My guest this week is Janét Aizenstros, a Canadian author, entrepreneur, and publisher. Janét's own story is an inspiring one because she began with a series of children's books and built a series of growing multimedia companies. Now, she's making it her business to help other authors, especially other women, find their own voices and their own audiences.
Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
A couple of highlights from our interview:
On the Power of Writing
Writing gave me the ability, as I got older, to start processing some of the pain that I had walked through. That’s why I think that, My Heart, Open as the Sky, that poetry book, became the touchstone that I needed.
On Skin Color
I've never really defined myself by my skin color, even though I'm proud of my skin color and everything that it represents. I won't allow my skin color to be the deterrent as to why I should not strive to be excellent.
Listen to My Interview With Janét Aizenstros
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript of My Interview With Janét Aizenstros
Howard Lovy: My guest this week is Janét Aizenstros, a Canadian author, entrepreneur, and publisher. Janét's own story is an inspiring one, because she began with a series of children's books and built a series of growing multimedia companies.
Now, she's making it her business to help other authors, especially other women, find their own voices and their own audiences.
Janét Aizenstros: So, my name is Dr. Janét Aizenstros. I own a global media company, that's in 15 locations. We work with Fortune corps and media companies, helping them connect with women consumers in an emotional, intuitive way, doing data and technology.
Also, a part of my media company, we also have other organizations such as publishing, creative agency, and entertainment.
I am a high performing creative, and I love everything books.
I actually grew up in a small town called Guelph, Ontario, a small city about 90 minutes west of Toronto. Love it. I still live on the enclave outside of Toronto called Puslinch. I love small town living; I grew up around nature and farms. So, I think that's really driven a lot of my creative inspiration.
Howard Lovy: Janét's creative inspiration found an outlet in singing for a little while. But she soon realized that writing was her true calling.
Janét Aizenstros: I've been writing since I was a little kid. I actually taught myself to read around the age of three and a half, or four. I just have a natural ability with words. They excite me, I can bring them to life. It's intuitive, like I can pull a word apart.
So, I would probably say when I discovered writing was actually through a process of rejection in high school. So, in grade nine, I was given a project to either write a song or a poem. And I decided to write a poem because I thought, oh, that will be easier. And it was for a book called, The Day When No Pigs Die by Robert, I think, it's Robert Peck. But anyway, I loved the book and I wrote this poem and everybody in the class thought that I had the best poem out of everybody, and then the teacher gave me like a three out of five and she's like, oh, well it was okay. It wasn't really that good. And then, the funny thing is, that about a few years later, even though I'd been writing throughout my life, it actually instigated this ability in me to start wanting to write more. So, I wrote my first book when I was 17, and it was about an autobiographical poetry book called, My Heart, Open as the Sky.
It's funny because after I published that book, and it got nominated by the International Library of Poetry, I remember seeing that teacher after in my late teens, early adulthood, and she's like, what are you doing? And I said, oh, well, I actually wrote a book, and I became a writer and that's what I was doing.
And so, not to date myself, but that's going back, I don't know, over 20 years now, let's just say, it was about 23. I'm 40 now, proud 40, but, yeah. And that book, I didn't publish it at the time, but I did publish it when I was 34.
So, that's going back about six years now, and I brought it to life, and it's done really well. You know, we've been able to speak through some really great women's groups and it's been more of a tool of conversation for young people around the intersection of God, sexuality, and societal exploration, and relationships.
Initially, when I started writing the book, I was actually going to write my autobiography, but everybody said I was way too young to write an autobiography, but I had lived a lot of life. I had a very tumultuous upbringing and I was like; you know what? I should actually put pen to paper. But when I started writing, I discovered something about the beauty of poetry.
Poetry allows you to tell the truth, but it also is mysterious, right? So, people have to kind of like flesh out, what is it that the author is really attempting to say? And so, I started writing and I actually wrote the book in two and a half months because I was just pouring, it was just oozing out of me, all of this information.
