Has something so totally amazing ever happened to you that the significance of it doesn’t strike you until days later? Well, what happens when that amazing event ends with not a so great outcome? What happens when that amazing event leaves much to be answered as so many questions surrounding it occupy your mind?
Let’s take it back to 2013, the year that Justin and I decided to take our show on the road and throw thousands, upon thousands of our day-job dollars into introducing our Black Streak Entertainment baby to industry professionals and fans at expos in major cities around the U.S.
The first show we decided to hit up was Book Expo America (BEA) in New York City. After months of planning, designing marketing materials, printing books, and corresponding with the expo coordinators and insurance companies (yes, it was as miserable as it sounds…), we packed up my best friend Josh’s family SUV and took the 5 hr road trip from Youngstown, OH to NYC.
Ah yes, the bottomless, money sucking, dark pit that is NYC; there is truly no place like it. Between the crowds of grumpy New Yorkers irked by summertime tourists, the smell of smog and public urination in the air, the melodious sounds of crackheads screaming up and down 34th Street Herald Square station, and NYPD police randomly lining the streets in riot gear in a ridiculous attempt at an unnecessary show of force, we knew we were in a totally different world than that of our native North Eastern Ohio.
Nonetheless, we were excited to be at BEA! It was a hub for not only indie publishers like ourselves, but editors representing major publishing imprints as well. These editors, however, required that you set up an appointment with them to discuss whatever it was you wanted to discuss, which, in my case, was the publishing of our books and graphic novels under their major imprint.
While moving from meeting to meeting and weaving through the crowds of anxious book fans lining up to get autographs from their favorite book authors, there was one publisher’s booth that stood out among the countless others. This publisher had the largest section of the Javits center on lock, and though the design of their sanctioned area was conservative in its decor, the atmosphere definitely yelled “We in here!” to every other publisher that set up shop at BEA. This big-boss publisher I speak of was none other than Scholastic.
Now, if you don’t know, Scholastic has published some monster hits like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Goosebumps (remember those?), and my personal childhood favorite Clifford: The Big Red Dog. Getting an appointment with one of their editors (of which they apparently had an army) was next to impossible, that is, unless you camped out on their “book-a-meeting” web page like one of those weirdos waiting to drain their bank account on the new iPhone and got first place in line to book a meeting….
I don’t have to tell you, I’m not that dude….
So, I didn’t get a meeting with Scholastic, so what? I mean, there were plenty of other publishers at BEA, right? I mean, at least one of these editors I’m meeting with at publishing houses other than Scholastic had to be interested in the books and graphic novels that Justin and I poured our hearts, souls, and creativity into, right? Well, after having 3 or 4 not so convincing meetings with publishers, I learned one big rule of the book publishing industry…
Book publishing is a very subjective business. So, in short, if an editor isn’t feeling your book based on their personal tastes, they won’t touch it.
With this harsh lesson hanging over my head like a pesky cloud, I returned to our booth with Josh and Justin, pissed off at the world, and the fact that I wasted well over $4,000 on a business trip that resulted in zero progress.
Now, remember that amazing event I alluded to in the opening paragraph? It happened around the time I was in “I hate BEA” mode – here’s how it went down.
A lady wandered over to our booth, which was placed far away from the busy areas of the expo, and in the dark corner of the convention center with the rest of the irrelevant indie publishers fighting for scraps. I said “hello” to her, she smiled and said “hi”. She picked up Justin’s graphic novel Fiji Random and started to smile while observing the cover. She complemented the artwork, and asked who the artist was. Justin, being the author and artist, proudly took the credit. She then picked up my books, Knights of 2nd Earth: Tears of an Honorable King (we printed the story in two volumes) and smiled as she read the synopsis on the back cover of book 1. She said the book sounded interesting, to which I thanked her with a smile. After all, it’s nice when a random, middle-aged white lady, who was obviously an avid reader, took interest with my work.
The lady then handed me her card, and introduced herself as a senior editor with none other than (you guessed it) Scholastic! At this point, I didn’t know what the heck was going on. I was confused, excited, still mildly pissed about how fruitless my meetings were, and thankful to God all at the same time. The editor asked if she could take copies of our books, which, of course we responded “HECK YEAH!”. She shook our hands, and returned to civilization in the better lit areas of the convention center where crowds were actually gathered.
Justin and I had no idea why this lady approached our booth… We had no idea how she even found us! For all we knew, she could have taken our books and totally ripped us off, claiming the work for another author under the Scholastic imprint. But, at this point, especially with how terribly our NYC experience was going, we were just glad to get a ‘W’, even if it wasn’t a guaranteed ticket into the powerhouse of published author immortality that is Scholastic.
A few weeks passed, and I decided that it was time that I reached out to the editor, but not in a weird, desperate, “This guy could be a crazed stalker” type of way. I simply told her it was nice meeting her, and that if she had any questions for us, feel free to ask. To my surprise, she actually responded, though with nothing significant – just a “Nice to meet you too”. But hey, at least she wasn’t ignoring me like the white girls in high school I crushed on from time to time (guilty).
Fast forward to November. This big-time editor and I have been exchanging emails for months, but every time I asked her about getting the books published under Scholastic’s imprint, I was given the runaround, never are straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. So, I turned to an acquaintance in the educational book publishing industry, shared with him the story, and he dropped the cold-hard truth on me –
“She’s waiting for the right moment to drop your books in front of her boss at the next editor’s roundtable, and chances are you will be waiting for a long time for that to happen, if ever…”
Wait? Hold up! You expect me, an impatient, ambitious 27-year-old young man to wait on this lady to put my books on the table for the possibility of being published? No sir, not me! So, in my mid-20’s restlessness, I emailed the Scholastic editor, giving her an ultimatum; give me a solid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as to whether Scholastic wants to move forward with our books, or we will start seeking other opportunities.
Her response was more delayed than usual. Usually, she would get back to me within 48 hours. This time, she took days to respond. Perhaps my email worked? Perhaps the ultimatum I gave lit a fire under her behind and she actually slammed our books on her bosses table and demanded that they be published under the scholastic imprint! In any case… that didn’t happen.
The editor ended up suggesting that I contact this other guy with Scholastic that runs the school book fair program, and see if he wanted the books to place on sale at the book fairs. It was a ‘no’ without actually saying ‘no’, and even though I put on my big boy face, I was bothered, and devastated. Even though I was prepared for rejection, I didn’t want it. To come so close to being published, to actually get our books in the hands of a senior editor with Scholastic who found us and chose our books to take home… To this day it just seems like such an unfitting outcome.
I forgot about this period in our Black Streak journey for quite a few years, but was reminded of it a few weeks ago while having a conversation about seeking entertainment agency representation with a really good friend of mine. As I’m writing this, I’m wondering why she chose us, sitting alone in the back of the expo center. Perhaps she saw something in our books that the subjective higher-ups in Scholastic failed to see…
In case you’re wondering, I did reach out to her a few weeks ago, but never received a response. Despite the disappointment, though, I know that that experience will not be the closest we ever come to realizing our dream. Justin and I both have the audacity to dream boldly and work relentlessly towards making our dreams goals that we labor to accomplish. We’ll reach our mountaintop, and when we do, perhaps we will understand the lesson that the Scholastic experience was meant to teach us, if any.
To realize our goals, we need an army behind us – we need you! Sign up to our mailing list by clicking the link below to join Justin and I on our journey to change pop culture, by bringing books, TV shows, comics, and movies for kids, teens, and families that represent people of color to mainstream audiences!