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Student Forms Her Own Publishing Firm

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Lila Amor learned a valuable lesson 10 years ago when she took Raymond Obstfeld’s fiction-writing class at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.

“I realized just because I liked to read, I wasn’t a writer,” says Amor, 32. “But I do have a passion for books, so I always wanted to do something.

In August, that nebulous something became a tangible something when Amor formed her own small publishing company, Brighton & Lloyd. (Concerned about the type of books that might be conjured up in book buyers’ minds if she named it “Amor Press,” the Costa Mesa mother of two young children simply made up the more staid, British-sounding name.)

Amor’s decision to start her own publishing company grew out of her involvement as a student in Obstfeld’s new fall-semester class at OCC: “How to Publish,” in which students learn about publishing by forming their own publishing house. The object of the class, which began meeting informally last summer, was to find a publishable manuscript by a first-time novelist and guide it into print by the end of class.

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But after two months of learning the steps involved in publishing a book--from selecting and editing a manuscript to production and distribution--Amor realized, “Hey, I can do this myself.”

The student-run publishing house, Quixote Press of Costa Mesa, missed its December deadline, due to delays in rewriting, finding suitable cover art and raising outside money to help pay for printing costs. The students are now looking at a February publication date for “Max Golly,” a comic novel written by Rick Drager, a Davis piano teacher.

As the head of her own fledgling publishing house, however, Amor is way ahead of the game.

The day before Thanksgiving, 10,000 copies of Brighton & Lloyd’s debut title, “A Handful of Magic” ($3.25) by Stella Fabian of Santa Ana Heights, arrived at Amor’s home from the printer. And, with no wasted time on Amor’s part, the 129-page, soft-cover children’s book--the story of a boy who finds a magic glove that allows him to make his stuffed dog, Socks, come to life--is now available at Waldenbooks in the Mission Viejo Mall, Brentano’s in South Coast Plaza and a handful of other local bookstores. ‘Maybe I’m impatient sometimes and jump in when I shouldn’t,” Amor said. “I wanted to get it out before Christmas. Otherwise I wouldn’t have pushed it so hard.”

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Unlike the student-run Quixote Press, in which a student editorial committee had to sift through 40 manuscript submissions that were solicited by flyers sent to college creative-writing programs, Amor had no problem finding a publishable manuscript for Brighton & Lloyd.

Stella Fabian is the maiden name of Amor’s New Zealand-born mother, Stella Askew, 65.

Having learned from one of the students in class that children’s books and nonfiction were easier to market than adult fiction, Amor asked to read her mother’s story, “A Handful of Magic.”

“It’s very uplifting,” Amor said. “I had read it a couple of years ago, but at the time I never thought I was going to publish it.”

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Lest it sound like a simple case of literary nepotism, Fabian has been taking writing classes for 20 years and has written 10 unpublished children’s books. A student in Obstfeld’s fiction-writing class for 5 years, she is currently working on an epic-length novel set in Medieval England. Observes Obstfeld: “I think she is an exceptional writer and it (‘A Handful of Magic’) inevitably would have been published in any event.”

When her daughter told her she wanted to publish “A Handful of Magic,” Fabian, who received a $500 advance and will get a 6% royalty, said she was “walking on air for days.”

“I never had the courage to put my own money into it. I knew it was good; it’s just that you have to have a lot of faith in your idea. Lila’s a real live wire. You have to have a lot of energy to make it succeed.”

Once Amor decided to start her own publishing company--a one-person operation out of her home--everything seemed to fall into place.

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Fabian, who hadn’t looked at “A Handful of Magic” in years, polished the manuscript and made several changes at her daughter’s request. She also wrote a new chapter for the end. “I had a1847617892wanted to bring the story a little bit forward so it would lend itself more to a sequel,” she said.

When Amor contacted KNI, an Anaheim printing company, a salesman recommended artist Roger Mejia of Wilmington to do the color cover art and inside pen-and-ink illustrations.

And what could have been Amor’s biggest hurdle--coming up with the approximately $10,000 publishing cost--proved to be no problem at all. Thanks to a couple of investments that did “very well,” Amor just happened to have $10,000.