And then all the writings that I had throughout my childhood, I just kind of started amalgamating everything and then put it into this book, cleaned it up, had it edited. And I was like, oh my gosh, this is a book, this is my book. But I told the story of myself around everything that I ever wanted to say, whether it was to my parents, whether it was to, you know, all of the questions I had as a teenager around who I was, sexuality, relationships. Also, I was really depressed as a kid, and I didn't realize that at the time, just by some things that happened in my upbringing and I was depressed and I talked a lot about that, and then I also talked a lot about spirituality because when I was 15, I actually started exploring God, and then I accepted God in my life.
It's kind of like a combination of all of those things. So, I found that when I started reading it publicly, a lot of young people really resonated and it actually became like a touchstone for me throughout my adult years, too. Whenever I had moments that I was down around anything that kind of touched upon any of those topics, I could always go back to it as well.
Howard Lovy: What Janét wrote about in her book, involves some painful memories. The act of writing it allowed her to move forward with her life from a tumultuous upbringing.
Janét Aizenstros: Tumultuous upbringing is that my dad was actually very abusive to my mother and I had my dad arrested when I was about 14 years old.
So, it actually onset for me a lot of pain and dynamics that I just didn't have the maturity at the time to deal with. And my mom at that time, obviously, was scurrying around trying to figure out how she was going to take care of three kids. I had kind of emotionally fallen apart. I didn't even realize until I was an adult that I had a nervous breakdown, because I went from being a honor roll student to just falling off the map and, being a young black Canadian girl, you know, some of the teachers cared and some of the teachers just really didn't care at all, just growing up in the community that I grew up in. I think when I connected with writing, writing gave me the ability, as I got older, to start processing some of the pain that I had walked through. That’s why I think that, My Heart, Open as the Sky, that poetry book, became the touchstone that I needed.
Howard Lovy: Janét has been a great many places in her professional journey—an author, a speaker, a model, a businesswoman, but that did not come easily, and it did not happen right away. There were a few more places she had to go first.
Janét Aizenstros: I worked for a few years and then I got married and had kids in my later twenties and, I will share this, it's interesting because I never saw myself as being a woman that kind of lived the white picket fence life. But I actually initially ended up in the white picket fence life. I did always envision myself being a businesswoman and having a business, but when my kids came along, I will share with you, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. And they actually became the catalyst, how I kind of branched out when I started my company.
So, in 2011 is when I started the organisation now known as Ahava Group Global. I decided that I didn't want to be married any longer and that I was following this vision. I wrote a children's book series called Why Mommy Loves the Rain and it was really a keepsake for my children to kind of share the memories and moments that we shared throughout their childhood. But then I also discovered too, what I wanted to depict in that was not the traditional mother. I wanted to depict a woman who was strong, who was still in charge in her business, but also still able to have the capacity and time for her children.
And so, what I did was, I created this three-book series that it seems like mom and kids really loved. And what I think is funny is, for a woman that never saw herself having children, would have a really successful children's book series that actually gave me my fame, more or less. And so, those children's books are now sold globally in different markets from the United States to Canada to, I don't know, it's definitely over 20 different countries.
I did indie in the beginning because I was an entrepreneur. Like, I will share this, I actually did indie because of the simple fact, I wanted to own everything. I guess, the more that I learned about the traditional publishing industry, I discovered that there are benefits to both, but in the end, if you want to retain your power over your content, indie was the way to go. I think the only detriment in indie is that it's a lot of cost to grow and scale your book, and to really become successful at being an author.
Meanwhile, we've seen many people in the self-development world do it, but it was combined with a few other things, like they were a coach and then they have this book, right?
So, the one-off exceptions, books are really difficult platforms to scale, like as a branch out author, unless you have a really unique story.
Howard Lovy: Part of Janét's own unique story also involves working briefly as a model. Well, sort of.
Janét Aizenstros: Okay, well, I'm just going to clarify something. I know that everybody likes to call me a model, but I am not what I would call a model.
