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SUBMISSIONS WANTED FROM AUTHORS, WRITERS, AND EVERYDAY PEOPLE Anthology about Real People! Real Lives! Real Tragedies! in an effort...

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Birth Of FreeBird Express Publishing

A note from Almondie Shampine about the birth of Freebird Express Publishing (formerly NewAge Publishing) and it’s ‘Everyone has a story to tell’ feature.

First author pic

It seems like yesterday when I first began writing-for-publication at 18 years old. I’d known I loved to write and read in childhood, but those early years are the times when the world is our playground, and that playground is free, so I also wanted to be on Broadway, though I never wanted to live in the big city, and I wanted to be a Microbiologist to find the cure for cancer, despite being legally blind without my coke-bottle magnifying-lenses glasses. And by the time I was in college, I wanted to be a Psychologist and help people, so I signed up to the Air Force for that free college education, but before I could get to boot camp, I learned that I was to be a Mom instead! (1 month later, 9/11 happened, and war was declared).

This was when I decided to start writing-for-publication. Back in 2001, things were a bit different than it is today. Email queries were unheard of. You had to print out the query, the synopsis, and whatever chapters they asked for, and snail-mail it, paying for both the postage there and an SASE for their response. If the agent or publisher was interested, they’d request the entire manuscript. By some extraordinary miracle, my very first type-written novel, the “Strength Series’ inspired by V.C. Andrews, was requested by a publisher, so I printed out all 400 full-length pages and sent it. At that time, I didn’t realize how rare or profound it was to get a positive response so quickly, especially on my very first type-written novel. Just as rare as it was in that time to become a teenage author.

It was rejected and returned, however, and I was left with 400 pages of manuscript to sit in a box, in addition to thousands and thousands of manuscript pages and novels written that accumulated throughout the years. The worst part was: By the time I received my first heart-breaking rejection, I’d already written two other novels in the ‘Strength Series’ at a time when floppy disks became obsolete, and I lost all my written-novels that I didn’t print out and the Strength Series died, just like that. I pored over that manuscript hundreds of times, trying to figure out why it got rejected, and it took me until 30 years old to figure out, after I realized I had amnesia from 7 to 14 years old. That 7-year gap in my memory played out with my 7-year-old character, so she went from being a normal 7-year-old to an 8-year-old living a 14-year-old’s existence. My own memory losses had resulted in the first and worst rejection I’d ever received while being tormented by the knowing that the writing had been good enough for a publisher to want.

But at the time of not realizing why I got rejected, I took it as not being good enough, so I took every class and course I could, becoming certified in children’s literature, freelancing, editing and reading every book and magazine I could find on perfecting myself. Then, at 19 years old, my children’s story ‘Monster Down the Street’ was accepted for publication in a Children’s Literary Anthology with a contract that said ‘non-profit’, but I was so excited to have my writing go to national schools that I didn’t even care I wouldn’t get paid. … Until my handful of rejections became several dozen. Every novel I wrote – rejected!

It took until 22 to achieve my next publication, after my daughter was born, a vamp-erotica short that the publisher had requested that paid $.60 per book sold, Intrusion, but when the first two buyers were my district attorney and my daughter’s lawyer, while I was in the midst of a child custody battle and the victim defense in criminal court proceedings, I quickly pulled that book off the shelves.

And then, while tripling up on college courses as a Psych major to get my Bachelors degree, it wasn’t until I was 24 before I was accepted by another publisher for another anthology, ‘Memoirs of Meanness’. Low and behold, that contract stated ‘non-profit’ too, and was to go toward anti-bullying measures in schools.

So 6 years writing professionally, three published books by three different publishers, a writing portfolio that vouched for writing, editing, freelancing certifications left-and-right, over 40 published articles, newsletters, poems, and a couple of contest winners, 4.0’s in a Bachelor’s degree I’d gotten in a little over 2 years, and I’d made zilch! While sitting on a hundred rejections on just one novel, alone, let alone all the rejections for my other novels and works. But I just kept writing – novel after novel after novel – and by the time I was 30, I can honestly say I’ve probably been rejected between 3-400 times traditionally while having a 10% success rate in publications.

