Author, Publisher and Educator Tressa Smallwood Talks New Project, Her Film Production Debut, Secrets
Meet author, publishing powerhouse, mentor, entrepreneur, and C.E.O of Life Changing Books, Tressa Smallwood aka “Azarel”. Life Changing Books, a multi-million dollar publishing house, and worldwide distributor, is one of the most successful independent publishing companies in the publishing industry, with over 2,000 consulted and signed authors and publishers, and 141 books published to date. It is impressive that Azarel began her humble journey of success, as a teacher in Prince George’s County public school, a dream of becoming an author, and her first title book, “A Life To Remember”. A novel that was written to aide in the help of changing the lives of young men.
You’ve probably spent some nights in bed, thoroughly engaged and captivated by one of her many bestselling books, either authored or published under her brand name; popular titles such as Essence and New York Times bestsellers, “Bruised”, “Daddy’s House”, “Left for Dead”, and “Game Over” to name a few.
In 2002, Azarel resigned from her teaching tenure in Prince George’s County, and fearlessly turned her dream of being an author to a reality, with faith and a supportive family. Well, as the saying goes, the rest is history! Tressa Smallwood is not only an author, publisher, and C.E.O, but you may now add, movie producer as well. Smallwood serves as the Executive Producer of the movie Secrets an adaptation of the Essence bestselling book “Secrets of A Housewife” written by J. Tremble, published under the LCB brand.
I was able to catch up with the energetic and inspiring Tressa “Azarel” Smallwood; a conversation of genuine transparency as we discussed her success as an entrepreneur, why she says, “at some point you just have to reject rejection,” and her big debut as a movie producer. Tressa Smallwood’s story of success, is one that proves that family is the backbone of success, and sometimes family is more than those born of blood, but family is also those that are loyal. And fear without faith, will forever keep you a prisoner within a dream.
Parlé Mag: I actually attended the American Black Film Festival this past June and would like to congratulate you on the premiere of your movie Secrets.
Tressa Smallwood: Thank you! Yeah, I’m excited!
Parlé Mag: Oh you’re welcome, it’s well deserved! But before we get into your movie Secrets, and I’m sure you get asked this quite a bit. Let’s talk about your humble beginnings, and how you became to be this giant powerhouse–author and C.E.O of Life Changing Books?
Tressa Smallwood: I’m really glad that you started there, because a lot of times, people don’t realize that I had to start from somewhere, so I love this question. You lead me where you want me to start, but, I love it, because it’s the best place to start for me.
Parlé Mag: In 2002 you were teaching in Prince George’s County in Maryland. What was that moment that made you decide, it’s time to leave the comfort and benefits of teaching?
Tressa Smallwood: For me, the best thing was that my husband was super supportive from the start. While I was teaching, I was telling my family, hey, I wrote this book, and things are going really well. I don’t think I want to go back to work. I came from a family full of educators, and they were like, are you crazy, insane?! You need those benefits and Summers off. They’re like rattling off the perks, and I’m like yeah, but I gotta’ go work for somebody else. At this point, I had written a book, while I was on bed rest. I had printed 5 thousand copies, thinking I was going to have most of them still in my garage. That never happened, because sales just happened so quickly! Before I knew it, I had sold out and made 40 thousand in profit, and was like, I just don’t want to go back to work. My husband was like, ‘well… don’t’.
Parlé Mag: Wow…that’s awesome!
Tressa Smallwood: Yeah, that was the best part, because I know a lot of times, and I teach entrepreneurship. The problem that most people tell me they have, is they don’t have the family support. So that was a blessing for me, for my husband to be behind me and say, don’t go back.
Parlé Mag: And that’s what I want to get into… so many want to go into entrepreneurship. What do you think holds so many back, outside of family not being supportive?
