Ironically, that is one of my favorite phrases from the Bible. The Book also features one of my favorite characters in the Bible—John the Baptist. John is weird. Additionally, John is unapologetic. Regardless of how challenging it may be to understand and/or accept the context in which they lived during the time the book was supposedly written, it is not difficult to understand what it is to be labeled (especially when it is “other”). Nor is it difficult to understand what it means to believe in something so whole-heartedly that one will risk being labeled, risk being ostracized, risk being alone.
I am not insinuating that either The Jeanie or I have lives anything like the biblical John. I am saying however that if I’d been the one who baptized Jesus there would be some t-shirts and such proclaiming that. But I digress.
When we first went solo (as authors) it was due to our experiences with a particular publisher. While we are quite different in temperament, neither of us likes it when we are not treated decently. We might’ve both been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. We might both rock spectacles, but we can both spot shenanigans. Instead of raising a ruckus, we raised possibilities with each other. “What if we just left? And then a moment later, we decided, “Let’s just go.” We didn't have a particular destination in mind, but we left the plantation regardless.
Our readers on the Jeanie and Jayha boards were fab. They scoured the internet for options for two authors who wrote in niche markets, who raised too many “whys”, voiced too many “why nots” and not only didn't sit at the cool table, but didn't care that we didn't sit at the cool table. One day, Alcira (one of our readers) found Lulu for us and we were off and running. Okay, maybe not running per se, but walking real swift like.
Authors who enjoyed the art of writing, we had plenty of tales but no editor. All we had was spell check and friends who loved us enough to pour over our manuscripts looking for errors. While all of us are talented in various areas, none of us are editors. We had hot stories but no cover art. Those days we used the default cover (plain brown wrapper) at Lulu. We lamented having no covers but we hoped our followers would be swayed by our prose rather than dismayed at the lack of a cover. Ah, but while we knew all the things we didn’t have, we forgot about everything that we did have: friends.
Author Shara Azod took her OWN money and precious time and not only made us covers, but took the time to ask us what we WANTED on a cover instead of simply giving us a cover that she had. If you have ever bought stock photos, you know that photos don’t come cheap. When our pride caused us to protest, she cussed us out. Author Camille Anthony offered to proof our books for free so we wouldn't go out there all exposed. As she put it, ‘putting a book out without editing is akin to wearing a dress outside without drawers...you know it's just a matter of time before a big gust of wind comes along and blows up your dress and exposes you.' Our friends bought our books and forgave us our bad editing and non-existent proofing. Our readers took their time and talked us up to any and every one who would listen. “Hey, have you read that new J and J joint?” was the saying on our boards. Some unknown reader told Rhonda Scales (badazz librarian extraordinaire) about us and she invited us to come speak at the Malloy Jordan East Winston Heritage Center.
When we got this crazy dream about starting our own publishing company, all of those same people supported us. It wasn't the editing or the proofing or the cover art...it was the passion in our stories that they held onto even with the mistakes.
While we enjoyed writing, and wanted to be publishers, first there must be books. When we confided in our friends, they circled the wagons. Our Posse took a chance and wrote for us (Shara Azod, Dréa Riley, Laura Guevara, RaeLynn Blue, and them) when all we had was a freaking dream. We didn’t even have our own website, we simply had a storefront on the Lulu website. These authors had EVERYTHING to lose. They'd already written books. They already had reader bases. They didn't need Beautiful Trouble Publishing but Beautiful Trouble Publishing sure enough needed them.
The former owner of Wicked Women Press offered us her contracts (which are copyrighted as attorneys generally write them meaning you also have to pay your attorney) so we wouldn’t have to start from scratch. Author Savannah J. Frierson edited for us and gave us a STEEP discount. Jim and Zetta spent A LOT of their limited time answering our MANY questions and worked with us to come up with a package that would work for both of us.
Jeanie and I wrote for two years to save for our own website. The web guys at Ed Kemp and Associates launched our website (on Mardi Gras of all days) even though we hadn't finished paying them. "We know you're good for it they told us." And we were because we had so many readers out there buying our books.
While we hoped to be the best publisher ever, we had so much to learn (and still do). We learned that even the best editor needed a proofreader. We learned that there was nothing stagnant about the publishing business. We learned that even a good contract could be made better. We learned that we would take a good story riddled with errors (as long as the author was willing to work) over a beautifully-edited story that had no passion. We also learned that people take sides.
