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Month of the Author: Schuler Books collaborates with Write Michigan contest

Write Michigan short story contest will publish its collection with the Chapbook Press at Schuler Books, which demonstrates its services on Saturday, November 17

/Patrick Feutz

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Schuler Books collaborates with Write Michigan Contest

The first Write Michigan short story contest will publish its collection with the Chapbook Press at Schuler Books, which demonstrates its services on Saturday, November 17.

The end. When does an author actually feel like writing those words? When the final period is punched onto the final draft? Or when the book is brought to print and in the hands of hungry readers?

This month writers in any stage of their story will find motivation to finish their work, with the approaching deadline of the new Write Michigan short story contest. Schuler Books is printing the finished collection of stories, as voted on by readers and a panel of professional judges, with its publishing imprint, the Chapbook Press.

A self-publishing seminar at 10:00 a.m. Saturday, November 17, will give visitors a preview of the collection’s quality and an overview of the Chapbook Press’s other services. All that is required for Write Michigan is that writers sign up and submit their work before November 30 for their shot at victory. For all writers in Michigan- the savvy published authors, the ambitious upstarts and the feet dragging procrastinators, the new contest shouts out its call to arms: “Write, Michigan!”

“Teachers in Interlochen are making it an assignment for their students. It’s become a very popular tool for creative writing classes,” says Michelle Boisvenue-Fox, Assistant Director of Kent District Library (KDL). The contest is split into adult and youth categories. Contestants under 18 submit their stories for free to the youth contest.

“We’ll be going over double what we expected,” Boisvenue-Fox continues, stating that the original forecast was for 100 submissions. They have already accepted 100, and are waiting on at least a hundred more still being drafted to arrive before the contest entry cutoff on November 30.

KDL Director Lance Werner first conceived the idea for a library-sponsored writing contest, initially envisioning a nationally-based contest before it turned into Write Michigan.

“More people were excited about doing it locally," says Boisvenue-Fox. "One reason we were spurred to create the contest was that we were more and more hearing from self-published authors wanting to display their books in the library. They want a venue for their talent.”

It’s no small surprise. Local authors have found devoted fan bases in the area. Boisvenue-Fox mentions Grand Rapids Press reporter Tom Rademacher and writers Bob Tarte and Diet Eman as authors who have performed exceptionally well with the KDL. Local authors have also met with success printing with the Chapbook Press. The Press’s manager, Pierre Camy, remarks on the success of Garbio, Larry VanderLeest’s recollection of Dutch garbage men in turn-of-the-century Chicago that was featured on NPR.

Write Michigan isn’t just doing writers a favor, however. Drawing inspiration from ArtPrize and its popular vote, Write Michigan also features a public vote for readers’ choice, based on the top 10 stories in each category as selected by a panel of judges. The contest gives local writers and readers a chance to connect, with writers showing their chops and readers responding with their popular support. Write Michigan is an opportunity for local authors to make an impression on readers who regularly look to the library for assistance.

“Readers look to the libraries for recommendations," says Boisvenue-Fox. "It’s the recommended read they want: we read it, we enjoyed it, and we think you will too. Readers need that. In this day and age, with so much out there, readers turn to libraries more and more.” Two demands are addressed in a single package. Writers have the venue for talent Boisvenue-Fox mentioned above, and readers are offered unexpected and unique recommendations they won’t find anywhere else.

Public voting on the top 10 stories in each category begins January 11. Stories will be posted to the Write Michigan website, and the winners of Readers’ Choice and Judges’ Choice will be published by the Chapbook Press and be available for download as an e-book.

Schuler Books, which celebrated 30 years of business this September, has been operating its Espresso Book Machine for three years, launching the Chapbook Press with its first print run in fall 2009. Camy says that since then they have printed over 150 titles, 38 of which are now available for purchase on the Schuler website. Besides original titles, the press also prints out-of-print local titles, out-of-print books in the public domain, and copyrighted print-on-demand books from major publishers.

Self-publishing, sometimes referred to pejoratively as “vanity” publishing, comes with some risks. All risk is assumed by the author, who takes the sole responsibility for marketing the book for wholesale and retail. Authors must also be aware of the chance of publishers who bind authors to highly restrictive contracts that leave authors with even less control of their works, precisely the opposite result writers hope to achieve when they seek out self-publishing in the first place. Authors must understand their rights and their options.

The advantages of the Chapbook Press are especially important in these areas, says Camy.

"[Authors get] one-on-one interaction with me,” he says, “They get to talk to me and be a part of the process of putting the book together. We have a bunch of a la carte services so they can choose what they need. And they have the book in the bookstore already.”

The service agreement on the Schuler website reveals that authors retain their copyrights, are free to print however many copies they want, and can set their own retail price.

“We sell the books on our website. We can do it on Amazon, and in stores too,” say Camy. The service agreement grants authors nonexclusive distribution rights, so they can sell through any outlet. When asked if it costs anything extra for books to be distributed to Schuler’s other locations, Camy gives an encouraging answer: “No.”

The Chapbook Press is an example of the adaptations Schuler Books continues to make, maintaining relevance in an internet-centric marketplace and a strong connection with its community.

“There are only a few Espresso book machines around the country, and 70 in the world,” Camy says, “We’re the avante garde of bookstores.”

With NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month to the uninitiated) in full swing for its 14th consecutive year, authors have staked a claim on November to paint a traditionally dreary month with wild visions, challenging themselves to reach their goals and follow their dreams. In West Michigan, the advent of Write Michigan and Schuler Book’s self-publishing services are giving Michigan-based authors even more reason to pursue their craft and find their audience. Stories can finally be closed. What were those words again? The end.

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