By: Kymberly Amara
On How She Got into Publishing
“I stumbled upon this opening at Barnes & Noble and took it and I believe that steps are ordered…I had the relationships from Barnes & Nobles with the publishers and they knew what I did with events with Barnes & Noble and so I already had those relationships. I was thinking at first when I started this PR and marketing company, that’s what it ended up being, Oracle Group, PR & marketing for authors, setting up author stores, setting up their media tours, book launches things like that, nationwide; some I did international. In starting it I wanted to work with everybody and I noticed for some reason they were only giving me the Black authors. But, I always laugh and say a blessing in disguise because I turned out making a niche where they didn’t see. It’s easy to sign a Kevin Hart, it’s easy to sign these big names but if you don’t know how people of color, how we consume our products where we get our advice from, places that we go [like] Essence Festival. Back in the day, it was “Woman Thou Art Loosed” where T.D. Jakes is selling 900 books and if you don’t know these little cultural nuances that we have then you’re just going to have those books and have nowhere to put them. So, I made a niche out of that and that’s how the company grew.”
We were all put here to improve society and impact change. Many of us have talents and gifts that come easily to us and should be shared with the world but for varying reasons, we’re unable to master the art of conveying those gifts. Fortunately for the literary world, Mocha Ochoa has leaned into her prowess and we are all the better for it. Reading is the gateway to learning and learning is the beginning of obtaining knowledge to change the world around us. Ochoa has not only solidified herself as the go-to publisher for telling Black stories, but she will change the game on how our stories are told for future generations. With an educational background in communications, Ochoa started as an author promoter at Barnes & Nobles and quickly learned the ins and outs of author PR. From there she left Barnes & Nobles to begin the Oracle Group International became sought after to host events and host book tours.
After solidifying her reputation in the PR and marketing world Ochoa became highly sought after by publishers. Having worked with notable celebrities such as Charlie Wilson, Jennifer Lewis, and most recently, Russell Simmons who have shared their stories to help others. Having been inspired by working with Russell who is a well-known yogi to start Mocha Media, she designed a company that would allow her to connect her clients and their stories with the public. Russell’s book will be the first offering under Mocha Media.
“Mocha Media happened out of COVID because all of a sudden, no one’s touring, all of a sudden no book signings, all of a sudden. I always did have in the back of my mind that I did want to publish because I can’t tell you the amount of authors that I’ve led to publishing companies and then turn around and say well maybe they’ll call me if they get the deal and when the book comes out. I’ve taken suggestion offers to some companies and they’ll say, “well Donnie Simpson does he really have a market.” You don’t know Donnie Simpson, do you know what I could do with a book like that? So in instances like those, that’s when I said I need to start my own publishing company because we need these stories and for me, it’s always been about these stories and how they help people.”
Ochoa has since become a subject matter expert and marketing genius when it comes to getting stories told and getting those stories in front of the right target audience. She has been fortunate to know a lot of freelance editors and has leveraged her talented network and contracted with them to work with authors to help get these stories written and published.
On being a proponent of literary activism
Being fueled by historical cultural movements like the Harlem Renaissance, Ochoa is also a conduit of literary activism. She has managed to strike a delicate balance by using her skills and platform to tell our stories authentically and apologetically.
“To me, literary activism means its literature in action, its literature that inspires folks to action to fall on to create some kind of good in the community. I look at eras like the Negritude Movement and the Harlem Renaissance and I look at them. I love that era so much because it was cool to be intellectual. Like at the speakeasy’s the best dressed, you went and you looked great and had great music in the background but you were speaking about things that could move the community further…So that’s really what everything that I do is based on, using the power of the pen to move us further as a people. One, to create discussion because you don’t have to agree with me and I don’t have to agree with you but, perhaps from the dialogue we can come up with some kind of solution and create a blueprint. Like books are the blueprint; if I’ve been through something I can show you how I overcame it [and] you can listen to me but, I’m giving you this blueprint to go home and read what you missed.”
On the importance of having a Black-owned publishing company
To control our narrative and improve our communities, we need to be able to tell our own stories unabashedly and authentically. To truly connect, understanding the needs within the Black community must be conveyed by those of us who have lived, breathed, and digested blackness.
“We should care and it matters very much because the people who are choosing what stories are important if we are not in those conversations how can someone know what’s important to our community if you don’t live and breathe our community every day. How can you choose what’s important when you really don’t know what’s going on in our community? You haven’t participated in the discussions and what we need more of. How can you make those choices in a sterile office building in New York and you’re so detached from the culture? You can’t make those decisions about our community. We know what’s going on.”
Ochoa says that we must continue to tell our stories and convey the value in our lived experiences to the world. The need to communicate the value in Black stories is also important because there is someone on the other side who is waiting on that story to be told to help them navigate their journey. As such, Ochoa believes that we shouldn’t wait to convey those stories by waiting to get a seat at the table with big publishers such as HarperCollins or Penguin Random House who recently received clearance to acquire Simon & Schuster to become a mega-publisher. This can be extremely problematic when one entity has a monopoly and therefore controls everything from distribution, publishing, and cost.
“It’s one thing to write the story and it’s another thing to [get distribution] and that’s where we suffer. The only difference between us and the big boys is distribution, making that book available. Same thing like you get an artist who has an imprint, still needs print and distribution, still needs distribution [like] Sony or Universal behind them mass producing and making it available to anyone who goes to look for it. But a self-published author does not have that same capital and only has a certain amount of books available and it’s not going to be in every book store because you’re working with limited capital. However, if we can come up with a distribution system that made our books available everywhere then we’re in the game. So, now with Mocha Media, that’s what I’ve done. I’ve partnered with a distribution company so now I’m able to be in every single store, their books can be ordered, it’s in Amazon’s warehouse…things that I don’t have to worry about. I let the distribution do that and I concentrate on the stories.”
With the current focus on antitrust that allows for the promotion of competition and the prevention of monopolies, the acquisition of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House will ultimately limit diversity because they choose the type of stores that are important and therefore what stories will be told.
“When one company owns three of the major voices that means that they are deciding what stories are important. You can give me an imprint from Simon & Schuster. Penguin can give me a Mocha Media imprint but at the end of the day do I have complete authority to say that I want to publish this book and that’s the end all be all, no one above me can say we really don’t want to do that? No, you are still subject to the powers that be even though they give you your own imprint. It’s the voice and the narrative that’s still being controlled and that’s extremely dangerous.”
On using books to help inform future generations
Recognizing the importance of books and storytelling, and as an avid reader herself, Ochoa says that she lived through books as a child. She hopes to bring back the essence of learning that you can only get through literary consumption to younger audiences. While the points and themes that need to be told haven’t changed, how they are told has. Ochoa says, “the means and platforms,” are key to getting them told. With the ability and power to help get our stories told and understanding the needs of black culture, she hopes to capitalize on transmedia storytelling platforms to engage younger audiences. Citing a project where she created a global book club, Ochoa was able to work with authors using digital platforms and bring books to children across continents to provide both educational and cross-cultural experiences. She is undoubtedly an expert and genius at her craft and is working on innovative ways to engage younger audiences utilizing ground-breaking technology.
As she continues to push the power of books through innovative storytelling, we can expect her to write influential stories that have the power to change lives and the course of history.
“How am I going to be different? Not just different because it’s black. Different because we are innovators. We do it first and then other people follow.”