While Charlotte might not be the first place on people’s minds when it comes to book publishing, the Queen City is making headway in the realm of writers, publishing houses and the self-publishing route. Whether you are looking to publish your work or to read books by local authors, Charlotte’s growing writers’ scene allows for community and collaboration within a supportive network of creatives.
Fabi Preslar is the owner of SPARK Publications, a publication company celebrating its 21st year. SPARK focuses on publishing with the entrepreneurial model. “The author owns 100% of their work,” Preslar said. This allows SPARK to work closely with what the author is hoping to accomplish, while allowing the author to come to the table at his or her own unique starting points.
SPARK Publications works often with the business community, creating books and manuscripts for those with a specialized audience as opposed to traditional storytelling.
In addition to multiple magazines like Craveable Carolinas and Pride Magazine, Spark has published The Wisdom Stories, a book by Girls on the Run creator Molly Barker, as well as Jack Grossman’s Child of the Forest, which will soon be a feature film.
“We work with authors and stories that build a brand or help fuel a mission,” Preslar said. “While we work with corporate leaders and entrepreneurs, most of our books have a memoir component. If you don’t infuse your own story, it could be anybody’s book.”
That infusion of self is exactly what local business owner and self-published author Jamie Brown did. Brown’s book, Bea is for Business, co-authored with friend Meg Seitz, focuses on a young girl’s business endeavors. Brown is co-owner of NoDa restaurants Crepe Cellar, Growlers, Haberdish and Reigning Donuts. Brown said she wanted to do something different than the typical children’s book that focuses on the main character’s adventures: she wanted the female protagonist to have business ventures.
“The idea kept coming up and coming back to me. I told Meg, ‘I feel like this could be something,’ and she jumped on board. What I’ve liked about the self-publishing route is that this is our business, and these are our stories,” Brown said.
Corrie Liotta has also gone the self-publishing route and relied heavily on crowd-sourcing through Kickstarter. For seven years, Liotta had been mulling around the idea for her debut children’s book, The Appropriate Pirate. What started as a college thesis has morphed into a 48-page full-color book that was written and illustrated by Liotta.
While she began with a publisher, Liotta decided she wanted the artistic freedom to move forward with her idea. Liotta said, “Having creative freedom and control for marketing my image and brand was the right fit for this project. I have a community to help marketing happen for me, so to split profits at this stage would have been the wrong move for me.”
Community is the center of the literary world. Working alongside people who have published or are working toward that goal can be a big help. Joining groups, such as Charlotte Lit, can provide writers with access to others, as well as classes that can help in the creative process.
‘Everyone who is in the league was once out of the league’
Tommy Tomlinson of WFAE, author of The Elephant in the Room, tells potential authors, “Whatever idea you come up with, be willing to live with it for a while.” He described a Venn diagram with one circle being what you care about, the second being what others will care about and the overlap being that sweet spot where book publication takes place.
For Tomlinson’s project, finding an agent and publisher was the right route. While Tomlinson was paired with his agent through an industry connection, he suggests a few things. “First, you need to decide what type of book you want to do. Then, check out or purchase these types of books and flip to the acknowledgement page. This will give you the names of the types of agencies publishing what you’re going for.”
If you’re worried you’re not that far into it, or it’s out of your league, Tomlinson’s thought is that, “Everyone who is in the league was once out of the league, so you might as well take your chances.”
But there is more to book authorship than strictly sitting down and writing a book. Fred Leebron, fiction author and co-founder of Queens University’s Masters of Fine Arts program, advises authors to be a part of a community, be willing to show up and sell yourself, and to keep relationships with local booksellers.
Jolandra Houston, the Charlotte author of the children’s book Germy Germ’s Lesson on Germs, wears a branded t-shirt, sets up a table and takes a basin to teach kids to wash hands at places like Park Road Books. These interactions with potential book-buyers allow her to build relationships and show her passion. No matter what someone is looking to write, the common advice is to be passionate and willing to showcase your story.
David Payne, an author and instructor with Queens University’s MFA program, tells his students that even though it can seem tiresome, “Whatever makes you sit up in your chair—that’s what you need to be writing about.”
“This process was so much on a physical and emotional level,” Liotta said. “I need people to know that if I can do it, anyone can. If you have an idea, act on it.”