For Young Authors, A First Book Is a Triumph All Its Own
1 year ago
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.”