Fabian Ferguson on Championing Black Characters & Writers
As a fantasy novelist and children’s book author, Fabian Ferguson is known for creating worlds where Black characters aren’t sidekicks relegated to the sidelines. Instead, they’re multi-faceted heroes.
“When it comes to children’s literature, you’ll find more books with animals as lead characters than you would a person of color,” said Fabian.
“It’s also very rare that you see Black characters in magic or fantasy novels. They’re never really the main character. They’re really more of a supporting character. So that’s one thing every book or every creative project I work on is centered around: a main Black lead.”
The author of the award-winning children’s book “Daddy’s Arms,” Fabian began his career as a marketer and graphic designer— a creative who was continually thinking of stories he wanted to bring to life through cinema, with the hope that writing a popular book would get him there.
“Eventually it just came down to me wanting to stop replaying the stories and movies in my head and just get them down on paper."
“But initially, I would never have considered myself a writer. Actually, I was a horrible writer. So I started learning how to format things a little bit better and learning how to actually write. I took online courses and eventually, I got better at writing.”
A self-proclaimed Game of Thrones and magic and dragons enthusiast, Fabian began writing a fantasy novel about a young Black girl whose hero’s journey takes her to another world, which is still in the works.
But it wasn’t until the birth of Fabian’s son that his attention shifted to children’s books.
Driven by his passion to create stories for his son that he himself wished he had had as a child, in 2018, Fabian wrote 'Daddy’s Arms' about a father and son’s adventures, and launched his own publishing company, F. Ferguson Books, shortly after.
“I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but [children’s books] are a shorter process [than novels],” he said. “I was able to publish children’s books and get them out while still working on my novels, which made it a very attractive avenue for me.”
Fabian followed Daddy’s Arms with 'Jackie Wins Them All,' a children’s book about a sixth-grader who wins every competition, but who learns an important lesson after losing a 200-meter race.
“A lot of my novel ideas started getting bumped out by children's books ideas,” he said. “I guess that one book [Daddy’s Arms] just had my mind going in a different direction and the ideas started coming in. And now I just have a bunch of children's stories written down, ready to be formatted.”
Never Wait for Permission
As an entrepreneur, Fabian is largely focused on self-empowerment.
“Anyone who tries to get a book published knows how difficult it can be,” he explained. “So my decision to start my own publishing company partly had to do with the fact that I don’t think you should ever wait for outside validation. If you want to do something special, something different with your life, then no one is going to just give you that recognition. You have to go out and prove yourself, and tell the world that that’s who you are and who you want to be.”
“It was also important to me to be able to release books that shared my message about representation,” said Fabian. “I wanted to make a positive impact.”
Though there’s been more efforts to diversify children’s books in recent years, Fabian notes that characters of color still aren’t used to tell a full range of stories, and that their race is often the primary focus.
“Books with Black main characters are mostly focused on teaching children how to love the color of their skin or the texture of their hair,” he said.
“There is a need for those books. They definitely do have to learn that they are a child of color in this space, and those children’s books will help, but I also think it’s very important that children [can] just see themselves in stories— like fun, relatable stories. And you know, I don’t have to say ‘this Black kid’ or ‘this girl with hair like this,’ they could see it— it’s a picture book. [Instead], they could just look and say, ‘Oh, Black kid, doing magic.’ And that’s all that’s needed.”
The Publishing Industry’s Playbook
To expand F. Ferguson Books, Fabian focused on building his online presence while taking cues from traditional publishers. Knowing that a starred Kirkus review is highly sought after in the publishing industry, he invested $400 to get the company to review his books. The $400 didn’t guarantee that the books would get positive reviews, but it guaranteed they would be reviewed.
“You need your work to be evaluated by sources that people trust, whether that’s a well-known organization, publication, or influencer,” said Fabian.
“And when it comes to people giving your work attention, you can’t really depend on things happening organically. You often have to pay to play. I think it’s helpful for authors to understand that, because often the perception is that if you have to pay to have your work evaluated, then you must not be sending it to a respectable source."
"But the reality is that the people who are reviewing your work need to make a living just like you do. A respectable source will always give an honest review because their business depends on integrity. No one wants to read a review that isn't trustworthy.”
“Self-published authors, they depend [too] heavily on just posting things on Instagram and Facebook," he said. "And I always tell them you have to think like how these big publishing houses think.”
“If it wasn’t for that, I don’t believe I would be having these discussions. I wouldn’t be getting these emails. I wouldn’t have my phone ringing and having to screen all these calls from potential people.”
But as with any venture, he also had to overcome his share of challenges— namely problems with cash flow.
When Fabian first launched his business, he was relying on personal loans and maxing out his credit cards. Since they were personal credit cards rather than business credit cards, they were tied to his social security number, which negatively affected his personal credit score. But Fabian had no other option— he had to use personal credit cards because he couldn’t fund his business without it.
“Nothing traces back to my business because I wasn’t able to do that [link the debt to my business rather than my personal credit]. So for the most part, Fabian Ferguson looks like he’s in a lot of debt, even though the reality is a lot of this had to go toward my business,” he said.
When Fabian opened a Brex account in 2021 after his current bank was closing, he began seeing a positive change. He now uses his Brex card on purchases for his business, and Brex reports his activity to different credit bureaus.
“My business credit score shot up. So now my business credit score’s up there, and I’m getting all these loan offers saying, ‘Hey, you need money for your business. You qualify for this many thousands and thousands of dollars.’ I don’t need it right now, but it’s great to know that I’m in a position that if I do need it, I will be able to do that.’”
The option to secure funding has given Fabian the chance to launch ambitious plans for his publishing company, in addition to releasing his third book, “In the Mirror,” this spring. This summer, he also plans to move with his family from New Jersey to Atlanta, where he hopes to find ways to uplift other Black authors. He’s currently looking for warehouse space for his business, and plans to use the space to begin distributing his peers’ work.
Currently, Fabian helps Black authors establish themselves on Amazon and teaches them effective strategies for advertising and promotion. While this would be an important endeavor anyway, it’s made even more critical by the stark inequality of representation between white authors and authors of color.
The Fight for Equal Representation
According to a recent New York Times study that looked at 8,004 widely circulated books published in the U.S. between 1950 and 2018, a staggering 95% were written by white authors. Of books published exclusively in 2018, 89% were written by white authors, ruling out the possibility that earlier decades contributed to the majority of this jarring disparity.
“I feel that it’s important to empower them [other Black writers] in their journey to be independent Black authors,” said Fabian. “I know how much this means to me, and I’m quite sure this means the same for them, so I position myself more as a coach.”
F. Ferguson Books expects to publish Black authors beginning in 2022, and is also in the discovery stages with other writers of color.
Despite his impressive work, he says his story isn’t unique.
“There are a lot of authors of color in my same position,” said Fabian. “I know them all. We all have the same story, and so one thing I definitely want to make sure is that I never take away from [their] efforts as well. This is a collective community of us that are doing this. —I’m just doing my part.”
F. Ferguson Books
F. Ferguson Books is a rising, independent Black-owned children's publishing company that features children's books with Black leading characters in exciting adventures. Learn more about F. Ferguson Books here.