You can say that it is all Ted Cruz’s fault. I had never planned to become a book publisher. I was just a writer, a writer who faced the same brick walls and pitfalls that plague the modern publishing industry. I had met with publishers at trade shows and gotten nowhere. As early as mid-2013, I was beginning to germinate an idea to do something more. My second book had come out the previous fall and I was eager to step up my promotion, as well as support the other self-published authors I was friends with. I had already created aois21, but it was a fantasy. “The illusion of a publisher is just as good as a publisher,” when booking book tours and events. I had used the faux name as I scheduled a six-stop tour in summer 2012 for Polk’s Soliloquy.
While visiting the farmer’s market at the courthouse in Arlington, VA, I looked at the variety of vendors at the adjoining market and wondered if I could exhibit there. Obviously not every week; that would be crazy. Maybe if I formed an author society, we could book the space and we’d have a different author each week. There didn’t seem to be an existing society in Arlington County, even with the area’s strong support for the arts. But that wouldn’t work with my friends, as many of them lived in Maryland.
I shared this with friends and got their own ideas. I even pitched it to my coworker Philip Sipkov, who, at the time, was planning on publishing his third book with a vanity publisher and wanted my help with the marketing, allowing him to duck the costs they charged for using their own service. We went as far as drafting a public relations contract for me to support him. The only hang-ups were the detailed rules the publisher provided as a barrier to entry for a start-up marketing firm like the one I was presenting myself as. The one-person “aois21 publishing” would need to have five books to report stats on, a personal contact at the Ingram vendor, and other guarantees that seemed to be onerous. We had pretty much thrown in the towel.
Then I was fired.
Well, not really fired. But I was unemployed, though I did not lose my job. For two weeks and two days in October 2013, the U.S. Federal Government was shut down. All non-essential federal employees (i.e., me) were sent home without pay. I filled my time by running a tumblr sharing the news, pictures, and cartoons from the shutdown, but as I filed for unemployment compensation, I grew resentful. I had done nothing wrong. My work was exemplary. My job was still there, and I would have it back, but not yet. If the government can shut down because one senator from Texas fired up the House to fight the new health care law, then could this be the new normal going ahead?
I decided that I never wanted to be unemployed again. Even if there would be another shutdown, I would have work to do (and, hopefully, an income). Thus, aois21 became real. I pulled my friends together. The authors became aois21 Creatives. Those with advanced degrees consulted on writing the business plan and building the structure. Many of them then became the agents of that structure as members of my management team. Corey Parker as Editor-in-Chief, Joshua Silberman as IT consultant and webmaster, Adam Wallick as author support (Creative Adjacent, a term borrowed from author Scott Sigler), Rachel Mooney as our original Chief of Visual Design, Megan Angevine as Chief of Administration. We were coming together with me as Executive Officer (I wasn’t about to fluff my ego by calling myself a publisher just yet).
Our planning started in November. In March, we launched a Kickstarter. We signed authors, revamped the barebones website, and began vigorous outreach. We booked a venue for our launch party and made new connections through social media. After successfully completing the Kickstarter, we filed our paperwork with the commonwealth of Virginia on May 8th, 2014. Our six-month journey had ended, but we had now launched a new one.
I’ve told this story now a hundred times, and some people seem to not yet be sick of it. As we approach our third birthday, we have 13 authors signed, 17 books available, three more coming out, eight podcast series, two video series, a growing presence online, and partnerships with local bookstores. That’s pretty good for a part-time company. Now it’s time for the next step. Be ready.