PUBLISHED AUGUST 2017
Interview with Jon Wilson (Publisher) and Michael A. Ferro (Author) –
Michael A. Ferro
An Interview with a Publisher and an Author
At the 2017 conference for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs in Washington, D.C., Laura Stanfill unveiled the Main Street Writers Movement upon an unsuspecting literary public. Stanfill is the publisher behind Forest Avenue Press and hopes that her new movement might help foster a wide-ranging connection between writers and publishers throughout the country, creating allied communities from coast to coast. Much to her delight, the Main Street Writers Movement garnered high levels of excitement upon its announcement, and many have already taken the pledge to become involved in this grassroots community building effort.
Jon Wilson is the publisher of Fish Out of Water Books based out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michael A. Ferro is a writer also based in Ann Arbor, though the two had never met and did not know that the other existed—until Stanfill virtually introduced them to one another during the planning of the Main Street Writers Movement from her home in Portland, Oregon. This, Stanfill reiterated, was the impetus behind her movement: creating connections in local literary communities that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
Wilson and Ferro recently discussed their early opinions on Main Street, the publishing world, and the power of a strong local literary community.
Do you feel as if the increasing influence of online connections can be a boon for those looking to make an impact within their community through the Main Street Movement? Can the virtual world complement a growing physical effort on a local level?
Jon Wilson (JW): Through social media, it is easier than ever to connect with like-minded individuals on local, national, and international levels. Local readings and author events receive increased exposure and attract more attendees. Facebook and Twitter offer limitless potential to network with authors, readers, and publishers, increasing the opportunities for us to help each other by sharing information and advice. Becoming friends with Laura Stanfill on Facebook, and subsequently part of the Main Street Writers Movement, would likely not have happened just a few short years ago, pre-Facebook.
Michael A. Ferro (MAF): Starting out as an unknown author can be quite depressing; more than anything, you find a number of obstructions in your path from the start. For those who live outside the major literary hubs like New York City, it can be daunting to seek local advice on how best to find success, no matter the scale. With Main Street, I was able to be connected to Jon, who was a great resource of knowledge and support. The aspect I find hilarious is that Laura Stanfill connected the two of us—Jon and I—who live in the same city, all from her home across the country in Portland! Jon and I might literally have bumped into each other downtown one day and never have known who the other was. When Laura told me about the Main Street Writers Movement and I saw it in action, I knew I wanted to know more, just because of what I had already seen was possible with my meeting Jon.
What has been your favorite part of the process in making connections? How has that helped you to personally succeed in your industry?
JW: The most rewarding aspect for us has been in meeting so many wonderful people and the support and genuine interest we have received—from authors who have taken the time to provide blurbs to staff at local bookstores and magazine editors and radio hosts—all of whom have been so gracious and welcoming.
From a local standpoint, we are very fortunate to live in a college town with such a thriving literary community. A popular Ann Arbor bookstore, Literati, which opened in 2013 by Mike and Hilary Gustafson, was kind enough to host a brand-new, unknown publisher and author. We were also featured on several radio local stations and in local publications and book festivals. Without all the local resources available in our area, and without such incredible support, our first year would have been much more difficult and a lot less fun.
I would have to say that we were lucky to find an ideal first book and author. We collaborated with R.J. Fox (author of our first release, Love & Vodka) on all aspects of the production process (plot development, editing, cover decisions, and promotion), and this worked out really well. This has been the same for our second book (Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of United by Gary B. France), and I think that this author/publisher partnership, with both parties having input every step of the way, is, for us at least, the best way to go.
MAF: When I first started out, I made the mistake of trying to do everything myself. I thought if I just read articles on how it was done, all while sitting in the comfort of my home submitting manuscripts, I would get published in no time. But, as anyone in the industry will tell you, it doesn’t often work like that.
Once I actually started to reach out to editors and publishers at local book fairs and online, I started to get some really helpful specific advice; there’s certainly something inimitable about that personal connection when you talk to someone one-on-one. I began to reach out to various writers and publishers for their thoughts, and was surprised to see just how many were willing to share their expertise.
Laura Stanfill, Main Street Writers Movement
It was a chance e-mail that I sent to Laura Stanfill that sparked our friendship, and I was astonished at how dedicated she was to helping others, especially a stranger such as myself. We immediately began a correspondence, and I was thrilled to learn about the Main Street Writers Movement, which seemed to encapsulate everything that I was then realizing and hearing from industry professionals: Connections matter!
What advice do you offer to those aspiring writers and publishers looking to establish connections within their local literary community?
JW: Join a local writers’ group and get to know authors in your local area. Submit your work to local and regional publications. Attend local readings, author events, and open mic events. Attend library events and local book fairs; write a blog and invite collaboration from other authors.
MAF: I wholeheartedly agree with Jon. Being on the other end of the equation, I realize now how important it is to know good people. You may not be able to publish your friend’s book, or you may not be able to share a story or novel for your friend to publish, but more than anything, each new person you meet in the literary community is another ally in your personal fight to succeed. The more people that succeed within a community, the stronger the community itself becomes, paving the way for others, and that’s the significance of a movement like Main Street.
Jon Wilson and his wife, Laurie, are the founders of Fish Out of Water Books. They publish nonfiction/memoir, creative nonfiction, and realistic fiction with a pop culture emphasis; music; sport; coming of age; travel; culture shock; going against the grain; triumph over adversity; stories about extraordinary lives and ordinary lives. For further information, visit fowbooks.com.
Michael A. Ferro is an author and writer from Detroit. His work has appeared in numerous online and print journals, many of which can be found at his website michaelaferro.com. His debut novel, TITLE 13, is forthcoming from Harvard Square Editions in 2018. He lives in rural Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Join the Main Street Writers Movement
1. Sign the Main Street pledge at forestavenuepress.com/take-the-pledge.
2. Tell your writers about the movement through your press newsletter and urge them to join.
3. Use the hashtag #mainstreetwriters when talking about community involvement plus a hashtag for your city/town.
4. Contact Main Street founder Laura Stanfill at firstname.lastname@example.org to:
- Add your name to the list of publishers and agents who support Main Street, which we’ll promote to our community-minded members.
- Be considered for an “Ask the Publisher” feature in our monthly newsletter.
- Suggest an author or community member for a Main Street interview, essay, or feature story. Recommendations must be focused on local involvement and/or meaningfully amplifying underrepresented voices.
- Pitch one of your upcoming titles for our monthly small press spotlight.
- Offer an idea about how our Main Street Writers Movement toolkit could most benefit your authors.
5. Host a local Main Street Writers Movement happy hour. Invite a healthy mix of booksellers, authors, publishers, publicists, librarians, and distributors, and remind them to bring business cards. Let Stanfill know if you organize one, and she’ll send a packet of free Main Street notebooks—printed by Scout Books in Portland, Oregon—to distribute at the happy hour (while supplies last).