Not saying I didn’t get accepted by publishing houses and small presses that asked for money up front, because I did, but self-publishing was taboo back then, and anyone who even thought about doing it was basically advised that their writing career would be over and a traditional publisher would never look at them again. Not to mention, it was expensive and being a single mom of two young-uns didn’t afford me much. 

When the market changed, and Indie publishing started becoming more and more popular, I was a little late in jumping on that band wagon, because I still maintained old views. I wanted the respect and the pride that most serious writers want, a contract with a good-sized publisher, and a huge advance payment that would take me from broke author to author-holding-a-big-fat-check that I could mail a copy to everyone that rejected me with a ‘Suck it’ note. Because I didn’t just have the writer’s passion. I had the writer’s dream. You know, that one where you make enough to finally become that full-time writer and are able to make a full-time career out of it.

I had queried every agency in the Writer’s Market guide, plus all the ones I could search up on the internet and find in writer’s magazines, based on their guidelines and preferred genre, of course, alongside my writing portfolio that detailed my education and training and every article, short-story, newsletter, poem, book I’d ever published while also having interned as a contributing editor and writer for a magazine, and over and over again, I’d get the same thing. “Your manuscript seems marketable, and there’s definitely an audience for your writing, but we are not taking on any new clients at this time.”

14 years I’d spent writing professionally, at this point, and I’d picked up freelancing and editing and writing other people’s works to make the extra money I needed. I had a bigger drive than most, I think, because it wasn’t just my passion pushing me. It was being a single Mom and having my kids be raised by babysitters while I worked 2-3 jobs to finance the bills, while having a medical condition that flared up more and more frequently as I became older that my jobs wouldn’t be able to accommodate. It took until I was 28 for the doctors to figure out what it was and by 31, I was declared totally disabled, while still being a single mom and the sole-income to support my family.
Only then did I go the Indie route of publishing. 

I published 10 books in two years, and I can probably say that those were the best and brightest two years in my life, because it was SO exciting! When I hit the #1 Bestseller Amazon rank in my genre and category with my first book, my tears were free-flowing while I had the biggest smile on my face. It was probably pretty creepy-looking. My second book hit #2 and my third book hit #1, but I’d used up all my excitement on the first one. Firsts of everything are so short-lived, but they’re glorious in the moment, and priceless for life – just like the first day I opened the box to my first hardcover novel – the one and only edition I gave to my son. I felt like a superstar.

My first author event, I made $130 in 2 hours, but that wasn’t even important to me. It was when I was asked to sign the book. I’m pretty sure I chuckled and looked at the person in disbelief. “You know I’m not famous, right, so this just seems weird.” And the person winked at me and said, “But should you become famous, I’ll be the one with your very first signature,” so I made sure to write inside the book, alongside my signature, ‘This is my very first signature’.

My first author interview by our newspaper was just another first where I acted out excitedly
First Newspaper interview
like an ADHD child (my son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was younger, so that is not meant to be offensive to anyone suffering from such), but afterward when the paper was released, I was afraid to go out in public, and I considered a disguise. I know, it was a little grandiose of me, because once I did go out in public to a concert they were hosting at the park, I was humbled and thinking, “Does nobody recognize me? Hello! It’s me! I was in your morning paper. Nobody? Nothing?”

But then returning home, a neighbor I’d never met pulled up alongside me and said, “Wow, all those years you’ve been living there and I never knew you were an author,” so I reverted back to my head-down, tails-between-the-legs, scuffing-the-shoes embarrassment, because the person that acknowledged recognizing me also acknowledged knowing where I lived, so then I had regrets about coming out locally.

Local conversations: “Hey, you know our neighbor down the road writes books? Yeah, she’s got a bunch of ‘em. She was in the paper and everything.” “Really? I didn’t know we had anyone famous around here. I betcha she’s the one in that house. I’ve always loved that house. It’s huge and has that big underground pool and -.” “No, she’s the one next to it.” “You mean that woman that never mows the lawn and leaves her garbage cans out by the side of the road for weeks on end?” “Yep, that one.”

Then there was my first book fair where I got to meet other authors for the first time in person. I was so busy getting books signed by them that I didn’t even tend to my own table. And the first library that stocked my books. 

