This is part of a series on West Chester entrepreneurs. Know someone that’s taking an innovative approach to the mantra, “Follow your dream?” I’d love to share their story. Thank you to Benchmark Federal Credit Union for making this expanded content possible.
Amy Thomas had always wanted to write a book. “I have been told by many I have much to say,” she said as we sat at a tiny table and chairs in her crowded Hillsdale Elementary school office. We were surrounded by stacks of math manipulatives waiting for distribution to their classrooms.
Amy has been with the West Chester Area School District for 25 years, many of them in front of a classroom. Today she works as an instructional coach analyzing student data and helping teachers develop, model, and improve their lesson plans. On top of all that, she raised two daughters, taught religious education classes, and worked as a part-time voiceover actor. It was an interesting, full life, but it left little time for writing.
A Time to Write
So, on December 31, 2017, as she approached her 50th birthday, she set a New Year’s resolution: start blogging.
“I wanted to start a regiment of writing,” she said.
A few days later “Always… Amy” was born, a place where she could “share ideas, chronicle interesting encounters, and offer insights on how [to] be better human beings to each other.” The writing pace was not rigorous, a post every month (or two), but it was a start. The blog gave her a place away from the students and the chaos of elementary school life where she could be alone with her thoughts and a strong cup of tea. It was a judgment-free zone where she could ruminate about hairstyles and lipsticks, student suicide, and what it means to be a mother. While her writing may have been Amy’s “me time,” it was not until her two worlds collided that inspiration struck.
Kids Say the Darndest Things
It was late on a Tuesday morning and Amy was bringing a group of second-grade students down the sloping hall to the cafeteria. It was an action she had repeated countless times before but today, as the scent of beef tacos wafted down the hall, the kid to her right made a life-changing remark. “It smells like Tuesday,” he said.
The comment stuck and Amy went home and wrote a blog about smells and memories. She did research on olfactory receptors and how they worked. It was fascinating. She began thinking of other smells. Smells from her childhood that still lingered. She took her research and her memories, and she banged out the manuscript for a children’s book that would entertain and educate. There on the screen was her book or the first attempt at it, but where to go from here – how to get it published?
There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat
When it comes to publishing it seems you have two options – the cut-throat New York City publishing scene, home to most of the national best-sellers but notoriously hard to break into, or the free-wheeling world of self-publishing, where quality varies greatly, and it can be hard to find an audience beyond your Facebook friends. But, as it turns out, there is a middle ground that, while it does not offer flashy signing bonuses or nationwide book tours, it does split the risk and provide an outlet for many to fulfill a dream. This is the route Amy took.
She took her manuscript, zipped it up, and sent it to Mascot Books, a full-service hybrid publisher. Two weeks later she got a callback. They were interested. “We don’t have anything like this,” they told her. And her dream of becoming a published author was on its way.
Mascot Books provided editorial, design, and production support. They gave notes and ensured the product produced was a high-quality, professional endeavor. They also handled book distribution giving Amy access to a broader audience than she otherwise would have had. In return, she paid much of the upfront costs of publishing the book. She purchased the paper and paid the illustrator (they provided her with a portfolio of viable candidates to choose from.) They handled selling and distribution (marketing can be purchased for an additional fee.) In return, the profits made from the book were split.
“I receive royalty checks with a large percentage paid to me and a small percentage to Mascott Books and/or Amazon, Barnes and Noble,” said Amy.
Like any new business venture, there is risk involved, but with industry professionals on your side, that risk can be less than when self-publishing. “It’s an investment,” Amy said of her decision to move forward.
“Smells Like Tuesday” came out in June 2020 and sold out in less than a year. Amy is now working on the next in what she hopes will eventually be a series. “It Tastes like Sunday,” a story of Sunday dining set around a collection of multi-cultural recipes, is in the works, but first she must wait until the price of paper goes down.
A big thank you to Benchmark Federal Credit Union for their support of Hello West Chester and for making this series on entrepreneurship in West Chester possible.
The only federal credit union to exclusively serve Chester County, Benchmark FCU provides commercial lending products for local businesses. Clients can count on personalized service, local decision-making, and quick loan turnaround time. Benchmark FCU not only understands your business, but also has the ability to provide a wide range of financial solutions, including term loans and commercial real estate secured lines of credit. We’re ready to be your trusted business banking partner. To learn more about our business banking solutions, visit www.benchmarkfcu.org.
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