|Local Authors Find Diverse Outlets for Their Work|
|By Joe Durwin, iBerkshires Staff|
08:29AM / Tuesday, July 17, 2012
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — For many writers, navigating the mystifying waters of book publishing has become an increasingly challenging prospect.
Nik Davies signs copies of her new book, 'FIF15TEEN,' at a launch party at the Beacon last week. The book was published by Big Head Books of Pittsfield.
Here in the Berkshires, a number of local authors have found themselves trying new strategies and unconventional approaches that may reflect a restructuring and diversification of the industry of getting books into the hands of readers.
For author Nicole "Nik" Davies, the perfect fit for her new young adult novel was found locally, in the form of the growing Pittsfield-based publishing house Big Head Books.
Davies released her first book, "FIF15TEEN," Thursday evening at a packed launch party at the Beacon Cinema. "FIF15TEEN" is the fourth tome put out by the relatively new Pittsfield publishing company.
Big Head Books, founded by author Tyrone Allan Jackson to help present fiction with more ethnically diverse characters, takes a very hands-on, author-based approach.
"At Big Head Books, we do everything here," said Davies, Jackson's sister. "We rarely outsource." Davies designed her own cover art for the book, she explained, and will participate heavily in its marketing
"This is actually the last book that I've written, not my first," according Davies. "But to me, it was by far my best work, and we had to have it come out first." Plans are already in the works for two sequels to be released in the future.
Because of its specialty in youth books and somewhat specific mission in promoting fiction with more racially representative characters, Davies' novel makes a natural addition to Jackson's growing publishing business.
"We want people to be able to look at books with children of color on the cover, and children of color within the pages, and not feel like there's a stigma to it, and not feel like it's a 'diversity' book or it's about Kwanzaa."
Novelist Gabriel Squailia has explored several innovative approaches to getting his work out. Squailia completed his novel "Dead Boys," a fantastical romp through a freshly reimagined mythological underworld, in 2010, but found the prospects for unsolicited manuscripts grim.
"I didn't submit 'Dead Boys' to any publishers, only because none of the houses that seemed to fit, large or small, accepted unagented submissions," said Squailia. "I didn't like my chances in the slush pile, so I focused on agents instead."
With this in mind, Squailia was delighted to stumble upon an opportunity to have his story read by his top choice, literary agent Matthew Bialer. Bialer, a veteran agent whose client lists includes such bestsellers as Tad Williams, Eric Idle, Philip Carlo and Tracy Hickman, had offered up a read-and-critique as part of fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss' annual "Worldbuilders" fundraiser. Squailia bid high, won, and the gamble payed off.
Gabriel Squailia bid in a fundraiser to get an agent to read his book 'Dead Boys,' which has been acted out at Y Bar's monthly writers' gathering.
Bialer loved "Dead Boys," which he compared to "the Wizard of Oz in the afterlife." He agreed to represent Squailia in early 2011, a relationship which the wordsmith says "has made a huge difference to my writing, book deal or no."
While he and his agent explore the options for publishing "Dead Boys" and his newly completed second novel, "The Rift," Squailia has also brought the story to a widening audience in an even more direct way. Over the past eight months, "Dead Boys" has been brought to visceral life for sizable audiences at a series of monthly live readings as part of weekly Writers Room gatherings at Pittsfield's Y Bar.
"I'd always had fantasies of doing 'Dead Boys' in public as a serialized adventure," said Squailia. "The dialogue, narration, and constant cliffhangers owe something to radio plays, so it felt like a good fit, and I had all the characters' voices in my head when I wrote it."
The monthly chapter readings have grown more elaborate over the year until they more closely resemble staged productions, drawing a variety of local theatrical talent and props from the likes of Shakespeare & Company, Barrington Stage Company and various local artists.
For her part, local author Susan Geller has taken the increasingly popular option of self-publishing for a second printing of her 1976 children's book, "I Live in Stockbridge," re-released in June.
The illustrated children's history takes the reader on a historic walking tour of Stockbridge, with explanations of its key sites. Revised for this 2012 edition, Geller said the book's continued relevance lead her and illustrator Susan Merrill to re-launch the project with a new run of copies printed locally by Excelsior Printing in North Adams.
Geller calls the work a "labor of love," saying the goal was not to generate proceeds but to make it possible for readers to once again enjoy the light-hearted historic stroll through this celebrated Berkshire town.
The author said the book's sale price of $10 just covers the cost of its printing, provided all copies get sold.
"If I sold it for a little more, there would be a profit," said Geller, "but I just want to break even."
Author Susan Geller took the self-publishing route to issue her 36-year-old 'I Live in Stockbridge.'
For Geller, the book is "a sweet reminder of the blend of past and present," and a way to present this simple, child's view of Stockbridge history to a new generation.
Despite the combination of challenges, innovation, and lucky breaks involved in getting one's book in the hands of readers in a publishing world busily trying to decide how to retool itself to the times, local authors are optimistic about the future.
Davies says the realms of young adult fantasy fiction of the sort she writes is more important than ever now, with young people forced to face more adult realities than ever.
"With today's heavy topics, and with parents urging them to grow up faster than maybe they should be, but then not wanting them to grow up so fast, it's a place where they can escape."
There may be hope yet even for less identifiable and harder to define types of books which have not yet enjoyed much of a renaissance in the current publishing business.
"I meet a lot of readers, especially of genre work, who are hungry for something new," said Squailia. "I'm holding out hope that the current industry shakeup means that we all end up paying less attention to genres and subgenres and more to the stories themselves. It may take five or 10 years, but I think strong, strange voices will have a slightly easier time of it down the road."