 But it was my third event that led me to NewAge Publishing, now FreeBird Express Publishing. A 17-year-old girl cradling my book like a baby and following me with her eyes everywhere and looking at me as astutely as I did my English courses in school, hanging on every word I said, until I did my reading and my Q & A session, and she could finally run up to the table to get a signature. She proudly announced to me, “I’m a writer, too, and it’s my dream to get published.”
First Barnes & Noble Event

I provided her my information and told her to send me her manuscript and I’d read it and the delight and gratitude in her eyes was the most legit thing you can get out of people in this world – and it’s the inspiration I live for. Reading her manuscript, I found her to be amazingly talented. That natural talent that others spend years and decades of their life trying to hone. Her writing reminded me of myself at her age. To this day, I can brag that my writing in my youth was brilliant. The words flowed like magic. The voice and beauty of poetic youth before that free-flowing creativity and originality became rules, rules, and more rules. Hey, kind of just like growing up!

But more than anything, it reminded me of everything I went through and the thousand heart-breaks I endured in just having that innate passion to write and that deeply-ingrained desire to share it with the world, and in all that time, I had never met anyone, personally, in that field. Not an author. Not another writer. Not a literary agent or a publisher. No one that shared my passion. No one that shared my dream. No one to guide and help and support me other than the classes and courses that I paid for. It was a very lonely life. And seeing her, I just couldn’t fathom the idea of her going through the excruciating disappointment and loneliness and self-questioning and struggles with self esteem and self-worthiness like I did, because every rejection just kept telling me that I wasn’t good enough.

In fact, even after I had over a dozen books published, by the three other publishers, and then myself, I STILL questioned if I was any good. I’d feel embarrassed at events that people would feel like they wasted money, so I set my pricing as low as possible. None of my friends read books, so they wouldn’t read mine, and, to this day, I can’t say if my side of the family has actually ever read my books or not because they’ve never commented on it, other than vaguely. … Until I got my first fan mail by a complete stranger. Short and simple. “I love your books!” And that’s all I needed to hear, and there was no giving up FOREVER, and I would write and publish books for as long as I lived, because even if there was ONE person in the world that loved my books and was counting on more of them, I was going to follow through. That one single piece of fan mail made me more determined than ever to do the best I could possibly do and to keep trying, keep going, and to finally start believing in myself for once and for all.

And that’s all this beautiful, young adult needed to hear when she was questioning herself
First feature in Publisher's Weekly
and her abilities. She wasn’t the first author’s book I helped along in the publishing process, but meeting her was the moment that I realized I wanted to be a publisher. 15 years of my life spent searching for a publisher and dreaming of getting a big one, crying over my hundreds of rejections and celebrating over my acceptances, I never imagined I’d become one, but throughout the years, more and more authors, writers, and everyday people began coming to me in search of services and advice and a desire to have their story told and shared with the world.

I never thought anything could feel more profound than seeing my book in Publisher’s Weekly, or doing my first Barnes N Noble event, or accomplishing every single dream that I’d started as just a teenager myself (except for NewYork Times Bestseller) … until I spent a two-week bender getting a manuscript prepared for publication and was able to just say, “Merry Christmas”, to that extremely bright and talented teenage girl, with the attachment of her finalized book to become her very first published book. Being a part of the path that leads to the publication of other people’s stories and books is THE most rewarding feeling I’ve ever felt – far more satisfying than anything I’ve ever done as a writer and author myself. It’s how a parent feels when they invest 18 years into raising their children and then it’s time to let go and see them off into the world, following them with pride wherever they go and secret self-congratulations of, “I did that. I created and raised that beautiful child to be the adult he/she is now.” while remaining there for support and guidance every step of the way. 

Being a publisher is about making other people’s dreams your own and helping them to fulfill them. It’s giving people a voice and letting their story be heard throughout the world. It’s about reaching as many people as you possibly can in the world just to give them that one small touch of inspiration that could impact them and their lives forever. I can’t say there’s anything grander or more fulfilling than that. 

Go to FreeBird Express Publishing Authors page to check out other authors, books, and blurbs (backcover descriptions)

Check out 'Everyone Has a Story To Tell' 

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