What started as an online magazine in 2009 has become Queens’ only independent book publishing company, according to Astoria resident Shaun Randol.
Randol is the editor-in-chief, publicist, marketer and publisher of The Mantle, a book publishing company that aims to provide “a platform for young and emerging, maybe overlooked voices.”
The Mantle is run out of Randol’s home near Ditmars Boulevard and, since 2014, has published six books by emerging African writers.
“My intention is to publish writers who don’t have access to markets like the U.S. to get their names out and get the publicity their writing deserves,” Randol said.
Randol graduated with a master’s degree in international affairs from the New School in 2008 and currently works at Bloomberg L.P. and as an associate fellow at World Policy Institute. His background informs the type of writing he looks to publish: unique international voices in fiction and non-fiction.
“We Are All Blue” by Botswana-born actor and playwright Donald Molosi was published in January 2016. It’s the first time drama has been published in book form in Botswana, according to Randol, and the forward is written by former Botswana president Quett Masire.
Molosi also has a role in the upcoming film “A United Kingdom” starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, which follows the same storyline as his book – the love story of Botswana’s first president and his white British wife.
“So many books [are published] every year,” Randol said. “Only 3 to 4 percent are books in translation and of that 3 to 4 percent, a vast majority is from western European countries or their translations of works that have already been translated, so there is like .001 percent coming from African writers or Southeast Asian writers.”
Randol works with a typesetter and cover designer and establishes relationships with bookstores and distributors to give his authors the best chance of selling their books. Though he says book publishing is not extremely expensive, it took months for him to recuperate his costs. After paying the writers and the actual publishing, he must wait for the books to filter through the market and sell.
“It’s difficult but it’s the dream and I’m just going to put in the hard work and the elbow grease learning everything I possibly can about the book publishing businesses,” Randol said.
He also hopes that the publishing industry in the borough expands and that he can eventually pass down the company to a younger generation of publishers. Randol even named the company to reflect this hope. The idiom “take up the mantle” means to pass responsibility from a mentor to a student.
“I take great pride in being based in Queens,” he said. “For me and for writers and the community, we see great potential in what can happen in Queens. There just needs to be a breakthrough moment in the literary community. I think maybe in the next 10 years we’ll see some of the momentum shift.”
There is currently only one independent bookstore in Queens – the Astoria Bookshop – and Randol said a large part of establishing a burgeoning literary scene is the presence of bookstores that can host book clubs and writing workshops.
Randol has reached out to former Barnes & Noble employees Vina Castillo, Natalie Noboa and Holly Nikodem, who are raising money to open a bookstore in Kew Gardens or Forest Hills.
“Like-minded people attract like-minded people,” Randol said. “Once there is a cohort of writers that have staked out their ground in a neighborhood, right now that would be somewhere in Brooklyn, they start attracting their kind of people.”
On Oct. 6, The Mantle will hold a book launch for “The Sound of Things to Come” by Nigerian writer Emmanuel Iduma, which will be available directly from Randol, Kindle, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Small Press Distribution.