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NC Literary Hall of Fame



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Maureen A. Sherbondy

At an early age I set four goals for myself: (1) earn a college degree, (2) marry, (3) have three children (yes, three, I have always been very decisive) prior to thirty, and (4) publish a book.

By twenty-nine I had checked the first three items off my life’s to-do list. Item four eluded me. Get a book published. Was I crazy? What was I thinking? I hadn’t even majored in English in college. I had no publishing contacts, yet I continued to write and read and refine my craft. Alone. It was a solitary act, this writing business. I managed to send some poems and stories out and get a few pieces published. But a book! This task seemed impossible.

Then in 1996 I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. Everywhere I went, someone was either writing or talking about writing—at the local Starbucks, in the YMCA locker room, at temple. For the four years I had lived in Pennsylvania, I had never once bumped into another writer. This state was different, though. Someone told me about the North Carolina Writers’ Network. I was so excited to hear that an active, thriving organization existed for people like me.

Soon, I signed up for my first NCWN conference and felt both excited and terrified. But the other writers, from Tony Abbott to Dave Manning, were so friendly. I remember people wore nametags with their chosen genres scrawled on their tags. This was a great conversation starter. Many friendships took root and blossomed. Writers whose work I admired taught informative, helpful classes. These workshop leaders were enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I took notes, learned how to write better, and discovered local journals. On display tables, workshop leaders and other NCWN authors exhibited their books of poetry, fiction, or essays. I remember drooling over the covers. In my head a little voice whispered, One day my book will be on that table. This tangible goal gave me something to work toward. When my mailbox overflowed with rejection letters, when I lost yet another book contest, I thought about my book displayed on that conference table.

If I had not attended the NCWN conferences, I never would have had my first book published. Every time I attended the Fall Conference, I walked the perimeter of the vendor room, where publishers set up tables and sold their books. There, I met Scott Douglass, owner and editor of Main Street Rag Publishing. Every time I returned to the conference, I talked to him, bought some of his fine books. He was publishing wonderful North Carolina poets and poets from other states.

At the 2006 conference, I once again stopped at his table and spoke with him. By this time, my work had appeared in over a hundred literary journals, and my poetry manuscript had landed on the finalist lists of several book contests. But I was frustrated, still missing that elusive book contract. Would I be sending manuscripts to book contests when I was ninety years old? Was this last goal on my list unattainable?

I will remember this next moment always. Later in the conference, as I was talking to Susan Lefler, a poet friend whom I met years earlier at another conference, Scott Douglass tapped my shoulder and said, “I don’t usually do this, but I am inviting you to submit a book to me for consideration.”

My jaw must have dropped. I could hear my heart pounding. At first, I thought he was talking to someone else. I had been waiting my whole life for someone to say these words. So, the rest is history. I sent the book, and After the Fairy Tale was published in 2007. I was ecstatic.

Until then, I had never thought beyond achieving that book publication goal. After a book is published, actually months before, the author becomes a marketer. Having a new goal of selling my book, I quickly learned that the NCWN was an extremely important promotional resource. I was able to post my Web site link on their Web site, to mention my good news in their Book Buzz, and also to announce my upcoming readings in their calendar. And, of course, I returned to the Fall Conference with my books. Standing over the display table there and seeing my first book was a preeminent life moment. On the outside I was calm and quiet, but on the inside I was jumping up and down yelling, “I did it!”

I strongly recommend joining the NCWN for writers who are interested in improving their craft, meeting a community of supportive writers, learning about the publishing universe, and promoting their books and events. The NCWN has, in Frost’s words, “made all the difference” in my book publication journey.

The heart of the North Carolina Writers’ Network beats in response to the needs and requests of its members. Its members are the poets, novelists, essayists, writers of short stories, flash fiction, nonfiction, novellas—all the vibrantly talented wordsmiths we have, who live and work across our state, from the western tip of our Blue Ridge Mountains to the wide, sandy beaches of our eastern shores.

