New York, NY — Style and beauty maven Tia Williams has just released her highly-anticipated third novel The Perfect Find, and it’s fabulous! It has the same sass and whip-smart writing readers know and love from Williams’ last novel, The Accidental Diva, but with a fresh batch of drama, a new sexy romance, and set in a new-age digital world. It’s been over a decade since Williams has given her readers some fashion fiction, but she has been keeping us satisfied with IRL beauty tips on her blog Shake Your Beauty.
The Perfect Find is a romance story essentially about reinvention and triumph. In an age where it seems like you’re only as good as your Twitter follower count, it can be tough staying in the game. Enter Jenna Jones, the story’s protagonist, an awkward yet chic 40-year-old fashion veteran who reenters an industry paced much faster than how she left it years ago. Before taking a long hiatus, Jenna had it all. She was a big shot fashion director living in the lap of NYC luxury until everything fell apart. After losing her fiance, her career, and rich girl lifestyle, Jenna fled to her rural Virginia hometown for a much needed retreat. Unemployed, single, and bored, Jenna soon became desperate for a new beginning. Luckily, she gets a second-chance, but at the cost of working for evil high-powered Editor-in-Chief and longtime rival, Darcy Vale, who of course gives Jenna a gig way below her pay grade. Lost in an alien world of hashtags, retweets, and millennial colleagues, Jenna must fight her way back to the top — that is if her steamy forbidden romance doesn’t get in the way.
While Williams is an authority of all things fashion, beauty and style (with fifteen years of experience as a magazine beauty editor for the likes of YM, Elle, Glamour, Lucky, and Essence) not to mention an author of three novels and the co-writer of Iman’s makeup book The Color of Beauty, she faced some surprising challenges getting her new book published. With today’s obsession with technology and bite-sized information, the publishing industry is tougher than ever before — especially for authors of color. According to industry insiders, black women just don’t sell….unless their story is about pain and struggle. Williams’ The Perfect Find irreverently defies this limiting myth in the most refreshing way. She creates a world of flawed, layered and complex characters whose make-up has little to do with the color of their skin. Williams writes black women as, dare I say it, human beings! Human beings who just happen to be black. She tells stories of black women who appreciate and acknowledge their blackness yet still manage to identify as something beyond race.
I caught up with Williams, who is currently Copy Director of Bumble and Bumble, to discuss her new book and find out what it took to get The Perfect Find published. See snippets of our chat below.
On what her book is about
“The book is really about this woman who loses everything then fights her way back and finds out she’s even more badass than before.”
On why it took so long for The Perfect Find
“I haven’t written anything since my daughter was born and she’s seven. It was really hard for me to figure out how to balance a full-time job, raising a kid — being a single mother at that, and having the time to wrap my head around creating an entire world. Before, my time was my own. I had a lot more time to write. It took me three years to write this book. But I had this story and Jenna is a lot of me. It’s inspired by things that happened in real life. I felt it was a really timely story that just had to get out.”
On fashion’s new normal
“I grew up in the magazine world, and most of my friends did too. We’re fashion editors, we’re journalists. And suddenly it’s not our world anymore. It’s a whole new thing. You have to be digital. Everything is online. When I was coming up, there wasn’t any social media at all. If you wanted beauty or fashion news, you’d read a magazine or you’d watch House of Style.
On one hand, it’s scary when that’s the world you know. It’s scary to have to adapt and reinvent yourself the same way Jenna did. But it’s also exciting because the opportunities are more varied and dynamic. There are so many fabulous voices, especially fabulous black voices, in beauty and fashion right now. There just weren’t any opportunities like that back in the day because there weren’t any outlets. There were magazines, and only a few positions at the magazines, and it was really hard to get in. Now there are podcasts, vlogs, and blogs. You can pick a format and shine. It’s an exciting time.”
On who she is speaking to with The Perfect Find
“Women who love love stories, hopeless romantics, women who love fashion, and women who love seeing other women triumph through adversity. I’m 40 and all of my friends are in their 40s, and a lot of us had big plans. You have an idea of what your life will look like and a lot of the time, the universe has other plans for you. You wake up at 40 and your life isn’t want you thought it would be. It’s a lesson. You think that just because you checked off all the boxes and did everything right that your life will look a certain way, but nobody owes you your perfect life. And that’s when you have to think quick on your feet, boss up, and win anyway. That’s what I had to do and that’s what Jenna does. Things happen and you have to be your own superhero.”
On the challenges of getting published
“The book publishing business has changed. After the recession and everyone going digital, no one goes to book stores to buys books anymore. No one has the attention span. Twitter has 140 characters and everyone gets their news on Facebook. But if they’re buying books, they are buying e-books and those are $5.99. So there’s not a lot of money in publishing anymore, so opportunities have dried up. Publishing companies are a lot more careful and measured, and think in term of marketing when it comes to acquiring authors. So if you don’t fit into the box that they know will sell to a very specific audience, they are scared of that.”
On publishing while black
“When my agent was shopping this book around, all the editors fell in love with it but they wanted to make it ‘blacker’ so that they can market it to a clear ethnic market. The subtext of the feedback they were giving me was that it was too mainstream. I had several editors tell me, ‘So Jenna is a black fashion editor….fashion is a white industry, so let’s hear more about her struggles as a black woman.’ It is super insulting because that’s not what it’s about. And also that’s assuming that black women only make sense to readers in the context of struggle. It’s not fair we aren’t allowed the luxury of nuance the way white writers are.”
How she overcame limitations
“It was really sad because I’m a person who has been published by a traditional publisher five times and if I couldn’t get in, who can? But, I overcame it by getting an independent publisher, Brown Girls Books, who understood it immediately and published it.”
On her thoughts on black women’s portrayal in the media
“With the exception of TV, which is so progressive right now — you know, Shonda Rhimes is queen, we have Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Blackish, Orange is the New Black — we are starting to see varied stories of black women on television. But movies and books are like a thousand years behind. The only movies the Oscars even recognize are big issue movies. You have to be a slave or a maid. With books, you’d be hard pressed to find a book by a black author published by a big publisher that doesn’t have to do with race. It’s really rare to find everyday fun, fab, sexy, exciting, dynamic stories about black people out there just being black and excellent for no reason. The problem is that the gatekeepers of the industry are very, very white and if you aren’t familiar with everyday blackness, the ‘black’ you think of is the black you learned at school or what you see on the news,which is struggle, which is civil rights era, which is slavery. You don’t know a black gallery owner, you don’t know a black scientist, you don’t know about a black teacher who was raised by two gay dads. You don’t know all of our layers. Black people are everything. Our stories are just not out there. That’s why I try to populate my stories with the most interesting, dynamic, witty, everything characters.”
On how she helps other black women find their voice
“I love helping writers. There are a lot of young girls that I work with and mentor. There’s not enough of us out there. I’m such a fan of commercial fiction. I grew up on Jackie Collins and Jacqueline Susann, just big, sexy, glittery, kind of tawdry, but well-written fiction and I was always picturing black characters in place of all the white ones. I just want to create a world where we aren’t black versions of anything. Because we are not. I actually know the real versions that occupy these places in society. I really love mentoring young girls who want to get into this space. People reach out to me on Twitter, asking me to read their stuff to give them feedback and I do.”
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Get your copy of The Perfect Find here!