Tressa Smallwood: Fear of failure. They’re like, what if I fail–what happens then. Listen… all of those failures build you up and take you to the next level. I’ve had many, many failures. Obviously, I had that initial success when I put out my first book. And I was like, oh this is going to be great! Well, in my mind, I thought every book I put out once I became a publisher would become a success, and that didn’t happen. So there were many times that I failed on that level. There were many times that I thought, I would get certain books into Barnes and Nobles, and Wal-Mart. I would get rejected. At some point you have to just reject, rejection, and say alright, what’s next. A no, doesn’t really mean a no, it just means, not now. So I had to learn that over the years. Now, it’s to the point where failures will still come, but that really means nothing. It’s like oh, that’s just a little bump in the road, we’ll get over that. And it’s on to the next. So I think as an entrepreneur, once you develop that mentality, that I got this, that I’m fearless; problems are going to come, but we’ll get over them and move on. Then you all good.
Parlé Mag: So going back to your first book, “A Life To Remember”, you wrote the book before you started your publishing house. Did you have a blueprint or some type of plan, or did you just jump out there and go for it?
Tressa Smallwood: Yeah, I just jumped out there.
Parlé Mag: Really, you’re fearless.
Tressa Smallwood: Yeah, I definitely just jumped out there. I was like, oh my goodness, that was great! Keep in mind, when I wrote my first book, it was just that I had time to do nothing. I was on bed rest. As opposed to watching tv, and flipping the remote, I was like let me do something with myself. So when I wrote the book, I had no idea it was going to become this huge success, nor did I think about starting my own publishing house. So once I started all that, I still never thought that I would end up publishing 141 books to date or even consulting 2000 authors. None of that was a part of my plan. I never even thought about movies back then. I never thought that I would adapt to movies. So all of that just really happened for me.
Parlé Mag: Just amazing… 141 books! So many books to chose from, how did you come to the decision to take the book “Secrets of A Housewife” by J. Tremble and turn that into a movie?
Tressa Smallwood: A couple of things for me. One, I had already decided in 2014, that I was going to produce 10 films within 6 years. And I said, okay how do I get this done. So I started mapping out a plan, and I created a blueprint to be able to do that. I started getting screenwriters, different people in the film industry to look at different book projects. Every single book can’t be a movie, it may not possess the elements to become a movie. So I was like alright, what projects would evoke emotions. What would speak to the masses. What project would be great to start off with, to get a reaction out of people. I started thinking about those things, and then I started having different people read the books. Jamal Hill, who wrote and produced, Brotherly Love for Queen Latifah, Juices for Queen Latifah, he was one of my screenwriters. I said Jamal, I’m going to give you these books, you read them and tell me which one you want to write first. He said, Secrets. Everybody has secrets. The world has secrets. He said, we’ll attract a lot of people with that one. We had a couple of other ones, “The Available Wife”, “One Night Stand”, was in that top tier. There’s one book called, “Welfare Grind”, that deals with the cycle of welfare. A generational curse, where families constantly look to welfare, but it’s a grimy story. It reminds you of “The Wire”. That was one of the picks as well. So after listening to everybody, they were like, okay we love all of these, but let’s do Secrets. And the second reason why, J.Tremble, is one of my authors that has been with me from the start. Loyalty is everything to me. So I said, let’s give him a shot. That’s when we all made the decision, that it was Secrets.
Parlé Mag: Going back to the American Black Film Festival, I sat in on T.D Jakes talk, and he talked about how difficult it is to find financial backing for a movie. How difficult was it for you to find the finances to produce Secrets?
Tressa Smallwood: That was a part of my planning, again, I had a little over a year to plan. One of my specialties outside of publishing, is that I’m just really, really good with business. That’s why I do a lot of business consultations, so for me, I knew. Let me put together a structure that makes sense. I was one of the leading investors, and I was able to go to my family, and I could do that with ease because, they knew. She’s really going to do this, and it won’t be a basic movie, it’s going to be really, really good. My track record just spoke for itself. They knew I would produce something of quality, and they wanted to be involved. So for me, it was little easy, in that aspect. It was easy because, I already had a track record that she’s going to get it done. And, I did put up a lot of the money myself.
Parlé Mag: You are tough! What were your feelings seeing your movie premiering at the American Black Film Festival, on the big screen?