I have been closed mouth about many things, not because I don't care but because saying something would make me seem like a complainer. It seemed that we had (and still have) an awful lot of haters. Authors stopped speaking to us. Certain individuals in the publishing industry blackballed us. Other publishing houses have written us emails explaining how things we do look bad and thus serve to make the entire epublishing industry look bad. For real? You say that to us and yet you KNOW of publishers out there who don’t pay their authors and staff but you’re all in our face. We’ve even had publishers email us to point out a typo. Again, there are publishers with posted excerpts riddled with errors but no one says anything because no one wants to get into it with that particular publisher. We’ve even had a porn star tell us off via email and end with a P.S. letting us know her breasts were real.
Each day, it seems that the definition of what constitutes a publisher changes. One of the newer tweaks in the definition involved the percentage of books written by the owners. We were told in so many words that we were simply a thinly-veiled vanity press because such a large percentage of the books on the website were books that we authored. There was a reason for that: authors are reluctant to test the waters of a new and unproven publisher.
Each day, we invited authors to write for us and received a bunch of 'thank you but no thanks.’ While we expected that from veteran authors, many of the authors we asked were out there writing for free. They were interested in finding a publisher; however, they let it be known that they did not consider us a real publisher. It was in their rights to decline our invitation. However, I personally wondered how it was they thought so highly of publishers who by numerous accounts do not pay their authors, editors, cover artists, etc.
Sometimes, we did not ask authors to write for us; we simply asked them to do an interview for our newsletter. We interview authors from various houses because in addition to being publishers and authors, we are first and foremost readers. Both Jeanie and I enjoy a finely-woven tale.
Many of invitations were met with queries along the lines of ‘show me what you have.’ When we asked individuals to do an interview for our newsletter, many held back until after they saw our newsletter. When they saw our newsletter it was as if they were surprised we had a “real” newsletter.
Individuals let us know in myriad ways that just because we had a website and a few books didn’t make us a publisher. Even as our catalog grew, doubts were raised. People questioned our authors even as they tried to woo them. Variations of “Why would you waste your time with Beautiful Trouble Publishing?” echoed all over the place. Even reviewers write reviews stating that the author probably needs another publisher.
Some authors have complained about us. We are too demanding. Yes, we are but it says that on our website. We want things our way. Um yeah, because it is OUR spot. I don’t understand why it is so wrong for us to want things our way, when other publishers also want things their way. It must be because we’re new. How dare we have expectations? We have had authors straight out tell us what they weren’t going to do in editing (and we let them go). We have had authors fight us every step of the way in the drafting, editing and proofing process. We will not apologize for rejecting SOPPING WET F*CKHOLE as a descriptor for a vagina. We will not apologize for rejecting manuscripts that don’t meet our expectations. We will not apologize for demanding the best an author has. But therein lies the issue: we won’t apologize, we won’t approach this business with a ‘hat in hand’ mentality, we won’t simply accept everything just to say we have books.
And people hate us for that. Fine. Hate us. Send your homies to amazon and other third party websites to write bad reviews for the books we publish. But can you at least tell them to read the book BEFORE they post such classic reviews as “yuck.” Oh, we’ve noticed that books at our house frequently receive ridiculous reviews. We’ve noticed the disproportionate number of our titles posted on pirate websites. We’ve noticed the silences. We’ve noticed the subtle digs. We’ve noticed the bald-faced cut-downs. We’ve also noticed many other things. While haters are out there hating, consider why it is that you have so much free time to bash us online, bash us to other publishers, and to other authors. Why not let your author friends decide on their own if they want to come to a company that will pay them what they’re owed in a timely fashion.
We might be little but we would put our authors against authors anywhere…and that’s not dissing the other authors, that’s just telling the truth. Hollywood and the small screen should come knocking on the doors of our authors. Why? Because their stories are just that good. Our authors write with just as much passion as any bestselling author; they simply haven’t sold as many books—yet.
They don’t simply repackage the same old story with a new title and new names. Their stories make readers want to fist pump, shout Hallelujah, roar WTF and in the end, they leave you wanting more. They “put their foot in it” every time because they are passionate about their stories and respectful of the readers who give their stories a chance.
While our authors are passionate about their stories, we are passionate about our authors. How could we not be? They have shown such patience and integrity and perseverance.
We are a family at Beautiful Trouble Publishing…and while small, we’re okay with that. And so far, so are our authors. Our authors know that we’re not here to kiss author a*s and feed author ego and yet they still step up and take the challenge. In the end, we’re all better for it.