Today we’d like to introduce you to Thomishia Booker.
Thomishia, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am a self-published author and CEO of Hey Carter! Books (HCB). My background as a licensed therapist and mother serves as the foundation for writing children’s books focused on building self-identity in young children. I grew up in East Side San Jose and was raised by mother who is bi-racial. Growing up with a white grandma was complicated. I can recall hurtful things said about my skin color that still pains me today. In grad school, I studied skin color bias which later unknowingly culminated into what is now known as Hey Carter! Books. My first book “My Brown Skin” is a heartwarming story about embracing who you are. The book reminds children that some of their favorite things are brown.
I started HCB in 2016 after being disappointed in the lack of representation for Black boys in children’s books. I found myself searching the aisles of retail stores looking for books with a little brown boy on the cover but every time, I left frustrated and emptied handed. I felt a huge sense of responsibility to ensure my son saw himself in books. During this time, I was also struggling emotionally with the weight of being a new mother. Writing helped me to harness my pain into something beautiful for my son and other boys who look like him. I wanted the world to see my son the way I see him. Amazing, smart, talented, and so much more! In a world where little Black boys grow up to be feared as men, it is so important that they know how loved and cherished they are.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Hey Carter! Books started as a passion project and has blossomed into so much more. There have been many challenges along the way and with each of them a lesson learned. I remember my first vendor event at the “Black Joy Parade” in Oakland, CA. The community support was overwhelming and it was definitely a full-circle moment for me. I remember being so excited about selling out of books. Looking back on that moment, I learned a valuable lesson in inventory management, which is to never sell out!
Initially, I had difficulty identifying an illustrator. My first illustrator ended the project early and I had to start over. This left me discouraged and unmotivated.
As a Black woman raised by a single mother, my introduction to owning a business was non-existent. I learned many lessons through facing tough realities. I struggled to build the business because I didn’t have the capital. I was forced to put my ideas aside and my business was stagnant for a long time. My only goal with HCB was to get my books in the hands of the children it was meant for. It was difficult to shift my business from a passion project into a profitable business.
As an indie author, all publishing costs are paid for by the author. I had to research and pay for illustrations, printing, packaging, and marketing. During this time, my husband and I were also trying to purchase a new home in the Bay Area with a newborn. This was a stressful time to say the least but I was focused on getting my message out there.
Over the last four years, my family and I have worked tirelessly at vendor events selling books and connecting with our community. We would spend all day on weekends selling books. Every year regardless of the weather, we stood out there because we knew that there was no other way for our books to reach little Black boys everywhere. At eight months pregnant, we did our last event not knowing the pandemic would quickly put an end to what we love most about HCB, which is connecting with our community. The pandemic forced me to pivot my brand strategy in order to continue to increase representation for Black boys.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Hey Carter! Books is on a mission to increase representation for Black Boys. HCB offers children’s books, apparel, and accessories. The Hey Carter! Children’s Book Series consists of three books (My Brown Skin, Brown Boy Joy, King for a Day) focused on building self-identity in early readers. Each book is filled with affirmations allowing parents to speak life into their child as they read to them. At HCB, we are showing the world “happy Black boys living their happy Black lives.”
I am most proud of our recent collaboration with Netflix. As the CEO, I successfully negotiated my own contracts as a self-published author. “Brown Boy Joy”, which is the second book in the Hey Carter! Children’s Book Series and is featured in Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices alongside Jill Scott, Tiffany Haddish, and Common. I am the only self-published author among the cast of celebrities and New York Times Best Selling Authors Jacqueline Woodson and Derrick Barnes. “Brown Boy Joy” was chosen for Bookmarks using a social justice education framework that focused on concepts of Identity, Respect, Justice, and Action. As a result of this project, “Brown Boy Joy” is endorsed by the Black Caucus American Library Association and Association for Library Service to Children. The Netflix original series Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices aired September 1st.
What sets HCB apart from other brands is our innovative marketing and brand strategy. The main character of the books is my son, Carter (4). Carter plays an active role in HCB. He offers feedback and his voice is heard throughout the decision-making process. Carter’s input allows HCB to curate products specifically for little Black boys. HCB also solicits feedback from the community to ensure our prices are affordable and the brand reflects our buyers. The business is 100% Black-owned and we strive to work with BIPOC owned businesses.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
My husband, Chris has been my rock throughout this process. He has been my office manager, warehouse director, set up crew, and so much more. When I first wrote Brown Boy Joy, it did not rhyme. I asked my husband to read it and I told him, “I no longer wanted to write in rhyme.” He encouraged me to stick to my style and I am so glad I listened. I had multiple failed attempts at owning a business and Chris supported through each of them and has always been my biggest cheerleader. At vendor events, he would carry all of the heavy books from the car and ensure our set up was just right. I am truly thankful for him.
- 3 books for $25 (Hey Carter! Book Bundle)
- Website: www.heycarterbooks.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/heycarterbooks
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/heycarterbooks
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/heycarterbooks.com
- Other: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHyZndYggp0&t=18s
Green background: Nicole Barton Photography, Red dress: Dorean Raye, Brown chair: Nicole Barton Photography, Colorful background/holding book: Dorean Raye, Red skirt: Dorean Raye