I wrote an article or wrote a blog post, I should say, called “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Do I Like What I See?” And it was a blog post that I wrote years ago, and it had to do with the transitions that a woman goes through after becoming a mother. And I tweeted this, and Dove happened to pick it up, and then Dove tweeted back, Dove Canada, and then it became, Dove USA reached out to me, and that it was placed on their platform. So, I've written for Dove USA. I've been featured on there twice, once for their natural hair campaign or advanced hair campaign, and then also for the Dove beauty campaign. And so that was the reason why people called me a model and I have, I will share, I have modeled for Small Business Week with Holt Renfrew, so I will share that, but that doesn't make me a model. So, I just want to clarify that.
What I will say is though, some of the things that I have delved into that I'm really proud of is, I am really proud of my company. So, as anyone goes through my company, they can see that I'm very woman empowerment focused. I am a woman. I'm very proud. I'm in touch with my feminine goddess. I love being a girl. And so, a lot of the initiatives, just to stay true to who I am, has very much to do with women's empowerment. And so when I started my company, I was also blogging and vlogging, and also podcasting. And so actually, what a lot of people don't know about me, because they catch up to me now, but people that have followed me throughout the years know that I have like a collection of over 190 audio, on a woman's lumen radio network, over 190 different podcasts. And then on top of that, I have an additional 60 video logs, which are going to be repurposed because my team has been setting up these beautiful literary and media archives of my content, just to kind of show the evolution of my brand and where I've come from.
I'm much more corporate now, as people can see, because I actually do have formalized corporate structure. So, Ahava Group Global is a global organization, as I shared, we're in 15 countries globally, and we have a team of over 360 people globally around the world, with our primary market being the United States.
We have head offices based in the United States, Canada, and the UK, because those are our three primary markets.
Howard Lovy: In a short time, Janét went from writing children's books in her spare time to launching a series of companies aimed at helping women and authors.
Janét Aizenstros: So, it's comprised of five different companies and those five different companies are, Ahava Digital Group, XIIXXI Illustration, Love Lifestyle Publishing Group, Luxe House Publishing, and Ahava Entertainment. And so, three of the largest companies are Love Lifestyle Publishing Group, and that's where we actually take emerging to already established entrepreneurs, and that have really rich book or thought content, that they're putting in books, and then we're helping them connect with the media. So, we're really a media driven agency in that capacity, but we do self-publishing in an ethical way.
We're a member of ALLi, we're really big on doing self-publishing from an ethical standpoint and so, the biggest of that company is Ahava Digital Group and that's where we work with our Fortune corps. And so, through there, what we do is, as I shared, is that we work with those corporations to help them connect with the women consumers in an emotional, intuitive way using data and technology.
And what that looks like is, we're actually in possession of the only known, or global, only known in existence, ethically sourced data file on American consumers. And so, many of the Fortune corps show up at our door to do targeted digital advertising to their ideal consumer. And so, we have an application that actually gathers the data and then fuels it back to a data center where I'm the lead investor in. And then we clean up the data and we use that for targeted media. We also have a technology that we've developed called, the consumer mapping toward the data concierge. So, we have like a private equity arm, where it allows our investors to, kind of, grow and scale their companies by looking at different market trends, through forecasting with the data.
So, it's a pretty phenomenal system, but that company is like our biggest company. We have some really exciting news that will be coming out in Canada this year, around our company, with different awards that we've been nominated for. And so, it's just a really exciting time in my journey,
Howard Lovy: Unfortunately, because of the polarized times we're in, I had to ask whether, as a black woman, she felt any special responsibility to be successful.
Janét Aizenstros: I will share this; I don't feel a special responsibility to be successful. I think that was always a part of who I was, okay. So, I am actually really proud of being a black woman, but I should give a little bit of background story to that. When I was growing up, I grew up in a predominantly white community, and Canada is actually a really white country.
And when people come to Toronto, they see the cultural diversity, but they don't realize that Toronto only represents, even if you were to take Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, they're not even 10% of the country's population. Canada is just under 40 million people. In total between those three major cities in Canada, you're probably getting 10 million people in total, maybe 11. And so, what happens to the remaining 30 million? And so, I think that's the part that people need to understand, that people have different conversations around race. So, I actually grew up in an all-white community where I didn't even realize what being black meant until I was in grade seven and my teacher gave us an assignment that questioned, “What is your culture? What is your history?” My parents are both of Caribbean descent, I'm first generation, and they never talked about black or anything like that. And nor did any of the white people that I grew up around ever make me feel inadequate for being black.
