Buy Black Friday: Subscribe To My Lit Box
When I was a little girl, I had the great fortune of living across the street from the public library. During the summer when I wasn’t burdened with homework and mandatory reading, I would stock up on books, often going once a week as I plowed through the pages. The act of selecting a book and bringing it home was so special, an activity I wouldn’t fully appreciate until I left home for college and realized that all libraries aren’t located down the street. The process of getting a book became either a bit more tedious or expensive when you factored in those Amazon shipping costs. But you know what they say, the best way to launch a successful business is to create something that fulfills a need. And that’s what Sanura Williams has done with My Lit Box. Instead of going to the bookstore, waiting for new titles to make it to the library, or paying more for shipping than you do for the book, you can get a couple, written by writers of color, delivered to your door every single month.
Recently, we had a chance to chat with My Lit Box founder Sanura Wiliams about how the idea for the subscription service came about, the challenges of starting her own business and why you too should pursue your own dream of entrepreneurship.
How did the idea for My Lit Box first come about?
I just kind of wanted to give entrepreneurship a try. I had grown disenchanted for working in Corporate America and just wanted to have a little more freedom. So the idea of going into business for myself came first. But then when I was thinking about what it is I wanted to do, focusing on literature just kind of came naturally to me because I’ve just been a lifelong reader. It was just something I enjoyed. I don’t have this specific background in literature or English or writing or anything. It was just pure interest and passion. And once I knew that I was going to focus on books, the idea for a subscription box model came to me as a package idea.
What about Corporate America left you feeling disenchanted?
I started feeling this way once I traveled out of the country. I was kind of a late bloomer when it came to traveling. I took my first trip out the country in 2015. When I came home, I was like, ‘I want to do this more often.’ But of course when you work that Monday-Friday 9-5 life, you have two weeks of vacation a year. And like, ‘No, this will not do. I need more. I need more freedom.’ So that’s pretty much what triggered the disenchantment with working in Corporate America because I knew that no matter where I worked, no matter what organization I worked with, that structure would still be in place. So I knew the answer wasn’t just finding another job, I knew the kind of freedom that I had in mind, entrepreneurship seemed like the only answer.
Hey you guys! Silly me, I don't think I've ever formally introduced myself and since we've had quite a few new followers lately (THANK YOU!) I wanted to officially welcome you! My name is Sanura and I am the owner of My Lit Box. I am a throw your head back and laugh out loud, book lover! Although My Lit Box is a new business, it is a dream a long time in the making and it has been so fulfilling creating these boxes each month, getting them in your hands, and hearing the response! I have such big plans for My Lit Box and I invite you all to join the ride. I am always available to you so feel free to hit me with any questions you may have. Our motto is Color. Conversation. Community. YOU are that community and I appreciate each and everyone one of you!
After you had the idea for My Lit Box did you have doubts? A lot of times after we have a brilliant idea, the doubts start coming in. How did it happen for you?
I definitely had doubts. And I mean, even with the business less than a year old, sometimes I still have— I don’t want to call them doubts– but I wonder how far I can take this. But then every time I get a new subscriber, it’s just a bit of an affirmation that I’m moving in the right direction. So definitely before I put up a website, I was nervous because I knew that there were subscription boxes out there that focused on books but I didn’t see any out there that focused on writers of color. So I was definitely concerned about whether or not there was even an interest. The thing that gave me the most pause was wondering if there was an audience for it. But I felt that I didn’t have anything to lose. Putting up the website was minimal financial obligation. I felt I had more to lose if I didn’t try than if I did and it didn’t work out. So I just went for it anyway.
What would you say were some challenges or obstacles that you faced in creating My Lit Box?
I would say that the biggest challenge I had was time. I was still working—and still am working the same job I had when I started the business. I think that’s the biggest challenge is just trying to carve out the time to devote to it. I wanted to give it my all but I didn’t have my all to give because I still had my regular job. So I think that’s still the biggest challenge is making sure I have the time to make it a quality product. I didn’t want to half-ass it. I didn’t want to throw some stuff in a box to give it to people who gave me their hard-earned money. I wanted them to feel like they were making an investment and I wanted it to look like it was what they were expecting.
I’m a one-woman show. I have my friends and family but as far as buying and advertising and social media, I do that all myself so that’s really the biggest struggle is just trying to carve out the time to get everything done.
How do you go about picking the books that you feature every month?
