Interview: Tony Rose, ACGI

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I never said it was easy. On the contrary, it's not easy because you don't come out unscarred but you can come out, if you don't succumb. Unfortunately, most don't get out. And you are right; it is easier said than done. But since I come from it, I can say that you have to find ways and means by doing other things, by moving your skills forward. There are gangs who prey on weak people and the weakest person in the projects is a 10 to 12 year old girl. Do you honestly believe that a girl wakes up in the morning and tells herself, I want to be a prostitute?

Tony Rose is Founder, Publisher and CEO of Amber Communications Group, Inc. (ACGI), the nation’s largest African American Publisher of Self-Help Books and Celebrity Biographies. Among his long list of affiliations, Mr. Rose is also the Co-founder of the African American Pavilion at BookExpo America (BEA) and Coordinator for the Community of Color Pavilion/African American Exhibitors at the American Library Association Annual Conference.  Rose is also a member of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA). Among his many accolades, he is also a leading book publisher and a mentor for authors and publishers.  Tony Rose is a fine example of what determination, insight and the belief in one’s dreams can produce.  Mr. Rose was gracious to share some of his vast knowledge and insight.

Lipsey: Please tell us about yourself.

: I make sure to take time to meditate daily and try to be healthy as I can. From a personal standpoint, I like running and try to run every day, usually starting at around 4:00 am. I believe in God and in having a spiritual connection with him. I am married to a wonderful woman, Yvonne, who supports our endeavors and works along side me to help accomplish our dreams and reach our goals in life.

Lipsey: What is your mission for Amber Communications, which is already an award winning company and quite successful in the literary arena?

I hope from day to day that we are doing the right thing. We want something positive in the world for the African American community. We all need as much as we can get, so for me, it's a mission to spread a positive message through utilizing ourselves, our own African American titles, our own African American authors, and our embodiment as an extension of something that ¡s positive. We at Amber Communications pride ourselves in providing numerous resources for the benefit and betterment of the African American community.

Lipsey: How are Amber self-help books different from other self-help books?

First of all, the difference is in the language. Our titles tell the real story. For example, here is one of our titles, How to Get Rich When You Ain't Got Nothing.  We make a conscientious effort to remain real. Secondly, the difference is that we, African Americans, grace the covers. Third, the titles are published by an African American publisher.

Lipsey: Have you always worked in the literary field?

No, this is actually my second career. We were very big in the music industry in the 80's and 90's. During our 20 plus years in the music business, we produced and recorded with such musical stars as Prince Charles and the City Beat band, Maurice Starr, New Kids On The Block and many more international stars. We also had production deals with Virgin, Atlantic and Sony Records. I became a very well known record producer, songwriter and owned management companies and music production companies. It was a great career.

Lipsey: What inspired you to leave the music business and venture into the arena of publishing as well as some of your other successful business ventures?

I love books. Even as a child, books were my life. When I graduated from UCLA with a degree in English literature, I set out to become a writer. However, people seemed to like my music more than my writing, which is why I chose to go the musical career path. Upon making the decision to retire from the music industry, I sold my companies and I went home. Home meaning, I returned to that which I always loved, writing. So Amber Communications was like coming home. It was the career that I always wanted but there was no room in the 70's. It was difficult for an African American writer back then and so I chose the music business. This business of literature is a great, great business. It's a business of great respect. There are so many people you have an opportunity to meet and it is a wonderful career. What I love is the fact that today there are more and more younger publishers, men and women in their early 20s. They're coming to the African American Pavilion (at Book Expo America) with their books and seeking information about how to get their books in the Pavilion. It's wonderful to see a whole new generation of young African Americans publishing books. And our retailers are also great. We are very appreciative of our retailers who purchase our books. We're always happy to talk to them. At Amber Communications we have a good time with the books that we publish and cherish the people that help us to be successful.

Lipsey: What do you have to say about the all too familiar words, "Black people don't read?"

It's a stereotype; plain and simple. African Americans have been reading and writing all along. Remember, we were Africans coming to the United States. We had to learn the language. But once we learned the language, our mouths have been running and we've been writing and telling people all about our plight for centuries --  stemming all the way back to the 17th century. We are the most self-published people in this world. Phyllis Wheatley wasn't the first writer. All throughout the 19th century we were writing books. We wrote during the Harlem Renaissance. There are Frederick Douglas Dubois, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, among hundreds of others. We were writing during the Civil War and after the Civil War. We have been writing and self-publishing for over 200 years! So to say, Black people don't read or write is one of the biggest lies ever perpetuated in the history of our country. Once you learn and know your history, you can walk and talk with anyone because now you know who you are - not told who you are. Believe me, it's a great thing.

Lipsey: Why self-help books?

I grew up very, very poor, beyond poverty. I grew up in a violent, destructive and detrimental world of no hope -- The Whittier St. Housing Projects in Roxbury, Massachusetts -- one of the most violent places there is. And the sad thing is that it still stands today and today it is still hell. It was understood at Whittier that you won't survive and you will never see the light of day. When I was growing up in the projects, I owned two buildings from the age of six to the age of fourteen. I fought for the people in those two buildings. I sold newspapers. I ran their errands. I got their numbers. I got their medicine. The older people I would take them out for walks and was the one who would protect them. After all, these were my people in these two buildings. As I became older, I decided on a different path I wanted to take in my life. Once I made enough money, I forged ahead on my own. So to answer your question, in choosing self-help books I'm publishing for that woman who still lives in the projects, in the ghetto with three children and her only income is a welfare check. She has no hope deep down, but maybe, just maybe, she buys an Amber Book on real estate, make-up or skin care, or how to get a job and she learns how her life can be different. Then there is the other woman. This woman is in her 50's or 60's with grandchildren and she's looking for some way to improve their lives. That is what Amber Communications is all about. Improving people's lives. We show the realism of our people too by celebrating our African American stars and how they struggled, survived, and made it to the top. It's a worthy mission to invest our time, energy and money into those authors that we want to announce to the world.

