Walter Kelsaw had a story in his head that he just couldn't shake. It was pieces of his life on the streets of Portland, people he once knew, and the lifestyles they used to lead -- plus a good dose of fiction in between.
After several months of writing, and several months of writer's block, Kelsaw had a manuscript. But like many authors these days, the 31-year-old didn't see a future with Houghton Mifflin or Penguin Books or any number of the other major publishers.
"I decided I didn't want to flirt with the big publishers," he said. "I assumed they don't want anything to do with urban literature."
Kelsaw has now joined a growing army of independent book publishers, authors who've had either bad luck or no luck getting publishing houses to pay attention to their work. With the proliferation of low-cost software and printing companies to meet the new need, Kelsaw decided to be his own boss. He decided to publish "Karma is a Mutha" by himself.
Kelsaw said his book takes place where he began his life in Portland – 10th and Alberta; the old 10th and Alberta, before gentrification.
In "Karma," protagonist Cory James was a weight-pushing hustler who was getting pressure to go legit. His uncle, a successful doctor who lived in the suburbs, tried to give Cory a way out, but his fast life offered a much more thrilling escape.
After Cory robs a well-connected dealer and steals his best friend's girl, he splits town for the East Coast. But his past soon catches up to him and he's forced to make a decision that will change his life – and his uncle's – forever.
Kelsaw said his stories are heavily influenced by urban lit writers Sista Soulja, Vicki Stringer and mystery writer Walter Mosley. He said he also wants to convey a message with his first book about the pitfalls of gangsta life.
But getting the book from manuscript to a printed copy was more work than Kelsaw anticipated.
"I knew I could do it," he said.
Publishing your own book costs more than time and dedication. It also takes money. He saved up while working his day job at M & R Auto Sales to pay the type-setting company, the cover designer, the photographer, the cover design model, and the printing. Even the barcode number on the back of a book – the ISBN – costs money to buy.
The cover photo – which features the backdrop of Portland from the East Bank Esplanade – was nearly ruined when the model for Cory didn't show up. Luckily, Kelsaw says, he ran into someone who looked the part and the stranger agreed to be on the cover.
He also ran into some copyediting hiccups when dealing with the typesetter. Errors were found and Kelsaw and his business partner had to recheck the entire novel.
"You're so excited to get your project out and then it's another three or four weeks," he said.
But on March 21, he got his 1,000 copies of "Karma is a Mutha" and has been distributing them around town since– at beauty parlors, the Talking Drum bookstore, and other locations. He even sold one to former Police Chief Derrick Foxworth when he saw him on the PCC campus.
"I have to do all my own distribution," he said. "I don't have anyone working for me… But if it's not hard, it's not worth having."
Terry Nathan, executive director of the Independent Book Publishers Association, says because of advancements in technology, more authors are becoming their own publishers to avoid the long, arduous task of securing a contract with a company. While technology and decreased costs have helped level the playing field a bit for independent actors, Nathan said it is by no means an easy task.
Marketing and distribution remain some of the biggest difficulties for independent publishers.
"But there are viral ways on the internet," Nathan said. "Small and independent publishers have always been innovative in their marketing strategies."
Getting a book on the shelf of a major bookstore can be another hurdle, but Nathan said if customers demand it, bookstores will likely stock it. Much depends on whether a book finds a niche that is yet unfilled. And some companies that offer services – such as print-on-demand publishers like Lulu.com – are able to stock books in the biggest online store in the world – Amazon.
For Kelsaw, he says he would like to travel to New York this summer to get his book in the Harlem Book Fair. He hopes to expand to other cities. And he also is continuing work on an upcoming novel he hopes to finish soon.
He can be reached on the web at http://hoodbooks.net.