There’s actually a process. One thing I’ve had to learn so far is I’m not just curating the boxes for myself. So even if I’m not necessarily feeling a title, if I think the writer is delivering a message, whether or not it resonates with me as an individual, I’ll still include it. So I have to find a balance between my personal preferences and what I think my audience will like. I follow a lot of publications like Publisher’s Weekly, tons of book blogs, just anything that keeps me in the know about upcoming titles. And then I take it from there. I’ll read summaries online. If the summary grabs me, then I’ll reach out to the publisher and ask for an advanced copy. That’s my one rule: I have to read a book before I put it in the box. I never just blindly select a title and say it sounds good or the cover looks interesting. I have to read it front to back, cover to cover. Also to make sure it’s appropriate. I never want to include anything in the box that’s offensive or that uses homophobic language or racist language if it doesn’t tie into the storytelling all together. And once I’ve read through the novel, I’ll pull a theme from it and curate a box around it.
How did the idea of creating a theme every month come to you?
I just wanted the boxes to make sense. That’s my biggest thing. I never just wanted it — and I say this a lot— to be about putting stuff in a box. I wanted it to feel homemade I wanted everything to make sense and everything to tie into one another. Because I think that conveys what I, as the owner, feel about the product. I want that to come through to our subscribers that this wasn’t just a random, rag tag thing I threw together. This is something I’m passionate about. So that’s where the theme came from because I knew having a theme would give me some focus so I wasn’t so overwhelmed trying to figure out what to include.
You said you don’t include anything you haven’t read. So I imagine you’re reading a lot more. How many books are you reading at a time, generally?
I only read one book at a time. There are people who read multiple books at a time but I can’t do it. I just have to devote myself solely to one book. I’m a slow reader so I average about a book a week. That’s another thing I’ve been kind of struggling with, I need to read so many books, so much faster. So I average about a book a week. So far, I’ve been pretty lucky. I can use 2-3 books and I know that I can select a title. I never have to run through like 10 books before I know I’ve found a good one.
9 times out of 10, anything I'm reading is for entertainment but lately I've developed an interest in books about personal development and inspiration. I'm FINALLY getting around to picking up Shonda Rhimes' Year of Yes and I am ready to be inspired. I have been a long time fan of her work on screen so I can only imagine what awaits me between the pages of this book. What inspiring reads are you #currentlyreading?
What would you say to other women who are also tired of the corporate structure but are concerned they won’t be able to make it or won’t be able to make enough money?
I have a friend who also had a subscription box service and she and I were talking when we both began and she asked me if I was still working my job. And I told her I was. I remember she asked me why I was still at my job and I remember telling her ‘I didn’t want to put the pressure on the box to be the thing that sustains me.’ I didn’t want to say ‘Ok I’m starting a business today and I’m quitting my job two weeks from now.’ Because that would have put so much pressure on the business to be successful from jump to not only make enough money to sustain the business as a business but make enough to sustain me as a person who has rent and a car note and all those things. So I would tell someone who has a full-time job and wants to start a business to not so much think about when they’ll be able to quit their job but think more about just getting their business off the ground. Because as the business is up and running and as you become successful, you’ll be able to develop a roadmap for when you’ll actually be able to step away from your job. I mean, everything will happen in due time. So I wouldn’t put that unnecessary pressure on your business, especially while you’re still trying to figure it out.
When we start businesses and become business people, we’re still learning. It’s not like you open a business and you all of a sudden have this knowledge. There’s a learning curve to it. And I think you would be doing yourself a disservice if while you’re trying to learn how to be a businesswoman, to also be trying to step away from a job. You’re just taking on more than you need to. I would just say just take everything in bite sizes. Take on what you can handle and just to do it. You can talk yourself out of pursuing something you’re passionate about but I assure you, even if that fails, you will feel even more disappointment if you never try at all.
What are the goals for My Lit Box going forward?
Just to continue to be in business. I just want to continue to sustain what we’ve been able to build so far and build upon it. Right now, we only have one box a month but I would like to break that box down into separate boxes. Let’s say you wanted to focus on books by women writers of color or books by writers of the African Diaspora or young adult novels. I would love to be able to offer multiple boxes in the future. So that’s definitely a goal I want to work towards. And hopefully, I’ll be able to do that sooner than later. But right now, curating one box is enough of a challenge but that’s definitely the goal, give our subscribers a little more variety.
What would you say has been the most rewarding or most pleasant thing you’ve found since you started My Lit Box?
I think it’s been the response. Like I said, I was concerned before I started whether or not people would even be interested in this. But every month our number of subscribers grow and I’m just always amazed that I managed to create something that appeals to people and that they’re actually willing to invest the money that they work hard for. I think that’s been the most surprising thing. And it always gives me so much joy when I get an email or a tweet or something that they got their box and that it came right on time.
I remember shortly after the election in November, there was a box that included a coloring book in it. And someone had sent me a tweet saying that they were so overwhelmed and stressed out over the election, that this was the perfect thing they needed to relax. In a nutshell, that’s really what I hope my response is every month, that reprieve, that relief from whatever it is that may be weighing on you.