We had the good fortune of connecting with Kelsea Johnson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kelsea, is there something you can share with us that those outside of the industry might not be aware of?
At Stirred Stories, we are confronting the severe lack of representation in the global publishing industry. While some may be generally aware that the media landscape as a whole is lacking in the diversity department, it’s likely that most people don’t realize just how severe the diversity and equity problem is in the publishing world.
To paint the picture clearly: In 2019, the publishing industry was 76% white, 74% cis woman, and 81% straight . Furthermore, children’s books are more likely to feature animals as prominent characters than protagonists from marginalized racial and ethnic backgrounds . The New York Times also highlighted the lack of diversity in the publishing world saying as recently as December 2020 that “non-Hispanic white people account for 60 percent of the U.S. population; in 2018, they wrote 89 percent of the books in our sample” .
The #PublishingPaidMe campaign that took place in 2020 revealed the financial consequences of the lack of representation in the publishing industry. During the viral campaign, white authors revealed what major publishing houses paid them compared to their BIPOC peers, exposing a pattern of inconsistent pay for authors when accounting for racial and ethnic background .
And unfortunately, it’s safe to say that major publishers aren’t doing much to create meaningful change. The publishing industry was only 3% less white in 2019 than it was in 2015 i.e. as “Forbes” put it, ”Diversity in publishing hasn’t improved” .
The reality of the publishing world today informs the belief that Stirred Stories was founded on: mainstream publishing does not reflect society as a whole, and it is time to stir the pot until all communities are authentically depicted in the stories we tell. Enter Stirred Stories, a publishing company for a better tomorrow.
 Lee & Low Books, 1/28/2020Lee & Low Books, 1/28/2020  The Guardian, 11/11/2020; CCBC, 6/19/2019 New York Times, 12/11/2020  Forbes, 1/31/2020
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Since 2019, Stirred Stories has been on a mission to create a more just, understanding society by diversifying the media landscape through publishing.
As the Co-Founder of Stirred Stories, I’m motivated by two core realities: 1) The publishing industry is not at all representative of society as a whole 2) Every community deserves to see themselves depicted in mainstream narratives.
As Stirred Stories has developed, I have become more deeply aware of the lack of equity in the global publishing industry and thus increasingly motivated to create revolutionary change. I’m happy to be facilitating change (or “Stirring things up” as we call it) by uplifting marginalized voices and publishing for a better tomorrow.
What does publishing for a better tomorrow look like? It looks like genuinely and purposefully centering authenticity and diversity. Stirred Stories does this in a few ways: 1) We exclusively publish marginalized voices––for us, diversity isn’t an afterthought, it’s our purpose 2) Understanding that the authors we elevate have historically been undervalued and underpaid, we use a non-traditional profit sharing business model that ensures every team member gets their fair share 3) We build each project team so the illustrator and editor have lived experiences that allow them to authentically contribute to the author’s vision.
Unlike major publishing houses where representation has only been prioritized following social backlash, diversity and authenticity have been Stirred Stories’ pillars since Day 1. Our approach to publishing intentionally deviates from the traditional model and I’m proud of that.
Building a publishing company from the ground up has been an entirely rewarding and at times challenging experience. Stirred Stories was founded with a lot of passion but limited publishing expertise so one of the biggest challenges I faced was learning the ins-and-outs of the publishing industry. This experience has taught me that it’s OKAY to not be an expert––in fact, having an outsider perspective can work to your advantage because you’re able to see things through a fresh, creative lens; the status quo can be rewritten and sometimes you’re the person to do it. I’ve also learned that as long as you have faith in your vision and are fulfilled by the work you’re doing, keep going.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
When I’m in Atlanta, I always enjoy Ponce City Market (obvious choice, I know). There’s also so much Black music culture to soak up in Atlanta so that’s a must as well. I’d also recommend checking out the thrift stores in Little Five Points if you’re into shopping on a budget.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Stirred Stories would be nothing without the authors who have trusted us to help bring their books to life. The authors behind The Grocery Game and My Mommy is a He! signed with us at our earliest stages and we are so grateful that they appreciated our vision for authentic, diverse storytelling. You can learn more about these authors and support their books at www.stirredstories.com/buy
I own all photos. The storefront depicted in the photo of me with one of our books is The Outrage.