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Good Writing Speaks for Itself, and Sometimes Wins a Benjamin Franklin Book Award!

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Tammie StevensBy Tammie Stevens —

Staring out my hotel room window at the blinding lights of Times Square, wondering if my retinas will ever be the same, I felt a strong sense of pride. That night, BillyFish Books accepted the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for best first book by a publisher. Only three years before, I was running an animal rescue, and all I knew about publishing was what I could read while lining the bottoms of the puppy training crates with newspaper. It’s strange how one chance encounter can completely change the course of your life, and for me, it was a meeting with adventurer Jason Lewis.

compass_chartI’ve always had a soft spot for the underdog, those brave individuals who have the courage to march to the beat of a different drummer. And in Jason’s case, he was not only marching, but also carrying the drum. Pounding out (and writing!) a remarkable beat. Unfortunately, however, it was so unique no one would believe in its cadence.

He told me he had taken one look at a ghost written manuscript he’d been asked to sign his name to by a powerhouse publisher, and decided to leave a six-figure book advance behind in order to rebuild his own vision. He made this unconventional decision — “committing publishing suicide”, I think he called it — even though he had no other options. Having spent every cent he had on a 13-year expedition, he said he’d rather live in his car than have someone else write his story. I knew then it was time to lend my big mouth to another worthy cause: publishing his book.

To say it’s been a learning curve would be an understatement: cataloging distribution service, permissions, blurb, slush pile, data conversion, ARC, SEO, CMYK, and a long list of other equally unfamiliar acronyms began to pop up. The list grew exponentially. Fortunately for BillyFish Books, we quickly became familiar with two invaluable abbreviations known throughout the publishing industry: IBPA and G&T (gin and tonic if you’re a newbie).

dark_watersFast forward a year or so and that same homeless adventurer who was told he must have a ghost writer, is now a featured author who has spoken to sold out audiences everywhere from the Oxford Literary Festival in England, The Royal Geographical Society in Scotland, the prestigious MountainFilm Festival in Telluride, and countless more. His book The Expedition: Dark Waters will soon be available in China, Poland, and Finland with more foreign markets to follow. His next book The Seed Buried Deep will be out for the Christmas market with advance orders coming in shortly after readers took delivery of the first.

New York1In the photo left, I’m accepting the IBPA book award alongside Jason. Winning the award was such a thrill. It also, however, has provided an additional element of credibility to our business and our first title. It helped boost the momentum we had already gained with media and book festivals, in particular, when they learned it was backed by the integrity and cohesion of the Independent Book Publishing Association. It also provided something we hadn’t anticipated: an increase in submissions. Myriad submissions. The quality of unrepresented work available to publishers is incredible to me. How can so many talented authors be so repeatedly overlooked?

I’ve always felt that good writing speaks for itself, but any Indie knows the reality of trying to get your books into the hands of the reader when competing with the power, money and connections of mainstream publishers. I can tell you, though, there is something about having Benjamin Franklin enshrined in gold, staring up from the cover of your book— as if it were the man himself saying, “I wholeheartedly approve” — giving it that extra little edge.

It’s a win-win, really. The IBPA has been an invaluable tool for BillyFish Books, and the Benjamin Franklin Award has brought more awareness to our title, our publishing house, the IBPA, and ultimately to the independent book industry as a whole.

Proving the undeniable fact that together we can help each other achieve and succeed. Thanks, IBPA.

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