Creative Writing Alumni Follow Many Avenues To Publish
By Bill Schneider MA ’13
As the Wilkes graduate creative writing program nears its 10th anniversary, director and co-founder Bonnie Culver is discussing plans for a celebration to be held during the January 2015 residency. “We’ve been gathering information about our alums, faculty, and current students,” says Culver. “Our plan is to produce a celebratory book that offers a snapshot of what everyone connected to the program has done and continues to do.”
Culver, who recently was named president of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ national board of trustees, says the book project will showcase alumni and faculty from the program and their successes in a variety of outlets.
Morowa Yejide’s novel Time of the Locust tells the story of a 7-year-old autistic boy and his supernatural relationship with his incarcerated father.
For Yejide MFA’12, it’s also a tale of persistence. She worked for two years to find a publisher for the novel, which will be released in June 2014 by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. The book also was named one of the 10 finalists for the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction after what she describes as a soul-crushing effort to find an agent. The prize is given to a work of high literary merit that addresses issues of social justice.
Yejide described her relationship with a very large publisher to be like standing on a large platform with a microphone, providing her a chance to shout above the crowd. “There are no guarantees in today’s publishing world,” she says. “It’s sink or swim. When I signed with Atria, I went in expecting to continue to push my work largely on my own … to continue to navigate my little boat. Now there is this larger trade wind behind me that might help to move me along a little better.”
For Yejide and other alumni of Wilkes graduate creative writing program, the road to publication is not easy. But there are more ways to travel that road than ever before. Today, writers have an unprecedented number of avenues in which to publish their work, from traditional mainstream presses to independent boutique presses, e-books and team publishing, an innovative concept that relies on social media to promote and generate book sales.
Recent releases by creative writing alumni illustrate the many paths to publication.
Independent Presses, Specialized Imprints
Laurie Loewenstein MA ’07’s novel, Unmentionables, became the flagship publication of Kaylie Jones Books, a new imprint of Akashic Books, a Brooklyn-based company. The imprint was founded in 2013 by Wilkes creative writing faculty member Kaylie Jones with the goal of publishing quality books unable to find a home with mainstream publishers. Set in 1917, Lowenstein’s novel is the story of a traveling dress reform orator who agitates for enlightenment and justice, throwing into turmoil a small Midwestern town’s unspoken rules governing social order, women and Negroes, with little time for insight into her own motives and extreme loneliness.
Unmentionables was under contract with an agent for two years, but never sold. Lowenstein made at least 60 submissions of short stories as well as applications to writing colonies, none of which was accepted. Success came with the publication of Unmentionables, which served as her capstone project in the Wilkes creative writing program.
Alumna Barbara Taylor MA’ 08 also found a home at Kaylie Jones Books for her book Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night. The novel is set in 1913 Scranton, Pa., a time of coal mining, vaudeville and evangelism. It tells the story of 8-year-old Violet, blamed for the death of her 9-year-old sister, Daisy. Releasing in July 2014, the book was named one of the top summer reads by Publisher’s Weekly. “Akashic has an impeccable reputation, and Kaylie Jones is already making her mark in the industry,” Taylor says. “They’ve included me in every decision, from cover design to marketing. This is a safe place to land for a first-time author.”
A prize paved the way to publication for Todd McClimans MA ’12. His book, Time Traitor, is a novel about time travel and treachery that takes two contemporary sixth graders back to the Revolutionary War to foil the plot of America’s most infamous traitor, Gen. Benedict Arnold. McClimans did not submit his manuscript to any publishers; however, he queried several dozen agents without getting beyond the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts and form rejections. The difference was a children’s book award contest he entered through the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Time Traitor became one of five finalists out of 2,000 entries and gained recognition from Northampton House Press, founded by novelist and Wilkes creative writing faculty member David Poyer. Northampton publishes fiction, romance, nonfiction, memoir and poetry as e-books and print editions.
Northampton House also published Heather Harlen MA’07’s thriller, Hope You Guess My Name. The book is about an event planner from northeastern Pennsylvania whose quarter-life crisis coincides with a sinister outdoor competition. Harlen queried about 10 agents before connecting with Northampton House. “There are many advantages to an indie press,” Harlen says. “The common denominator is great writing.” She credits Northampton’s success with being run by professionals who know the business inside and out.
Small Press Success
Brian Fanelli MFA ’10’s All That Remains is a collection of narrative, working-class poetry. He sent his manuscript to fewer than 10 publishers and poetry contests before being published by Unbound Content, a small press that Fanelli says focuses on everything from social media to creating website author pages. “They’ve done a nice job getting the book reviewed by many journals I respect, including Harpur Palate, PANK, Off the Coast and The Pedestal Magazine.” Fanelli’s book was a finalist for the Tillie Olsen Award, given by the Working Class Studies Association for a work of creative writing focusing on working class issues. Poems in the book also were nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Booktrope Editions has a goal to reinvent the standard top-down publishing process. Its website describes it as a team publishing platform and social marketing engine. Authors create an online publishing team to edit, design and market a book. The team shares profits. All books are available in e-books, print and web versions.
This approach stood out when Gale Martin MA ’10 began directly querying publishers. Booktrope published Martin’s novels Don Juan in Hankey, PA in 2011 and Grace Unexpected in 2012. Her third novel, Who Killed ‘Tom Jones’?, was published in January 2014. The novel takes the reader on an unexpected journey when a leading contestant in a Tom Jones impersonators festival is murdered, and a single young woman is determined to catch the killer and preserve her best chance at finding romance.
“Booktrope sends a book to market very quickly – usually within six months of acceptance,” Martin says. “Additionally, they had amassed a great deal of expertise regarding digital publishing – where to sell e-books, who buys them, and how to market to e-book buyers, knowledge I personally lacked.”
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Join us for Wilkes Summer Reads, a chance to win copies of the books featured in this story. Every week in July and August, starting July 7, visit our online magazine, read an excerpt from that week’s featured book and leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of that week’s book. Go to http://www.wilkes.edu/SummerReads to read excerpts and learn more.