It was 2012. I believed I was on the road to “making it” as a published author. I had snagged an agent who sold my first book to a mid-sized publisher. That’s when things started to go wrong.
A larger publisher acquired my publisher and that’s when my royalty payments stopped. By 2015, I’d signed with a new literary agent—my former one quit—and I’d written a novel I knew would catch a large publisher’s eye. That novel, Our Sweet Guillotine, was a gritty, gothic romance about love, revenge, and, ultimately, forgiveness in a blood-thirsty time.
My agent submitted that book to many publishing houses. Unfortunately, many editors blatantly stated they weren’t interested in Christian messages—something my story addressed subtly. I’d endeavored to write a story for a broad market, but I couldn’t help slipping in messages that would bring a reader to Christ.
Traditional Publishers Didn’t Get It
I had a vision for writing Youth Adult (YA) fiction that would grab the attention of young adults. Stories that were edgy, but subtly included Christian values in the plot.
I’m one of those writers who loves to share what I learn from reading God’s word. I feel like many readers will be open to Christian messages, such as “turning the other cheek,” if they’re presented with skill and in a believable way.
What my agent and I learned, though, was that Our Sweet Guillotine was too dark for Christian imprints who wanted warmer, fuzzier stories. They didn’t want to read about bloody settings like the French Revolution, violent mobs, and real poverty. And secular publishers were looking for other types of diversity. So, what was a girl to do? I felt like quitting. Honestly.
Getting Direction from God
But I didn’t quit. Near the end of 2016 I was sitting in church, minding my own business, when an outlandish thought occurred to me.
I should start a small press.
That was a terrible idea.
But, as the service continued, the idea persisted.
I should start a small press.
The notion wouldn’t go away. I tried to talk myself out of it. I wanted to tell myself that I was grasping at straws and should do something else like becoming a realtor. Or teach.
But the idea fastened itself in my brain, so the next day I texted my sister Cammie Larsen. “What if we started a small press?”
She immediately called me. “That’s what I’ve wanted to do all along!” She minored in business and has always been more entrepreneurial-minded than me.
That’s when it dawned on me that a couple of years before Cammie and her husband had shared their idea of starting a publishing company. They saw how much trouble I was having with placing my work and they believed in my ability. They also loved the idea of championing other peoples’ work and curating exciting, clean stories.
I didn’t share their vision at that point, but this time I was listening. They planted the seed and it was growing.
“But there are already so many other publishers out there,” I told her. “Plus, I want a large publisher at my back. I want legitimacy.”
The thought I had in church before kept churning. I should start my own small press. No matter what I tried, it wouldn’t go away.
So, shortly after my second agent quit, and after deciding that my fiction didn’t fit anywhere in the current industry, I did what I vowed I would never do—I self-published Our Sweet Guillotine. Simultaneously, Cammie and I took the plunge and incorporated our small press as Monster Ivy Publishing.
What is Indie Publishing?
There is some confusion about Indie publishing, so let me show you where Monster Ivy Publishing fits in the publishing world.
- Traditional Publishing (aka “Mainline Publishing”). This is when an established publisher agrees to publish your book. There is no cost to the author. They pay you an advance and royalties and handle all aspects of editing, manufacturing and marketing the book. This is the deal I had with my original mid-sized publisher.
- Indie Publishing (aka Small Press). An Independent publisher is a company that works just like a traditional publisher, but on a smaller scale and with a particular focus. A traditional publisher is like a huge department store, but an Indie publisher is like a boutique. Indie publishers typically don’t just publish their own work, but publish other authors as well.
- Self-Publishing. This is when an author publishes his or her own book. This form of publishing used to be frowned upon, but is now widely accepted with the rise of Kindle ebooks and Print on Demand (POD) publishing. The downside of self-publishing is that authors like to write but do not usually have the editing and marketing skills to make a success of their efforts.
- Vanity Publishing. This is when you pay others a fee to publish your book. They primarily sell services, not books. Many mainline publishers have vanity publishing divisions now. For example, in the Christian world, when Thomas Nelson Publishers rejects a manuscript they will often recommend that you use WestBow Press, their pay-to-publish division. Many of these traditional publishers call these vanity divisions Indie or self-publishing, but that’s inaccurate.
Embracing Others Who Share Our Vision
Once we decided to start a true Indie publishing company, Cammie insisted that we quickly open our doors to submissions.
That sounded too ambitious, too brave for me. I held off Cammie as long as I could, but in the end, after crunching numbers and forming a business model and editorial team, we officially opened our doors at the end of January 2017.
We’ve already found our first author. Her young adult psychological thriller will be released this fall with three other stories we’re currently on the hunt to find.
Building our Brand is Key
We’re holding the course, eagerly searching for additional talented writers of “Edgy, Clean” fiction with an entrepreneurial spirit. With the promise of 40% of net royalties, we hope our authors will be motivated to build our brand with us. While our focus is young adult fiction right now, we hope to expand our vision to adult and middle grade books.
Finding our audience won’t be easy. The market is already saturated with a wide variety of stories. But we think our books will reach an audience that is not served by other publishers. We are proudly, “Edgy, Clean.” Cammie and I want to band with other Christians in our specific niche.
Mary Gray balances dark and twisty plots with faith-based messages. Some of her best ideas come when she’s lurking in the woods, experimenting with frightening foods, or pushing her kids on the tire swing. Mary is the author of three novels, two nonfiction works, and rockin’ anthology, The Devils You Meet on Christmas Day. All of these books are published through Mary’s small press, Monster Ivy Publishing.