The Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA) announced its 2011 Book Award winners on Independence Day (naturally), honoring two independent Southern presses as well: Wind Publications, which published poetry winner A House of Branches by Janisse Ray, and self-publishing enterprise Gena Knox Media, whose Southern My Way won in the "cooking" category. Each year, nominees are picked by SIBA booksellers (or their customers) through the SIBA Web site, and winners in six categories are determined by bookseller votes.
Gena Knox's cookbook, subtitled Simple Recipes, Fresh Flavors, is her second self-published title, after 2008's Gourmet Made Simple. "We learned a lot from that book," Knox told PW, "especially about the awards available and the opportunities for exposure." The second time around, Knox had a better handle on marketing and promotion, which she describes as the main disadvantage in forgoing the big houses. Store appearances were a part of that promotion strategy, and it was an author friend who recommended that the Athens, Ga., author/entrepreneur visit the store that would end up nominating her, Fair Hope, Ala.'s Page & Palette.
Knox, who co-owns (with her husband) a kitchen and grill supply business called Fire & Flavor, decided on self-publishing because "I don't have very much patience. We really wanted to get something out there." She also had a team ready to help her produce a book, including a commercial photographer and a former creative director at Atlanta Home & Lifestyles magazine, who were already on the Fire & Flavor payroll. After Gourmet Made Simple, distributed by Bookmasters, sold well, Knox knew there was an audience for a follow-up. Southern My Way sold every one of its 10,000-copy run within two months of its October 2010 release and Knox has sold about half of the second 10,000-copy printing. Southern My Way showcases Knox's farm-town Peach Belt roots by focusing on regional produce and profiling the farmers of the South.
Charlie Hughes, the self-described "owner, publisher, and janitor" of Wind Publications, has been publishing literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry since 1992, when his company was born out of the remains of the eclectic literary magazine Wind. Hughes told PW that he was surprised to see Janice Ray's A House of Branches nominated—thanks to Malaprop's Bookstore in Asheville, N.C.—but he was not surprised by the win: "I thought we had a good chance," he said.
Ray is already well-known for nature writing like Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, but poetry was her original calling. Hughes met Ray on a tour of eastern Kentucky mountaintop-removal sites for a book he was developing on the topic (2005's Missing Mountains). Hughes had worked with a few of Ray's friends, so she gave him the manuscript that became House of Branches.
While publishing some 15 titles a year, Hughes also puts together the twice-monthly Kentucky Literary Newsletter, a comprehensive e-bulletin listing every author appearance, book event, and reading series in the state, plus local book news, commentary, links, and classified ads. Hughes started the newsletter nine years ago after missing a local appearance by a poet (he no longer remembers which one) because his local paper waited until after the event to write it up. "My motives were not altogether altruistic," he noted. "At least 50% of the newsletter was promotion for Wind Publications."