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Advocacy Is Not A Bad Word

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We’re honored to introduce you to today’s guest, author Catherine Adel West. Catherine’s powerful debut, SAVING RUBY KING, released just over a year ago and made an instant impact. It’s a multigenerational story about two friends–Layla and Ruby–and the lengths they’ll go to save their lives, their families and their friendship. Zakiya Harris, author of THE OTHER BLACK GIRL, calls Saving Ruby King is “a stunning force of a novel that has everything anyone could want in a family saga…”

We’re thrilled to learn that Catherine’s sophomore effort, BECOMING SARA KING, is in the works and will be released in 2022. More about Catherine from her bio:

Catherine was born and raised in Chicago, IL where she currently resides. She graduated with both her Bachelors and Masters of Science in Journalism from the University of Illinois – Urbana. Her work is published in Black Fox Literary Magazine, Five2One, Better than Starbucks, Doors Ajar, 805 Lit + Art, The Helix Magazine, Lunch Ticket and Gay Magazine. Catherine’s short story ORION’S STAR is featured in the forthcoming body positive anthology EVERY BODY SHINES (Bloomsbury, May 2021). In between writing and traveling, Catherine works as an editor. 

Learn more about Catherine on her website, and catch her on Twitter or Instagram under the handle @cawest329.

Advocacy Is Not A Bad Word

My momma always told me, “Think before you speak.” I rarely applied this lesson when I was a kid. To me it somehow meant I wasn’t fully telling the truth, that there were little parts of me I couldn’t fully express. And my truth, as egotistical as I realize this belief is now, was the main one, the one that needed to be heard more than anything or anyone else.

Now out of my youth (somewhat), I realize my mom was teaching, or trying to teach me, about diplomacy; that there are various ways truth can be experienced and told. And my point can be made without razing the land, burning bridges, ignoring others’ feelings and thereby absolving myself of the consequences of my mouth and actions.

Nowhere have I learned this more than advocating for myself as a writer, as a black woman, as someone who’s always been desperate to be heard because the world does its absolute best to silence my voice.

Writing is the way I shout. I express. I fight. Writing is the way I try to advocate for my people, but I had a hard time properly advocating for myself.

When I got my first book deal, I was anchored to the idea of gratitude. So honored someone wanted my little ole book, I never stopped to think about what I wanted. How did I want the book to be represented? Marketed? How would it be edited? Could I trust someone else’s instincts to not sanitize the black experience but celebrate it? Could I trust myself to hold others accountable?

Was it wrong to ask myself these questions?

No. It wasn’t.

Making sure I knew what I wanted and getting what I wanted took time. It was my debut novel and something very close to my heart. And, after a lot of trepidation, I figured out the only way to voice my concerns was to open my mouth and ask.

But how to ask? I think my problem was (and still sometimes is) it’s so easy for me to go from zero to a hundred when there’s something important on the line, I wouldn’t think about the effects of my ask. I’d do this all the time from my day job to ordering a cheeseburger. I’m asking for what I want and I’m getting it. Come hell or high water.

I’m an Aries. I have no chill.

But my Cobra Kai-like mentality of living might not be the best fit for the publishing world. So then, I’d go to a place I’d tell myself to be humbled. My story is becoming a book, an actual thing I can hold in my hands. Don’t rock the boat. Take what they give you and lock your feelings or any misgivings down and away.

This ever-swinging pendulum of thought and emotion and hope and fear was a constant. And the only way I could make sense of the muddled mix of feeling was to open my mouth.

Being black and a writer, I’d navigated a minefield of expectation, elation and believe it or not guilt, for the writers I believe are far superior to me who’ve yet to have an opportunity I’d been given.

And see, right there, I just wrote, “an opportunity I’d been given” when I’d earned it. I spent five years writing a book and earned this privilege. Hell, my whole life, learning how to write and being told no and persevering nonetheless, was the way I’d earned this. It’s insidious how I’d conditioned myself to accept what was given and not advocate.

It’s okay to fight for yourself. It’s okay to say, “Hey, I’m not feeling this edit.” Or “Can we try something different with the book cover?”

It doesn’t mean you’re ungrateful. It doesn’t mean you’re the dreaded ‘d’ word (difficult).


Advocacy means your book, your literary baby, is important to you, so open your mouth and ask questions, make requests. There’s no guarantee you’ll get everything you ask for.

No one ever does. But ask. You never know.

It goes back to what my mom told me when I was younger, “Think before you speak.” When there was something I wasn’t feeling, something I didn’t understand, I didn’t just say whatever came to my mind. I approached it methodically, strategically. What are the pros? What are the cons? Is this a hill I want to die on?

Thinking about how you’re going to advocate for yourself doesn’t mean you stifle or omit your truth. Not at all. Taking the time to plan your thoughts gives you a way to passionately bring up your concerns without needlessly offending someone. That’s more likely to get you what you want, what you believe your book baby deserves, what you believe the world needs to read and hear and think about.

I’m only saying approach someone how you’d like to be approached. Make sure you’re acknowledging someone else’s truth. It’s not just about your sole experience. It’s about a collective experience.

Damn, I feel like such an adult as I write this.

And let me be clear, if you’re advocating for a point in your book you feel is being sanitized or covered up to make the masses feel better about racism or oppression or injustice in any shape or form, and an agent or editor or someone gets in their feelings, that’s on them. It’s not your job to make someone feel better about consciously or unconsciously trying to gaslight you or change the truth of your story.

My hang-ups with publishing (lack of diversity; the genuine need to embrace black stories not solely about pain; constant problematic books) aren’t going away anytime soon. Honestly, they never will. When I say advocate, there are different types of advocacy. And, yeah, there are times where I get loud and challenge the literary status quo and that’s fine. Sometimes you gotta raze the land. When only 5% of books are published by BIPOC authors; when most books published don’t reflect our diverse cultures, identities, varied realities, and America at large, you gotta yell.

I guess my point is in terms of advocacy, it’s all you, boo. Do what you feel is right for you; think about what is fair for not just yourself but others. But never, ever, ever think that means you must always play nice, be silent, take the crumbs given to you.

Please pay attention to how you advocate. Because, my dears, you’ll have to live with whatever comes and as long as you can do that, look at yourself in the mirror and smile, you’ll be just fine with whatever happens with your book and whatever happens in your life.

Readers, do you find it hard to advocate for yourself? What challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them? On the flip side of it, how has advocating for yourself paid off / made you glad you made a request or even took a risk? The floor is yours.

SAVING RUBY KING is available at bookstores everywhere including IndieBound (LINK). Preview it HERE on Google.


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