Lipsey: Is there a particular reason you named your company Amber Communications?

The name, Amber, came so rapidly from God. It was just there. Out of nowhere, it appeared.

Lipsey: How did Amber Communications get its start?

Amber Communications was conceived when my wife and I lived in California. We loved to go to the beach and we would go almost every day. She was a model back in the day and she'd bring along a bag filled with books and pamphlets, some she had written, on etiquette, or how to talk to people and various other subjects. I kept looking at her stash of books, and the idea formulated in my mind. I said, Let's compile and rewrite all of this and turn it into something. Thus, the book, "Is Modeling for You-The Handbook and Guide for the Young Aspiring Black Model" It is an accumulation of her work. That's how it developed. The whole company developed from an idea of what a model did. It was positive in terms of how Black models maneuvered in life and how it made a positive statement on dress, hair, clothes, make-up. In a sense, it can go back to that lady living in the projects. I thought it could help her because you can aspire to be something in life. A model is just an aspiration. For every model, there are a hundred thousand who want to models. But if you aren't a model, here's a hand guide for you and if you learn how to walk right, talk right, display confidence, stand straight, you know what?  You'll get that job, or you'll realize that you can attend school and college. That book sold a lot of copies and it is still one of our best selling books at Amber. So, as I'm sure you already guessed, Amber is definitely in honor of my wife.

Lipsey: Where is Amber Communications located and what are some of its imprints?

Arizona and New York City. Some of our imprints include Amber Communications imprints for self-help and career guide book titles, the Busta Books imprint for celebrity bios, then there's Colossus Books imprint which is geared toward African American achievers in the entertainment world and Amber/Wiley imprint, which offers financial, self-help and beauty titles. We also have Ambrosia Books imprint for historic docudrama and Amber Communications2 imprints which publishes in general specialty books.

Lipsey: That is quite an impressive list, Mr. Rose.  In light of your already busy schedule and prestigious resume of accomplishments, is it true that you are also the Founder of the Katrina Literary Collective?

Yes, that's true. Seeing the devastation of our African American sisters and brothers after Hurricane Katrina, prompted us into action. There is no way that we, as African Americans, should sit back while our fellow brothers and sisters are suffering mentally, physically and emotionally. The Katrina Literary Collective has donated over 80,000 books to the Katrina Survivors. I would like to believe that the Katrina Literary Collective provides some sense of relief by allowing our people to, if only for a moment, escape the hardships they encounter as a result of such a devastating storm through our self-help titles and imprints.

Lipsey: What can you tell us about the television show, Literary Living?

To extend our reach in the African American community and throughout the nation, and as an added mechanism of literary advancement for African Americans, we recently ventured into the field of television. My partner, Rosette Union and I executive produced the new show on The Black Family Channel (BFC), called Literary Living.

Lipsey: Please tell us, what your television show, Literary Living is about.

Literary Living is a dynamic weekly television show exclusively aimed at the African American book buying market. The show features African American book publishing professionals, personalities and celebrities. It airs every Tuesday at 8 p.m. and again at 12 midnight.

Lipsey: What message would you share with others who have dreams and aspirations, but somehow seem to be stuck and don't know how to bring their dreams into fruition?

The first thing they should know is time is your enemy. Next, anything negative that is in your life right now, everything you see in your environment that is negative, you have to stay away from. You have to realize that where you are is not where you can be. Anything you can do to make sure that where you are becomes more positive by your presence is a help, not only to you, but to others. This is hard because most African Americans in the United States live in bad environments, attend bad schools, and we're on a rolling stone that has no end in sight. In this particular instance, I'm talking about our African American children. Children are the victims. Our children are the ones that we must encourage not to give up on their dreams and hopes, to stay away from drugs, to stay away from negative situations. If you're sitting on the sofa reading about pimps, whores and crime, you're wasting your time. But if you're reading an Amber book about ways to improve your life, you're going to walk away with something positive.

Lipsey: But isn't what you're saying, easier said than done?

I never said it was easy. On the contrary, it's not easy because you don't come out unscarred but you can come out, if you don't succumb. Unfortunately, most don't get out. And you are right; it is easier said than done. But since I come from it, I can say that you have to find ways and means by doing other things, by moving your skills forward. There are gangs who prey on weak people and the weakest person in the projects is a 10 to 12 year old girl. Do you honestly believe that a girl wakes up in the morning and tells herself, I want to be a prostitute? No, she doesn't. She's either been raped or molested. We go to church on Sunday and make believe it's not there, but it is there. The question isn't very hard to answer. What are we going to do to take them all, all of the African American children, out of a bad situation? Did you know that out of the 60-70 million African Americans in this country, only five million are doing well? By the term well, I mean from Shaquille to Oprah all the way down to you and me. The other 55 million people are living in hell. Black people don't have any money. We're still living in slums, ghettos and projects. You're asking me about dreams? I'll tell you that now we have books about pimps, whores and gangs. Most of the people who publish these books come from middle class families. They weren't victims. They didn't live the kind of life I'm talking about or come from the type of environment like I did. So when we talk about dreams, we have to realize that we are in a fight of good and evil. Our people who have to live in such an environment day by day, year by year are the ones that must be steered toward the light of hope. That's why Amber Communications exists. We are part of the fight of good and evil.

Lipsey: Mr. Rose, It has been an honor and privilege learning about you and about Amber Communications.

  Thank you, the pleasure is mine.

For more information on Amber Communications Group, Inc. visit

Shelia E. Lipsey is a reporter for AMAG – Awareness Magazine

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