A packed house of aspiring writers received advice on book publishing Saturday at a free writers panel hosted by The Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave.

The panel made up of Yolanda Joe, Ciara Wimby, Robert Walker, Dr. Stan West, Gail Piernas-Davenport and Darnell Thompson shared their experiences in writing fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature and self- help books. Each offered first-hand advice about how to get their ideas in print and onto bookstore shelves.

Chicagoland Television (CLTV) anchor Tonya Francisco served as moderator.

Joe has penned more than a dozen books. Her most recent “Video Cowboys” is now available in paperback. Joe says she fell in love with words at age 5 and knew instantly that she wanted to be a writer. But her success did not come overnight. Joe says her first three books are still sitting on her floor after being rejected by publishers.

But that did not discourage her from writing. She says none of the major publishing houses took her seriously until she hired an agent. Now Joe has enjoyed success on the New York Times Bestsellers list, Essence Best sellers List, and her publishers have sent her on book tours to all of the major cities.

West has written dozens of books with large and small publishing houses, and he also has his own publishing company, Soweto West Press. West says overseas tours are a good idea for authors who are looking to gain exposure.

Walker, who has written three books, decided to go the self-publishing route because he did not want a publishing company eating into his profits. Walker sells his books at events and on Amazon.com. He notes that being self-published author means also having to take on the task of publicity and marketing.

Wimby says author Terry McMillan was her inspiration. Wimby’s first novel “Off the Hook” was self-published. She says she did not know much about the publishing industry until after she had written her book. That’s when she learned that there’s more to writing a book than just putting words onto paper. But Wimby was able to find a lot of information online. She chose a small publisher that walked her through the process, right down to the smallest details, including designing the cover, choosing a font size and deciding on the type of paper.

Piernas-Davenport is making a name for herself in children’s literature. Her first book “Shante Keys and the New Years Peas” is a rhyming book about the African-American tradition of eating black-eyed peas on the first day of the new year. She recommended that aspiring writers join a critique group. She says she had to join several groups before finding the right fit.

“I needed people who would offer me constructive criticism. I didn’t want my colleagues to say everything I wrote was great. I can go to my husband for that,” she said.

Malcolm Crawford is co-owner of the Sankofa Center with wife Stacia, and is a columnist for Austin Weekly News.