By Raj Tawney, author of Colorful Palate: A Flavorful Journey Through a Mixed American Experience
Two years ago, when my then-agency was shopping a proposal around for what would be my
debut memoir, they were having a difficult time generating an offer. Many of the big houses said
my story was beautiful, but they were unsure how to market it. With no offer on the table and
dwindling interest from my representation, I decided to leave the agency. My manuscript sat on
the shelf for months while I worked on other projects. I was heartbroken and felt rejected by an
industry more interested in dark, dramatic stories as well as massive profits. All I’d wanted to do
was be like my heroes, Pete Hamill and Anthony Bourdain. Both of whom experienced highs
and lows in their lives, and both of whom wrote stories about and for the love of New York.
That’s what my story was about but with more… flavor.
Struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic, my wife and I relocated to South Florida
where I got to know a few cool people in the literary scene. I found myself invited to an event at
the Miami Book Fair to see Deesha Philyaw speak. I didn’t know much about her but I was
happy to attend, hoping to learn something new. During the talk, she spoke about her publishing
journey and how her book, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, was also turned down by the big
publishers and how she eventually found a home with the University of West Virginia Press. It
wasn’t about the money for her at the time. It was about publishing her book. I purchased a
copy of her book that evening and quickly fell in love with her work. I shouldn’t have to tell you
how her experience turned out, but here’s an update in case you haven’t heard.
I thought about Philyaw’s journey for many months. I was so moved after watching her speak so candidly. Finally, I decided to dust off my loser-of-a-manuscript and begin shopping it around myself. I had nothing to lose. Thankfully, most university publishers didn’t require agent representation. Within a few weeks, I had a few offers. But I was most excited about Fredric Nachbaur and Fordham University Press as their Empire State Editions imprint seemed like a perfect fit for my story. Fredric’s interest and enthusiasm was sincere. At that moment, signing with FUP felt like a no-brainer.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve felt privileged to work with an incredible team at FUP. A few other new authors I knew who’d signed to major houses were feeling neglected and frustrated at the bottom of long talent rosters. At FUP, I felt like I was part of a family who took pride in and
consideration for each project. Other authors I knew who’d signed with university publishers, like University of Iowa Press and University of Michigan Press, have told me they’ve also been thrilled with their choices. At university presses, there is a freedom to celebrate an original work
without corporate pressure to perform or conform to a blase market.
I’m immensely proud to have had my first book published with a university press. I was never a strong student in my younger days. I probably disappointed my parents more times than I’d like to remember. You can read my book to find out why. But I’ve always been creative and passionate, a scrapper and a hard worker. And today, whenever I see my mom and dad mention my book to friends and family, they always make it a point to mention Fordham University Press. I now hear the sense of pride in their voices that had always eluded me.
Like any journey, there is no straight path. But the destination, if you can reach it, is truly rewarding.
Continue the University Press Week blog tour by reading posts at: University of Alberta Press, Brandeis University Press, Bristol University Press, Bucknell University Press, Columbia University Press, Duke University Press, University Press of Florida, University of Illinois Press, Johns Hopkins University Press, University Press of Kentucky, Leuven University Press, LSU Press, NYU Press, University of Notre Dame Press, Purdue University Press, University of Rochester Press, Temple University Press, and University of Toronto Press.
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