Artist Georgia O’Keefe with cat. Photo by John Candelario (1939) from The Maverick Cookbook: Iconic Recipes & Tales from New Mexico by Lynn Cline.
Leaf Storm Press began life as many small publishers do: with a dream that publishing could have meaning, be fun, and that its founders could bring to fruition a particular vision that the big publishers cannot see. That’s how Andy Dudzik and his wife, author Sarah Stark, saw it when they launched their Santa Fe-based dream project. They had a great book, Sarah’s Out There, a Gabriel Garcia Marquez-inspired magic-realism novel that won our INDIEFAB Editor’s Choice Award for Fiction. With that book, and others, Andy left his job in the newspaper world and set out to create their company. The following is the transcript of a conversation Andy and Sarah had with Howard Lovy, Foreword Reviews’ executive editor, just before the INDIEFAB Awards ceremony in San Francisco in June.
According to your website, your mission is to find fresh, distinct voices, books with unique literary artistic and cultural significance. How do you go about mining these gems?
Andy: That’s a good question. So far we have been looking at what is immediately around us. And Joel Nakamura’s kids’ picture book, Go West!, is a perfect example of a well-known artist in our community, never done a book before, tremendous talent. We both loved his work. And, we’d been talking about doing children’s books and if we did children’s books, what would we do? And Sarah said to me one day, “Maybe I should just meet with him and see if he has any interest in doing a kids’ book.” So, you know, this was all kind of impromptu.
Also in your guidelines, you urge authors to participate in their own marketing, their social media. How important is it that they develop their own Twitter followers, Facebook followers. Do they sell books?
Andy: I think it’s not so much about direct selling. This is really based on Sarah’s experience with promoting and marketing her book and what we’ve learned. It’s not a hard sell. It’s not like pounding on doors, you’re not a Fuller Brush salesman. It’s about establishing a presence, making yourself accessible, easy to discover, making a connection with readers or particular communities that are connected to what you write about.
That’s something that only the author can do and not something you can do for them?
Andy: As publishers, we do try to do that. The authors that we’ve worked with so far will tell you that we’ve gone far beyond what I think their expectations are.
Sarah: I think that’s a real partnership. In the case of the second book we published, which is a middle-grade chapter book, we contacted directly hundreds of elementary schools in the area that she lives in to try to set up readings for her at libraries in public elementary schools and small private schools, and it’s been really successful. She wouldn’t be doing that on her own.
Andy: It has to be customized to the author and to the book. It’s not just about Twitter and Facebook. We want authors to use the resources that they have at hand, and a lot of them just are not aware that they have these resources. In Sarah’s case, she mined every contact she had all over the country to find book clubs, or organizations where she could give a talk and a reading and a book signing.
You were founded in 2014. Why was that the right time?
Sarah: I think we had a convergence of things. I had this manuscript that we knew was good, and I had been through an agent in New York and not ultimately successful. It was a long process, and I felt that it probably would go differently this time because we believed in the book. Andy was transitioning out of a long-term publishing job (at the alternative weekly Santa Fe Reporter). So, we said, “OK. Should we try to do this?”
Andy: And my father died a week after I had left my job. We had a 4-year-old, and during the last year or two that I was working, it was long hours, it was a lot of pressure, and it was just harder and harder to make it with a young son. It sort of brought reality back, which was, “Wait a minute. I should be doing what I want to be doing. I should have more time to spend with my son.”
Of course, starting your own company is a pretty all-encompassing thing.
Sarah: We’re in it because we really believe in this. We love books. We love good books. We really want to be making the world a better place, and we know that we have the combined skills.
Andy: In my alt weekly publishing experience, the part that I really loved the most was the collaboration, getting people together to produce this great product. Unfortunately, in the alt weekly business, it has a very short shelf life. I always wanted to go back to books just because they’re more permanent, they’re works of art.
Sarah: And hopefully enduring, hopefully making a difference to one reader at a time.
Andy: I mean, newspapers are extremely important. It’s a tragedy what’s happening with the business of local reporting, and the traditional role of the media has been decimated by the economic realities of the Internet. But even though they’re similar, what I love about it is that there is this object. There’s this tangible product. And you’re selling an experience as opposed to selling eyeballs.
What upcoming titles are you excited about?
Andy: As mentioned earlier, in August, we release Go West!, the children’s picture book by Joel Nakamura. Joel is not only an amazing artist, but he’s also the nicest person and was just wonderful to work with on this book. He describes himself as a modern folk artist, he uses really bright and vivid color and paints all his work by hand, so it has this wonderful, unique quality.
In September, we are excited about releasing The Maverick Cookbook, by Lynn Cline, which is a collection of iconic recipes and tales from New Mexico. It’s a unique hybrid of food history and cookbook, with beautiful, vivid color photos of the recipes, styled and photographed by husband-and-wife team Guy Ambrosino and Kate Winslow. Lynn is a wonderful writer to begin with, but the way she tells the story of New Mexico cuisine through the lens of twelve of its famous figures—from Billy the Kid and Fred Harvey to Georgia O’Keeffe and Dennis Hopper—really brings the book to life.
And we’re also very excited about publishing For The Love of Local, by Vicki Pozzebon, early next year. Vicki is a leader in the growing localism movement, which is working to shift dollars from Wall Street to Main Street, to struggling small businesses that need help. Unlike other, more academic books on the subject, this is a really compelling personal story of one woman’s fight to make a difference, and a great read.