Dreams, Choices, Bottom Lines

Apr 19, 2013 | 9 comments

1975, Nov. 24, Publicity Shot for Words at PlayYesterday’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.

Book Cover for Dear MedoraMy 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…


  1. Kathleen Shaw

    Don’t despair, Sydney, there are other publishers out there. Obviously he liked the book; he just didn’t feel it met Wazzu’s needs. Therefore, it shall meet another publisher’s needs perfectly!

  2. Jean stamper

    I will look forward to reading the “Willard book” in what ever format it ends up. I love your narrative style as it takes me there and I feel like I am participating in the time not just a casual visitor. Do what you do best. Write from your heart.

  3. Margie Cochrane

    I can sympathize, Sydney! I used to say – only partly in jest – that I could paper a wall of my house with rejects. Fortunately, for every handful of rejects I’ve had acceptances. I loved your Medora book – and I’m sure I will enjoy the Espy book as well when the right publisher comes along. It’s always a pleasure to read your articles in the Observer.

    • sydney

      Thanks so much for your words, Margie. In the vein of “misery loves company” it’s always nice to hear the stories of others! And good to know that we could probably pool our rejection slips and paper more than one wall! I read recently that Anne Frank’s father couldn’t find a publisher for her diary the first time around, so he self-published it. Still, that was then and this is now and everything is more expensive, more competitive, more daunting. Or at least it seems so to me!

  4. Irene

    Dear Medora is one of all time favorites, I re-read it at least once a year and probably would have loved this new book too so am very sorry that WSU has decided not to publish it at this time, hopefully you can find another publisher. As someone who worked in a used bookstore for years, where I came across Willards lesser known titles and purchased them, and a lover of words I appreciate all of Willard Espy books and am interested in the man who created them.

  5. Stephanie Frieze

    I am crushed! I so enjoyed your reading from the manuscript last year and was looking forward to hearing “the rest of the story!”

    • sydney

      Well, it’s early days yet. I haven’t decided how to proceed but I do think Willard’s story is one worth telling. Stay tuned.

  6. Dan Wedin

    Hi Sydney,

    This is Dan, the guy who wrote the song “Oysterville”. I also wrote “Albacore” an albacore fishing trip story which I self-published on Amazon’s Create Space site. It’s sold pitifully, but I’ve gotten it done and my friends have enjoyed it. Perhaps your book might find a start there, at least you have a product to market and it would make a nice title over at the Oysterville Sea Farms counter. Good luck!

    • sydney

      Thanks for the encouragement, Dan. Of my fifteen books still in print, seven are self-published. As you know, there are pros and cons, the biggest ‘con’ being marketing/distribution. I think a book about Willard deserves more than I can do for it along those lines so I’m not giving up yet on the standard publishing route. As for the bottom line — the per-copy net $$$ amount that filters back to the author ends up being about a toss-up either way, especially for the kinds of local history books I write. Sad, but true.


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