Yesterday’s mail brought the unwelcome news that my book about Willard Espy “in its current form is not one that fits the current WSU Press publishing goals.” The letter, while disappointing in the extreme, contained good news as well as bad. Or at least it seemed so to me.
Editor Robert Clark went on to say, “What you have given us is a charming, personal history of the Espy family and the town of Oysterville, with Willard at the center of the story.” YES! I’m so glad they ‘got’ that! That was the point of the book.
In fact, Mr. Clark’s description is a very succinct version of what I, myself, had written in my initial proposal to WSU Press: “Espy’s Own: Willard of Oysterville” is part biography, part memoir, part recollection and part historical narrative. It is the story of author Willard Richardson Espy’s relationship to Oysterville, the tiny southwest Washington village where he grew up in the early decades of the twentieth century and where he was to spend many of the most important intervals of his next 88 years.
My intent (and the main reason for submitting the book to this particular publisher) was to write Willard’s biography in such a way that it would become a companion piece to Dear Medora: Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years. That book was published by WSU Press in 2007. Unfortunately, it has sold sparingly; it hasn’t flown off the shelves. It is definitely a “niche book” and, no doubt, was an unusual choice for an academic press. Perhaps the fact that they had a different editor then had bearing on that decision.
According to reviewers, the charm of Dear Medora is its personal touch. It gives readers an insider’s view of the Espy family and of Oysterville in the early twentieth century. Ironically, this was at the heart of Mr. Clark’s objection to the manuscript about Willard: “These personal memories, combined with family stories and excerpts from family correspondence, have a rather narrow focus, and no doubt would be of most interest to family and friends.”
He goes on to suggest that I consider rewriting the book along the lines of a “more traditional biography” or, barring that choice, to look at the possibility of self-publishing. Or, as a third alternative, he says, WSU could serve as a “book packager” providing “editing, design, layout, and production services, and deliver to you any number of books you wish to distribute.”
Of course, the bottom line is money. If Dear Medora had made more money for them… If marketing and distribution weren’t so spendy… If I had the financial ability to self-publish a book with the look and feel I envision… Or, I could bite the bullet and rewrite.
Perhaps my thoughts will clarify as my disappointment dissipates…