed “do-junkie,” after LL’s book Karen got on the phone to gather contacts for other celebrities who had both the audience and the stories that could lead to successful books. Later came writing collaborations with Janet Jackson, Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa. But the ultimate end game for Hunter was starting her own publishing company. She did not let her lack of industry knowledge deter her.