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Zane, Inc.: she has much more on her mind than black erotica. Behind the best-selling author's pseudonym is a shrewd businesswoman, astute publishing entrepreneur and--oh, yes--a wife and mother of four.

Though she plans to keep key details about her true identity under wraps--like her real name, for one thing--Zane embarked on her first ever book tour this summer. (The tour preceded her ninth book, Afterburn, forthcoming this fall.) Beginning in 2000 with Addicted, which she self published on her own imprint, Strebor Books International, Zane's erotic novels have attracted swarms of readers and are dominating African American best-seller lists. [See BIBR's FLYING OFF THE SHELVES, page 64.] Since 2001, at any given time she has had multiple titles on best-seller lists and on the shelves of major retail bookstores.

Now Zane is to urban erotica what J.K. Rowling is to children's fiction. She is known for racy novels and short stories about what she sees as the secret sexual peccadilloes of regular women--housewives, businesswomen, sorority sisters. She says she depicts what these women really want between the sheets.

Less than four years after her self-published debut, Zane now also publishes 28 other authors on her Strebor roster through a distribution deal she signed with the major mainstream publisher Simon & Schuster. Furthermore, this spring Zane celebrated with 1,500 friends, fans and family the opening of her latest venture, Endeavors Bookstore in Fells Point, in downtown Baltimore, and she continues to generate even more ideas for expanding her ever growing publishing empire. Certainly, this is an amazing track record for anyone, let alone Zane, an ex-paper industry sales executive with a chemical engineering degree from Howard University.

The name Zane is a pseudonym its creator wields like a shield to keep her professional and personal lives separate. At 37, she is also a wife and mother of four children, ranging in age from one to 21. While Zane cherishes her private life and anonymity, she says the higher public profile she has begun to take is for the sake of Strebor Books, her Bowie, Maryland-based publishing company. "These other authors I publish are putting their trust in me, so I must be effective. My main purpose is not to promote my books but to promote Strebor," she explains.

She also has a film production company in the works to turn her books, along with those of Strebor's other authors, into movie features. She's in talks with Forrest Whitaker (director of the 1995 hit film Waiting to Exhale, adapted from Terry McMillan's best-selling novel) to direct the film version of Addicted. Also on the drawing boards are her ideas for a lingerie line, an October cruise for writers and book clubs and a mini-tour (featuring well-known black male authors) called Not Only Do Men Read and Write, They Do It in Their Boxers. Zane also has plans to write a series for teens, and she recently signed with literary agent Sarah Camilli for a legal thriller to be published under yet another pseudonym.

The Bookish Preacher's Kid

Clearly, there is an astute businesswoman behind all these successes--past, present and projected. Zane began life as the youngest daughter of a retired Howard University professor-minister and a retired schoolteacher in suburban D.C. "My parents raised me to believe anything is possible," she told BIBR in a telephone interview. "I have always been very determined." The family had a basement library with more than 1,000 books, which fed the future best-selling author's curiosity and love of reading. "I used to joke with my family that if I ever wrote a book, I'd put it out under another name," Zane said. In fact, she waited until she had three top-selling books before Idling her parents about her new vocation.

To date, Zane's own husband has not read The Sex Chronicles, one of her steamiest novels, she said, because he, like many men, has a hard time accepting his wife's sexual fantasies. "There's more to me than sex," Zane added. "Sex is easy to write. My story lines grab women's attention. Ideal with topics that people can relate to. Women everywhere like the fact that my characters are sexually liberated.

"Initially, I wanted to write children's books," she said. "I think erotica kind of chose me. I had never read erotica, but I love to write and I have an imagination, so I would come up with wild crazy stories, and then add sex."

A Foothold in Cyberspace

The first enthusiastic reader responses to Zane's writing came from the Internet. "I wrote an erotic story called 'First Night,' e-mailed it to three friends, and they for warded it to other people. Then, I started getting e-mails from random people asking if I had more stories. One reader told me that my work was 'hotter than Playboy,'" she recalled. She posted her next two stories on free Web sites set up through AOL and Yahoo and says that within three weeks she had over 8,000 hits. But because of the sexual content of her stories, she says, the Web masters kept shutting down the sites. So she established an independent Web site,

Readers then began to send her e-mails complaining that they could not find her work in bookstores, and one fan even submitted Zane's short stories to a variety of publishers. Zane said she spoke to publishers who were interested in her writing, but that they wanted her to write "traditional" romance novels.

