Say you're an unpublished author and your manuscript has been turned down by every publisher in New York. But a small, well-regarded indie press agrees to publish the book and good things begin to happen. A movie producer options the book; a big-time agent loves it and takes it on for foreign rights. It's a great story and it's all happening to David Schmahmann, a South African—born writer who also happens to be a practicing lawyer in Boston. In October White Pine Press, a small Buffalo-based literary press, is publishing Schmahmann's first novel, Empire Settings, a lyrically written, interracial love story set in the United States and told against the backdrop of South African apartheid. The book was "turned down by every publisher in the galaxy," Schmahmann told PW, before he finally sold it, unagented, to White Pine Press. Founded in 1973 by poet Dennis Maloney, White Pine publishes a very international list of about 10 titles a year in fiction, nonfiction and poetry, specializing in Latin American and Central European writers. "We're like Coffee House or Copper Canyon," Maloney told PW, "maybe a little less well-funded." Schmahmann hired publicist Florence Tambone in Boston and she showed it to Daniel Wilson (who produced the film The Handmaid's Tale). Wilson optioned the book and then showed it to agent Robert Gottlieb, founder of Trident Media Group, who is now representing the book for foreign rights sales. "We were very impressed with the book," said Gottlieb. "It's a real grassroots publishing story." Schmahmann is putting a sizable chunk of his own money (about $75,000) into the marketing budget. White Pine is publishing the book in hardcover, unusual for the press, with an eight-city author tour and a 20,000-copy first printing. "I'm not wealthy," said Schmahmann, when asked about his personal investment, "but I can afford it. All these people have shown such confidence in the book. I want to give it a fair shake." The press can be reached at (716) 627-4556. Its Web site is www.whitepine.org.
Volume 248 Issue 22 05/28/2001