Tressa Smallwood: Well, I’m still pinching myself. I remember when I got the letter from ABFF, I was like oh okay, this will be great. I had attended ABFF two years straight before that, and it was in New York. I knew that you’ll have 30, 40 people in each screening, and that’s kinda’ what I was expecting. So when they put our link up on their website, it sold out in 12 hours. I was like wait a minute… the movie sold out. So I knew that even when a movie sells out, there are people that have VIP passes, that still should be able to get in. I went to the ABFF officials and said, you guys need to give us another room, this theatre only holds like 200 people. This is not going to work out. They were like, oh no, it’s going to be fine, people won’t show up. I got to the theatre, and saw that it was standing room only, and there were like 80 people outside of the theatre, that couldn’t get in. I was like oh my goodness. It was crazy. It was a good look for us, the word around ABFF was, Secrets was the best movie, you couldn’t get in. Those people were going crazy on us. Ya’ know, I had to sit on the steps, of course, I gave up my seat. I had never watched the movie on the big screen. I had only watched it in the studio, and on my laptop. So to see it on the big screen was like… wow, this is really good! So it was a really good feeling. I just prayed honey. I prayed in hard times, I prayed in good times. I just prayed, and gave thanks.
Parlé Mag: When you guys made Secrets what was the impact that you wanted to have on the viewer, when they saw it? What was the emotions, you wanted to evoke?
Tressa Smallwood: I wanted people, at the end of the day, to feel like even though life hits you with all of these things, that really happen in real life; everything in Secrets from the infidelity, to the spouse, your mate having these secrets, and the monotony of being married, that’s really what the story is about. A husband and wife, who’ve been together for awhile and the husband is feeling like, do I have the perfect woman. I’m tired of this same ol’ same. In the end, after all their secrets come out, a lot of crying, a lot of hurt; they end up getting back together. So we really wanted to let people know that saving the Black family, is really really important. A lot of times, and not just in the African-American society, there are a lot of single parent households. And sometimes there are a lot of single parent households because people give up very easily. This story really shows, hey, let’s really give this a shot. So that’s what they did, and they made it work.
Parlé Mag: Let’s talk about some of your other projects, you have the Bestsellers Project. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Tressa Smallwood: Yeah, so the Bestsellers Project, is one of my platforms, where I teach people how to write and publish their book. Although, I’m a book publisher, a movie producer, I primarily love teaching. That’s my first love, teaching. I come from a teaching background, and I still teach to this day. I do a lot of speaking engagements, and when I do all of these events, of course there are people that are like can you teach me how to do my book. Can you teach me how to become a bestseller. I bundled all of that up, and I teach all of these classes, either through the Bestsellers Project or through my vip club where people get an opportunity to learn more in a structured environment from me. There all online classes predominantly, every now and then, I’ll do like a corporate event where an organization will hire me to come in and teach their organization how to write books. But ultimately I do a lot of it online. The easiest way to find out about all of that, it’s all on one website. www.tressaazarelvipclub.com Everything is there, you’ll be able to get in contact with me. Email address is there, everything.
Parlé Mag: Are there any other projects that you’re working on right now? Cause you are everywhere!
Tressa Smallwood: Yes, that’s why I haven’t had any sleep. So right now we are in preproduction, on our newest movie, which is called, Born In The Game. It’s an adaptation from “Welfare Grind”, a book that we published, and it’s by Kendall Banks. We are praying, pray with us! We want Teyana Taylor and Tasha Smith from Why Did I Get Married?, as our two leading ladies. So pray with us okay. We’re in casting right now.
Parlé Mag: Look it’s already done!
Tressa Smallwood: I love it. Thank you.
Parlé Mag: Is there any advice you would like to give those that are holding off on taking that leap of entrepreneurship?
Tressa Smallwood: I would say, stop procrastinating. There’s always going to be something that will come up, that will give you that out to say, ‘oh not right now’. I’ll wait until my kids graduate high school, oh I’ll wait until summer comes, or I’ll wait until my Zuumba class ends. There’s always going to be something. So stop procrastinating. Because you can do this. It’s no better time than now to become an entrepreneur. Everything that you need, every resource is right there. Have no fear, and just go for it.
Parlé Mag: I feel that, I take that advice as well. Azarel thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule. You’re such an inspiration. I wish you continued success.
Tressa Smallwood: Well thank you honey, I appreciate you for giving me the time.