BookLife Talks with Charles D’Amico
A sponsored Q&A with the author/founder of Blue Handle Publishing
In little over a year, D’Amico has gone from self-published author to publisher, developing Blue Handle Publishing into a house that works with authors in not only releasing their books into the world but also investing in their future by helping them build their brand. We talked to D’Amico about his journey and what’s to come for Blue Handle Publishing.
Was there something specific that drew you to become a writer?
My dream wasn’t necessarily to be an author but actually just grew out of a love of the journey. My story with writing comes from a different place. I dislocated my ankle after college and couldn't move for months. I quickly became bored with the typical things a 20-year-old does and decided to write a book. My sister, an avid reader, thought I was nuts. I wrote rough drafts of Veritas and Ave Maria in 90 days. Once healed, I left them and didn't look back. I always wanted to, but I didn't have the time or life experience I felt I needed to complete them.
In 2019, I kept telling myself I wanted to get back to it and started studying writing before I sat back down to attack those drafts. I reached out to a friend to help me edit them, working on them for three months to revamp and rework. Once I got started, I fell in love with writing again and couldn't stop. Between November 2019 and February 2021, I wrote 15 novels and one million words. Most of them took less than 28 days to write.
It was never about being an author but simply about getting the stories that are in my imagination out. I write for my friends, and if they enjoy my work, I'm happy. I know the world I created can be the next great series, especially as in-depth as it is and with the way the books are presented. It's the challenge and the journey of creating something great that drives me. I'm not trying to be the next anything, just the first me. That is why I write. I truly feel writing helped save my soul, my sanity, and my companies during the pandemic. It was an outlet I needed to keep me driving through the chaos.
What made you take the leap from self-publishing your own books to helping other authors publish theirs?
The leap from self-publishing to creating my own publisher stems from a similar leap of faith that got me into writing. Once I started researching the process and spoke to people in the industry, I kept hearing about how depressing and challenging the system can be. I also love learning about the nuts and bolts of anything I'm involved in. I want to know as much as possible to ensure I can better understand what is going on. For example, if you spend your life pouring your soul into that page to create art, wouldn't you want to know how the industry really works? I wanted to know every facet and if it was working at all. Once I got into the idea of doing it, I thought, “If I'm going to put all this work into my books, I might as well find a way to repeat it for others.” My favorite part of building a company—I own some restaurants—is finding ways to raise as many people like us up. I like to say that some people climb the wall, some people break it down, but at my company, we turn it into stairs to elevate all those behind us.
I was lucky enough to quickly become friends with another local author with some Amazon bestselling titles. He pushed me, encouraged me, and was an ear to bend. He quickly saw I was crazy enough to pull this off. In the beginning, it was simply an idea, not nearly what it is today and where we are heading. But we worked hard, grew our brand, and found a few other authors—one signed, another in negotiations.
In my process of finding a literary agent in the traditional way, I did one crazy thing that opened my eyes to the system. I sent out queries and emails to literary agents, roughly 50, and accidentally sent a few out without the manuscript attached properly. Instead of trying to correct my error, I left it, almost as a double-blind test. They became my control group queries. The best part was that two of them came back with generic denials—that they loved my writing but it just wasn't a fit for them—even though they clearly hadn’t read my work. It opened my eyes to the truth of it all. We are all human. Between bad days and too many submissions, having an agent find your piece in the stack is like winning the lottery. I never took it personally and chalked it up to a lesson learned. That really drove me to make a difference in the industry, or at least to try.
Since March 2020, we have gone from being an idea to being a company with three authors and more than ten titles released, and counting. We are built on the idea of being more than a traditional publisher and instead being a brand builder for our authors. Again, I love coaching people up, cultivating talent, and seeing amazing people succeed. This was a natural fit for me, with the vision I have in business and for an industry I feel has been stuck in neutral for many years. I guess you could say a passion for books and art, mixed with a love of cultivating and empowering others, made this a simple decision.
Why should an author choose Blue Handle Publishing over the plethora of other options?
Let me first start by saying it's more than just "choosing." We look at authors as investments, not products to own. The manuscript is their work, a piece of who they are. Our contracts empower the author, giving them the majority stake in their royalties as high as 75%. That means that when the book is on autopilot climbing up the charts, the author gets that majority share. We make our investment back by having a return on investment written into the contract along with a minimum % payout to the author. This protects the author and lets them know they will get a return on their work, even in the development phase. It also forces us as a publisher to be fiscally responsible and maximize the return on the manuscript.
Though we can pay homage to tradition and embrace the industry that has brought us amazing works over the centuries, we at Blue Handle Publishing like to push the envelope. For example, we believe in branding our authors with more than just a name but a logo. This is part of our dedication to the reader’s interaction with the author and series, which goes beyond the written word, whether its a coffee mug with the Blue Handle logo on it or custom boxes sent to bookstores that feel like old vinyl covers. We announce the presence of our authors in as many creative ways as possible.
Authors at Blue Handle Publishing have investments in their future. We want our authors to focus on their work and know they own it for life. Though we have the manuscript, they own the investment, the royalty. Before us, you had two options. There are a variety of self-publishing routes, and you can even pay a company that knows the industry to carry your book. Then there is the world of literary agents and the large houses that control the world. The scary part of what we are doing is that people think we are nuts, but I like to think that's my sweet spot.
What advice would you give to an author who is trying to submit work to a publisher?
When submitting any work to a publisher or literary agent, it all comes down to research. An author needs to understand that life and reading are very personal. This means that when a literary agent doesn't like your work, it’s just not the right fit. Authors need to research the agents they are submitting to and make their queries as personal as possible. Find them on social media, find out who they have represented. If you are writing fantasy fiction, you shouldn't submit your work to someone specializing in historical fiction.
The more details you can get, the more ammunition you have in getting your manuscript noticed. It takes time to create a manuscript. It takes just as much time to find the right people to see your vision. Don't give up if you don't find it right away. I suggest reading your favorite author's reviews, especially the one-star reviews. It provides great perspective on how something some people think is amazing, others will think is trash. Take that to heart and keep pushing until your voice is heard. You’ll need to fight for it, just as you would your child. It's going to take time. It's not going to be instant.
What projects are on the horizon for Blue Handle Publishing?
The biggest things we are working on right now are a newly revamped website, marketing, and connecting our authors to as many platforms and bookstores as possible. This is a daily challenge, as we are working along traditional avenues and capitalizing on ways to stand out. The Neil Baggio series currently has four books released, with seven more done and waiting to be released. Our newest author, Jordan Reed, is working on mastering his debut, a fantasy novel, with our team of editors. The goal for his release is spring 2022. Andrew J. Brant, our veteran author, has a new release out, Mixtape for the End of the World. He is also working on more releases for fall 2021 and 2022.
The big push for 2021, alongside our authors, is our Book Puma Services Platform. We are working to reinvent the way authors and editors interact. From monthly subscriptions to individual services, authors get feedback quicker and in smaller chunks before their manuscripts are fully developed. At Blue Handle Publishing, we feel this set of services, provided alongside our publishing platform, will set us apart from any other publishing house in the industry. Our passion for cultivating and helping authors on their journey in a new affordable way gives them the power to create amazing pieces of literature. Book Puma is about reinventing how authors get the support and tools they need to be the best versions of themselves.
Blue Handle Publishing, along with the Book Puma services product, creates an author-centric model that develops talent and doesn’t merely wait for it to show up. We are about branding and creating a lasting business for each of our authors, not merely looking for a unicorn to appear. And I would be lying if I said getting the world hooked on Neil Baggio wasn’t going to be a fun ride.