Rewards of Indie Publishing
Nancy Cleary 90 GD reflects on two decades of building Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing from the ground up.
In 1998 when her daughter MacKenzie was six weeks old and her son Wyatt was 15 months, designer Nancy Cleary 90 GD made the bold decision to launch an independent publishing company in the wilds of Deadwood, OR. In the two decades since, Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing has grown into a well-respected indie that has published hundreds of remarkable books—initially with a focus on helping “mom writers” navigate the complexities of an industry dominated by five major publishing houses.
With years of graphic design and branding experience, Cleary thinks of herself as a “book midwife” dedicated to helping authors publish strong material in whatever fashion suits them best. These days her inbox is overflowing with proposals, but she’s always on the lookout for “anything with a strong angle, a clear and creative structure to the story, and fresh, excellent writing.”
Wyatt-MacKenzie’s most recent releases include four new memoirs from writers representing marginalized groups. I Ran into Some Trouble by Peggy Caserta (Janis Joplin’s former girlfriend) has already been optioned for a docudrama called Janis starring Michelle Williams (shooting begins in February). The launch party for We: An Adoption and a Memoir by Ben Barnz was hosted by actor Jodie Foster, who describes the book as “part memoir, part love letter, part haunting tale” about what same-sex couples face when they try to adopt. And this year Cleary is collaborating with Fritz Pointer, who’s working on a biography about his famous sisters.
Cleary’s foray into publishing began in the late 1990s when she was working as a freelance graphic designer and a local professor asked if she’d help her publish a collection of feminist poetry. “Things were changing so quickly in the industry at that time,” the designer recalls, “and self-publishing was taboo. So I said ‘yes‘ and just figured out how to do it—baptism by fire!”
That figure-it-out approach has served Cleary well since she first developed it as a student at RISD. “I think back to presenting work at crits,” she says. “You couldn’t stumble; you had to be quick and exact and interesting. It’s similar to pitching books to publicists and reviewers.”
Each year Cleary releases five to 10 new titles, learning from every new project. “At first everyone expected us to adhere to publishing norms set by Random House and the other ‘big five,’ which was a disaster,” she recalls. Things improved dramatically as technology caught up, allowing her to print on demand and save money as well as trees.
“Still, the most expensive piece—even pricier than printing—is publicity,” says Cleary. “With every book, I just hope to recoup my losses. I’ve got bigger names now—authors who bring with them agents and publishers—which is great for my entire list.”
Cleary’s son and daughter are now grown and working with her. “They were really the impetus behind the whole thing,” the single mom says. “The bottom line is that I eventually want to leave something for my kids, who now share a large portfolio of rights. Their names are on Wyatt-McKenzie-branded apps, books, ebooks and audios that have entertained and educated people around the world.”
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