What does the NCWN mean to me, personally? Let me set the scene …

Timing is just about everything. Well, it certainly was on the day I received the worst critique of my life. I’m sure you know the type: learned author reads your sentences aloud. Shakes his head, disgusted. Your BP ramps up like you’ve just run the mile. You wait for his feedback and pray it won’t slice you to red-ribbon shreds. It shoots out like poison arrows from his lips: “I don’t know, Jan. Maybe you should think about going back to school.” (Insert shower scene from Psycho here; he is killing you.)

Time moved at glacial speeds for me after that day. I did not write for six months. My bruised heart thumped erratically. I cried at the oddest intervals, and I was making my spouse sick. One day, the Hubs said, “Dear, you have got to do something different.”

Of course, I gave him the stink eye because his timing seemed to suck. In truth though, it was perfect. Online, I input my membership data to the NCWN’s user-friendly Web site and rediscovered such delicious entrees as their guide to literary agents, calendar of upcoming events, Hats Off, resource links, and writing competitions. In the dessert section, Submit It, I read the call for submissions by a well-known publisher in Winston-Salem.

The deadline for their Open Awards was a few months off, so I decided to enter. What’d I have to loose? Soon, my computer and I were back on track. I wrote every day for the next six months and submitted everything I’d written to Press 53. One of my pieces earned a spot on the finalist list (2008), and I floated to cloud nine and back. I felt a whole lot smarter about the timing of things, not to mention, clearer on the fundamental definition of who my community needed to be. By the way, my novella, Hard Times and Happenstance, won first place honors in the 2009 Press 53 Open Awards Anthology and will be published this fall.

So, what does the NCWN mean to me personally? It is where my tender fellow writers and poets—the ones who speak in special tongues, the ones who shape-shift the world into a place we can actually bear (or stop putting up with) come together—online or at a conference, at a reading or via phone. It is where we can be counted and a place we can feel at home. The North Carolina Writers’ Network is my community. Together, we make the best of good times better.

So, dear, if you’re not a member already, do something different today. Join. You’ll thank yourself tomorrow for the good timing you had today. See you, Jan.

To the members and friends of the North Carolina Writers’ Network:

If you love books (even if only the ones you yourself have written), you need to be aware of a recent market trend that could have a far-reaching effect on readers and writers.

This fall, some of the country’s largest retailers—notably Wal-Mart, Target, and—have begun pricing new and often best-selling hardcover books as low as $8 or $9, 50%–60% lower than the publishers’ list price. This means that those retailers are often selling books for less than what they bought them for from the publishers. They are, in effect, losing money on each book sold.
It seems like a great deal for readers, doesn’t it? Not when you think about its long-term effects.

These pricing practices could create a climate in the book business in which new and even established authors suffer because of the irresponsibility of retailers who have little concern for the health of bookselling and publishing, much less the literary community. They are telling readers that books aren't worth the price it costs to publish them.

Do any of us really want to live in a world where publishing a new book, in commercial terms, isn’t worth the expense? Pricing a best-selling book in the single digits devalues the work the author, editor, designer, and publisher put into that book. Such pricing will inevitably push all retail prices—and thus, publishers’ revenue—down. Facing reduced revenues, many small presses, those who often serve as the discoverers of new and exciting authors, will not be able to survive. Larger publishing houses will be much less willing to take risks on authors without a proven track record on the best-seller lists (including the authors who might write tomorrow’s best sellers).

New and emerging authors—even established authors with solid but not spectacular sales histories—will find fewer and fewer venues available for their work. Those venues they do find will be less able to find and build an audience for the work of these writers.

The retailers engaging in this devaluing are using books as nothing more than loss leaders: incentives for consumers to enter their stores or Web sites, where they will be encouraged to purchase more expensive items. They are discounting not only the economic value of books, but also the intrinsic intellectual and emotional value of what books provide. They are treating books merely as the prize in the Happy Meal box.

With the holiday gift-giving season approaching, we urge everyone to be aware of the disregard in which some retailers hold the printed word, and to consider this and the possible consequences when you do your shopping.


Ed Southern 
Executive Director  
North Carolina Writers' Network

Nicki Leone
NCWN Board of Trustees

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