Just Said No
by Amy Wachspress
For nearly 30 years, I waited for a publisher to discover me, to say, “Your manuscript is the best thing since Moses came down off the mountain,” to offer me a contract, to connect me with my adoring readers. I wrote, and dreamed, and wrote, and fantasized, and edited, and hoped, and wrote again, and sent out letters and more letters and emails and more emails and followed leads and methodically went through Writer’s Market with Post-Its and highlighter, and drafted flattering letters to distant agents and perfected the art of the query, and wrote, and hoped.
Then I got wise. I researched self-publication. I learned as much as my brain could hold about independent publishing. I read Dan Poynter’s book and John Kremer’s book. I joined IBPA in 2006. I look forward to telling my grandchildren, “I belonged to IBPA back when it was PMA.”
A few weeks ago, the most remarkable thing happened: a bona fide established mainstream royalty-paying real-life publisher approached me about publishing my next book and (slap me) I just said no. Here’s why.
What I Want and What I Don’t Want
First, a little history. My husband and I founded our independent publishing company, Woza Books, in 2006 to publish my children’s fantasy adventure, The Call to Shakabaz, which we launched in 2007. The book has sold more than 1,200 copies, received three national and one regional book award honors, and was released as an audiobook in September 2008. The audiobook was produced by Legacy Audio Books, Inc. (a terrific company in Cincinnati, OH) in a joint venture with Woza. We will split the profits, even though Legacy did all the production work and will do most of the marketing.
So this publisher approached me because the people there are impressed with my book and excited to see the release of the audiobook. They think I’m a good bet. I work as hard as a Coors Beer commercial during Monday Night Football to get the word out about my products. They said, “Let us publish a sequel to The Call to Shakabaz.” The words I had always dreamed of hearing spoken to me at last, and I found myself talking them out of it, convincing them that I would be too much trouble to work with, that we would never agree on contract terms, that, in short, I am as batty as Lucy Ricardo on Prozac, and they want nothing to do with me. All the while, my inner voice was shouting at me, “What?! Did you just talk yourself out of a publishing contract?! You should be committed!” The publisher said to call if I changed my mind.
The truth is that I love my little publishing company and I want Woza to get all the credit for publishing my book(s). I don’t want to share my meager profits. I’m not satisfied with royalties. I’m doing all the work. I want the reward. I want to market my books in my own fashion. I don’t want someone else mutilating my messages with clumsy advertising. I want to create my image, determine my audience, and select my venues. I refuse to engage in a brutal author tour when I can do just as well touring cyberspace and using the Internet to market my book. I don’t want to contribute to global warming and U.S. dependence on foreign oil by traveling to bookstores in places where I can’t go home to my own bed for the night. I’m a recluse. Why would I want to leave home anyway?
Here’s a tough hurdle. I don’t want to submit to an editor. I am an editor. That’s one of the things I do for a living. I did a terrific job editing The Call to Shakabaz myself (corroborated by the toughest critics). I would not recommend this for most authors, but I’m not most authors. How many publishers would allow me to edit my own book? None, I’d wager. But, I ask myself, who edited Beatrix Potter? D.H. Lawrence? Tolstoy? Flaubert? I admit, I’m not Flaubert, but who’s to say I can’t write and edit? I think I can. I think I did. (Not in French, of course.)
I don’t want a publisher to change the title of my book, choose an author photo that makes me look as if I’d done my hair with an egg beater, decide on the cover design, select the interior fonts and the chapter names. I want to have the book printed on recycled paper, even though it costs more per unit. In short, I want complete control over the entire product and the entire process. I did a decent job the first time around, all things considered. I’m confident I can do it again. I like having my own publishing company, as impoverished and unknown as it is. I am that new breed of author who is self-published by choice, who refuses to buy into the traditional corporate established literary complex. I choose indie, and I’m proud.
Last week, while working the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) booth at the Sonoma County Book Festival in Santa Rosa, CA, I started talking to a woman about publishing children’s books. She was passionate about children’s literature and increasing literacy, and she finally confessed to me that she recently finished writing her first children’s book.
“Have you considered self-publishing?” I asked her.
“I hope I won’t have to do that,” she replied.
She looked befuddled as I laughed my head off.
Amy Wachspress is the author of the children’s fantasy adventure The Call to Shakabaz, which features all black characters and demonstrates the fundamental principles of nonviolence as practiced by Dr. King and Gandhi. In her work as a grant writer, she has raised over $100 million for initiatives that benefit children, youth, and families in more than 25 states. To learn more, visit wozabooks.com and legacy-audiobooks.com.