For Young Authors, A First Book Is a Triumph All Its Own
Technological advances, economy present unique challenges for would-be authors
The letters are somewhere in her apartment, collecting dust.
Uzuri Wilkerson doesn’t really need a reminder that the past two years were some of the worst of her relatively young life, that choosing a career as an author would offer more stops than starts, more rejection than acceptance. So with her novel, Sweet, due out June 4, she only casually refers to the rejection letters the manuscript received from literary agents, dismissive of their content, but grateful for their utility.
“I’ve kept them in a file,” she said, “mostly because I didn’t want to re-submit to the same agent.”
Wilkerson’s novel revolves around an insular vampire community that seeks revenge at the unprovoked murder of one of its own. Celia, the main character, is romantically drawn to two men involved in the ensuing fracas. Her competing loyalties are at the center of the plot. Her actions set up the rest of the series.
For all of Wilkerson’s talent and promise as a novelist, the publishing industry’s technological revolution has been unkind to young, first-time authors. The proliferation of eBooks, eReaders, the iPad, Kindles, Nooks and crannies has meant fewer traditional opportunities for young authors.
“It was nerve wracking, and the rejection letters were really hard,” Wilkerson said. “I had my ups and downs … there were times when I’d just stop writing and trying to find an agent. It was a roller coaster.”
Wilkerson finished writing Sweet over a seven-month period in 2008. After shopping around her manuscript for about six months, Wilkerson became discouraged, and it wasn’t hard. In letters agents claimed to actually like her novel’s approach, creativity and storytelling. They just weren’t that into it.
What’s worse? She was actually shopping three manuscripts, all receiving their fair share of rejection.
A small independent makes a mark
A self-described vampire junkie ("I wanted to be a vampire when I was little.”), Aziza Publishing’s founder and CEO, Rochelle Levy, loved reading Sweet, but noted one criticism: It needed some edge.
“I read through it and I don’t usually personally read manuscripts, but I ended up reading the entire thing,” she said.
Levy's interest wasn't lost on Wilkerson who, by the time they met, had already felt enough rejection to last a lifetime. "Rochelle was down to earth and friendly you could tell she was really passionate and enthusiastic about the work she does,” Wilkerson said. “I felt like she was really going to fight for my work. It felt like family."
Levy, 28, started Aziza Publishing in early 2010. Based in Boston, Aziza Publishing has a staff of seven. It's a sweet story, but not every young, would-be first-time author gets so lucky. In each other, the writer and the publisher found what they were looking for: Wilkerson a chance -- a flyer even; Levy a manuscript that encompassed several aspects of the fantasy genre. If Wilkerson's and Levy's connection and subsequent business dealings to publish Sweet are thought of as serendipitous, both are fine with the evaluation.
Levy herself once wanted to self-publish a book of her poetry. The process was just nowhere as seamless as she’d hoped.
“Going through that, I realized how dreadfully horrible self-publishing was to the novice author,” Levy said. “I decided I wanted to do something about that.”
Levy’s goal was to position Aziza to allow authors to “maintain [as much of] a hands-on approach as they could with the self-publishing process from design to distribution.” After a year’s worth of research she assembled a staff of editors and designers and launched Aziza Publishing, which will have published four novels by the close of 2012. It’s quota for submissions has been filled through 2014.
To date, Levy and Aziza Publishing hasn’t jumped into the digital game.
“I don’t think any publisher likes the idea [of digital books],” she said. “It takes away from connection of an actual book. You can make the book an entity, you can have a pictures. But digitally, things like typography go out of the window. And depending on what you are working with a lot of the design aspect is lost.”
But their formula is calculated and more to the point.
“Whereas independent publishers will take a chance on a good book, the well-known companies want a good brand."
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Inspiration through the self-publishing struggle
Pervis Taylor had it all, it seemed: A modeling contract, gainful employment in the entertainment industry, a degree from the University of Miami. But he says the joy he still cannot explain comes from helping people work through their problems.
“I’ve been through a lot in life,” Taylor said. “I always wanted people to live a better life and do better for themselves. I always had a choice. I could go one way or the other.”
When he moved to New York, Taylor was working in the marketing department at Def Jam. His twitter feed had always been a source of encouragement, with many saying he should put his often inspirational tweets about character, humanity and faith into a book.
A book about life for young adults trying to navigate through life?
And that’s when he began to think about his father. In one of their last conversations, Pervis Taylor II told him that he was destined to help people. Weeks later, he died of cardiac arrest.
Taylor says his father’s words were prophetic.
Now Taylor, a life coach, is the author of the self-published Pervis Principles, a pocket-size companion that focuses on principles he believes young adults should live by.
“I wanted to have something that was interesting and ornate that focused on a 30-day journey,” said Taylor, who claims the hardest part was finding a printer. He eventually found one.
Shenzhen Jinhaoyi Color Printing Company printed Pervis Principles.
“They were the cheapest,” admits Taylor.
If the realm of self-publishing is still creating new stars and new opportunities, it stands to reason the possibilities haven’t been exhausted. Definitely not for Steven Barthell.
His book, Women R Stupid, Men R the Reason, was released in 2011. Despite the controversial title, he says actually believes women are “the most intelligent creatures on the Earth." The book has helped supplement and strengthen his radio and local TV show appearances, as well as the videos he posts on his YouTube channel.
But his work was not without sacrifice.
"Some authors think all they have to do is write, which isn't the case," Barthell said. "It's about sacrifice, determination and how much a writer is willing to do to become a author. I lost tons of friends because my grind had to be so strong and my time was limited to hang out or socialize.
"And after we came out with the book, I learned that I am my own promoter."
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