Before I can even begin to talk about why I created a publishing company, I owe a responsibility to speak a bit about my life as a young writer growing up in the heart of Appalachia – more specifically, Knox County, Kentucky.
Most who grow up in the mountains have a natural storytelling ability -- it's a cultural thing. Anyone who says it isn’t, is sorely misinformed or just plain unwilling to listen. Like so many others before me, I was unaware that my art of yarning a tale was anything unique. Assuming that writing good stories was akin to learning to tie shoes or ride a bike, I thought everyone could do exactly what I was doing – and in my defense, I had heard stories all my life – amazing stories about ordinary and extraordinary happenings. Most of us didn’t write them down – didn’t need to – these tales were mostly so good that the listener wasn’t likely to forget -- storytelling was something we all did.
It wasn’t until my first year of undergrad that a college professor pulled me aside after class to talk to me about a story I had written about an old pair of tennis shoes that I had stolen from the girls' locker room in junior high. She wanted me to submit my essay to a regional writing contest named for William Faulkner. I thought she was just trying to build my confidence – she must be pulling a lot of students aside, right? She asked me to type it up, using my best grammar and punctuation and bring it back to her. I didn’t take her seriously, so I didn’t type the paper. I had other things to do. She typed it for me and submitted it on my behalf. It was about a month later that my professor ne to drive down to this awards ceremony. I had no time for that – I had a job. She brought my award to class the next day. I was stunned and then scared … so scared – I had written my truth and people somewhere had read it and would still be reading it … it was going to be published. It was then that I started to listen as my professor began to talk to me about a career as a serious writer.
As someone who now teaches college students, I cannot ignore how amazing this professor was and the impact she had on my life and so many others. She is also a role model for how I teach my own classes. We are still in touch, of course.
I learned quickly that artists are called “starving” for good reason, so I became a journalist instead.
For years I wallowed in disbelief of what my professor had told me -- my words, my truth had power. How could they? Real writers, you know – the ones who make you think, feel, and ponder -- live in New York City, not little knock about towns like mine, right?
Two and a half decades would pass before I gained the confidence to tell another story in my own words and finish my first novel, a second came a year later and then a third two years after. After my first book sold 5,000 copies. A more financially successful author gave me a backhanded compliment (that’s what we call it in the south), “Good for you. Most women come out with a series of short stories … you just threw a novel right out there on the first go around. It might have served you well, though, to publish some short stories first and get your name out there.”
Thank goodness I didn’t know my place, otherwise I might have tried to stay there. Most of my big check marks in life have come from not knowing that I didn’t belong, or I wasn’t exactly welcome. Writing, as it turns out, was no different.
This reminds me of a time (you were warned I was a storyteller) in my communication theory class when I was studying hard to get my terminal degree. My professor demanded of the class, “Give me an example of cognitive dissonance.” A student in the row adjacent to me spoke quickly, sharply, “It’s like someone from eastern Kentucky with a doctorate degree.”
For right now let's just try and ignore the fact that this student's answer was incorrect, which is a bit ironic, and focus on the real cutting issue here.
I told you already, I am a true southern woman and in my mind I am much less refined than what the public sees. I must confess that in that moment, I had visions of pulling my fellow student from her chair, dragging her out of class, down the hall, into the elevator, out into the parking lot, and slapping the smartass right out of her. But, I've learned how to earn quiet vindication. Miranda Lambert and the Pistol Annies might not have been proud of my calm, reserved, dissonant (LOL) behavior, but my momma (had she still been alive) would’ve been glad that I ignored my longing for a bit of momentary self-satisfaction and erred on the side of self-preservation and an emotionally stable (albeit hard as hell) investment in my future. Again, I didn’t know that I didn’t belong – I didn’t know my place – then even when I did know it, I still didn’t leave. I just stayed right there, coming back week after week until I earned my reward.
Again, I just dove right in and worried about the outcome, well, when it came out. Did I finish? Absolutely. Maybe I succeeded out of sheer stubbornness, but who cares? It worked. You don’t have to call me Dr. Newman but when I do hear it, it makes me smile and I am also fond of Dr. Mel. My husband calls me that sometimes. My love of research didn't end with my dissertation. My ongoing research studies hope and how it can be enhanced or quelled with words -- negative words can erode it over time and positive words can grow it. Entire regional economies can be affected by individual hope levels.
Words ... spoken, written, sung, screamed, and even whispered … can and do make people think and they often change what people do and how they think – your words, my words, our words – they matter. That’s why getting them in order and available to as many eyes and ears as possible is so important to me.
So why did I start a publishing company? I didn't need a publisher -- I was already twice published with an imprint that I liked. But again, I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to just go out and start a book company. I looked at my own books with an eye for what I expected versus what I got and decided I could do this better. I had already been reading dozens of manuscripts and listening to even more story pitches. Would-be authors wanted my opinion of their work, wondered why they couldn't gain the attention of a publisher, and I gave those folks so much of my time and attention so freely that it turned into a company.
Martin Sisters Publishing Company, Inc. a traditional, royalty paying, no-fees-of-any-kind, publisher, began operations in 2010, (www.martinsisterspublishing.com). I started with one book, then two, and so on. The company now lists over 100 titles in print and e-book and boasts a place in the Top 50 Indie Publishers listing in the annual Writer’s Digest Magazine. Authors do not pay anything at our company -- we make money when authors sell books, as it should be.
MSP now has three authors who began their writing careers with MSP and have literary agents. One is now writing for Penguin Random House and another is writing for Penguin Berkley. I suspect that the third will join those ranks shortly now that she is agented.
The literary world is changing – the days of winning the literary lottery have long since passed. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is quality storytelling that can soften hearts and strengthen minds. That’s why MSP is here – to help you tell your story, find a home for your work, so you can move on to the next creative endeavor.
MSP is small but mighty, with more than 25 talented editors working all over the country and a half a dozen creative cover artists and now, one illustrator.
As we passed our 10th anniversary on October 1, 2020, I was amazed at how quickly we had grown, how much we learned, and the amount of amazingly talented writers we met and contracted. Since then, we've added two new imprints --- Martin & Miller Publishing, our non-fiction imprint; and Just Us Books, our advocacy, diversity and equity imprint.
Keep writing and reading. Thank you for dropping by.