"I knew I wouldn't enjoy writing it I did what the publishers wanted, Zane said, so I decided to self publish. At the time, I was selling paper to printing companies. I was responsible for moving 700 tons of paper per week. So I knew about the whole production process, from cutting down the tree to making the end product--a book. If someone had told me [in college] that I would've been selling paper, I wouldn't have believed it. But there are no mistakes in life. Everything happens for a reason."

Zane read everything she could on the publishing industry before she launched Strebor Books in 2000. Explaining her immediate success, she said: "I sold [well from the beginning] because I had a huge following online before I put a book out. I gave my work away for three years before I published a book for sale."

Agent Tracey Sherrod was an acquisitions editor at Simon & Schuster when Zane self-published Addicted. Sherrod's pursuit of the rights to Addicted for Simon & Schuster resulted in Zane's Simon & Schuster publishing and distribution deal for Strebor in 2002. "I did the right deal with the right publishing house," she says of the partnership. Zane has since sold over two million books for Simon & Schuster in just two years. But she also has many detractors who have criticized her work for lack of literary content and excessive reliance on graphic sex.

Malaika Adero, senior editor at Simon & Schuster's Atria Books, which now publishes Zane's sexy fiction, says, "In Zane, we have a star author who makes rain and has a tremendous following that appears to be growing and not waning." But Adero concedes that Zane's writing is not for everyone. "It's like music--some people groove to heavy metal, some to R&B. Zane doesn't need to be defended. She appeals to a varied readership--male and female--of all ages, backgrounds and sensibilities."

What does Zane think of her detractors? "They haven't read my work," she said. "If my success was a fluke, I wouldn't have so many books out." She says critics often mistakenly assume she writes for the money. "I write because I love writing, and I would be writing even it I never got published."

By Popular Demand ...

The deal with Simon & Schuster helped to place Addicted into the hands of a broader audience, under the Atria imprint, but Zane continues to operate the thriving Strebor Books, which employs three editors as well as a number of publicists. Zane is the sole shareholder of Strebor. By the end of 2004, the house will have an additional 22 titles to its credit. All told, Strebor's authors do 40 to 50 signings a week.

Strebor pays Simon & Schuster a distribution fee, and in return Strebor's titles are included in the Atria catalogue under the Strebor imprint, presold to bookstores, and all Strebor's production, printing and storage concerns are taken care of. This arrangement means that Zane can focus on the acquisition and editing of books, and she can push the envelope by allowing her authors to publish more than one book a year.

"I have all the benefits of being the editor of an imprint. If I'd done an imprint deal instead of a distribution agreement, I'd have to gel [Simon & Schuster's] approval, and I wanted the final word on everything," she said. "There area lot of African American imprints at publishing houses, now but the editors' hands are tied because the higher-ups don't understand our audience."

Zane is out to change the publishing industry. "I want to make it more diverse. We need more mare writers. We need more Asian and Latino writers, too. The next anthology we publish is going to be Latino erotica. It's tentatively titled Butter Pecan. I am currently seeking Asian and Latino writers. I believe these markets are untapped. It's crazy to believe that people of color don't read."

Zane also publishes authors in genres other than erotica, and she likens this decision to that of a stockbroker who believes in having a diversified portfolio: "It's a big mistake to focus on one genre, because if it goes out of vogue you're stuck," she adds, in her typically no-nonsense manner. Among current Strebor titles by other authors are D.V. Bernard's God in the Image of Woman, William Fredrick Cooper's Six Days in January, V. Anthony Rivers's Everybody Got Issues and Darrien Lee's What Goes Around Comes Around.

"I came into the industry realizing it was about more than me" says Zane. "There's power in numbers, and this is how change takes effect. Running Strebor has given me a deeper purpose than my own writing. I am excited about the success of others."

Books by Zane


Pocket Books. October 2001

$15.00, ISBN 0-967-46011-5


Atria Books. November 2004

Chocolate Flava

Simon & Schuster, January 2004

$15.00, ISBN 0-743-48238-7

Getting Buck Wild

Atria Books. October 2002

$1500, ISBN 0-743-45701-3

The Heat Seekers

Atria Books, June 2002

$14,00, ISBN 0-743-44289-X


Simon & Schuster. September 2003

$24.95, ISBN 0-743-47623-9

The Sex Chronicles:

Shattering the Myth

Strebor Books, February 2001

$15.00, ISBN 0-967-46018-2

Shame on it All

Strebor Books, June 2001

$1500. ISBN 0-967-40012-3

The Sisters of APF

Simon & Schuster, April 2003

$21.95, ISBN 0-743-46698-5


Atria Books. December 2003

$24.95. ISBN 0-743-45703X
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Strebor Books
Author:Johnson, Kalyn
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Bibliography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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