Consider Glenn Yeffeth. Ten years ago, when Yeffeth started BenBella Books, a boutique publishing company in Dallas may have seemed a far reach to industry insiders. But he believed the timing was right. BenBella publishes nonfiction books, about 30 to 35 a year, aimed at niche markets, including business, health and nutrition, and pop culture. The company works with literary agents to find its authors, who receive advances and royalties similar to what the big publishing houses pay.
Most of Yeffeth’s writers come from outside North Texas. But the company has published a book with The Ticket radio station (The Ticket Full Disclosure: The Completely True Story of the Marconi-Winning Little Ticket by Scott Boyter) and a children’s book by NFL player Terrell Owens, Little T Learns to Share.
Both books did well, Yeffeth says. “If you aren’t in New York,” he adds, “you can really be anywhere.”
Dallas author Kathleen Kent (The Heretic’s Daughter and The Wolves of Andover) believes the local literary scene is “incredibly strong.” When she returned to Dallas after working in finance for 20 years in New York City, Kent decided it was time to pursue her dream of writing.
“I started in 2001, and at the time I was unaware of all of the writing support groups, niche publishing, and the support system in Dallas,” she says. “I wish I had known then what I know now.”
Paul Black, a Dallas science fiction writer and independent publisher, is sold on the concept of self publishing. His first novel, The Tels, received the Independent Publishers Book of the Year Award. Despite shopping his manuscript around and getting “many nibbles,” he published it himself through Novel Instincts, a company he started with a friend. He has since written and published three more novels and his company now is looking to publish other writers.
“We’re a business,” Black says. “We formed a weekly writers group made up of some other authors that we know. We go through the same steps as the big publishing houses, and we’re in all of the major bookstores.”
Black also participates in panel discussions with authors who have been published by the big publishing houses. “Their war stories are the same as mine,” he says, “and we’re making pretty much the same money.”
He believes big changes are coming in publishing: “The book industry is the last dinosaur industry out there. Five years from now, it will be down to three major houses and it will fall to genre publishers.”
Writer Kat Smith formed her publishing company, TomKat Productions, in 2004. After leaving ABC Radio Networks and publishing two books, the Dallas-area book publisher she had been working with closed. “It motivated me to never allow myself to be vulnerable in the area of publishing,” she says. Her books include The Naked Author-Exposing the Myths of Publishing. Today, she’s not only her own publisher; she’s an editor, agent, and publicist. She also teaches authors how to market their work.
“It’s the author’s responsibility to sell their book, but authors don’t know how to do that,” she says.
Getting an inside track on selling their book is what draws people to writers’ conferences, and about 350 writers, literary agents, and publishing professionals attend the DFW Writers’ Conference each February. Last year, about 60 percent came from the area, 20 percent were from out-of-state, and some even came from France, Australia, and Great Britain.
The industry’s shifting realities make planning a conference that addresses all of the changes difficult, says Jeff Posey, director of the 2012 conference. Posey is a member of the DFW Writers’ Workshop, which presents the conference. Formed in 1977, the Euless-based group draws members from all over North Texas.
According to Dallas literary agent Mike Farris, Farris Literary Agency, conferences are a must for any serious writer.
Farris has represented Dallas writers, but most of his clients live outside Texas. “One thing writers should know is that I can’t sell their book for them,” he says. “My job is to find editors who will read their books.”
Despite the shifting sands of the book industry, writers still want to be published, and they often turn to classes and other programs to improve their skills, such as The Writers Garret. The East Dallas literary center offers live readings, classes, workshops, and educational programs for writers, readers, and audiences.
“Part of what we do is to develop an audience for literature,” says Joe Milazzo, director, community education and outreach, adult and family programs.
Several students in Southern Methodist University’s Continuing and Professional Education Writing Program have landed book deals, according to director and instructor Suzanne Frank.
One of those, Bridget Foley, just signed a deal with Simon & Schuster to publish her first book, The Doula, a coming-of-age story about a woman who assists at childbirths. The buzz is that it’s a six-figure deal, but Foley would say only that “it was above and beyond my hopes and dreams. I was thrilled with it.”
The cost for SMU’s writing series is $425 for six weekly, 2.5-hour classes for the novel (a nonfiction program was recently added). The classes take students from idea to finished manuscript. And the program offers something that most writing courses do not: the opportunity to have an audience in New York with an editor who has read the first pages of your book.
Frank was the first student to go through the program and see her novel (Reflections in the Nile) published. She now has published seven.