So, when I went to do this assignment, I went and showed up at the library, and the librarian gave me Alex Haley's Roots. And so, I went home and I watched, she gave me the book plus the VHS, I started watching, I got 40 minutes into this and then intuitively I stopped and I'm like, for some reason this feels real.
So, I went to my mom, and I said to my mom, did white people enslave black people? My mom's like, yeah, they actually did that, and it was shattering to me because I had never even realized that there was an emphasis on race because it was not even a conversation in the community that I grew up in.
And so, I'll share this, Guelph is a little bit of a bubble, even though I grew up in a predominantly white community, there's no socioeconomic division. There's no segregation on class and there's no segregation on race, and that's pretty much standard for Canada. You will have pockets where people kind of gravitate to their own cultures, but it's still, everybody can live wherever they want to live. And so, what ends up happening is that it was very shattering for me. And so, how does that translate to where I am now? I still work with predominantly white men and women. And so, walking through this journey, I know who I am. I feel inspired by everything that the black community has going on. I'm also half Jewish. So, I'm also inspired by what goes on there. And I've never really defined myself by my skin color, even though I'm proud of my skin color and everything that it represents. I won't allow my skin color to be the deterrent as to why I should not strive to be excellent.
And I think all that, when I advocate for African-Americans, one of the ways that my company has actually been in support of dismantling anti-blackness is that we've joined, in Canada, a campaign here called The Black North Initiative, along with 200 other companies to fight anti-black discrimination in organizations, which I think that my company being a conscience-based company is the prototype of what all organizations should have. And so, what I did is that my company, along with other affiliates and other organizations actually donated a substantial amount of money in support of other black organizations globally, Black Lives Matter being one of those organizations.
And so, I was able to get other organizations on board and I'm going to definitely stand with the black community in any possible manner, because obviously I'm a black woman. I have a black partner; I have children that are also half black. And I also think that the world needs to see black culture in a much more dynamic way than what has been portrayed in American mainstream media.
Howard Lovy: Janét has branched off into many different kinds of businesses. But she enjoys helping other writers in their journeys toward discovery.
Janét Aizenstros: Well, we definitely help indie authors in our self-publishing arm, Love Lifestyle Publishing Group. We've actually had some very history making opportunities and it's been a launchpad for many authors that have gone on to do really amazing things as well, in Canada.
So back in 2015, Love Lifestyle Publishing, I was the first black woman to host an event with Indigo in their greenroom for four days. I held this women's event where we featured women authors that talked about their books. And then, on the last day, we had a woman's book compilation called, Love Plus Lifestyle Inspiration for Women, that featured 12 women authors sharing their stories on passion and purpose. And it was just such a beautiful time. What we've been doing is that we've been thinking about how we can offer more value to authors. And so, what we're doing now is that we've become more media driven over the last two to three years, where we're pairing offers with opportunities and putting together packages with opportunities to help authors actually get the exposure that they desire.
Meanwhile, I'm talking about the indie authors there. Indie authors, as well, we have another publishing arm that I forgot to mention when I was talking about the overall company, and it's called Luxe House Publishing. And so, that's actually more of a book compilation that's paired with a film and an album that is done through Ahava Entertainment. And so, through that book, it's sharing heroic stories of women leaders that have overcome triumph, and it's a series called the Lotus collection. And the Lotus is one of the world's most beautiful flowers that comes forth only in adversity. And so, I equate that to many women, many women become these beautiful radiant beings, as they've come forth through adversity. And so, we have this collection that is a global collection. It was actually supposed to be launched this year, but due to COVID, we've kind of put it off till we're able to really promote that. And so, we're really excited about a lot of these amazing opportunities that we're able to provide to women and able to provide to men and women through indie publishing and then also traditional publishing.