In addition to the $500 advance, Amor paid $450 for the artwork, $200 for color separation, $1,500 for typesetting and $7,600 for printing.

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But as Amor found out, getting a book in print is only half the battle.

Although she lined up three local bookstores to carry “A Handful of Magic"--Little Professor in Westminster, the Children’s Place Annex in Irvine and the Book Tree in Costa Mesa--Amor said she knew she couldn’t sell the book door-to-door.

For the book to really sell, she would have to get it into the chain bookstores. And to do that she would need to convince a book distributor to carry it.

Amor called Brentano’s to get the name of its regional distributor: Diana Lindsay, president and sales manager of Sunbelt Publications. Lindsay distributes books for B. Dalton Bookseller and Waldenbooks (owner of Brentano’s).

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When Amor called Sunbelt Publications, Lindsay’s secretary told her to send a copy of the book. Having learned in class that she would need a marketing strategy, Amor also included a small bag of inexpensive novelty toys that she planned to give out to children at book signings as a promotional gimmick. (She paid $100 for thousands of such small novelty items as trucks, airplanes, erasers and plastic robots and clowns.)

The next time Amor called Sunbelt Publications, the secretary put Lindsay on the phone immediately. Wasting no words, the distributor said: “Your book is cute. I’ll take it.” “I was so thrilled,” Amor said .

As a regional book distributor, Lindsay said authors send her “all kinds of things.” But, she said, many of the books don’t even have the basic requirements such as an international standard book number, the name of the book on the spine or an attractive cover.

Amor’s book met all three requirements. But it was Amor’s enthusiasm for the book over the phone and its $3.25 cover price that helped sway Lindsay.

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“I saw it as a nice Christmas item,” Lindsay said. “I’m always on the lookout for books that will sell well during the Christmas season.”

Lindsay, who sets up a lot of author signings in Orange and San Diego counties, said another convincing factor was Amor’s novelty toy giveaway gimmick. “I thought that was really clever,” she said. “No one has done that type of thing at a signing before.”

Before she told Amor she would handle “A Handful of Magic,” however, Lindsay gave it to her 10-year-old daughter, an avid reader, who read the book and deemed it “great.”

“So that kind of gave it a stamp of approval,” Lindsay said.

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“A Handful of Magic” is now available at Waldenbooks and a few B. Daltons in Orange and San Diego counties where Lindsay set up book signings for Fabian this month. Amor will receive $1.30 for each book she sells through the distributor, $1.95 for those she sells directly to a bookstore. But she also plans to sell the book directly to libraries and schools and, she said, “there’s potential for me making considerably more.”

Last weekend Fabian, accompanied by her daughter, did her first three book signings in bookstores in San Diego and Mission Viejo. They brought with them another clever promotional idea: a stuffed animal--the dog Socks--that Fabian had made. The dog has a rubber stamp of a paw print on its foot so the character in the book can also “sign” autographs.

They sold about 30 books during the two-hour signing Sunday afternoon at Waldenbooks in the Mission Viejo Mall.

“Even those who didn’t buy the book stopped to look at the cover,” Amor said. “That’s almost as important as them buying a copy. The next time they see it, they’ll be familiar with it.”

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Amor said the signings were “fun.” But for her part, Fabian did not relish her role in the literary limelight.

“It’s too public for me,” she said with a laugh. “I prefer to be in my little corner writing.”

With one book in print, Amor already has several other Brighton & Lloyd projects on the drawing board. She plans to publish a coloring book and is considering publishing a fiction and nonfiction book by two local authors. Her mother also has begun writing another children’s book.

“I’ve learned some things along the way to do it cheaper next time,” Amor said. “For example, I had (‘A Handful of Magic’) typeset for $12 a page. Now I know you can have it typeset right off the computer disk, which will save about $4 a page.”

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Regardless of how much money the first book makes, Amor said, Brighton & Lloyd will proceed.

“A tremendous amount of effort and work has gone into this, but it’s worth it in terms of the satisfaction I’m getting out of it,” she said.


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