“David, I have to tell you this is probably the best put together self-published picture book I’ve ever seen. You and Joan have produced something really special here.”
That was Greg Pierce talking to me back on June 27 (2015). We were both vendors at the Intentional Eucharistic Community (IEC) Conference being held at Concordia University in St. Paul.
The conference was organized by and for liberal/progressive Catholics, emphasis on really liberal and really progressive. Many IECs openly welcome and affirm LGBT persons and regularly gather for worship—including Eucharist—without a priest … or with a womanpriest. Pretty much my kind of people, which is why I spent the money to get a vendor table to display When God Was a Little Girl.
Greg, meanwhile, was there as the owner/publisher of ACTC Publications, an independent lay-owned Catholic Press out of Chicago. Because ACTA is lay-owned, they can be very responsive to the needs and aspirations of contemporary Catholics without worrying about running afoul of church hierarchy. They do publish some pretty traditional devotional literature as well as a range of parish resources, but they also have a particular interest in social justice and women’s spirituality … which led to Greg’s next remark:
“How would you like ACTA to become a national distributor for your book, featuring it in our catalog?” Followed the next day by, “Would you be interested in having ACTA become the publisher of your book?”
After that first meeting in late June, Greg began making plans to feature the book in his fall catalog—simply as a book they were going to distribute. Over the next couple of months we brought Joan into the conversation as well and began negotiating the terms of a contract. In mid-September we officially signed on to have When God Was a Little God published by ACTA Publications. Next week (mid-November 2015), the first copies of the new edition will be printed in Chicago!
We are so excited!—and so is Greg at ACTA. Since July he’s already sold 300 copies of the book acting as our distributer. The last seventy sold in a single weekend at the annual Call to Action Conference in Milwaukee for progressive Catholic social justice activists. When he becomes the publisher he will have added incentive to put even more marketing energy into the book, something he’s far better positioned to do than we are.
So, to answer a few questions:
Where does that leave Beaver’s Pond Press? Well, with our eternal gratitude. The warm reception we received from Lily Coyle when we first showed them our “draft copy,” the careful guidance we received from Hanna Kjeldbjerg, our “mentor” there, the excellent graphic design done by Jenna Larson (freelance—not with BPP), and the professional quality printing that Beaver’s Pond did for us—all these things gave us a book that was a success in its own right, and one that caught Greg’s eye for ACTA. But as a mentoring/self-publishing press, while Beaver’s Pond gave us an outstanding (award-winning!) book, they aren’t set up to market it; that remained for me and Joan. And, honestly, as much as we love the book, neither of us had the time, energy, or money needed to give the book all the advantages it really deserved.
But we couldn’t take this next step if Beaver’s Pond hadn’t done such a fine job for us on the first step. And they are just as pleased for us as we are. Our getting picked up by ACTA is a ringing endorsement of the quality of their work.
Why ACTA? Well, because they came to us with excitement. But also because Greg is convinced that there are a lot of liberal/progressive Catholics who will be overjoyed to find a message that is so feminine-affirming in a church that is still playing catch-up on this issue. And ACTA already has a solid reputation and a whole sales network reaching into several hundred Catholic bookstores across the country.
Only Catholics? No, ACTA is a Catholic publisher, but they attend a variety of religious book conventions. Plus, through ACTA our book will continue to be available to bookstores of every type as well as on Amazon.
Can we still get it trough you? Yes! Joan and I will continue to have access to the books for our own sales at a good discount. We’ll be able to do direct personal sales on our own, and we’ll continue to offer the book through our website here (which is still a better deal for us than Amazon—let the folks who don’t know us use Amazon). And we’ll still be able to take books with us to any special events we do in person. By the end of November we’ll get our first inventory of ACTA books.
So will you be earning “royalties” then? Why, yes, we will! ACTA will take over responsibility for printing, storing, shipping, and marketing the book, so they’ll keep the largest portion of sales to cover their costs and to earn their profits. But we’ll each receive a equal royalty on each book sold. It will be much less work on our part, and if Greg is right about the book’s potential, well, we won’t get rich, but we might see a steady trickle of modest income for the fruit of our long labor.
Will the book change? Hopefully only for the better. We’ve updated the back cover because we received several new endorsements from prominent theologians since our last printing. The interior pages will remain exactly the same, except for replacing “Beaver’s Pond Press” with “ACTA Publications.” The front cover will now have images of both our national awards embedded right in the artwork. And, most significantly, the book will be digitally printed.
Print experts tend to agree that offset printing has the absolute best image quality, but digital printing is fast catching up because it’s relatively easy to make fine adjustments. Plus, digital printing is a much “greener” process than offset printing, so overall it’s a trade we’re happy to make. For ACTA the biggest advantage is that digital printing allows them to print smaller quantities on a quick turn-around at an economical price. As a small publisher with over a hundred titles in print that saves them tremendously on storage costs while letting them respond quickly when sales are strong. Bottom line: we are 100% confident that the ACTA edition will have the same high quality that our Beaver’s Pond Edition did.
Is the Beaver’s Pond Edition all gone? Pretty much. Altogether we printed about 2800 copies under the Beaver’s Pond logo. And we’ve sold over 2600 of them. We probably sent out about 100 copies as samples or for review, and Joan and I have each set aside a box of 25 “for posterity.” As excited as we are for the ACTA edition—the book now has a real chance to reach much further than we could have taken it on our own—the Beaver’s Pond Edition was truly “ours”: a journey that Joan and I took from start to finish. It will always be special in its own way.
Any other kudos? Of course, we’re grateful to everyone—and naming anyone risks missing others. The one I’ll name is St. Paul’s Ten Thousand Villages store on Grand at Victoria Crossing (but soon moving to a new—and yet unknown—location). Some of you know that for 5 years (until she started college), Susanna and I were a father-daughter volunteer team at that store. When I first asked the manager about selling the book she was cautious, since it isn’t about Fair Trade (which is TTV’s focus). But when she saw the final book, with its spiritually-inviting story and rich multicultural art, she took a risk on it. Since December 2013 that one store has now bought 250 copies from us! We’re so grateful for their being willing to take a chance on us. More than any other retailer, they’ve helped send many copies off to good homes.
Anything else exciting on the way? I’m glad you asked! I mentioned above that Greg is committed to seeing ACTA respond to the needs and aspirations of contemporary Catholics. And the fastest growing segment of the Catholic church is Hispanic. So I’m excited to share that sometime in 2016, also through ACTA Publications, we’ll be releasing a Spanish translation of When God Was a Little Girl!