Tony Samuel is a leadership expert, strategist, author, and former music business journalist. He is also the CEO and founder of Talented Books. In an interview with The Industry Cosign, Samuel talks about his latest venture and how his passion for writing and diversity sparked the creation of two critically acclaimed children’s books, starring his daughter Nadia, who suffers from a rare chromosome disorder.
When and why did you start Talented Books?
Talented Books was created in 2011. Our mission is to create positive images of people of color and nurture the intellect of children. We believe children should be encouraged to read and explore daily. Talented Books cater to talented kids and grown-ups, too.
After being involved in the music business for so many years, what made you decide to direct your attention to children’s books?
Being a longtime hip-hop music business journalist was something I thoroughly enjoyed. At one time, I owned and operated a record company and we released five music projects. Also, I own Rescue One Promotions, an independent music public relations company. I helped to plan and promote NJPAC’s first two hip-hop international conventions in Newark, NJ.
After having my daughter, I realized there was a scarcity of books featuring African American characters. I couldn’t find inclusive books and that was unacceptable to me. That is how Princess Nadia came to life. Making a professional product was critical. Just like the music business, I knew my product would be sitting next to major book publishers, so I had to come correct. I learned every aspect of the publishing game through books and online reading. After writing my first book, I sent my daughter’s picture to the illustrators I hired and made her the star. Will You Play with Me? The Adventures of Princess Nadia was the first release from Talented Books. Princess Nadia and The Search for the Missing Treasure came two years later.
What inspires you to continue doing the work that you do?
In regard to Talented Books, our goal is making sure children of color see themselves in a positive light. We believe strongly that ALL kids deserve to see positive images that look like them daily. I am a champion for diversity, inclusion, and equity in all things. My daughter helps me to see things differently. Nadia has a rare genetic disease called Phelan Mcdermid Syndrome. She is nonverbal and there is no cure for this condition. It is extremely rare and impacts about 1,600 people in the world. Everything I do is to make sure she knows that I love her. Nadia is homeschooled by my wife and she gets speech therapy weekly. I am a parent advocate in the rare disease community and my goal is to raise awareness.
How has your mindset changed toward doing business now that you’ve started Talented Books?
I am learning every day. My goal is to continue to learn and to put out compelling books that will help kids to lean more toward literacy. Right now, I am working on a few projects to raise awareness for Talented Books and to ensure kids of color know they are valued. Now, I get to greenlight projects and make decisions regarding who is hired and who is not, for all projects. Running a publishing company is a major endeavor, but I love it! I’ve had a few opportunities to go and talk to kids and it is absolutely a great experience to see their faces light up because they get to see someone who looks like them. I always say, “Diversity is critical like oxygen!”
What advice would you give to those who strive to own their own business and hope to sustain it for as long as you have?
Consistency is the key to success. In order to make things happen, you have to put in the work and get the knowledge. Read books and ask questions to get the answers. Leaders are readers. For those who don’t like to read, YouTube is a great university too. Even if you have a full-time gig, you can still work on your passion and maybe one day, your passion will take you to greatness.
What are you currently working on and if you have anything in the works, would you like to talk about it?
I just released my third book this year called Nightly Owl. There is a saying that the early bird gets the worm, however, in this story, it does not happen! Nightly Owl is a strong big sister who takes care of her younger brother. She goes out at night and gets the best food and the early birds get the leftovers! I have a few projects I am working on, but right now the main focus is to raise awareness for Princess Nadia and Nightly Owl. Creating self-esteem in kids is critical. Talented Books believes ALL kids need to see positive images that look like them every day!